Is Your Meat Fresh? Know the source, age and aging process.

The old adage “You get what you pay for” is very true when it comes to buying meat for your family. The next time you eat at a restaurant or shop for beef, be mindful and always ask questions.

Where does this beef come from?  Was this a well fed, properly processed steer?

Black Angus Steer

Or, is the meat coming from an older, retired dairy cow who was bred for milk and most likely consumed a genetically modified diet and regular antibiotic treatments?

Dairy Cows

Fortunately, most of the beef we eat comes from steers or cows that are raised for meat rather than milk production. Young beef tends to be more tender with better marbling (which brings great flavor). This beef is used almost exclusively for steaks. Since ground beef doesn’t need to be tender or marbled, often supermarket ground beef is made from older, retired dairy or breeding cows along with left over trimmings. While this meat may not be “bad for you” if you are looking for high quality meat, you may want to avoid this option. Most quality butcher shops will grind fresh cuts to provide you with fresh, high quality ground beef.

Know the age of your meat.

Dry-aged beef is beef that has been hung or placed on a rack in sterile refrigerators with very carefully controlled air flow, humidity and temperature for several weeks. During this process, a crust forms on the outside of the loin and the natural juices are absorbed into the meat. This layer is then trimmed away leaving you with steaks with superior flavor and tenderness. This process begins with well marbled, high quality meat. Dry-aged beef is seldom available outside high-end steak houses and upscale butcher shops due to the overall loss of weight and the expense of the process itself.

You may have seen “Aged or Wet Aged Beef” in certain stores. This is simply meat that has been packed in plastic to be shipped. The natural enzymes may help to tenderize the meat, yet it is still sitting in its own juices and simply aging.  Again, ask questions. Know how long your meat has been aging, meat that has been naturally or wet aging for over 75 days is not considered fresh.

How to check for freshness.

Red meat such as beef and lamb should be bright red. A tad bit purple is still okay, it just means that it has been exposed to some oxygen.

Press your finger into the meat. If it springs back up, it is fresh. If not, it’s older and losing firmness.

Always smell your meat. You should never smell anything foul or unusual like bleach or ammonia.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when looking for high quality beef.

  • Look for naturally fed, humanly raised animals who are free from antibiotics and genetically modified feed.
  • The freshest meats are from local farms and have never been frozen.
  • Look for meats that have been vacuum sealed or cryo packed for freshness.
  • Look for marbling (white swirls throughout the beef).  Higher levels of marbling means superior flavor and juiciness and a high USDA rating.
  • Bright red color indicates freshness.  Be aware that some grocery stores may add red color to simulate freshness.
  • ‘Dry aged’ beef will be brown, tender and carry a distinct, intense flavor compared to ‘wet aged”.

Remember, there are many honest, high quality butchers who are dedicated to providing their customers with fresh, high quality product. They key is to be educated. Ask questions!