Buying Beef

It is often a daunting task to enter a supermarket or butchery and trying to select from the large array of beef cuts on display. These days you mostly find pre-cuts and pre-packed beef. If you cannot find cuts to your liking, you can ask your butcher to cut according to your need. Get to know your butcher!

 

Visual appearance of beef

  • Always buy best quality beef
  • Ask for matured beef to ensure maximum tenderness
  • The grilling process does not transform inferior quality, or a less tender cut, into anything special
  • The colour should, ideally, be red, but remember that cuts will vary in colour from carcass to carcass
  • The texture should be firm, smooth, fine and not dry
  • The outer fat layer should be firm and evenly distributed. The type of feed given to the animal may influence the colour of fat (yellow maize produces a creamier colour)
  • An oily appearance is an indication of an older animal
  • Sawn-through bones are red and porous in very young animals and whiter and harder in older animals. In young animals the ribs on the inside of the carcass show red flecks. In older animals there are hardly any red flecks
  • The cartilage between the vertebrae should be white and jelly-like. The absence of cartilage is an indication of an older animal
  • The packaging should not be damaged

Classification
The class given to beef indicate the age of the animal, the fat cover and muscle conformation of the carcass.

Carcases are classified into three primary categories, determined by age and tenderness

A indicates that the beef originated from a young animal
B the intermediate grade
C indicates an older animal

Fat cover is important in the grading of beef, fat cover is measured on a scale of 0 - 6, '0' indicates no fat cover, and '6' indicates excessive fat. The optimum '2' or '3'. The fat cover grading is stamped onto the carcass (The ink used is food grade approved).

An independent authority grades Karan Beef. Inspectors employed by the South African Ministry of Agriculture carry out all meat inspection. Every reputable abattoir has its own registered identity number, which is stamped onto every carcass that leaves the plant.

Quality characteristics

Tenderness External fat cover
  0 No fat
Tender A (Purple) 1 Very lean
AB Green 2 Lean
  3 Medium
Less tender B (Brown) 4 Fat
  5 Over fat
Least tender C (Red/Pink) 6 Excessively fat


Maturing (aging)
Maturing is a natural process that improves the tenderness and flavour of the meat. Wet aging is the most commonly used method these days. It involves aging vacuum-packed beef in a refrigerator.

Dry aging was once the traditional method of aging beef. It is done in a controlled process with a whole, split or quartered carcass, or using the primary cuts such as the loin).

Primary cuts used for grilling, frying and oven roasting, such as the loin or rump, should be aged to render them more tender. Connective tissue does not soften during aging and it is therefore unnecessary to age those cuts.

Under well-controlled conditions, such as the meat trader's cold-room, beef can be hung at 0 °C for 10 - 12 days. Household refrigerators do not provide such a constant and low temperature. Recommended aging of beef in a household refrigerator at a temperature of 4 °C is for 5 - 6 days.

Vacuum packing

Vacuum packing has become very popular to everyday consumers.

All oxygen should be expressed, the meat packed hygienically, the wrapping not damaged and the temperature well controlled. If these rules are applied, vacuum-packed meat can be stored for up to two weeks at 0 °C - +2 °C.

Benefits

  • Flexible vacuum packaging takes up less freezer space
  • Meat matured in a vacuum has less drip loss and the cut surfaces do not dry out
  • Meat producers and butchers are able to mature and tenderise beef while transporting it in a controlled and hygienic environment
  • Supermarkets are able to pre-packing beef at a central distribution point before delivery to individual outlets

Colour and aroma

  • Beef owes its attractive red colour to the protein myoglobin, which is actually purple
  • When myoglobin is exposed to oxygen it turns into oxymyoglobin, which imparts a cherry red colour to beef
  • Vacuum-packed meat has a purplish red colour as a result of the absence of oxygen. As soon as the packaging is removed, the meat will regain its attractive red colour within about 10 minutes as a result of the contact with oxygen. This process takes place once only
  • When vacuum-packed meat is opened an initial confinement odour will be noticed. This is caused by a concentration of natural gases trapped in the wrapping. This aroma quickly disappears when the meat is exposed to air and left opened for approximately 10 minutes.