The Fourth of July weekend is upon us and, for millions of Americans, that means barbeque to go along with the fireworks: 69% of us will host or attend a holiday cookout this weekend, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA).
And while many Americans are eating less beef these days, it’s still a huge business and a very big part of our diets:
- Americans spent over $67.5 billion on beef in 2012, according to the USDA.
- 93% of Americans eat meat at least one dinner per week, according to the 2013 “Power of Meat” study, published by the American Meat Institute and the Food Marketing Institute.
With that backdrop in mind, The Daily Ticker has put together a ‘summer steak buying guide’ with the help of Mark Schatzker, columnist at The Globe & Mail and author of Steak: One Man’s Search for the World’s Tastiest Piece of Beef.
According to Schatzker, the “two most important things” in selecting a steak are: How old the cow was when it was slaughtered, and what did it eat.
“Generally, most beef we’re eating ate way too much grain and was slaughtered way too young, so it tastes more like veal – it just doesn’t have a lot of flavor,” he says. “That’s why we’re dumping a lot of sauces and rubs [on it]. And those can make it a bit better but you’re really not eating what I think of as a great steak.”
In terms of the age of the beef, the ideal window is between 24-30 months old, according to Schatzker. “That’s where steak was in the 1950s but we got so efficient at cranking cows out that we’ve just lowered that age way down,” he says. “That made the beef cheaper, [but] also made it flavorless.”
The key for consumers, he says, is to find a local butcher, farmer’s market or rare supermarket where they actually do know the answer to those key questions: How old was the cow and what did it eat?
“Go to the right store, the right butcher,” he recommends. “Buying a great steak is not as easy as you think it is; it’s incredibly complicated.”
As indicated in the subtitle of his book, Schatzker really did travel the globe in search of the world’s best steaks. While many of his favorites come from far-flung locations, the good news is you can get great steaks in America. Schatzker recommends:
- DeKalb Farmers Market, in Decateur, GA, where they sell Alderspring beef.
- California-based chains Bristol Farms and Andronicos, which each sell New Zealand grass fed Wagyu, a Japanese cattle that “marbles like crazy.”
- Online retailers Alderspring.com and Rangewestbeef.com
The bad news is Schatzker doesn’t think you can get good steak at the vast majority of U.S. supermarkets and other big retailers like Wal-Mart and Costco.
“You get when you pay for,” he says. “Unfortunately, expensive steaks often are better than the cheap ones. I advise people to not shop what’s going for $8.99 [per pound.]”
So if an expensive steak is worth it, what does Schatzker think of steak houses, which often charge big premiums for their beef? Check out the accompanying video to find out and have a safe, healthy and delicious weekend.
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