The 7 Questions you MUST ask your Butcher Before Buying Steak
Outlined below are the 7 most prominent questions to ask your butcher (according to us at Thomas Joseph Butchery) before running home to get that cast iron skillet on the heat!
- Where is it from?
- What breed of animal is it?
- How was it reared?
- How old was it?
- How has it been hung and aged?
- How do I store?
- How do I cook?
1. Where is it from?
Probably the most important question, provenance. You want to know and understand exactly where your meat is coming from as of paramount importance. If you don’t want to know, you’re a lot safer going to the supermarkets where they really will have no idea. Your butcher should be able to easily tell you the county or area, which farm it’s from and ultimately, the farmer’s name.
We live in the 21st century where through commercialisation this information has been neglected, warranted unimportant. However, the opposite is undeniably true. The fact is that different breeds taste different, different ways of rearing livestock taste different and different farms have different standards. If you are discerning about the food you put on the table, believe in ethically reared, sustainable meat of the highest quality and want to be engaged with the farm to fork process, you must know where your meat comes from.
2. What breed of animal is it?
Breed is another hot topic, one that the commercial enterprises just cannot compete with. In the UK, we have native breeds that are designed to live outside, withstand our climate and ultimately grow slowly with the right proportions of muscle and fat. Unfortunately, due to the nations desire for cheap meat, we have adopted bigger continental breeds that grow twice as big in half the time (we exaggerate for effect). Needless to say that if you are trying to make money, then this is where you will go. The drawback to these “race to the finish animals” is that you will most certainly notice – they have no taste.
The fact is that native breeds in the UK grow slowly, lay down fat properly and when fed on grass taste phenomenal. They are able to stay outside and endure tough climates due to many generations of evolution and are a superior product, by a country mile. That’s why at Thomas Joseph Butchery we support slow grown natives that are free range and grass fed. For a full list of native breeds, visit https://www.rbst.org.uk/Pages/Category/cattle-watchlist
3. How was it reared?
In tandem with point 1, this is critical for two reasons. As an ethical standpoint first and from a quality perspective second. Ethically speaking, animals like cows should never be kept inside unless poor weather conditions mean it is too dangerous to be out or that there is so little food that they require feeding and shelter. Grain fed and barn raised animals are unhealthier for a plethora of reasons but for now, we’ll just outline a few:
- Grain fed, barn raised animals live, eat and breathe in a confined space next to other animals and walk among their own excrement and faeces for extended periods of time.
- All cows are ruminating animals designed to eat grass but fed grain to make them grow faster in a shorter space of time that transpires into lower quality fat with higher levels of toxins.
- Grain fed, barn raised animals require far more hands on treatment from farmers. Due to their cramp living conditions the animals will have more chance of becoming unwell and therefore may require antibiotics and medicinal treatment.
When talking about quality, we aren’t just talking about taste! Free range grass fed animals have been proven to carry higher levels of CLA (300-400% higher!) and omega 3 EFA’s compared to their grain fed, barn reared counterparts. They also boast four times the amount of Vitamin E and increased levels of antioxidants such as beta-carotene found in the pigment of the grass.
As a note, these animals love to roam open pasture and at Coxtie Green Farm the cattle are given over 1 acre per animal to really explore. Free range, grass fed farming is far more sustainable. The animals eat off the land and don’t incur any additional carbon costs associated with buying in grain. At Thomas Joseph Butchery, we only stock free range and grass fed animals that are slow grown, hand picked for their quality and farmed to the highest ethical standards.
4. How old was the animal?
We know that ageing beef is one way to improve the flavour of a carcass but maturing on the bone is just as important. Most animals in the UK will be slaughtered before 30 months as after this time it makes breaking down the carcass somewhat more difficult due to the spinal column being removed at the slaughterhouse. What is a true shame is that by ignoring this period of time over thirty months (OTM) we are missing out on some of the best beef that has quite literally matured for months and maybe years longer!
Always ask your butcher how old the animal was, this information should be easy to find and if nothing else is a good area for us meat lovers to start finding out about own our personal preferences. We have found that generally, the older the better and are happy to have animals well over the thirty month period. By selecting animals that have had the chance to lay down fat within the muscle over an extended period of time we feel that the taste is somewhat unique and why our OTM beef is a class act.
