11 December 2019
How do you buy a good steak?
If you want to buy a nice beef steak to prepare on your Big Green Egg you can, of course, ask the butcher for advice. But how do you recognise the quality of beef yourself? What are the influencing factors and what is the purpose of fat exactly? After reading this blog, you will in the future be able to choose the tastiest steaks, both at the butcher around the corner and with online ordering.
What is a steak?
Meat is nothing more or less than muscle consisting of muscle, fat and connective tissue and fluid. With steaks, certain muscles are sliced at right angles to the strand. That is, the fibres (the strands) are cut to prevent the steak from having a tough bite. These slices are roughly between 2 and 5 centimetres thick. The thinner steaks are usually grilled at a temperature of around 220 ° C, the thicker steaks can be prepared very well using the reverse sear method .
For years, it was mainly the tender parts that went over the counter as steak. Nowadays, the (previously) less common parts have also been discovered, such as bavette, hanger and blade. These parts fall under heavy-working muscle meat. This means that this muscle has been very active during the animal’s life. Meat from heavy-working muscles is generally coarser in structure than the more tender parts. It therefore has more bite and taste. Blade does not have this coarse structure, but was best known as stewed meat. Nowadays, it is also available as a split blade or blade steak. In so doing, the hard strand consisting of connective tissue is cut out of the blade. That way, you can also prepare a good blade as a steak.
Characteristics of a steak
A good, fresh beef steak has a beautiful bright red colour. You have them in different shapes and sizes and each steak has its own characteristics. These influence the taste and tenderness of the meat, among other things. In addition, other factors such as the variety, the diet, the living conditions and the way in which the meat has been processed play a role in the quality of the steaks.
Depending on the type of steak, it contains more or less fat marbling (intramuscular fat) and/or a rind (extramuscular fat). The fat from raw meat should be firm, but not hard, and white in colour. Fat makes the meat more tender when cooking, extra flavourful and also has a protective effect,as lean meat dries out earlier if you cook the meat a little too long.
Beef variety as a basis
The variety forms the basis for quality meat. For example, Blonde d’Aquitaine, Limousin, Hereford and Aberdeen Angus – known as Black Angus and Red Angus – are typical meat varieties. These are nicely fleshed and the animals are predisposed to supplying quality meat with nice fat marbling. In addition, the fat marbling and the fat percentage is partly determined by the way the cattle live. In particular through the diet and freedom of movement.
Grass-fed and grain-fed
With beef, you have the choice between grass-fed and grain-fed meat.What you like best is a question of personal taste. Grass-fed meat is said to be purer and more natural. However, some swear by the taste of meat from grain-fed cattle. Grain provides a higher percentage of fat in and/or on the meat, creating extra flavour.
In addition to the diet, the freedom of movement is also influential. With sufficient movement, the fat is nicely distributed over the meat. This, in turn, benefits marbling. Marbled meat is preferable to meat with a layer of fat on the outside. Although this also gives the meat extra taste. The advantage of marbled meat is that the fat often melts completely during preparation. Its taste is absorbed by the meat.
Beef must always mature after slaughter. An approximately week-long process in which enzymes ensure that the meat becomes more tender and flavourful. If it is sold immediately afterwards, it is called fresh meat. People often choose to let the meat mature wet or dry for a certain period of time afterwards.
Wet aging is the packaging of a meat part in vacuum, which is stored at a temperature just above freezing. The most important reason for wet aging is that the shelf life is considerably extended. In addition, the meat becomes more tender and tastier. Wet aging is suitable for any meat part and is never actually specifically prescribed.
With dry aging the meat hangs or lies unpackaged in special climate cells or cabinets at the ideal temperature, humidity and controlled air circulation. The purpose of dry aging is to make the meat more tender and to create more flavour. Because moisture is extracted from the meat, the taste is much more intense. The difference in taste compared to fresh and wet-aged meat is clearly perceptible.
Particularly meat cuts with a nice ratio between meat and fat are suitable for maturing dry. With dry-aged meat, a dark crust is formed that contains bacteria. This crust prevents bacteria from getting inside the meat during the aging process. Cuts containing bone are aged on the bone. Because when the bone has been removed before the process, there is a chance that bacteria will get into the meat because of this notch. The butcher cuts the dark crust off the meat after the drying process. The dry-aged meat can then be cut into steaks.
