Best of 2016… Agriculture to art

My blogging took a backseat this year after moving from Nebraska to Nevada and getting settled in out west. Resettling took more time than I thought, but that is a post for next year 🙂

I look forward to getting back on track and bringing great stuff to you in 2017. Until then, I wanted to share some of the best posts of 2016, as well as some all-time favorites.

Top 5 posts written in 2016…

  1. Does freezing meat make it more tender?
  2. Meat: To wash or not wash?
  3. Robot butchers? Technology coming to your table
  4. Grain Silo Art
  5. Clay pot cooking: Cornish Game Hens

Reader all-time favorites…

  1. Is the beef industry sustainable: A look at grass-fed, hormones, growth promotants, and more
  2. No added hormones & no antibiotics – meat labeling terms (3)
  3. Chicken ears – the better to hear you with…
  4. Why is there a hole in that steer?… Fistulated Fun Fact Friday
  5. Organic vs. Natural Programs – meat labeling terms (2)
  6. Processed meats and cancer: Fearmongering or true concern?

And because I just like these…

  1. Growing up a rich rancher’s kid
  2. Poop patty… Is there fecal material in your hamburger?
  3. Caring for livestock in cold temperatures
  4. Dark cutting beef… Fun Fact Friday
  5. Butchers, are you talking to yours? 21 conversations you should be having (if you are not already)

I hope you have a happy and healthy New Year!


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Meet Beef’s Latest Top of the Class

In October, I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) headquarters in Denver, Colorado, for an in-depth, beef advocacy training called Top of the Class. Originally, I was actually supposed to attend last year, but with moving to Nevada they let me postpone, and I had to postpone again this past spring as I was already committed to another event. I am sure the people in those classes were great, but I am very glad I got to meet four other persons with whom I could share this great experience.

One of the requirements for Top of the Class is to complete the Master of Beef Advocacy (MBA) Training. This training does a great job going through all of the major points of the beef lifecycle, as well as sharing the facts and research. One of the greatest things, once you are a MBA grad you can download the app, which has all of the resources and materials in a handy little location.

Top of the Class helped us practice our media interview skills (always a challenge when the hard questions start coming at you), practice live cooking show skills where we prepared Cuban Crispy Shredded Beef, a planned-over. Additionally, we met with many of the great folks at the NCBA and went over our online goals, our web presence, honed in on our niches, and so much more. This was very helpful for me, as blogging has taken a back seat this year as I have been working to get my career going in Nevada. But fear not, I now have a plan, and am ready to get 2017 back on track.

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Beef, It’s what’s for dinner (and lunch)

One of my Top of the Class comrades did an excellent job of introducing our classmates (yours truly included) to his readers at Top of the Class Beef Advocacy Training. I thought it would be fun to introduce Johnny Prime (Johnny Prime Steaks) to all of you…

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Johnny Prime

Johnny Prime, a meatatarian if there ever was one. Johnny is based in New York City, and has what can be argued is one of the greatest jobs ever… He is a steakhouse reviewer! As he takes one for the team in this terrible job (add sarcastic font here), he provides reviews on where to find a juicy, tender, and delicious piece of meat in NYC, as well as around New Jersey and the Long Island area. Additionally, Johnny provides commentary on fine eateries, cooking tips, recipes, cooking videos, general meat information, and more. And, not only does he take meat and food photography very seriously, he is funny and provides a ton of foodporn photos for your viewing pleasure. Johnny is a tremendous advocate for the beef and meat industry, and has really dedicated the time to learn about and understand the intricate details of cattle ranching and farming. I very much appreciate Johnny’s quest to learn about the facts and truth when it comes to agriculture instead of believing the buffet of lies and fearmongering out there. Thanks for being a friend of meat and agriculture Johnny Prime!

As you can see, beef lovers and advocates are on each coast and everywhere in between. I encourage you to check out and follow these fine folks, they share some great information. Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that Johnny Prime did a nice feature piece on one of the beef industry’s finest, Meet your meat: Anne Burkholder (Feedyard Foodie). Anne was not only one of the instructors for our training, but is a mentor to many.

Thanks to the Beef Checkoff (cattle ranchers and farmers) for making this possible.


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Beef steaks from cloned animals coming to you?

