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Whatever happened to flavorful steaks?

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It seems like over the past 10 years (appx), steaks have become almost flavorless, compared to how they used to be. Although they are better at high-end steak houses, there’s still a general decline in quality across the board. I’ve tried grass-fed, corn-fed, grass-fed/corn-finished, and naturally-raised, yet I’ve rarely enjoyed any steak in the past 5-10 years.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that steaks sometimes have a liver-y flavor these days, something I never used to see. What’s with that? A French master chef I spoke with briefly said that the liver-y taste is due to improper aging. Apparently there’s a whole lot of improper aging going on these days, because that liver-y taste seems to be more and more predominant.

I’m about to give up on getting a great steak—it’s just too expensive a gamble.

Just wondering, though—maybe it’s beef in general. Burgers seem to have gone in the same direction.

Any thoughts?

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  1. I agree with you about decline in quality of steaks. I will be trying dry aged steaks this month--are they available to you? I rarely buy steaks anymore as a result of poor taste--when we want red meat we eat lamb.

    1. Are you talking about supermarket steaks? Butcher shop steaks? Steakhouse steaks?

      1 Reply
      1. re: mpalmer6c

        All of the above, although we haven't bothered with supermarket steaks for a long time.

      2. the livery taste is due to improper aging.

        i've worked in several high-end steakhouses and americans prefer the more mild flavors of unaged beef. add in that most beef in this country is produced by just a handful of companies and all the cattle eat the same generic grain diet, you're not offering much flavor to start. aging can only do so much if the meat is bland anyway.

        a secondary issue is americans expect their beef to be very tender. anything with texture, like a hanger steak, many consider too *tough*. beef with a softer grain tends to have less flavor too.

        the market speaks and producers make blander softer meat.

        i've had some grass-fed beef and i do notice the difference. i also like really well-aged dry-aged meat, which most people don't. not "most" as in *you* the op, but the 1000s of people i've seen over the years.

        5 Replies
        1. re: hotoynoodle

          Interesting discussion guys. I frankly had no idea what you guys were talking about with all this aging stuff, so I had to do some research. This is from a site called AskTheMeatMan.com

          Dry aging occurs while the beef is hanging in a refrigerated cooler, at a specific temperature and humidity, for 10 to 28 days after harvest and prior to cutting.

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          When beef is dry aged two things happen. First, moisture evaporates from the muscle creating a greater concentration of beefy flavor and taste. Secondly, the beef’s natural enzymes break down the fibrous, connective tissue in the muscle, tenderizing it. Most of the tenderizing activity occurs in the the first 10 to 14 days.

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          Some high quality restaurants age their meat for 28 days or more. Increased aging adds to the shrinkage and trim loss due to the drying and surface mold.

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          Up until 20 years ago, dry aged beef was the norm, then with the advent of vacuum packaging along with increased efficiencies in beef processing and transportation, we lost the dry aging process.

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          In today’s modern processing plants, the carcass is broken down and vacuum-sealed in plastic bags within 24 hours. Much of this beef will show up in a grocery store meat case within 2 to 4 days after harvest.

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          Beef can be "wet aged" in a vacuum-sealed plastic bag for improved tenderness but it will not have the characteristic dry aged flavor.

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          Because refrigerated storage is expensive, only the high priced loin and rib cuts are aged (wet or dry).

          1. re: mangiatore

            Wow, great post. Thank you for filling us in on the issue. (I guess trends in many things have changed. Somewhere else on ChowHound I read that U.S. chardonnays used to taste better - that's my word - because it was more popular then to subject them to a 'secondary malo-lactic fermentation process' - yielding a creamier taste instead of a tart, fruity one.) Wonder what else used to taste better? (But that's another thread...)

            1. re: Cinnamon

              Yes, Chardonnay was better before they began storing it in oak for two centuries. Chardonnay is great when stored in steel barrels, but I can't stand the average U.S. (California) chardonnay these days. Wineries now make Chardonnay that appeals to the masses who love uber-oaky white wine.

