Having a Cow About Steak Quality

Let’s talk about steak for a moment. Was the last one you ate good? How about the one before that? Be honest.

The first bite, in all probability, was juicy and tender. Not bad. A brief hit of beefiness, enough to spur you on to bite No. 2. But by bite No. 4, there was a problem: grease. The tongue gets entirely coated in it. It is at this point that many hands reach for that terrible abomination called steak sauce. It’s acidic and zingy and cuts through grease, but it blots out the weak flavor of the steak.

At steak houses all over the country, wine drinkers know the variety of grapes used to make the wine, the patch of earth where they were grown, and the year they were picked. They might even know whether the wine was aged in a barrel made from oak grown in France or America.

They don’t know nearly as much about their steak.

Not the breed, not what the cow ate, or where it was raised. All anyone seems to know about steak today is this: It doesn’t have much flavor. The great American steak is great in name only. It has become like its hated nemesis, boneless chicken breast: bland.

The decline started back in 1926 when the U.S. Department of Agriculture began grading beef. Like the rest of the country, steak had undergone a big change in the preceding decades. It was being churned out of factories like the famous Chicago and Kansas City stockyards and being distributed throughout the country. Hotels, restaurants and butcher shops were buying beef sight unseen. Some was good, and some wasn’t. So the government stepped in to make things right. It introduced its famous quality grades: Prime, Choice and Good.

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