August 07, 2017

Dr. Dan Thomson: Hey, folks welcome to DocTalk. I’m Dr. Dan Thomson. We’re going to have a great show today. We have Dr. Travis O’Quinn from here at Kansas State University where he serves as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Animal and Grain Sciences, and he is a meat scientist. We’re going to talk about what goes in to getting that beef carcass to your plate. Stay tuned.

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Dr. Dan Thomson: Welcome to the show. Dr. Travis O’Quinn: Good to be here. Dr. Dan Thomson: Folks this is Dr. Travis O’Quinn. He’s a meat scientist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Animal Sciences and Industry here at Kansas State University. Great to have you here on the show because we talked about, before lining this up, that a lot of people grow cattle, a lot of people eat beef, but there aren’t a lot of people that know the process between the kill floor and the plate. Let’s talk a little bit about what’s going to happen. Dr. Travis O’Quinn: Absolutely, when those cattle go to the packing plant and they get harvested, typically that harvest process will take anywhere, depending on the size of the plant, roughly somewhere between half an hour to an hour. Once an animal goes into what we consider the hot box, or the section of the plant where we put all the hot carcasses, then it goes a chill processor typically for about 24 to 28 hours at a time. In that time period, we’re trying to drop the temperature of the carcass and that is an important time when we’re talking about meat quality and tenderness because if we get that carcass too cold too fast, we can create some toughness problems. If we don’t chill it down fast enough, we can create some microbial problems. That time period immediately after the animal’s harvested in the hot box is critical to ensure a good product throughout. After that time period, we’ll actually take that carcass and it’ll go, it’ll get ribbed, between the 12th and 13th rib, and be presented for the USDA graders at the grade stand. Dr. Thomson: That’s when they just take the knife, between 12 and 13. They open that carcass up and then you can see that– Dr. Travis O’Quinn: Absolutely. From an industry perspective, when you talk about rib eye area, fat thickness, marbling, all that’s determined in that one spot. When those graders take and they take the knife and expose that ribeye, they’ll actually allow it to sit there for about 30 minutes on what we call the bloom chain where oxygen gets to that ribeye and allows it to get that bright cherry red color we associate with that ribeye. Dr. Thomson: Okay. Then it’s going to come out of that process and now we have all instrument grading, pretty much? Dr. O’Quinn: Yes. Instrument grading is very prevalent across the industry. It depends on the packing plant and whether or not they’re allowing the instruments to actually apply the official USDA grades or not. But many packers actually are doing that, and so we’ll have a camera put on that ribeye and it will determine all those factors and actually calculate the yield grade for the graders to use. The USDA graders will actually apply the official grade to the carcass and then it will go and get sorted based on whether or not what the grade of that carcass is, whether it’s eligible for choice or select, or whether it’s eligible for one of the many branded beef programs such as Certified Angus Beef. Dr. Thomson: Got you. We have a lot of different programs and thought processes that are going into this. We’ve got about a minute before we go to break. Let’s start out with the quality grade. Just kind of briefly describe it and tell us what the breakdowns are? Dr. O’Quinn: Absolutely. When we talk about quality grade, we’re really talking about two things that go into that; the animal’s age or the maturity of the animal, and the amount of marbling that’s in that ribeye. When we look at the ribeye, the more marbling, the more valuable that carcass is, the higher value due to the marbling and its impact on the eating quality. We take all the older cattle, cattle that are over 30 months of age, they’re not eligible for the grades that many consumers are aware of, select, choice, prime. Those older cattle they’re only eligible for the older grades of beef and are much lower value. Dr. Thomson: Got you. Age, marbling goes into quality grade. Let’s take a break. When we come back, we’ll finish up quality grade. Let’s talk a little bit about yield grade. Dr. O’Quinn: Absolutely. Dr. Thomson: Folks, Dr. Travis O’Quinn here from Kansas State University’s Department of Animal Sciences and Industry. Thanks for watching DocTalk. More after these messages.