In 2012, West Texas A&M University (my Alma matter – Go BUFFS!) meat and agricultural science researchers started a beef cloning project to increase efficiency in the beef industry, specifically, meat quality.

image002“Most of that high quality beef that you would find in those white tablecloth, high-end dining experiences (has) a tremendous amount of waste fat that must be trimmed from the carcass,” said Dr. Ty Lawrence, professor of meat science and lead researcher on the project.
“Conversely, if you have a high-yielding carcass that is trim, it is most often low in marbling. What we’re trying to do is both at the same time. We want to be able to produce taste fat without that waste fat.”

Over five years ago, Lawrence was walking through a meat packing plant, and within 10 minutes, he found two carcasses that graded Prime, Yield Grade 1. This combination of quality grade and yield ranks as the best in the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) beef evaluation system and only occurs in about .03 percent of all beef carcasses.
“You’ve kind of got to be standing in the right place at the right time and have your lightning rod up to get struck and see one of those,” Lawrence said. “That’s the ‘aha’ moment; that’s what gives you the impetus to call your boss at 11 o’clock at night.”
Lawrence called Dr. Dean Hawkins, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences at WTAMU, and received the go-ahead to buy the steer and heifer carcasses and begin his research.

WTAMU researchers teamed up with ViaGen Cloning Technologies to clone a bull they named Alpha from the steer carcass. Three heifers were also cloned from the heifer carcass named Gamma 1, 2, and 3. The crossbreeding between Alpha and the Gammas resulted in 13 calves, nine bulls and four heifers. “Then, our research hypothesis: If we can create a male and a female from a clone and crossbreed those, we will simultaneously improve beef quality and yield,” Lawrence said. “We kept the two best bulls and sent seven of them [steers] to our research feedlot. The remaining two bulls and four heifers are under the good care of Dr. David Lust, associate professor of animal science at WTAMU at our Nance Ranch. They live there today.”

“The calves were raised by their mothers while grazing our native pastures, in the herd with our other commercial cattle,” Lust said. “They were weaned at a normal time and then fed at the WTAMU Research Feedlot for 185 days on a typical feedlot diet. They have been treated just like commercial cattle throughout the industry.”

The seven steers sent to the feedlot were finished out and then harvested. A USDA grading supervisor found that one of the seven achieved Prime grade, three graded High Choice, and three were Average Choice. For perspective, the meat grading industry average is Low Choice, with only about ~3% of all cattle grading Prime.

The steers averaged a 15-inch ribeye, which was a 9% increase from the average of a 13.7 inch ribeye. When adjusted for the steers’ smaller size and weight in comparison to the average animal, it became an 18% difference in size for the cloned steers. John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M system, said that, compared to industry averages, the steers produced 16% less seam fat, 45% more marbling, and 9% more ribeye poundage. Lawrence said that they gained just 2.9 pounds a day on feed, without any additional hormones. “We’re selecting for a genotypic trait, instead of a phenotypic trait like a lot of cloning projects have done,” says Landon Canterbury, manager of West Texas A&M University’s ranch.

“In and of itself, these individual traits of better marbling, better muscling and better yield are not that impressive on an individual basis,” Lawrence said. “What’s impressive about our cattle is that they all occurred simultaneously in the seven cattle. We’ve been able in seven animals, as a proof of concept, to shift the distribution to higher quality and higher yield simultaneously.”

WTAMU Assistant Professor of Animal Science Trent McEvers said this project contains the power to affect cattle producers through increasing efficiency for the beef industry.
“In my opinion, the way this is potentially going to shift the industry is that for every pound of feed that we feed an animal, if a higher proportion of that weight of feed is actually converted into muscle, then fat, that basically improves our utilization of energy,” McEvers said.

“In our college and across the university … our mission and goal is to provide a world-class education to the most valuable commodity, (and) we think, in Texas, that’s the young people,” Hawkins said. “Our second goal is to conduct cutting-edge research with applications that apply directly back to the producers that feed us every day.”

The next step for WTAMU is to compare the bull Alpha to top Artificial Insemination (AI) sires from the Angus, Simmental, and Charolais breeds. Additionally, 1,300 cows have been bred by Alpha, and the calves will be treated the same as any other calf while in the feedlot. It is important to remember that these calves are not cloned – they are the product of cloned animals.

