Sunday, April 27, 2008

What the heck is Angus beef anyway?

I've heard the term Angus beef thrown around a lot, particular by fast food chains attempting to entice customers to by their burgers there. But is Angus beef really better than "regular" beef or is it just a bunch of smoke and mirrors? Sure it sounds pretty good and makes you feel like "man's man (or woman)" when you order it or just say it's name, but does this translate into superior quality or flavor?

As usual, my go to for information such as this is Wikipedia. Angus is derived from Aberdeen-Angus, which was the name of Scottish breed of cattle. Angus (or Blank Angus) is the most popular breed of beef cattle in America. Interestingly, Angus cattle are used strictly for meat, due to their natural marbling (fat located within the meat), but are also used for cross breeding purposes with other types of cattle in order to improve both marbling and milking ability. Why Angus cattle are not used for milk is not elaborated on unfortunately.

During 2003 and 2004, Fast food restaurants created a PR campaign for the purposes of promoting the supposed superior quality of beef from Angus cattle. In fact, there is a American Angus Association who's primary purpose is to promote the idea that Angus beef is better than all other beef. I won't get into the 10 characteristics that must be met to be considered Angus cattle, but you can check it for yourself at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angus_cattle if you are interested.

I think the main thing that can be taken from this is that there is not significant evidence that Angus beef is any better or worse that other beef. There is certainly a lot more marketing and PR muscle behind it, but not a whole lot of definitive statistics to to back it up. I say buy beef that looks fresh and has good marbling. If it happens to be Angus, that is fine, but I would not choose one over the other solely based on the name.

4 comments:

sea mystery said...

Jared,
It has more to do with quality control standards on Angus and Kobe beef. Also the taste may differ a little bit from commercialized beef. That means the way it's handled after slaughter. Ugly word, isn't it? It does, however, seem to handle better when it's on the grill ... doesn't dry out as fast. Sorry to be so technical. xxoo

ddreilinger said...

Hey Jared -
Thanks for debunking the hype. A quick question: I made crock-pot bbq chicken for passover - worked well - but wanted to get a more grilled flavor. would you recommend liquid smoke for chicken? also, where do you buy the stuff?

Jared said...

Thank you for the insight Sea Mystery. Good to know for the future.

Dave,

A little liquid smoke would definately give it more of a smoky taste. I don't know if it would give it a real grilled type flavor, but it'll definately give a nice smoky taste. You may to want to add in a little worcesteshire sauce as well. You should be able to get liquid smoke at most grocery stores, usually in the spice or ketchup/sauce area.

JewelyaZ said...

The breed of cattle matters very little if you're buying commercially-raised beef. It's all going to be Angus or Angus crosses anyway. The real problem with this beef, and the reason it doesn't taste as good as the best beef, is that it's been corn fed. Yes, they go on and on about corn-fed steer like it's the best, but in fact, it's the WORST. Cattle are not designed by nature to eat corn, they are designed to eat GRASS. Corn changes the pH of their digestive system, makes them ill, taxes their liver, and makes the meat fatty (and IMO gross). No way I would eat organ meat from corn-fed steer; they've been under too much poor-nutritional stress their entire lives!

The real deal is GRASS-FED beef. If you can find grass-fed historic breeds like Scottish Highland, even better! Scottish Highlands were bred to be beef animals and to withstand amazingly difficult conditions while producing gorgeous meat. Most grass-fed animals will, by the very nature of things, be organically fed since very few cattle farmers are going to bother to spray their grass pastures with pesticides. The important thing is that these animals are typically raised in a less crowded or uncrowded environment, are under a lot less stress, and are so much healthier overall that many of them are never given any antibiotics (factory-fed cattle so commonly require antibiotics that the standard protocol is to ear-tag them with the drugs!)

So... quality control doesn't mean jack. Antibiotic use makes a difference to your health. What the animals are fed makes a difference to their health and your health too, not to mention the taste of the meat (grass-fed is vastly superior).

Grass-fed beef does tend to be leaner since the animals move around more, so you have to be careful to not overcook it (if you're used to cheap, fatty factory-farmed beef this will be especially important).

Thanks for the info on liquid smoke... I too believed it had to be distilled carcinogens... glad to hear that at least the making of it and the ingredients are pretty simple.