BRYAN — If you grow a tough chicken, you make about eight or 10 people mad. If you produce a tough, tasteless cattle carcass, there are 542 people who are unhappy with their eating experience. At least, that’s the way Dr. Jeff Savell, professor of animal science at Texas A&M University, has it figured.
“And what do you do?” he asked the crowd of about 300 producers and industry representatives at the recent Brazos Valley Cattlemen’s Clinic at the Bryan Livestock Commission Co. “If you eat something good, you tell a few people. If you eat something bad, you tell everybody.”
Cattle producers have to be diligent in customer satisfaction, even though many of them are far removed from the consumer. “You’ve got to make sure the end product delivers the quality it needs to.
“No one drives as far, stands in line and pays as much as they do for beef,” he said. And if it’s bad, many times they won’t come back, he added.
Taste is the number one issue in whether consumers will eat beef. Nutrition and food safety generally rank second and third, he added.
“When we’re talking about taste, we’re really talking about flavor and tenderness,” Savell said. “People just like to eat, and they like to eat stuff that tastes good. And when it doesn’t taste good, they’re not gonna eat it,” he emphasized.
For instance, many diets fail because of the taste, or lack of taste. “I always tell people the second week of a diet is always the easiest, because by that time you’ve quit,” he said.
There’s not just one tool that will make beef taste better, Savell said. There’s a series of things: whether the animal has been fed or has been eating properly, if it has been on a high energy diet, or if the beef carcass has been aged properly.
Also, the amount of cooking time is very important, he explained. The longer you cook a steak, the tougher it will be. Also, “We know that the highest ratings for steaks will be given to those that are cooked medium rare.” However, some diners object to medium rare steaks.
Some think a steak cooked medium rare is still bloody. Not so, said Savell. That’s just meat juices. Even when consumers like a higher degree of “doneness,” they’ll still rate the medium rare steak higher, especially if it’s served under red light and they cannot see the color.
“A lot of people say we eat with our eyes before we do with our mouth,” Savell explained. “So you look at the food and look at the plate, and if it doesn’t look good, then it’s not going to be very appetizing.”
Another concern consumers may have with a medium rare steak is food safety. However, Savell said, the bacteria that cause health problems are on the outside of the steak, not the inside. “On steaks, you’re trying to cook the surfaces. So you cook that and you can have a medium rare steak that’s very tasty and very safe to consume,” he said.
Ground meat has to be cooked thoroughly because it has more exposed surfaces that can contain microorganisms and dangerous pathogens, he emphasized.
Many times, education of consumers is the key to tasty beef, Savell said. He related a story of consumers in Philadelphia who didn’t like round steak. It turned out they were cooking it on a grill, simply because they didn’t know it would taste better if, for instance, it was chicken-fried.
“Now beef shouldn’t have to come with an owner’s manual, but we (the cattle industry) need to have more and more information for people,” Savell said. “We have a whole new group of folks we’re trying to get ready to go.”
Additionally, many consumers don’t know that the cholesterol in some cuts of beef is the same as for some cuts of poultry. The cholesterol content of a chicken breast is about equal to a strip steak (70 mg. in a 3-ounce, cooked portion). “When you look at it, you can find cuts of beef with lower cholesterol, like the round, and you can find cuts in chicken that have a lot higher cholesterol, like chicken thighs,” he said.
What he urges consumers to do is to eat what they like, but use moderation. “I could write the simplest diet book around. It would be a postcard, and one side would say, Eat less,’ and the other side would say, Exercise more,’ and put repeat on the deal. But I couldn’t sell it. I couldn’t get on Oprah or get anywhere else to sell that deal. Everybody wants a pill now, or they want something else to do,” Savell said.
“Beef can fit very easily into the diet when you talk about 3- ounce portions that are trimmed and free from the outside fat,” he added.