Retail Grocery Steak Shoot-Out (Review)

Goals

Gaining perspective on what others are experiencing with their retail meat quality choices is important to a beef producer. We tend to get accustomed to our own product and need to force ourselves to explore the larger world. That’s what this post series is about.

Method

We’ll focus on the New York Strip cut as the best compromise between flavor and tenderness. Grass-fed and conventional. Refrigerated distribution steaks will be frozen if unable to prepare b-4 exp. date. All frozen steaks will be defrosted in sealed packaging immersed in cold water . NYT Cooks “Cast -Iron Steak” (“salt the pan, not the steak and flip early and often”) cooking method will be used to a 125 to 130 deg F internal temp. Steaks will be rested 2 minutes on a steam-heated stoneware plate before slicing and tasting.

Scoring

Composite quality score will be calculated by multiplying a 0 to 5 Flavor by a 1-3 Texture score. Flavor has the upper hand here with potential of a Zero score. Why eat beef if it doesn’t taste like beef? Value score will be the Composite Quality score times 10 divided by $ price per pound paid.

The Contestants:

No-Name (Original)

I recall these as being a quality product back in the 80’s and was curious as to the direction they’d taken since. Frozen in 8 oz pouches, $15 for 24 oz net ($10/pound). Country of origin NOT spec’d. Brined up to 7% w/water, salt, sodium phosphate, dextrose, papain. Cut not spec’d.

The pre-cooking beef is a boneless rectangle unidentifiable as to cut. Surface and partial thru-slices (to tenderize?) appear randomly. Wet, “plumped-up” appearance. Totally saturated a half-sheet of Bounty w/surface moisture.

Flavor Score: Zero (0) No discernible flavor characteristic of beef. Only a vague salty flavor.

Texture Score: One (1) Soft, squishy. Easily chewed.

Composite Score: Zero (0)

Value: Zero (0)

This outfit has constrained themselves to a price point that apparently demands they focus only on providing “tenderness” They’ve gone way too far down the rabbit hole for this to even be realistically regarded as “steak” any longer.

Springerhill Ranch Brand

Refrigerated distribution at Fresh Thyme “Farmers” Market. $12.49 for 10 oz ($20/pound) trimmed NYS. Origin USA/Texas. Grass-fed, no added antibiotics, hormones, steroids.

Pre-cooking note: moisture absorbing “bib” built into rear panel of package. Some weight to it.

Flavor Score: Five (5) Robust grass-fed beef flavor. Clean w/no off-flavors.

Texture Score: Two (2) A bit over-tough on both ends of the strip with 2 only partly reducible-by-chewing (dogs got’em) pieces and 1 fatty/gristly piece.

Composite Score: Ten (10)

Value Score: 5

Exemplifies the Grass-Fed conundrum of getting both flavor and tenderness in the same cut of beef.

Thousand Hills

Refrigerated distribution at Coburns. $12.99 for 8 oz heavily trimmed NYS steak ($26 per pound). Origin USA. Grass-fed. No added antibiotics, hormones, grain.

Flavor Score: Three (3). Mild flavor straddling-the-fence between conventional and grass-fed. Fails to hit any of the distinctive grass-fed notes. Clean, no off-flavors.

Texture Score: Three (3). Heavily trimmed, angular, unnatural NYS shape most likely directed at eliminating “tough” portions. Total unchewable “gristle” at end around half an ounce. Otherwise ideal steak texture.

Composite Score: Nine (9)

Value Score: (3.5)

For an outfit that crows “Lifetime Grazed”, why stake out such a please-everyone flavor profile? Excessive reliance on focus group direction produce innocuous, undistinguished products like this.

Angus Farms

Refrigerated distribution at Hugo’s. $9.58 for a 0.71 pound NYS ($13.50 per pound). The “brand” label appears to be simply a stick-on to conventional in-store tray/film package so no country of origin or other claims on label other than” USDA Choice” which implies conventional (grain) fed. Curious that this trademark is a front for “Cargill Meat Solutions” whose website blithely claims “Only the best cattle meet our strict standards for quality”. Huh? Everyone knows the “best cattle” in the conventional feeding game are graded USDA Prime. USDA Choice is the middling grade above Select. Other than their place of birth there’s not likely much of anything like a “farm” in these animals’ experience. This is industrial feedlot beef.

Flavor Score: Two (2) Very mild verging on bland. No off flavors.

Texture Score: Three (3) Tender and juicy with exception of discarded fat and gristly pieces.- which totaled 0.070 pounds. It occurred to me that rather than discount the Texture score it would be more fair to let the Value score deal with “waste” portions, which were larger in total with this contestant than those prior. Both Springerhill and Thousand Hills value scores would be somewhat lower if waste were taken into account.

Waste-adjusted price per pound : $14.96

Composite Score: Six (6)

Value Score: Four (4)

Something weird: The thawed, unpackaged raw steak had absolutely no “meat/beef” odor before cooking. Smelled completely neutral-like a rock.

Four Brothers

Refrigerated distribution at Coburn’s. Store film over tray pack with only paper stick-on exterior lablel . No COO claims. Only claim is “Hereford Beef” as part of logo. No in-tray diaper but loads of free moisture. Packaging dripping. Steak saturated 3 half-sheets of Bounty. $9.05 for 1.01 pounds ($8.99 per pound).

Flavor Score: Two point five (2.5) Mild but quite distinctive beef flavor ; Hereford influence?

Texture Score:: Two (2) “Dry” (like lean round steak) in center portion of strip. Ends w/more fat very good. Total discard: 0.030 pounds.

Waste-adjusted price per pound: $9.23

Composite Score: 5.0

Value Score : 5.4

Four Brothers originated in AU. If this is AU beef why no COO claim?

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