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Posts from the ‘Beef’ Category

Story of a Steak

Recently, we came across this series put out by the Angust TV called Story of a Steak. It takes you on a visual tour of how your steak makes it from the field to your plate. It begins with a ranch in Wyoming, takes you through a feed yard in Kansas, and finally ends up at the meat lab. This is a great line up of episodes as it really gives you an inside look into the people behind the cattle production. Often times, we all think that our beef in the grocery stores came out of some factory where there is no human interaction. The cows went in as calves, were pumped with feed and additives, and come out the other side in boxes.

But that simply isn’t the case, this series reminds us that there are people behind that steak on your plate, there are family farms, ranches, and feed yards. There is human interaction between all three and one sector of cattle production relies on the other. It takes all three working together in order to create that quality choice beef that ends up nourishing your family as well as theirs. This series shows that the cattle industry is always looking to do better, to improve, as well as take consumer concerns into consideration.

Story of a Steak Segment 1: Gathering, Weaning, and Shipping

Story of a Steak Segment 2: Shipping Cattle

Story of a Steak Segment 3: Introduction to Feed Yard

Story of a Steak Segment 4: Importance of Animal Health

Story of Steak Segment 5: Halfway Point, Feed Yard and Rancher Meet Up

Story of Steak Segment 6: Addressing Consumer Concerns and Taking a Critical Look at Cattle Industry

Story of a Steak Segment 7: Meats Lab and Final Evaluation

The cattle industry doesn’t just thrive in the Midwest. Fourth, fifth, and even sixth generation ranchers can be found all across Northern California and cattle can be seen grazing all over the grassy hills in Butte, Tehama, and Glenn counties. This production is happening right here in our backyards. Cattle rancher, Holly Foster, was featured on Angus TV in a segment called I Am Angus. We love that Angus TV is working towards putting a face behind the people who are raising and growing our food. If you’ve driven out to Butte College, you’ve seen the cattle of the Foster Ranch.

Angus TV is loaded with all sorts of information on how beef is raised as well as meat handling tips. I hope you took the time to watch this series from the Angus TV along with their channel over at Youtube: Angus TV.

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Did You Know: There Is Such A Thing As Purple Meat?

dark-cut-scotch-filletIt’s probably likely that if you solely buy meat from the grocery store, you didn’t know there was such as thing as purple meat. Yes, purple meat. Or as we call it in the meat industry, dark cutting beef. Dark cutting beef carcasses have a purplish-black color rather than a bright red color we are all used to. Often times, dark cutting beef may resemble meat that has been vacuum packaged, but vacuum packaged meat will brighten back up (or bloom) after the package has been opened and it has been exposed to oxygen. (see brown meat post for the science behind this). It is estimated that 1-2% of beef carcasses slaughtered end up dark cutting beef.

But how does this happen?

In the time between slaughter and chilling the carcass, a chemical reaction known as glycolysis occurs in the muscle tissue. This reaction converts glycogen (basically the carbohydrates in the muscle) into lactic acid. This lactic acid causes the pH of the meat to decline from the neutral value of somewhere around 7.2 found in the live animal. This drop in pH is what turns meat red. Good quality beef has a final pH value of close to 5.5. As the pH value of the beef rises above 5.8, both tenderness and shelf life of the meat is adversely affected. Dark cutting beef is beef that has a pH level of 6.0 and higher. Besides being unappealing in appearance, dark cutting beef also tends to have the following characteristics:

  • dry texture due to a high water holding capacity
  • reduced shelf life due to higher pH and more moisture bacteria can grow more rapidly
  • a sticky texture

DSCN3222-1024x680Dark cutting beef is triggered by high stress in an animal before slaughter. An adrenaline release or strenuous muscle activity before processing means that the supply of glycogen will be depleted, the chemical reaction will not occur, and the meat will remain dark instead of turning red. Stress could be from a variety of factors anything from transportation of the animals, mishandling, mixing of unfamiliar cattle, and even changing weather conditions.

Dark cutting beef is not something new, feedlots and packing plants have known these factors for many years and take great care to avoid dark cutters. It’s one of the reasons why I never understand animal rights organizations try to make the argument that all animals are stressed out in slaughterhouses. If this were the case, the instance of dark cutters would be off the charts and the packing plants would be bleeding money. It is estimated by the National Beef Quality Audit that dark cutters cost the beef industry $5.00 for every animal slaughtered. $5.00 doesn’t seem like much but when you think about the fact that in 2012, USDA reported 33 million head of cattle being slaughtered with 98.4 percent of that total being done under federal inspection. That’s quite a bit of money being lost annually due to dark cutters. It has been estimated that Cargill alone loses a whopping $300 million dollars annually due to dark cutters. The meat from dark cutting beef is usually sold for a minimum of 10% less than it’s normal retail value because it is considered unappealing to the retail market. Customers want to purchase red meat, not purple meat.