5. How has it been hung and aged?
Another hot topic at the counter – hanging and ageing. There are some golden rules when it comes to meat preparation and preservation. Generally speaking, beef should be aged for a minimum of 3-4 weeks. This allows time for the carcass to take on depth of flavour and tenderise. Meat should always be dry aged in a cold store and not wet aged in a vacuum pack bag. Dry ageing and hanging allows the meat to become more tender and flavoursome over time whilst preserving the meat as the bacteria in the surrounding air (that are harmless) try to penetrate the carcass.
There is a stark difference between the two methods; wet ageing isn’t losing any of the moisture and blood while dry ageing is allowing the moisture within the meat to be drawn out into the atmosphere. This is one of the reasons (alongside the taste and quality) why dry aged meat is more expensive. However, when you compare it to a wet aged steak, you will notice that minimal liquid is present in the bag. This is because the additional liquid has gone and what you are left with is prime steak compared to opening the wet aged packet and being met with a bag full of blood you cannot use. Vacuum packing is fine after ageing but the issue crops up when the steak is aged solely in the packet.
Lastly, dry ageing should take place in specific conditions to create the right temperature, humidity level and air flow to allow meat to age at the required rate and for any length of time. Although further dry-ageing isn’t necessarily required, it is fascinating to allow the ageing process to take the meat to a completely new level of meat deliciousness!
Always ask your butcher how long specific cuts have been aged so that you can get a feel for what different lengths of time taste like and which is your preference. At Thomas Joseph we aged for a minimum of 28 days dependant on fat covering and outside temperature and have found that the optimum length of time to be around 50 to 60 days, although we do take some thing far longer! We encourage you to explore the age curve and get hold of some old beef when you can!
6. How Do I Store?
Buying a good quality steak is one thing, keeping it fresh is another! The best thing you can do (if you are going to use your steak within 2-3 days) is place your steak on a wire baking rack in the fridge, allowing air to travel all around it. A large plate and committing to turning it over every day will suffice! Vacuum packing is fine but we would suggest taking it out a day or 2 before to allow the moisture around it to disappear. The outside airflow will slowly dry the exterior, allowing you to have the perfect canvas for that glorious crust.
At all costs, don’t leave your steak in a bag with air. The air surrounding the steak will make it sweat and it will go off quickly compared to the other two methods. As a bonus, you are actually dry ageing your steak that little bit further when you leave it in the air and as an FYI – that’s how we started our journey into this game! If you cant use it, try and vac pack it before freezing to freeze optimally and when thawing out, put it into the fridge and allow it to come up to temperature slowly.
7. How Do I Cook?
The final countdown, we’re nearly there! How do I cook is something that could be debated for centuries so instead of covering all the methods like sou-vide, reverse sear etc, we are going to cover what we do which has time and time again produced mouth watering steaks of any size.
An extremely hot pan is essential, make sure it is smoking! While your pan is warming up, salt your steak on either side. Leave the pepper until after as it has a tendency to burn during cooking. Before you put your steak in, put a generous dollop of grass fed butter in the pan. Be quick, it will burn within 5 seconds so get that steak in ASAP to the beautiful golden patch of bubbles.
Now turning, the best advice we can give for a 10oz steak is to cook it on each side for one minute twice and allow to rest for a medium rare. For larger steaks above 600g, use the same process and then put into a 200 degree oven for 3 minutes initially and check with a thermometer. You want to hit 45 degrees for rare, 52 degrees for medium rare and 55-60 degrees for medium. Anything more than this is sacrilege! After the initial 3 minutes, put the steak back in 3 minute intervals until the desired temperature is found within the middle.
So there you have it, the 7 Questions you should ask your butcher, asked and answered! We hope it was informative, a little fun and gave you some ideas on what you should be looking for in your steak!
As a thank you for getting to the bottom of this novel on all things beef, here’s 10% off your next purchase, just enter: QUESTION10 at checkout to redeem :)
Thomas Joseph Butchery and the CGF Team