UK Beef versus US Beef

On The Wiggly Podcast last week (19) Farmer Phil spoke about how impressed he was with the quality of the meat in Manhatten but how traceability seems to be less of an issue in the US than the UK. Neal responds from The Podchef
Here is their thoughts - first chef, then farmer.....


Great to hear you're all back safe and sound from NYC. Just been listening
to the beef part of Wiggly Podcast #19 and found some of your impressions
curious. Heather seemed to know I'd chime in, somehow. . . .

As both someone who has raised my own beef--grass fed--and who has cooked
with commercially raised beef--both consumer varieties and restaurant
cuts--as a chef, and as someone who has lived and cooked commercially in the
UK and Ireland I must say that American Beef is at a horrid crossroads at
the moment. On the one hand there is commercially raised--factory--beef. Fed
on a feedlot diet of supplements and grains, fattened for slaughter and
sold. Very little hanging time is allowed on this sort of meat. For the most
part it is "aged" in cryovaced packages--even up to quarter steers. Hanging
in this country is seen as somehow evil by and large. And I think the
average age of these cattle isn't over 18 months somehow, although I could
be wrong--it might be 24. They industry simply doesn't want them around

On the other had there is a small, but growing movement back to grass-fed
beef, raised naturally. Allowed to mature and exercise and develop character
through ranging and then properly slaughtered and sometimes aged--although
not always. There is also a small amount of dry-aged meat available which
has been hung upto 4 weeks, but rarely a day over. These small producers are
being pushed out of the market by the industry giants. And with a new
national animal identification scheme coming into effect sometime by 2009
the costs alone could drive most smallholders and farmers out of business

As for traceability, Americans largely don't care because 1) they don't know
about it and don't understand it. 2) The industry doesn't want people to
care about it. That's why they keep telling the world US beef is safe, when
it isn't necessarily so--the USDA has never completely banned feeding
rendered animal parts to cattle. . . .

Now the USDA's idea of traceability involves tracking livestock of any kind
in and out of shows, fairs, around the county for breeding--largely in an
effort to keep a watch on BSE, and Bioterrorism. The UK idea of
traceability, as I understand it, is very much more laudable. A direct line
from farmer to table fully documented, including vet certificated before and
after slaughter and then over to the butcher for hanging. Not so here,
unless it's your own animal for your own consumption. Most US commercial
beef looses any sort of traceability as soon as it enters the
slaughterhouse's feedlot. Once the animal is dead and rendered there is no
tracking it--even under the new scheme. In my mind this is appalling and has
led to much waste as when contaminated meat is made into mince and
distributed throughout the country. And there isn't even a mandatory re-call
for contaminated meats--most is eaten by unsuspecting consumers. . . .

Having learned something of meat cutting in Ireland, I can also say I much
prefer the Irish and English ways of cutting beef. Most US butchers don't
know anything about meats--they attend a month long technique workshop and
then head out to do their jobs. Most meat is cut up in a factory and not at
he point of sale. Anymore it seems that "new" cuts keep appearing and
consistency in joints of meat is rare. Rare too are the local butcher shops
these days which will do custom meat cutting. It's been a number of years
since I had a steer of my own commercially butchered. The frozen packages
always left me wondering what was what--where were the recognizable joints,
and indeed, has the butcher taken all the best bits for himself? There were
never any tenderloins, rib roasts, brisket from my own beef, no matter how
much pleading. And certainly never more than two weeks hanging. Now I know

I won't buy commercially raised meat unless I have to. The quality of what
is available, and the fact that the cryovacing process always leaves the
meat a bit weird, is not the same as anything I can raise myself or source
locally. And in a land where most people don't stop to think, or don't want
to know, where there food comes from is it any wonder? No, some of the best
beef I've ever had--pre or post BSE has been in the UK or Ireland; which
might have to do with breeds too. It is fortunate you landed in NYC and had
some good beef. You were lucky, but for the most part US beef raised for
domestic consumption is pallid, flavorless, and a health risk. No blue steak
or steak tartare here. And somehow we've got it backwards another way too.
Offal is rarely eaten and if you can get it, very expensive. Sirloin strip
is more affordable than shin of beef. And the best cheap cuts--ie, flavor--
are rarely used due to cooking time and most people are mad for filet mignon
and expensive cuts because they cook quickly.

Love the podcast on the whole, but always look forward to the Farmer Phil
reports to hear the traditional wisdom on farming. If we loose our rural
heritage and wisdom, things will go down hill in a hurry.

All the best,


Culinarily yours,

The Podchef

Dear Neal
Many thanks for your feedback as predicted by Heather.
We thoroughly enjoyed NY and we had the best of the weather judging by the
TV reports.
Your comments are very interesting and reinforce Heathers thoughts that
Manhatten probably wasn't representative of the rest of the country. It was
interesting to me that it appeared that in Manhatten where you would assume
that consumers could afford to be choosy, traceability didn't seem to come
into it.
With reference to the more"factory" produced meat, I would be interested to
know if the percentage of processed meat consumed in the US was
significantly different to the UK or elswhere i.e. is the cheaper lower cost
meat produced for low quality outlets eg burgers etc. or does the average
american have to put up with substandard meat thro'lack of choice?
With reference to the way meat is cut, the impression I have here is that
most consumers know the 4 or 5 prime cuts and have little or no knowledge of
the others despite the fact that, correctly prepared and cooked, they will
provide excellent eating. Here they market things like "pot-roast" and
"boiling beef" which doesn't exactly infer quality. By calling cuts like
strip sirloin, New York strip I suspect the UK consumer might judge on taste
and texture rather than predjudice. This might apply to many of the lesser
known cuts that supermarkets don't offer. For example how tasty oxtail is
but we would rarely if ever see it available in a supermarket even before
the problems with beef on the bone and BSE etc. We seem to have a whole
generation who only know about topside and sirloin and aspire to Fillet!
I'm pleased to see that we are in total agreement as to how beef should be
grown and served and your corrections to my inaccuracies are interesting and
welcome. As a farmer, it gives me great hope that our industry has such
scope for improvement and most of it will be achieved by education which is
what we're all trying achieve.
Also, cryovaccing or shrinkwrapping meat falls into the same category as my
theories on steak - if you order a blue steak you are much more likely to
get a good piece of meat as even an average chef would't dare send out a
blue piece of saddeflap!
Many thanks again and I look forward to your thoughts in the future All the
best Phil

Aka Farmer Phil!

Older Post Newer Post