              1. re: mangiatore

                Although that's slightly different, since the oak barrel aging of Chardonnays is actually MORE expensive for the producers than steel. It was done, in some large measure, in response to taste preferences of consumers. You or I may disagree (and I do) that the results were for the better, but that was the driving force.

                I would argue that the driving force in the changes in meat aging though were almost entirely driven by cost/return concerns. Consumers may now have become conditioned to the results, but the motivation for producers was to maximize meat yields, minimize shipping costs, and thereby maximize profits.

                1. re: Woodside Al

                  Hmm... at the risk of what's hopefully one last detour from the main meaty topic here, I suppose one could argue that secondary malo-lactic fermentation takes longer, therefore is a cost consideration. We probably shouldn't be discussing steak with *white wine* anyhow! :P

        2. I am very luck for a suburbanite with beef. My choices are a small butcher shop with excellent beef and very reasonable prices, a market with great beef at slightly higher prices and a supermarket with its own aging fridge, most expensive of the three.

          If i buy elsewhere there is a noticeable difference and not to the positive. A couple of yours ago i bought some strips and p'houses on sale at the grocer, grilled them up and tasted. Blah! Mrs jfood looked at me and asked me what happened. I took the bullet and said it was my fault for buying them.

          What's interesting is the Jfoods two favorites are hanger/skirt and filet, which are very different in texture and flavor. It's the sirloin types that dont ring the bell.

          8 Replies
          1. re: jfood

            Steve, I agree with your premise. In recent years I have grilled so many porterhouses and ribeyes that looked so pretty on the plate but were all but tasteless; beef in the $9-$13/lb. range. I can pay up for aged, but at $23-$30/lb, it doesn't pencil out for everyday use. In frustration, I have been experimenting a lot lately with pork tenderloins, with myriad marinades and sauces. I have almost perfected a fresh pineapple & chipotle chutney to accompany it, and some apple wedges with cinnamon in foil on the sides of the grill can't fail. Cheaper and better, in my opinion.

            1. re: Veggo

              Glad to see I'm not the only one giving up on beef/steaks. Pretty much the only way I'll even buy beef now is ground. I'm so tired of the grocery store shoe leather/bland garbage. And, as a previous poster said, why bother when you can buy lamb? Oh, and I'm pretty much done with pork chops too.

              1. re: MsDiPesto

                Most meat in the US is now "wet aged" Meaning that it is vacuum sealed in cryovac and then left around for a little while, which may make the meat more tender but does almost nothing to enhance the flavor. One of the growing effects of this that is increasingly driving me crazy is that a lot of folks now seem to think that this is the way beef should taste, and object to the stronger flavor of prime dry aged meat as served in steakhouses. I'll never forget the younger friend of mine who complained after having gone to Peter Luger that the meat there seemed "spoiled." "It had a taste to it!" he said with a straight face...

                1. re: Woodside Al

                  My hubby's like that, too, and it drives me crazy. He wants meat that doesn't look or taste like meat, so I tell him to eat cottage cheese!

                  I've even bought Kobe beef from an upscale grocer that had no flavor - bah! It was so tasteless it could have been pork tenderloin.

                  My faves are tri-tip with spice rub, or Chinese BBQ pork. When I go out, I'll only order beef if it's dry-aged at a place like Forbes Mill (in Los Gatos, CA). But dry-aged is not always a guaranteed thing, either, unfortunately.

                  1. re: Claudette

                    I had high hopes for waygu beef, also from upscale grocery source. It was pasty, mealy, and tasteless. NEVER again!

                    1. re: hot tamale

                      The Kobe was like that, too (and they had purposely labeled it "Kobe," not "waygu," so I don't know what to make of it. It was wet-aged, vacuum-sealed, and the butcher told me it was from Japan. The Kobe we had at Alexander's restaurant wasn't any better.

                2. re: MsDiPesto

                  once pork became the "other white meat" it ceased having any flavor, imho.

                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                    H

                    You know, now that you mentioned it, there has been a much wider range of quality in pork over the last couple of years, never thought about it, but yeah, you're right. I need to be cognizant of the flavor and where i buy so i get the most flavor. Thx.