It will be fascinating to see the results from all of these future offspring and the impact they will have on the beef and meat industries. It will be an amazing day when you can go into 10 different restaurants, and the steak you order in each one will be as tender, flavorful, and juicy as the previous one; gone will be the days of inconsistency between each steak! Below is a great video that sums up this project. It is a good day to be a WTAMU Alum.

This post was created from the following news sources:

The Canyon News: WT cloning research results significant progress for beef, cattle industry (Callie Shipley)

Drovers: Cloned calves carcass results unwrapped (Steve Cornett)

CattleNetwork: Cloned calves create ultimate steak (Tyne Morgan)


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90% reduction of Salmonella in meat – research update

deMello_Headshot_2015Dr. Amilton de Mello, University of Nevada Assistant Professor and Meat Scientist in the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources (CABNR) has been hard at work since he began his career at UNR under a year ago. Amilton completed his PhD at University of Nebraska, and I worked with Nebraska Extension. However, we didn’t meet until we both got to Nevada, so you can imagine that in addition to educational, programming, and research similarities we have the Huskers in common. It will be fun to see what future projects and collaboration we will work on.

Dr. de Mello and his graduate student recently presented some research at the annual American Meat Science Association (AMSA) Reciprocal Meat Conference (RMC) in Texas. I think they are doing great work that will of value to many, and will help ensure that in the U.S. we continue to have one of the safest food supplies in the world.

Salmonella is one of the most common causes of food illness in the U.S. The bacteria can cause fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping. Unfortunately, in young children and the elderly, as well as those with weak immune systems (immunocompromised), it can be fatal. Annually, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports Salmonella is estimated to cause one million food illnesses, 19,000 hospitalizations, and 380 deaths in the U.S.

In the lab, the salmonella bacteria was inoculated on the refrigerated meat and poultry trim, the treatment bacteriophages (Myoviridae bacteriophages) were then applied, and the meat was ground. Bacteriophages are viruses which are commonly found in the environment, but they ONLY are harmful to specific  bacterial cells and are HARMLESS to humans, animals, and plants. The bacteriophages work by invading the cells of the bacteria and destroy them.

De Mellos says, “we were able to reduce salmonella by as much as 90% in ground poultry, ground pork, and ground beef. We’re excited to be able to show such good results, and hope this can be adopted by the meat industry to increase food safety.”

Isn’t new research great?! If you want to follow what Amilton is working on for Nevada meat producers check our his Facebook page Horizons – Nevada’s Meat Newsletter. Full and original article can be found at UNR’s NEVADAToday.

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Should you let your meat rest after cooking?

If you cook meat you are probably aware that you should let it rest, or sit, for a few minutes after cooking to let the juices (please do not call it blood, it is a protein water called myoglobin) reabsorb into the meat. Let’s dig into this topic more to see if there is any validity behind resting meat.

In theory, as meat is cooked the juice in the meat moves away from the surface (as the muscle fibers are shortening during cooking) to the center of the cut, when you flip the meat over, the juices move again, away from the heat during cooking. When you take your meat off the grill, all of those juices are still in the center of the meat. If you immediately cut into the meat all of the juices have no where to go, but out. However, if you let the meat set for three (minimum) to ten minutes, those juices have redistributed themselves throughout the meat, thus making your meat eating experience a more flavorful and juicy one.

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Yummm… steak

The rest time depends on the size of the meat. A roast should rest for 10-20 minutes before being carved, while steaks and chops only need three to five minutes. I found several rule of thumb guidelines for rest times: about one minute of rest time should be given for every 100 grams (about 1/4 pound) of meat, five minutes per inch of thickness, 10 minutes per pound, or half of the total cooking time. The Serious Eats Food Lab suggests the best way to measure length of rest time is by temperature. At an internal temperature of 120*F (49*C) the muscle fibers have relaxed and juices have been redistributed. Additionally, most cookbooks provide some guidance on rest times, those can be followed too.

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Six steaks of identical thickness, each cooked to 125*F. Each steak was sliced in half every 2.5 minutes and placed on a plate to show how much of the juices leaked out (Source: The Food Lab – J. Kenji Lopez-Alt)

It is suggested that while the meat is resting it should be kept in a warm place. Options may be loosely covering it with foil, placing it in a small space, like your microwave or oven. Do not cover it too tightly with foil as you will cause the meat to sweat and loose more liquid. Keep in mind, the more you cook your meat the dryer it will become as juices and fats are lost to cooking and evaporation. This may result in a less desirable eating experience too. If you are a serious meat smoker check out some great tips and suggestions at The Virtual Weber Bullet.

