We all know what a good steak is when we taste it. But what factors into that perfect bite? The beef experts at Certified Angus Beef brand know exactly what makes the best beef the best. And they’re spreading their message and their meat to as many retailers and restaurants as they can.
Their efforts seem to be working, as 95% of consumers recognize their brand on labels and menus, and 84% are willing to pay 10% more for CAB steaks and burgers. Their popularity seems to be growing, too. There was more than 1 billion pounds of Certified Angus Beef sold last year, for the first time ever. On average, Certified Angus Beef end meats (from the chuck, round) tend to get $0.50-$1.00/pound over low choice. Middle meats (rib, strip and tenderloin) can see premiums around $2-3 over choice price.
Until recently I had no idea that CAB was headquartered in Wooster. But it’s an incredible resource to restaurants and chefs who are eager to learn more about this high quality meat, how to highlight it, and how many different cuts that can be made restaurant quality, beyond your ribeye and filet.
I was invited along with five local chefs, to spend the day at CAB HQ. We were given the run of their Education and Culinary Center. The day started with a history of the 40 year old non-profit brand, who they are and who they serve. Owned by the American Angus Association, the brand was born out of the desire to identify the best of angus beef being raised across the country. Only 3 in 10 angus cattle meet the 10 standards required to be labeled Certified Angus Beef. The brand deals with ranchers, feeders, packers, chefs, vendors and consumers. It was amazing to discover just how big the organization is (130 staff members) and to hear about its global reach.
In terms of categories, they have their standard Certified Angus Beef, their Natural option (animals are fed a vegetarian diet, free of hormones and antibiotics) and their Prime options, which only make up 2-5% of the industry. Many have interest and questions about what these cattle are fed. CAB reps say they work with feeders to ensure that the animals start with grass, then are introduced to corn and carbs, alfalfa and hay. But most of the CAB influence starts at the packing plant. Inspectors look for black hides, which are then inspected for safety, chilled then graded.
After our quick study on the organization, it was was time to put the butchers’ coats on and get the knives out. Meat Scientist, Diana Clark gave us an extensive lesson on the 10 quality specs the sides of beef must meet to get the CAB stamp of approval.
USDA uses the ribeye to evaluate the quality, because it is the most conservative and the most indicative of the rest of the animal. Inspectors check out the marbling and intramuscular fat. Since CAB reps can’t be present for grading, the only way for them to influence the supply of beef that meets their standards is to work directly with the ranchers to improve product.
So what sets Certified Angus Beef apart? It’s fine marbling, according to Clark. The first three standards deal with consistency of taste. (modest or high marbling, plus medium or fine marbling texture and “A” maturity). The next three ensure consistency in product (10-16 square inch ribeye area, size of carcass and less than 1 inch fat thickness), and the last four consider appearance (muscling and other aesthetic details).
For the next several hours I watched in awe as Clark broke down a 440 pound side of beef, with ease, and showed 5 male chefs how it’s done. What boy’s club?!! It was fascinating to see how each cut took shape with every slice, saw or cut she made. Several of the chefs on site with me were preparing for an event, which brought in a whole cow to be served in its entirety day of. So it was great to see light bulbs go off and inspiration ignited as they saw how to make restaurant quality dishes with more economical cuts.
When we broke for lunch we were served an incredible meal, prepared by in house chef, Ashley Brenemen. To my surprise, we started the hearty meal with beef charcuterie. It’s not widely made…but it should be. Chefs Brett Oliver Sawyer and Mike Schoen couldn’t stop themselves from reaching for seconds, thirds and fourths.
Next came a dry aged short rib. Which, admittedly, Chef Breneman said she wouldn’t do again, as it was quite labor intensive and didn’t yield enough to make the process worthwhile in a restaurant. But for this special occasion, her time was not wasted. Wonderful.
Next she rolled out bucatini from Flour Pasta Company, a gift from Chef Matt Mytro, and a 65 day dry aged strip steak. Can’t believe it’s taken me this long to try a dry aged steak. Why??!! First impression? Tender and funky. But as Chef Matt Mytro put it…it’s the best kind of funk there is.
It was a crying shame not to finish it, but I was getting full, and a little birdie told me that even in a beef-centric place like CAB HQ, they have a house pastry chef.
After lunch Diana and the chefs put a couple of the new cuts they’d been introduced to (like a culotte, tri tip and the Denver steak from the chuck roll) onto the grill to get an idea of the texture and mouth feel. As if we had any room left!
We also got a look around the rest of the facility, including the photography studio and the printing room where they can help clients print everything from table ads to menus and other marketing literature. Then there was the last of the animal to break down. We started talking more about applications and preparation, as Clark gave the chefs and me a few different cuts to experiment with.
I left CAB with so much more knowledge about beef, and what makes their brand superior. I can honestly say I look at menus, meat counters and butcher shops far differently now.