Carnapocalypse

A few years ago we started eating steaks at home on occasion. (Olivia was a life-long vegetarian, only starting to eat a bit of meat after much coaxing.) I was curious how different steaks compared, so we came up with the idea for a steak 'vertical' tasting. Grab a bunch of steaks of the same cut from different sources, cook 'em up and see how they do. 3 years ago when we tried it I botched it and confused some of the steaks so we really weren't sure what was the best.

With the new grill it was time to try again.

The entrants

Dry-Aged???

  • Prather Ranch Rib EyePrather Ranch. Pasture raised. 180 day Grain finished. 21 days dry-aged.
  • 5 Dot Rib Eye5 Dot. $20.50/lb. 100% Pasture raised. 21 day dry-aged. 
  • Fatted Calf Piedmontese Rib EyeFatted Calf Piedmontese Beef. $25/lb. 100% pasture raised. 21 day dry-aged. 
  • Flannery Lance Corporal Reserve Rib EyeBryan's Fine Foods. $42/lb. Grain & corn fed. 30 day dry-aged.
  • Golden Gate Meat Rib EyeGolden Gate Meat Company. $25/lb. Pasture raised, grain finished. 21 day dry-aged. 
  • Schaubs Market SteakSchaubs Prime Market Steak. $19/lb. Corn fed, grass finished according to the butcher!? 30 days dry-aged.
  • Whole Foods Dry Aged. $23/lb. Grain raised, 21+ days dry-aged. (Arrived after the photo shoot)

Not Dry-Aged

  • Marin Sun Farms Rib EyeMarin Sun Farms. Pasture fed, supplemented with grains. 
  • Whole Foods 100% Grass Fed Rib EyeWhole Foods 100% Grass Fed. $22/lb. 100% Grass Fed. 
  • Whole Foods Grain Fed Rib EyeWhole Foods Grain Finished. $15/lb. Pasture raised, grass fed. 180 days grain finished 
  • Costco USDA Prime Rib EyeCostco USDA Prime. $13/lb. Guessing corn fed.

 

 

The plan

We had 2 of each steak. Steaks were labeled alphabetically A-L (missing G) and randomly sorted. I kept a key of which was which, and had 2 people watch during cooking and cutting to make sure we didn't mix A with B, etc.  

Steaks were brought up to room tempture.  Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper applied. All steaks were cooked to medium-rare on the grill, then sliced into small strips. People took a piece or two of each steak, noting on provided paper (or their plate) what they were taking. At the end there was enough for everyone to at least taste each steak that they wanted. 

 

Notes on the tasting

Because Rib Eyes are so fatty, the slice each person got considerably affected the flavor and opinion. Parts that were right next to the fat (or even mostly fat) just taste 100% different from the pure muscle sections, even for highly marbled beef. To do this 'for real' it's clear you would need to buckle down and just eat a good part of each steak to really get a good feel for exactly how they compare.

Tasting nauances requires a trained palate. None of us had one. Unlike even wine tasting where we've been at least indoctrinated by media to compare, for steak we were all coming at it blind. On the wine analogy, it often seemed like all I we could say was "Yup, it's red wine for sure."

The texture was often the primary difference noted vs. the flavor. A few of the steaks actually tasted so similar I bet if we switched them blindly no one would have known. Others were night and day different (for good and bad).

Salt and pepper quantity made a huge difference. If you got a piece that happened to have a bit heavy or light seasoning, it totally changed the flavor profile.

 

The Results

I asked everyone to vote if a steak was in their Top 3. Results here are based on the highest summed score. I quickly forgot most of which was which, except for the Costco, Flannery, and Fatted Calf, so my results may be slightly biased and weren't included in the count. Results below are ranked based on the group, but notes are my own and I didn't really agree with the ranking often.

#1: Whole Foods Grain. Overall top choice. I actually wrote "Holy Cow" in my notes. It just tasted different than everything else, and in a good way. Tender, not overpowering meat flavor, true strong flavors. 
#2: Costco USDA Prime. By far the sweetest steak. Tender but didn't have the buttery texture. Personally I didn't like this one though I also knew which one it was so may be biased.
#3: Fatted Calf Piedmontese. Very beefy, very tender. By far the fattest of all the steaks meaning there was huge variance between the bites. The good ones were phenomenal. The overly fatty ones may have hurt it. My favorite. So fatty it's actually even more expensive as you're going to throw away a fair bit of steak.
#4 Tied: Prather Ranch. A solid strong steak, exactly what I look for. To me tasted almost identical to Golden Gate Meat.
#4 Tied: Bryan's Fine Foods. Clear sweet flavor, but also somehow just not right.  It didn't have the beef flavor that others had, more gentle than all the others.  Probably a feature they selected for, but not what I'm used to or expecting. It was very tender, great texture. I knew which one this was, knew it was the most expensive, knew that Chuck says it's the best thing every, but still couldn't convince myself that it was #1 or 2 in my list.
#6: Golden Gate Meat Company. See Prather ranch, seemed almost identical to me.
#7 Tied: Schaub. Solid, slightly sweeter flavor.
#7 Tied: Whole Foods Dry Aged. Strong beef flavor, not my favorite.
#9 Tied: 5 Dot. Great flavor, but not the best texture, a little tougher. One of the thinner steaks
#9 Tied: Marin Sun Farms. The thinnest steak. Too thin. Pepper and Salt flavors were therefore strongest and the primary flavor.
#11: Whole Foods 100% Grass.  Ick. No fat. Chewy. Bad flavor. Just not worth buying. 

Conclusion

Personally my top 4 are Fatted Calf, Whole Foods Grain, Prather, and Golden Gate. The Whole Foods Grass was the only one flat out not worth buying. If we were to grade these on a scale of 1-10, everything would cluster in the 8-9.5 range, with the Whole Foods Grass being a 5. Or a 4. Just don't get it.

Americans are trained to like the taste of corn fed beef. That sweet soft taste is just what we're used to. Time to retrain.

I was surprised at how little I could tell the impacts of dry-aging. I tried to guess in my notes, and failed 50% of the time. It would be an illustrative future exercise to compare dry-aged and non of the same steak to learn what that tastes like.

So next time I buy a steak (maybe in 6 months after I'm no longer beef'd out), what will I buy? Fatted Calf if it's a special occasion, Prather Ranch or Golden Gate meats for a more normal meal.