There can be some drawbacks of resting meat. One is that it can cool off and not be as hot as it would have been when it was fresh off the grill or out of the pan or oven. Another is the possibility of losing any rub crust, or that the crust becomes soft during this time instead of providing a more crunchy texture and robust taste. More importantly, when covered in foil, your meat can continue to cook, in turn taking your degree of doneness up a notch or two. Additionally, the fats change. When fresh off the grill or out of the pan or oven, the fat and collagen in the meat is hot and soft, when cool, the fats start to solidify again and may stick to the roof of your mouth. Finally, the skin on poultry may also get soft and rubbery instead of crispy.

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Lamb chops on the grill

Several sources I have read said that you shouldn’t purposely wait the three to five minutes. By time everyone sits down, you build your plate, start eating, and have conversations, the three to five minutes has come and gone and your food is still hot. It was also suggested that meat juices on the serving tray/plate be poured over the meat and that you soak up the juices with each bite you cut off.

While there are some reasons or concerns with letting meat rest, there are also some benefits. The most important things to consider are, will resting the meat impact a key component of the flavor or texture? Or will it make the degree of doneness undesirable? Use your best judgement when it comes to letting your meat rest. Personally, I loosely cover it with foil while I put the finishing touches on the meal.

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Barbecued tri-tip and fixings

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Meatloaf in a clay pot = amazing!

I am getting more brave with my clay pot cooking experiments. We started with the Cornish Game Hens, then did chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, and today I want to share with you the meatloaf meal. I love meatloaf, and thought it would be a lot of fun to try this cooking method.

Claypot Meatloaf
Meatloaf is in the pot and ready to go. To prepare your pot for cooking read my Cornish Game Hen post.
Clay Pot Meatloaf - cooked
TAA-DAA! The recipe says to cook it ~90 minutes, I think at ~80 minutes you could put your meat thermometer in and see if it was ready. Next time I would also double the amount of yummy goodness spread over the top (aka ketchup blend).
Clay Pot Meatloaf dinner
I served the meatloaf with squash and a green salad. The meatloaf was excellent!

So far, the meatloaf has been my favorite clay pot dinner. It was very moist and had a rich, meaty flavor with the hint of earthiness from the clay. This recipe was the hardest to clean up afterwards. Some of the meat was stuck pretty good to the bottom of the pot. Next time I would add just a bit more liquid, or as I mentioned, decrease the cooking time. I also found a meatloaf and potato recipe. This one suggests putting the potatoes around the loaf, but I think I would put a layer of potatoes on the bottom, then the meat on top. Stay tuned, we have some other clay pot creations coming.

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Does freezing meat make it more tender?

Does freezing meat make it more tender? The answer is… Maybe. One of the great things about research is new things are being discovered daily, or we are expanding on previous research that has been done, which provides more information to things we did not previously know.

Kansas State University has been doing research to see if freezing meat can make it more tender. Six different muscles from the hind quarter were the focus of the research by Dr. John Unruh and grad students. They found that freezing the strip loin and inside round steaks improved tenderness by as much as 10%, as compared to the tenderness before the steaks were frozen. The research used paired strip loins (available in a retail setting), which were frozen, thawed, and evaluated for tenderness using a Warner-Bratzler Shear Force test, which determines how tender or tough meat may be (video demonstration).

Dr. Unruh said the strip loin (from the sirloin) and inside round (from the round) steaks were more tender because they did not loose as much moisture during freezing as the other steaks did. As you can see, this research opens the door for further research… What about those steaks/muscles helps them retain moisture? Is it associated with a locomotion or movement muscle on the animal that is impacting moisture holding? Does animal diet/stress/age/etc. impact water holding capacity in those muscles?

You may be asking yourself, so what or who cares? Well have you ever heard anyone recommend a steak because it was tough or hard to chew? Me neither. We like steak to be tender. We can preserve meat by freezing it and now this research indicates that freezing may be advantageous to meat tenderness versus detrimental. It will be fun to see what further research in this field finds.

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A handy chart of various beef cuts and where they come on the carcass. Source: Certified Angus Beef.

For more information on meat cuts, I also like Beef Cuts: Primal and Subprimal Weights and Yields.

** Note: I am not promoting one entity over another, just using the materials as reference.

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