(Dr. Thomson) Hey folks, welcome back to DocTalk. Dr. Dan Thomson here with Dr. Travis O’Quinn. We’re at Kansas State University where Dr. O’Quinn serves as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Animal Sciences and Industry as a meat scientist, and we’re talking about beef. When we left, we were still talking about the quality grade which is, when I go in to look at steaks, I see prime, choice, select. What exactly am I picking out as a consumer? Dr. O’Quinn: Absolutely. Those grades all relate relatively to the amount of marbling that’s in there. What I mean by marbling, I’m talking about the individual flecks of fat that are in that cut of meat when you actually purchase it. That’s the fat that’s in there. It’s not removed. It’s consumed by the consumer. What we know is that the more marbling that those products have, that the greater the eating experience will be, and actually we can put some numbers around that. If we talk about select, right now about 25% of beef are grading select. Within that, when we talk about strip loin steaks or a high valued item that’s very tender that most consumers would consider a high good quality meat product, if it’s a select product, the consumer actually has about a one in three shot of that product failing to meet their eating expectations when they take it home and put it on the grill. So, if you take a one in three times 25% of the cattle that are harvested, that’s a lot of meat that’s not failing to meet consumer expectations. Dr. Thomson: Right. Dr. O’Quinn: So, as we move up of quality grades choice, we can drop that number down to somewhere around 15%. When we go to a prime, prime only fails at around 5% or less. Dr. Thomson: So, one out of 20. Dr. O’Quinn: One out of 20 to deliver the eating level that consumers expect. When we’re talking of adding value to carcasses by quality grade, that’s the number one thing we can point at. So, it’s worth the extra money, if we’re talking about taking a one in three shot versus a one in 20 shot, in terms of eating quality. Dr. Thomson: If you’re having the boss over for a cook-out, make sure you have prime. If the in-laws are coming, take a chance with the other, right? Dr. O’Quinn: That’s exactly right. Dr. Thomson: [laughs] Anyway, let’s talk about yield-grade. You got different yield-grades. What is that a description of? Dr. O’Quinn: Right. Yield-grade is very important as well. Yield-grade is an indication of what percentage of that carcass is actually going to be edible product. When you think about heavier muscle trimmer animals, they produce carcasses that are heavier muscled and trimmer and therefore we have more sellable product. So, if we have an 800-pound carcass, we could recover more of that in sellable steaks and roasts as opposed to a fatter lighter muscled animal. Dr. Thomson: Okay. This is a numbered system, right? Dr. O’Quinn: Absolutely. We have a 5-point system. A yield-grade of 1.0, we can think about as Arnold Schwarzenegger, really heavy muscled, really trim. That grading system goes all the way to a 5.9, which is really fat and light muscled. Chris Farley would be an example of that yield-grade 5.9 and everything in between. The combination of fat, weight of the carcass, how much internal fat as well as external fat on that carcass goes into that to be able to segregate those carcasses into those 5 yield-grades. Dr. Thomson: Then how do we use quality grade and yield-grade for pricing and things to that nature? Dr. O’Quinn: Absolutely. Most producers and packers, or most feeders marketing cattle on a grid-based system, it all goes back to the tie in to the value of the amount of marbling or the quality grade associated with the yield-grade. So, we can think of an average for most grade pricing systems out there’ll be a low choice yield-grade three. So, anything that’s higher quality in terms of prime or top choice and something that will be like a Certified Angus Beef, or things that are trimmer, so heavier muscle and trimmer or higher cutability, result in premiums. Whereas, if we have cattle producers or feeders that are having more external fat, lighter muscle cattle that aren’t getting the same level of marbling, they actually go down for a dock off of that grid-based system. Dr. Thomson: Perfect. Folks, we’re going to take a break. Dr. Travis O’Quinn, meat scientist here at Kansas State University. We’ll see you after these messages.

Dr. Thomson: Hey folks. Welcome back to DocTalk. Dr. Dan Thomson here with Dr. Travis O’Quinn. We’re at Kansas State University. Dr. Travis O’Quinn, meat scientist, Assistant Professor here in the Department of Animal Sciences and Industry. We’ve talked to Travis about quality grade and yield-grade. Now, let’s go ahead and move that carcass off the chain. Dr. O’Quinn: Absolutely. Most of the time when we’re in a packing plant, somewhere around two days, three days of time period, after that carcass is harvested before it actually goes into what we call the fabrication floor. That’s where we’re actually going to take that carcass down what is called the disassembly line. So, if we’re thinking about an automotive line, we’re putting each piece on to the car. Well, in a beef plant, it works the opposite. We’re taking piece by piece off as that carcass goes down. What we’ll do is we’ll end up breaking that carcass into what are called wholesale cuts or primal cuts. These are the four major cuts that we can think of typically in a beef carcass: the chuck, the rib, the loin, and the round. Now, each of those cuts is very large. Historically, we would have sold those as swinging beef either as sides or as primal to different retailers. Today, we have what is called boxed beef. What we’ll actually do is we’ll take those large primals and break them down into smaller primals that can actually fit into a vacuum bag and be put into a box and be sent all around the Unites States. That way, if we’re looking to fabricate just ribeye steaks, we don’t have to get the whole primal rib, we can just purchase ribeye rolls that we can cut from one end to the other into ribeye steaks. That makes it very convenient for retailers. Dr. Thomson: Absolutely. When someone says, “This carcass is going to fit the box” – Dr. O’Quinn: That’s exactly right. Dr. Thomson: – what exactly does that mean? Dr. O’Quinn: That’s a question I get asked all the time. When we talk about fitting the box, there’re actually boxes that go down predetermined sized conveyor belts at these packing plants. So, we get primals that are too large to go into those boxes. That creates a lot of challenges because we don’t have any way throughout the packing plant to get that meat out the back door. Dr. Thomson: Got you. If it’s too small, it’s rattling around in the box, right? Dr. O’Quinn: That’s exactly right as well. Dr. Thomson: It truly is growing the animal that is in the window of size and carcass to fit the box beef in the boxes. Dr. O’Quinn: Absolutely. Dr. Thomson: [laughs] It’s not just a slang term. Dr. O’Quinn: It’s not just a term. Dr. Thomson: All right. Where do we go from there? Dr. O’Quinn: Well, actually what happens at most of the time with that fresh beef, is it goes out the back of the packing plant then it goes to a number of different destinations. Some of that will go to a centralized packing location. Many of our large retailers what they’ll do is they’ll have a centralized location where they’ll buy in all ribeye rolls, strip loins and then they’ll fabricate those into steaks at that centralized location. Then they’ll actually package the steaks and the package of the steaks will go out to the retail stores in what we’d call case-ready packages. If you ever look at the grocery store and you pick up a steak and on the back it’s got a USDA inspection logo with a number on there that says the establishment number that means that that steak was actually packaged off-site and came in in that package. Some retailers, now the number is decreasing, will actually cut their steaks in-house. Some of that box beef will go to various retailers or grocery stores across the United States to be cut in the store. Dr. Thomson: Cool. Like large retailer grocers will have a centralized place where they’ll cut them and basically have a fabrication area and then send it out to their stores. Dr. O’Quinn: Absolutely. Dr. Thomson: Cool. Well, it’s amazing to me the intricacy in the system we have in place. Dr. O’Quinn: Yes it truly is amazing. When you think of how many cattle and how many different facilities, all to get that steak to the grocery store for you to purchase and eat on July 4th, it’s incredible. Dr. Thomson: That’s great. Folks, we’re going to take a break, we’ll come back with our final segment here with Dr. Travis O’Quinn.