Certain meat cuts are well suited for cutting as steak. What part of the cattle do certain steaks come from? What are the specific characteristics so that you can recognise quality per part?
The ribeye steak is a tender and tasty piece of meat with a fine structure that you can quickly prepare on the Big Green Egg. A good quality ribeye has a nice fat marbling. In addition, a somewhat coarser fat rind runs through the steak. The ribeye is located at the front of the back and is available as a whole ribeye and as a steak. You can cut a ribeye steak by thickness or weight.
Côte de boeuf
The côte de boeuf is a cool steak to prepare on the barbecue. It is simply a bone-in ribeye and has the same characteristics. This steak also comes from the front of the back, the so-called rib of beef. The bone is one of the ribs of the beef. The thickness of a côte de boeuf as steak is determined by the presence of the bone, making it a fairly thick steak. As a result, this steak is usually first cooked indirectly and then grilled (reverse sear) or vice versa (initial sear). You can also buy a tomahawk. This is a côte de boeuf in which the bone has been cut off less deeply.
If you are going to buy an entrecote steak you can determine the thickness of the meat yourself. As a result, you can follow a recipe for the entrecote in which you cook a thinner steak or a thicker steak such as a cote de boeuf. The entrecote comes from the middle part of the back, cut from the striploin. The meat is characterised by a rind on the outside of the steak. In addition, a nice entrecote can contain fat marbling. A cheaper alternative to entrecote is the picanha, also known as the rump cap. A good rump cap also has a rind. If you cut it into steaks, you can prepare it as an entrecote.
The tenderloin is the tenderest part of the beef with a very fine structure because the cattle have not used this muscle very much. It is lean meat and generally contains little fat marbling. The entire tenderloin consists of a head, a middle part and a tail. The somewhat thicker middle section is called chateaubriand. Of these, usually the steaks are cut that are known as tournedos or tenderloin. The tenderloin is located at the level of the entrecote in the loin of the beef. Tenderloin is expensive and contains relatively little flavour compared to other beef steaks.
If you want to buy a T-bone steak, it is important to realise that its preparation requires special attention. In addition to the T-shaped bone, the T-bone consists of two different parts: the entrecote and the tenderloin (tournedos). With a quality steak, the entrecote has a rind of fat and a nice fat marbling, which is missing in the tenderloin. The American porterhouse steak resembles the T-bone. Relatively speaking, it contains a smaller piece of entrecote and a larger piece of tenderloin compared to our T-bone. When preparing a T-bone and a porterhouse steak on the BBQ, make sure that the tenderloin is not overcooked and always allow the steak to come to room temperature before you prepare it.
The rump steak is a very tender steak from the hindquarter of the cattle. It is the top of the thick flank or of the topside. The meat has a fine structure, low fat marbling and is therefore not known for its distinct taste. It is also important for rump steak to be cut at right angles to the strand. If you want to buy rump steak, it’s best to briefly grill or fry the steak at high temperature on the bbq.
The bavette is a fairly flat and elongated piece of meat from the flank of a bovine animal, so the lower part between buttock and breast. A whole bavette weighs about 1 to 1.5 kilogrammes from which you can cut steaks. Bavette is typically hard-working muscle meat As a result, the meat has a coarse structure and is incredibly tasty. A good bavette is nicely marbled which gives the meat even more flavour. Because the popularity of bavette is still growing, it has become more expensive in recent years, but it is still a very affordable piece of meat to grill on the bbq.
To the butcher
Armed with this knowledge, you can confidently go to the butcher to buy good quality steaks. Determine which steak you prefer and trust your senses. Does the meat have a nice clear colour? If there’s fat, does it look fresh and firm? Is the meat not in a layer of moisture and has it been cut at right angles to the strand? Then you’re good. In addition, if this has not been specified already, you can ask the butcher certain questions such as:
- What is the beef breed and what are its characteristics?
- Is it grass-fed or grain-fed meat?
- How did the animal live?
Steaks on the Big Green Egg
After buying the steaks, you naturally want to prepare them as tastily as possible on your Big Green Egg. You can get started with these recipes.
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