Thursday, November 10, 2016

What Makes Beef Tough?

I have had to buy -- or should I say have chosen to buy some meat from the store lately. Roasts in particular as we are out and I refuse to buy lunch meat loaded with chemicals and a fake flavor. The scary thing is I bought some chuck steak to cook roast like for lunch meat and the stuff increased in size instead of shrunk -- scary! What are they putting in our meat these days? Since the fox cheated us out of some chicken, we have purchased a little of that also. We don't eat much store chicken anymore and interestingly our cholesterol levels are lower than they have been in many, many years. Makes me wonder what they put in them? Motivation to do our own crops up everywhere. Much easier when you are feeding 2 but with the grandkids here most of the week it is 6, making it a much more difficult task.

As I walk the isles on sale day, I notice the only roast in my budget are the tougher cuts. Good thing I like them and know how to cook them to a tender point. The cooking of tougher cuts of beef, pork, and lamb and wild game is the same. We have eaten lots of wild game, yak, and bison which all are cooked in the same manner.
I knew very little about meat and the various cuts until we began cutting our own. Before that I found the meat section of the store confusing. What cuts do you purchase to do what with? In this confusion you might have had a very chewy meat experience because the cut was cooked wrong. Yes, there is some meat that no matter what you do it will be tough but with this meat there can be a flavorful broth made. You just don't want to pay 6 dollars a pound and have something not chewable when you are done. My mom was a pro at cooking a roast to the tough leather stage. She cooked it at too high a temperature, without enough moisture and for too short a period of time. Of course it was a tougher cut of meat to start with. is a great site to see just where different cuts of meat come from. What we learned when we started cutting up our own beef was that you could get different cuts from the same section of beef. Customizing is a great lure of do it yourselfers. For instance, pork chops is the cut from which Canadian Bacon also comes from. Either you cut a little of the section for chops and make Canadian Bacon from the rest or you choose between the two. 

If you look at a beef, the top center of the beef and top of the hip is where the choice cuts come from, the loin, rib, sirloin etc., most of your steak cuts. Prices reflect this. The bottom section is where the animal gains its locomotion, hence, locomotion muscles. This is the hip and shoulder where the legs propel the animal forward. The top of the shoulder is where my favorite tougher cut comes from, Chuck. Chuck has the most awesome flavor. It is my absolute favorite beef meat and I will take it over T-bone steak any day.

There are other factors besides locomotive versus support muscles (the muscles that aren't locomotive muscles) that determine the tenderness of beef. They are Marbling, Stress, Feed, Aging, Slicing Across the Grain, Marinating, and Proper Cooking.
Marbling may be something you avoid because of fears of cholesterol. It is marbling though that gives meat a perceived tenderness because fat acts as a lubrication when chewing and aids in the separation of fibers. Fat lubricates between meat fibers making the fibers easier to pull apart giving those molars an easier time. Fat also stimulates the production of saliva which further stimulates taste. Fat also helps protect against over cooking. Don't avoid fat, just be smart about it and don't over eat.

Stress tightens the muscles and produces tough meat. Most animals travel a long distance to the butcher and if they are not left long enough in pens in order to relax some, then you taste the results. Our livestock die where they lived so they have no travel stress or stress from being corralled in a strange environment. They are placidly eating grain and then dead. It is that quick.

Feed plays a part in that corn fed beef is usually more tender because it increases fat levels and the animal gains weight quicker so it is butchered at a younger age. Younger animals are more tender. Our animals are closer to 2 years of age instead of 18 months. Pasture fed along with hay and a small amount of wheat is what ours eat. The increase in age gives us more natural flavor and because of the relaxed environment, taste testers have all chorused saying the meat is tender. My cousin and her husband came and had steaks with us but complained about how large they were thinking they could never eat it all. To their surprise they devoured it. They buy a half a corn fed beef every year but had not tasted anything quite as good as our beef. Feed choices equates to different flavors and different people like different flavors. In lamb this is especially true as it feed makes a large difference in flavor.

Our favorite beef is Coriante but they are not fun to keep in as they are wonderers by trait and they are much slower growing. This means lots more feed to meat ratio and time, lots more time to get to butcher size. Unless you have mild year round weather so little hay is need plus lots of pasture, it just isn't real cost effective. We bought a good sized Corianted to begin with and may do that again one day because I'm craving it. We eat mostly Angus since it is readily available. That is what will go into the freezer this year and a Angus /Semental calf that will grow and do the same.

Aging, marinating, proper cooking, and slicing across the grain, all help to tenderize meat. There are two kinds of aging, wet and dry. We do only dry and our meat does not hang as long as traditional corn fed beef. Diet plays a role here as does time in order to be able to process the beef. We have to coincide our hanging time with days off in order to get the job done - not necessarily when it is best for the meat. Yet we have been blessed with very tender beef. Dry aging does not work well on pork, lamb, and veal as they do not have the marbling to protect the meat from rotting. Corn fed beef can be aged longer because of the increased fat levels. I have to say our pasture, hay fed are not any less fat but they are babied. Most of you don't process your own meat so I won't go into aging. Marinating and cooking I will talk about in another post.

That leaves slicing across grain. That makes a huge difference as it cuts up the connective tissues in the meat. Fibers in the meat run in a direction. You cut in the opposite direction that the fibers run in order to break up the connective tissue. We cube a lot of our meat, almost all of our wild meat. We have a cuber that has knives that cut through the meat tenderizing it. Unlike the butcher or store meat that runs the meat through once. We run ours through from top to bottom and flip it so it runs through side to side so it gets really tenderized. Great if you have sever TMJ like I do. I have no trouble with mine but the dentist cringes when he works on my teeth.

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