Dr. Thomson: Hey folks. Welcome back to DocTalk. Dr. Dan Thomson here with Dr. Travis O’Quinn. We’re talking about beef, and Dr. Quinn is a meat scientist. He’s here at Kansas State University’s Department of Animal Sciences and Industry. When we left, we headed to the grocery store. Now we’re going to put it in our cart, pay for it and take it home. Dr. O’Quinn: Absolutely. There’s a lot of things that people don’t realize about that steak when they first purchased it at the grocery store. Many people if you asked how old is that steak when you actually purchase it, how long from the time when you purchase that steak before when that animal died. The truth is is that most of the time if we go to the grocery store, there’s about 25 days of time period where if that animal was harvested until it actually reaches you as a consumer in the grocery store. That’s actually a really good thing because in that time, we actually have enzymes in that meat making it more tender. The longer we keep in a fresh state without freezing it, we have the ability to actually improve tenderness. That’s what we all really want is really tender steak. Dr. Thomson: Right. Dr. O’Quinn: Take that steak home at that point in time. I’m a big believer in matching the cooking method with the cut that you actually have. You go to the grocery story and you have all these different cuts that are available. The key is they’re all priced different so maybe you want a round steak today because it’s a little cheaper. Maybe a ribeye next week. That round steak needs to be cooked completely different than the ribeye. You can have a very good eating experience with some tougher cuts from the round or even from the chuck if you actually cook them through some kind of moist heat cookery. Think of like cooking in a stew or a slow cooker, in a crock-pot, anything we’re adding moisture to, braising, we can create very, very tender products that way. Dr. Thomson: Cool. Then on the ribeyes, obviously, smokers, grills. Dr. O’Quinn: Absolutely, ribeyes, T-bone steaks, tenderloin steaks, these are all very tender cuts and so we can use those cuts on the grill, high temperature short amount of time to actually achieve the high level eating quality. I would say that the biggest mistake that consumers typically make at their home is to overcook meat. That’s probably the worst thing you can do. You buy a really expensive ribeye at the grocery store, take it home and overcook it, everyone in the family has a bad eating experience, my wife gets on me, you know how that goes, right? Dr. Thomson: Yes. Dr. O’Quinn: The thing that I would recommend to most consumers is to purchase and use a good food thermometer when they’re cooking a steak. That’s the only way to repeatedly guarantee that you’re hitting the right degree of doneness every time. Some people will tell you, you put your finger and it’s different degrees of doneness. I say, well, that works sometimes, I care about having a steak, get the right degree of doneness every time. A food thermometer if you cook to 140 degrees, that’s rare, 160’s medium, anything more than that would be well done, so 170. I would encourage consumers to purchase and use food thermometers when they’re cooking meat, not just from a food safety standpoint, but to guarantee that you get that steak the perfect degree of doneness every time. Dr. Thomson: When we’re talking about food safety with steaks versus ground beef, we’re more worried about the surface, right? Dr. O’Quinn: Absolutely. Steaks, that center of that steak we can cook it to a rare degree of doneness because there’s no bacteria or pathogens in the center that are going to make you sick. Ground beef however, the center of that hamburger was once the outside, so once we grind it up, we create a potential contamination issue in the center of that ground beef patty. We want to make sure that we’re cooking all of our hamburgers to at least 160 degrees. Dr. Thomson: Well, we’re going to have to have you back on the show. This is just awesome. Dr. O’Quinn: Absolutely. Dr. Thomson: Thank you so much, Travis, and thank you for watching DocTalk. If you want to know more about what we do on DocTalk, you can find us on the web at Always work with your local veterinarian and meat scientists. Thanks for watching DocTalk today, I’m Dr. Dan Thomson and I’ll see you down the road.

Closed Captioning brought to you by AgriLabs, the Perfect Pairing of Performance and Value.

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