Quality Beef

Retail Grocery Steak Shoot-Out (Review)


Gaining perspective on what others are experiencing with their Twin Cities area retail meat counter steak 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. I set out to find which stores and brands provide the Twin Cities best grocery steak value.


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.


Composite quality score will be calculated by multiplying a 0 to 5 Flavor by a 1 to 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 (corrected for un-chewable discard pieces).

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. They’d be ahead of the game simply molding a bullion-flavored gelatin into the shape of a steak.

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 once blithely claimed the meaningless “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. Double-take: USDA doesn’t grade “live cattle” ; only “hanging carcasses”! So these clowns are playing a shell-game w/us! They’re happily choosing some secret definition of the “best cattle” that an indifferent USDA only grades as “Choice” when they become carcasses. Apparently Cargill isn’t a very good judge of cattle.

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)

Post-script: Their website recently began claiming dry-aging but you sure can’t verify from the bland flavor result.

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?

Hyvee Choice Reserve Beef

Refrigerated distribution at store meat counter. Paper wrap at POP with stick-on label claiming “Born , Raised, Harvest USA” Purchased 10-12-19 at $7.99 for 8 ounces and prepared w/o freezing on 10-14.

Flavor Score: One point five (1.5 ) Lower two-thirds of steak had next to NO flavor. Only the upper third redeemed the score. Course texture comes off as Hereford but nowhere near a flavorful as the Four Brothers previous review.

Texture Score: Two (2.0) “Dry” but not generally tough. Total un-chewable discard 0.75 ounces.

Waste-Adjusted Price per Pound: $17.76

Composite Score: Three (3.0)

Value Score:: One Point Seven (1.7)

So what’s so great about Hyvee?

Quality Beef

Dry Aging: Less (H2O) is More

Dry aging (hanging carcass beef in a cool, climate controlled environment) has a long history but the modern beef industry has abandoned it in favor of a poor substitute deemed “wet aging” where all the excess fluids associated with a beef primal cut are supposedly captured with it in vacuum sealed plastic. Dry aging is more costly because this excess water is evaporated during the aging process and does not contribute to finished yield. Producers who don’t explicitly claim to practice dry aging are NOT using it.

Here is what Hugh Fearnley -Whittingstall, a British small holder , livestock raiser and food writer ( The River Cottage Meat Book) has to say: “What happens to the meat during hanging (dry aging) is that the natural enzymes begin to act on the fibers of the muscle meat, making them softer and more elastic so that the meat becomes more relaxed and tender.” “The meat will also begin to lose moisture as it hangs. Paradoxically this is a good thing when it comes to cooking. Wet, fresh, underhung meat carries too much water, which expands as the temperature rises during cooking, stretching the fibers of the meat and leaching out between them-especially when the meat contracts again after cooking and during carving. This means that wet meat actually ends up drier after cooking and vice versa.” “In general, another great but rarely discussed benefit of proper hanging… is that dry aged meat will emerge  from the freezer with far greater credit than immature, wet meat. Again, moisture is a key issue. Water expands as it freezes so that ice crystals will tear and push apart the fibers of the meat.Not only will dry aged meat contain less of the damaging moisture but the more elastic fibers will cope better with the expanding ice crystals. So, as the meat defrosts , and again as it cooks , there will be less tendency for water to leach out.”

I tested this idea by comparing moisture loss of pan -fried ground beef patties made from Hay Creek dry aged beef and Australian (AU) grass fed organic ground beef referred to in another post. The AU ground beef is distributed unfrozen with a moisture diaper so is almost certainly NOT dry aged. Both samples were frozen once and thawed fully prior to pan frying under identical conditions to a medium rare done-ness (just past spatula press “squish” point). The AU burger had a ring of “pan boogers” around it while cooking where excess juices were evaporating off and lost an incredible 19.3 % of it’s raw weight. It shrunk in diameter quite noticeably and had a somewhat dry, chewy eating texture. The Hay Creek burger fried w/o forming “pan boogers”, very little diameter shrinkage and only 9.0 % moisture loss. Much more tender and moist upon eating . Way juicier than any of the much-overrated Juicy Lucy contenders in town.

Remember that “dry meat” (dry aged) is “moister” than “wet meat” (fresh or wet aged) every time you discard the costly tray bib/diaper thing saturated with excess moisture from a package of grocery store beef.


Quality Beef

All Hat No Cattle

It takes a decent breeding herd, fertile land, fencing, drinking water delivery works , expertise (luck too) and most of all;  time ( 6-12 months more than grain-fed) to produce a quality true grass- fed beef.

It’s not about just jockeying random maybe-grass-fed cattle between a convenient “sale barn”  and processor. Nor is it waylaying opportunistically-purchased cattle in some greenish chunk of pasture a few weeks.  It takes 2-4 acres of good pasture per finishing head to support that generation of cattle and the upcoming younger generations-for a whole growing season.

Beware of large sellers using Hot Hanging Weight (HHW) based pricing. It’s a likely cover for brokering from multiple unidentified herds with unverifiable practices.

Make sure you are getting what you pay for . Ask questions. Make a farm visit. Mystery Meat of ambiguous origins is way-cheaper in the supermarket. Don’t simply go along with crowd-think.