Beef Round-up: The Science Behind the Steak

Our mission is to always provide the very best steaks to our guests. Three members of our team took a trip behind the scenes to learn more about the Certified Angus Beef ® brand that we serve. Sarah (Brinlee) Scott, Sous Chef at El Gaucho Bellevue, shares about her experience. 

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Chef Tour attendees at the Stucky Ranch in Kansas. Photo courtesy of Certified Angus Beef®.

I had the great pleasure of being invited to go on the Certified Angus Beef® Chef Tour in Kansas last week. This trip gave us the unique opportunity to survey the entire Certified Angus Beef ® brand (CAB) operation, from learning about selective breeding, the science behind it all, learning about life on a ranch, and touring both a feedyard and a CAB® licensed packing plant.

We started at the Stucky Ranch just outside of Wichita to get an “inside” look at their breeding process. Here, we learned that great genetics are the single most important quality – even more so than their diet! The Stuckys use an ultrasound machine to literally look inside the cattle to see which ones meet the stringent specifications to be deemed CAB. In the past, farmers wouldn’t know this information until after the steer was harvested. Because the Stucky’s cattle are used for breeding superior “seed stock” animals and not intended for the packing plant, it was almost impossible to measure these qualities in the past. Not anymore! With technology, it is now possible to check the marbling of a cow or steer while it is still alive. These CAB cattle are cream-of-the-crop in the cattle rearing business because families like the Stuckys have been perfecting their craft for over 150 years. As technology gets better, so does our quality of steaks.

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Workers at the Stucky Ranch use an ultrasound to see if they meet the stringent specifications to be deemed Certified Angus Beef.

The next part of our trip took us to a feedyard in Pratt, KS. Although this particular feedyard wasn’t CAB-specific, a large majority of the enclosures contained Angus cattle. The 33,000 steers on this lot spend roughly 180 days at what we referred to as their “Bed and Breakfast.” The cattle are fed a specific diet of corn, protein, and assorted grasses and grains. The feedyard workers ensure that all of the cattle are well-fed, happy and in good health throughout their stay. Every morning, cowboys enter each of the pens to make sure that none of the cattle are feeling lethargic, which is an early sign of Cattle Respiratory Disease. The workers do everything in their power to make sure that the cattle are healthy, but if they become sick, they are treated at the earliest sign. This feedlot has its own veterinarian in order to treat any animal that has the misfortune of becoming ill.

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El Gaucho Bellevue Sous Chef Sarah (Brinlee) Scott making friends at the Stucky Ranch in Kansas. Photo courtesy of Certified Angus Beef®.

The final chapter in our chef’s tour was the National Beef Packing Plant in Dodge City, KS. This meat packing operation was far more impressive than I had ever imagined. We toured all facets of the facility, and the process for harvesting cattle was extremely humane and left me very impressed. National Beef realizes that happy cattle yield good meat, while animals that are stressed (especially in their final moments) return an exactly opposite product. Cattle are stunned at the very beginning of this process, rendering them unconscious and unable to feel pain. After that, it only takes minutes for a steer to be completely cleaned and halved for storage. This quick time frame also minimizes food-borne illness.

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Angus cattle on the ranch. Photo courtesy of Certified Angus Beef®.

After the beef has been cleaned, a picture is taken by USDA of every ribeye section to grade the beef and determine if it will earn the CAB brand. After only a few minutes, we began to see a trend: every CAB ribeye that went by was far superior to all of the conventional ribeyes. Simply by looking at the quality of meat, we could tell a CAB from one that wasn’t. It was astonishing to see this first-hand.

The last step is the fabrication. In a room full of 650 highly trained workers, humongous primal cuts of beef enter, and are perfectly trimmed and sorted. The cuts are zipped out on a multitude of conveyor belts to be vacuum sealed, preserving the freshness to travel to the far corners of our country and beyond.

Our company’s sourcing philosophy is to provide the very best product for our guests – no excuses and no compromises. After this trip, and seeing first hand the difference in quality and where we source our beef, there is no doubt that our guests are being served the very best. It made me very proud.

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Jesus Boites – Executive Chef at El Gaucho Tacoma; Sarah (Brinlee) Scott – Sous Chef at El Gaucho Bellevue; and John Hooberman from Portland all attended the Chef’s Tour.

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