Animal and Aquacultural Sciences
The best steak comes from steers
Janne Karin Brodin
Eating a good steak can be heavenly, especially if you get a juicy, tasteful and tender edition. Unfortunately, some of us have also had a taste of the tough variety – the one that makes you think you’ve been given a well done sole of an old shoe
Unlike in some other meat-eating nations where beef bulls only end up as sausage, the Norwegian meat production industry mostly uses beef bulls. Bulls grow faster and utilize the feed better than their castrated brethren. Seeing that the yearly import of beef amounts to an equivalent of 40 000 animals, it is desirable to produce as much as possible, as cheaply as possible and in the shortest possible time. However, quantity does not necessarily equal quality.
Post doc Rune Rødbotten has participated in a project led by Jan Berg of the Department of Animal and Aquacultural Sciences, where the meat quality of steers has been compared to meat of beef bulls. The unambiguous conclusion is that steers yield more and better beefsteaks than bulls do. In addition, there is less variation in the tenderness of meat from steers – which means that we avoid toughest beefsteaks. Why then are bulls used for meat production?
When a bull calf’s testicles are removed or incapacitated, you get a steer. These animals have a gentler temperament and will generally become a bit more “chubby” than their bull brothers. Out of all the ruminants that are slaughtered in Norway, only 0.5 % comes from the gelding category. The main reason for so little steer production is that the animals grow faster and utilize the feed better while they’ve got their bells on. And as long as the farmer gets paid per kilo meat he delivers to the abattoir – regardless of the tenderness of the meat – bull meat is more profitable. Steers used to be common
Steers are advantageous beyond the fact that they produce more tender and tasteful meat than bulls do. Norway has vast outfield areas than are well suited as grazing grounds for geldings. By utilizing these areas, the animals can be part of the effort to take care of Norway’s cultural landscape which is now becoming overgrown.
-About an equal number of bull and cow calves are born in Norway, but by the time they end up in the shops, most of them have been transformed to “cattle”. This is sad because we as consumers do not get a chance to make our choice, says Rødbotten.
Less variation in meat quality from steers
Photo: Janne Brodin
According to Rødbotten, it is especially the tenderloin that shows great variation.
The consumer may be lucky and get a nice and tender piece of tenderloin from bull meat. But he can also be unlucky and get a tough and chewy one. As far as beef bull meat goes, the variation in meat quality is great, and this is hard to classify before the consumer gets stuck into the meat.
Meat from steers shows far less variation in meat quality. According to Rødbotten, many international studies show that meat from steers is clearly better than meat from bulls, and has a meat quality comparable to that of meat from young heifers – even, in some cases, better than meat from young heifers. Experiments with cross-breeds
In a recently completed experiment with steers from various cross-breeds using Norwegian Red (NRF), Jersey and Angus, it turned out that the Angus-Jersey cross-breed gave the most tender meat. The Angus-NRF cross-breed was in the “least tender” category. However, with slaughter at 18 or 24 months of age, the differences were not big. Astounding tenderness
The most remarkable result was that even though there were differences in tenderness between muscles, all the pieces from different parts of the animal achieved fairly good tenderness ratings. Even muscles that are known to be tough were in fact tender. For example, the infraspinatus, a shoulder muscle, was as tender as tenderloin, whereas fillet of a leg had the same tenderness rating as entrecôte.
The results were compared to previous experiments with beef bulls, where there was great variation in tenderness between muscles as well as within the muscle groups. When the results were compared to those from the steer experiment, all the examined muscle groups evidenced less tenderness in bull meat than in steer meat.
-Even though steers compare unfavorably with bulls as far as production parameters go, there is definitely a huge potential in steers. After all, their meat quality far outranks that of beef bulls, says Rødbotten in conclusion.
Updated: 08.02.10Printerfriendly version
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