            2. I recently purchased a share in a beeve from a local beef CSA. The cow was grass fed, free range, hormone free, etc. I got a variety of cuts, and a bunch of ground/strips/stew meat.

              It has all been so, so much better than the steaks I've gotten from stores, steakhouses and the local butcher (who comes closest) that I may never eat another steak I didn't cook myself.

              1. I have to agree. Growing up in the midwest there was plenty of great beef, and having raised cows whose meat I later ate, well-aged, certainly gave a different dimension to it too. (Not all good, I didn't eat tongue for 10 years after realizing that I'd been feeding Lightening in the barn days earlier...)

                I usually dry out my beef at home for a day or two in the refrigerator. According to some, I may be play bacteria roulette, but it hasn't gotten me yet (though a pub's hamburger has, and I NEVER want to go through that again.). There are some older chowhound threads on this topic, with differing opinions. Most say that drying out the meat (I wouldn't call it aging) *may* help the flavor- I think it does- but won't significantly change it as true aging is done on a side of meat (true). At different temps, and when the meat still is in the early stages of changing. The down side, and my disclaimer, is that you can get into some serious issues with your meat quality, so don't fool yourself that a home frig that is opened many times a day will suffice as a sterile meat locker. It's your risk/choice.

                You can research different methods of doing your own aging, but I just leaving the beef loosely wrapped in clean butcher's paper for a day (two max, if I can plan ahead), and change it as needed to help pull out the liquid. I find that it improves the flavor and dehydrates the meat for a texture that I also prefer. To go along with this, I make sure to leave the meat out for a bit before it hits the heat, so the center gets warm quickly and the meat is looser. And definitely give it 5+ minutes to reabsorb its juices before you cut into it, or it'll be too dry. You won't get real aged meat, but it might taste better than it usually does; it'll definitely marinate better too, being dry enough to be able to absorb the flavors deeper into the meat.

                1. If you're near a Trader Joe's, bet you'll like their aged steakburgers. (They're kind of pre-cut into giant coin shapes but are the first really good beef I've had in a long time.)

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Cinnamon

                    Are these frozen?

                    1. re: jfood

                      No, they're with the other meats. I think it's like two stacks of patty-discs side by side in a plastic package that may have a black background. They're amazing. (I don't always find TJ's has them - or anything for that matter - in stock. But as of yesterday the one near me did.)

                  2. I get great prime steaks from a small family owned butcher shop in Ottawa Illinois, these guys have been around forever. I live in the town next to here, and make a trip on most Saturdays to get my meat here.

                    The "Prime" Rib roast I have purchased here was one of the best cuts of meat I have ever purchased, but when you pay $70+ dollars for a 3 bone roast it should be.

                    These butchers cut steaks to order, and when I first started going there I tried to order by the pound, but they prefer you order the meat by thickness. Thye now invite me to come behind the counter to watch them cut my strip steaks, filets, and t-bones.

                    I will not waste my time/money buying meat from a supermarket again, Whole Foods or otherwise. The other upside of avoiding the chain supermarkets is I get to support a local business.

                    1. Many of the reasons are right that have been listed... also changes in feed....most importantly to me as a chef FAT - fat is flavor. We are breeding and growing much leaner animals - thus less flavorful

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: coastie

                        The Trader Joe's aged steakburgers I mentioned a bit ago on this thread had some gargantuan fat percentage. (They didn't have fatty bits you could tell in the meat - it just tasted gorgeous, which is of course what a high fat percentage typically results in - nice taste.)

                        1. re: coastie

                          I thought we've been growing fatter animals (see the whole grass vs. corn fed thing). I know we've been making out pigs lean, but it's been my understanding that just the opposite has been happening with cows.

                        2. Having read this thread I'm very curious to try a more flavorful steak, since I'm not sure I've ever had a dry-aged specimen. Are dry-aged steaks still available in parts of the world outside the US -- perhaps somewhere beef-centric, like Argentina? Are they available anywhere in NY, LA or SF?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: oolah

                            Any really good steak house should serve dry-aged meat. I know several in NYC do.