How can we avoid dark cutting beef?

Professionals in animal handling like Temple Grandin have worked very closely with operations of all sizes, helping packing houses and slaughterhouses minimize and hopefully eliminate stress for the animals. Temple Grandin has outlined several steps for loading and unloading, restaining, and even how to deal with an excitable animal. Many of these methods are not only used in slaughterhouses, but are also used in feedlots and by individual ranchers working cattle too.

Image courtesy Temple Grandin

Image courtesy Temple Grandin

  • Solid sides or barriers around the cattle to prevent them from seeing people deep inside their flight zones. This is especially important for wild or excitable cattle
  •  To prevent lunging at the headgate, the bovine’s view of an escape pathway must be blocked until it is fully restrained.
  • Provide non-slip flooring for all species of animals.
  • Slow steady motion of a restraint device is calming, while sudden jerky motion excite.
  • The entrance of the restraint device must be well lighted, however, lamps must not glare into the eyes of approaching animals. All species must be able to see a place to go.
  • Livestock will remain calmer if they can see other animals within touching distance.
  • Engineer equipment to minimize noise. High pitched noise is more disturbing to livestock than a low pitched rumble.

It is fairly easy to spot cattle that are stressed, often times this is due to fear or uncertainty. Signs of stress in cattle are typically vocalization (lots of moo-ing or bellowing), eyes wide open with head high, panting, lots of defecating. Slaughterhouses as well as feedlots and other operations carefully monitor animals for this kind of behaviour and do their best to prevent it from happening.

So what happens to dark cutting beef?

Appearance is dark cutting beef’s number one repellant when it comes to the retail market. Since retailers won’t purchase dark cutting beef due to the fact that it won’t sell, most of dark cutting beef ends up in the food service industry side in places where customers don’t see the raw product but instead enjoy the cooked product. Although dark cutters can cause meat to become dry and sticky and sometimes tough, there is really no palatability problem with dark cutting beef. And it certainly makes perfectly fine hamburger!

Professionals in the meat science industry have been working towards enhancing and further utilizing dark cutting beef to essentially improve the value. One of the problems in dark cutters when it comes to whole muscle cuts is that even after it’s been cooked, dark cutting beef still retains its dark color. Almost as if the meat hadn’t been cooked at all. This is a huge turnoff for retail as well as food service professionals. Dr. Jason Apple from the University of Arkansas found that through trials done on dark cutting beef enhanced with lactic acid (0.25-1% lactic acid), they could change pH which results in a dark cutting beef becoming nearly impossible to tell the difference between a beef grading somewhere around low choice both in fresh and cooked beef. If you are interested in the specifics, the video below is pretty neat.

The process of dark cutting beef occurs can happen in other species of animals like sheep and pork, it’s not strictly limited to beef. The chemical process is just a little different in other species, but the end result is the same. It’s a lose-lose for everyone when you have a dark cutting animals come through the packing plant. By understanding animal behavior and pairing that with proper animal handling techniques, slaughterhouses can avoid purple meat and we all can enjoy that bright red meat we all know and love.


For more information on dark cutting beef, visit these resources:

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Our Favorite Beef Cuts for Summer

We all know the classics: rib eyes, new yorks, filets…. The tried and true staples are great. We love a grilled rib eye as much as the next meat lover. But with beef prices usually through the roof during summer, grilling a rib eye up one night a week can put a dent on your pocket book! So what are some inexpensive cuts that are great to grill…? Here are our top 5 picks!  Read more

Best BBQ Sauce Recipes

We love a good BBQ sauce.. It makes a great marinade, dipping sauce, glaze… The uses are endless. And we sell a few wonderful BBQ sauces, but the truth is, homemade BBQ sauce HANDS DOWN takes the cake… Homemade BBQ sauce seems like it’s something that would be hard to make… Or take a lot of time. Truth is many homemade bbq sauces are easy and quick. We’ve put together five of our favorites for your chicken, pork, or beef!

BBQ Sauce Collage1. Pulled Pork BBQ Sauce – The New York Times Food

2. Asian Twist Homemade BBQ Sauce – Smitten Kitchen

3. Chipotle Mango BBQ Sauce – Iowa Girl Eats

4. Sweet Baby Rays Copycat BBQ Sauce – Half Baked Harvest

5. Tangy Carolina BBQ Sauce – Buns in My Oven

We hope that these recipes spice up your usual grill routine! Do you make your own BBQ sauce? What’s your favorite recipe? Please share with us!

