A World Without Ag Wednesdays: I want a steak

I just got out of class–6 hours of class. A lot, I know. After that much lecturing, discussions, and brain power, all I really want is a steak. Yes, it is past 9 o’clock pm and I want a steak. If you are around me much, you will quickly learn that I always crave steak or chicken wings. Tonight is a steak night, though. Sadly, all I have is pretzels and peanuts. Anyways, since my taste buds are not able to enjoy in the deliciousness of steak, I figured I’d feature steak on today’s “World Without Ag Wednesdays.” So, here goes. I’m not sure how wise this is considering the degree I want a steak right now.

Where does a steak come from?

Let’s ask the obvious question right? Well, it comes from a cow. The less obvious question is where from the cow does it come from? Well, it depends what kind of steak you want–sirloin, rib-eye, T-bone, filet mignon, etc. Here is a nifty diagram for you to get an idea:

imageJust because it all comes from a cow, does not mean that all steaks are equal. There are few things that make them different.

What makes a good steak?

There are three key things that effect how good a steak is besides how it is cooked–marbling, muscle groups, and quality grades.

Marbling–

Marbling is the internal fat in a steak. The more fat in the steak means it will be more flavorful; however, if there is too much fat it gets pretty gross.

marblingMuscle groups–

Depending on the location that the steak comes from, it has an effect on the tenderness of the meat. For example, a filet mignon comes from the tenderloin which is used less strenuously by the cow than say a leg muscle which is more fibrous. This is why cuts from the rump like the round steak are far less favorable and are typically ground for processed meats. Muscles like the loin provide a more tender cut of meat.

More than the degree that the muscle is used, the way muscle groups tie into each other also have an effect. So, a sirloin is a steak that is made up of many different ends of muscles. If you look back at the cuts diagram above, you can see that the sirloin comes at the end of the loin muscle and connects to other muscles in the hip. In this way, it is far less favorable because it is not as neat and tidy as say a T-bone, which is only two muscles.

Quality grades–

The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) sets standards for what quality of beef can be made into steaks. They have come up with the following system that includes eight quality grades (prime, choice, select, standard, commercial, utility, cutter, and canner) and five maturity grades (A,B,C,D,E).  The maturity grades represent the following age groups:

  • A- 9 to 30 Months
  • B – 30 to 42 Months
  • C – 42 to 72 Months
  • D – 72 to 96 Months
  • E – More Than 96 Months

Only A and B maturity grades can be used for steaks. It is a pretty strenuous process, and I didn’t even mention yield grades.

 

maturity_chart

So, there you go. That is a little steak trivia for you. I would include how to cook a steak and a recipe, but I’m afraid that is going to be too much for me. Oh goodness, I can just smell it now… I’m so very thankful for the cattle business, a $49.5 billion industry. If only they did steak delivery.

 

Sources:

http://www.thecattlesite.com/articles/1279/beef-grades

http://www.bovineengineering.com/quality_grades.html

http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/animal-products/cattle-beef/statistics-information.aspx

Chewing Cud and Ruminating

Have you ever wondered what’s up with cows chewing their cud? What is that stuff and why do they do it? Maybe you don’t even know what I’m talking about. That is perfectly ok because we are about to cover cud and more.

Cud Chewing
Cud Chewing

Let’s start with the fact that cows are ruminant animals, along with  goats, sheep, and deer. A ruminant animal means they have 4 compartments to their stomach. They don’t have 4 stomachs, but rather it is 4 rooms that make up one stomach. Each “room” has its own special job and name. Before getting to that, let’s first go to the beginning–the mouth.

Photo Cred: UKAg, Agripedia
Photo Cred: UKAg, Agripedia

Ruminants do not have upper incisors, only lower. These are for plucking food. They do have pretty sharp upper and lower molars, though that grinds their food. These teeth are most useful the second time around. I realize that sounds really strange, but ruminants mostly swallow their food whole. They will regurgitate it to chew it again. I’m getting ahead of myself, though.

So, the cow has swallowed the hay. The food travels through the esophagus and hits the first compartment of the stomach–the rumen.

Rumen

This is the largest part of the stomach (holding 4-6 gallons)  and is responsible for a lot of fermentation. Over 50-65% of starch and soluble sugars are absorbed here. Bacteria break down the food and cause carbon monoxide, methane, and hydrogen sulfide to form.

Photo Cred: Colorodo State
Photo Cred: Colorodo State

These gases build up which results in, well, a belch. More than a belch, though, it is the process of regurgitating the food to re-chew it. Yumm, seconds! Animals chew their cud many hours a day, usually when the animal is resting. Ever heard of the phrase “I’m just ruminating (thinking)?” After breaking down the food even more by chewing the cud, the animal swallows and the food goes into the reticulum.

Reticulum

Separated from the rumen by a flap of tissue, this part of the stomach looks like a honeycomb and works like a water filter to catch foreign objects that cannot be digested. filterBecause it catches things like metal or nails, it is often called the hardware stomach. These objects can puncture the reticulum and make its way to the heart causing hardware disease. Hopefully the animal just doesn’t eat “junk” food.

Omasum

After being sloshed around in the rumen and reticulum, it moves to the omasum. Here, a lot of the water is absorbed. This is a pretty big job, considering that the food that enters, is 90-95% water. The omasum is also called the butchers bible because it looks like it has a lot of pages.

Photo Cred: ABP
Photo Cred: ABP

These pages create more surface are a to absorb the water before heading into the final chamber.

Abomasum

Welcome to the true stomach! The part of the stomach is most like humans, where hydrochloric acid breaks down the rest of the food. There are chief cells on the walls of the abomasum that secrete mucous to protect it from acid damage.

After the abomasum, food travels through the intestines and ends up in little balls of poop (sorry for the graphic mental image).

***

That, my friends, is why cows and other animals chew their cud. They are ruminant animals. Ruminants don’t start chewing their cud until a few weeks or months after they are born. Young ruminants have an esophageal groove that shoots milk straight to the omasum and abomasum. They can get their nutrients in a hurry that way. When they do start chewing cud, I don’t recommend getting cud on you or being near their faces when they burp. It is really gross and stinky.

 

Sources:

http://www.thebeefsite.com/articles/2095/understanding-the-ruminant-animals-digestive-system

http://www.vivo.colostate.edu/hbooks/pathphys/digestion/herbivores/rumination.html

http://www.abpoffal.com/products/beef/omasum/