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Try a little tenderness
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By John Schlageck, Kansas Farm Bureau
Recent consumer research has shown there’s a segment of the U.S. population that is willing to pay more for tender and very tender cuts of beef. So how do you determine what is tender and very tender?
Some would argue, “We all know what a good, tender steak is because we’ve had one and enjoyed every bite.” Sure you know what you like and I know what I like, right?
A tender cut of beef is easy to chew. You can almost cut it with a fork. No gristle. Now that’s a tender steak.
But is there any way to tell for sure?
Visually you can’t see tenderness. Sometimes even with a Grade A Prime cut of beef you may receive a less than tender piece.
Today, the discerning steak lover wants a guarantee that the particular cut of beef he/she is about to order in a restaurant or buy at the supermarket, is indeed tender or very tender.
Retailers, packers and now livestock producers have heard this reverie and are listening. They all understand the customer is right, give the people what they want and in this case, there may very well be a positive adjustment to everyone’s bottom line.
To ensure the livestock producer, packer and retailer can deliver a tender, very tender cut of beef, the ASTM subcommittee on Livestock, Meat and Poultry, Marketing Claims has nearly completed its efforts to establish a standard for beef tenderness, according to Mark Nelson, Kansas Farm Bureau Commodities Division.
“This standard will allow us to numerically define cuts of beef that are either tender or very tender,’” Nelson says. “This is important because consumers will then know for certain what they are buying meets these standards.”
Nelson says this program isn’t in place yet and may not be for up to another year. He believes it is important that livestock producers understand this is coming down the pike and they should be talking to their packer-buyer once these tenderness standards are in place.
“It’s up to us as beef producers to go to our packer buyers and ask them, ‘Hey are you paying a premium for tenderness?’” Nelson says. “We need to ensure we as producers are paid for stock that grades tender and very tender.”
So how will tenderness be determined in beef carcasses?
There are many variables that contribute to beef tenderness, Nelson notes. To begin with you have livestock genetics and age. Then there is grade including select, choice and prime. In addition,  the amount of marbling although this deals more with the taste of the cut of beef.
One measure of tenderness in the industry is the Warner-Bratzler, developed at Kansas State University and the slice shear force test. These measures are based on the amount of pressure it takes to cut a steak. It mimics the pressure it takes to push you knife through a cut of beef.
According to Warner-Bratzler, a steak that requires 3.9 kilograms of pressure to slice through the beef may be a very tender cut, Nelson says. One that requires 4.4 kilograms may be labeled tender. Anything above that will be considered a common cut of beef.
Nelson notes that while the U.S. beef industry remains the gold standard around the world, there are still roughly 17 percent of the carcasses processed in this country that will not make the cut as tender or very tender.
“Our goal with this standard is to sort out carcasses and pieces of meat based on tenderness,” Nelson says. “One day in the not too distant future everyone who buys a cut of beef will be able to look at the label and see whether its tender or very tender along with the grade, weight and price.”
These continuing efforts, including the proposed tenderness standards are vital as the livestock and meat industries adopt new technologies and more of us pay, or are paid for, the many and varied livestock and meat attributes delivered. And as always, beef producers will continue to listen to and produce products for the consumer.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.