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Pork Chops Are No Longer Pork Chops

You may be thinking huh? In the beginning of April, The National Pork and Beef Councils came out with a new campaign aimed towards helping customers more readily identify their cuts of meat as well as how to cook those cuts of meat. According to the research from the councils, customers were having a hard time when shopping at the meat case and were looking for more clarity.

Most names consumers know and love won’t be changing, but after two years of research it became apparent that Americans needed more clarity when they perused the meat case, said Trevor Amen, director of market intelligence for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in Denver.

The old, hard-to-understand labels were based on lists created in the 1970s. They were very anatomical, describing cuts based on their location in the animal, Amen said. That information remains on the new labels, but it’s second after the new cut name. Read more

Reporter Goes Undercover as USDA Meat Inspector

Last week, I came across this story put out by Harper Magazine by a reporter (Ted Conover) who was tasked with becoming a USDA inspector for the meat processing company, Cargill in small town rural Nebraska. Upon reading it, I came out with mixed feelings. My first feelings were that overall, it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. I assumed it would be that classic “bashing large agribusiness”  or “uncovering the horrors of the modern slaughterhouse” but instead Conover re-enforces the necessity USDA meat inspectors play to our meat system today. Read more

Cinco De Mayo Recipes

Grab your sombrero and something cold to drink and try your hand at these Mexican recipes to celebrate Cinco De Mayo with your friends!

Cinco De Mayo Collage

Photos courtesy Martha Stewart, Kitchen Konfidence, She Knows Food & Recipe, and The Shiksa in the Kitchen

1. Mexican Braised Beef Tacos – Kitchen Konfidence

2. Guacamole – Martha Stewart

3. Homemade Taco Wrap – She Knows Food & Recipe

4. Arroz con Pollo (Chicken with Rice) – The Shiksa in the Kitchen

5. Margarita Pie – Martha Stewart

6. Grilled Garlic-Lime Fish Tacos – Martha Stewart

7. Horchata – Martha Stewart

8. Roasted Jalapeno Blackberry Margarita

9. Mexican Wedding Cookies – She Knows Food & Recipe

10. Spicy Hot Corn Dip – She Knows Food & Recipe

11. Yucatan-Style Slow Roasted Pork – Kitchen Konfidence

 What is your favorite Cinco De Mayo treat?

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Our Favorite Burger Recipes

The weather here in California is warming up, the flowers are blooming, and it’s beginning to feel like summer so you know what that means…? Grilling season is here! And what better to grill than an All American Burger!? Tired of the same ole boring burger? Add some variety to your burger arsenal with this collection of some of our favorite burger recipes.

beef, pork, burgers, grill

Photos Courtesy Martha Stewart, Food Network & Bon Appetit

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Where Does Steak Come From: Cutting Up A Beef

How much meat do you get off a beef? How many steaks do you get? Where does “insert cut of meat” come from? I am asked these questions constantly. I will preface this by saying this post is long, but it’s informative and you will walk away from here A. knowing where your cuts of beef come from and B. being much happier when you get your 1/2 of beef cut up because you will know what to get! So here it is, processing of a beef from start to finish.

BEEF1 Read more

Are There Hormones in Meat!?

The simple to that question is well, yes. There are hormones in everything… In you, in me, in animals, even in vegetables. That’s just a fact of life. Are hormones added to the animals before they are killed for meat..? Well the answer to that question is basically yes.. Is there a need to be concerned..? Absolutely not.

First of all, hormone use in livestock production only occurs in beef cattle not pork or chicken. And in fact USDA has outlawed hormone use in both pork & poultry production. There are many reasons for this ranging from the chickens and hogs are much more efficient at converting feed than cattle, to the time required to inject each and every chicken is not worth the end result. Bottom line is: if you’re spending more money on that label with the chicken breast that says “hormone free”, sorry to say it, but you’re wasting your money. Hormone use in cattle is not something new to production.  Cattle have been receiving hormone injections for well over 50 years and in fact it is well regulated, monitored carefully, & proven safe. Currently, over 90 percent of the cattle fed in the U.S. receive a hormone implant during growth and this usually occurs as the animal enters the feedlot. The effect of the hormone implant will have worn off well before the animal is shipped to market, basically meaning that the effectiveness of the hormone implant will have terminated well before the animal is slaughtered.  Therefore, residues and/or traces of this hormone implant is not an issue. Read more