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As hot carcass weights in the beef industry continue to get larger, the industry is transitioning to thinner cut steaks to maintain manageable portion sizes or is cutting thicker steaks from halved (BAM) subprimals. Furthermore, final preparation, or cooking method of steaks has a large influence on overall eating experience, yet very little research has been conducted to understand the effect of different cooking methods on steak palatability. Instead, chefs make decisions on steak preparation methods based on equipment availability and convenience.
The objective of this study was to determine the influence of steak thickness and common foodservice preparation methods on the beef sensory experience perceived by invested beef consumers. Furthermore, objective measurements of tenderness, cook loss, and internal and external steak appearance were acquired, and recommendations were created for steak thickness and cooking methods for beef loin steaks.
Paired Strip Loins from 38 USDA Low Choice carcasses were collected. Strip Loins were split into 2 sections each (4 sections per carcass) and randomly assigned to 1 of 4 cookery methods: 1) open hearth, radiant heat, gas grill (GRILL); 2) grill mark then finish in a steam oven (MARK+COOK); 3) par cook in a steam oven then marked on a grill (PAR+MARK); 4) salamander style broiler (BROIL). Sections were then vacuum-packaged, aged for 21 days and then frozen. Once frozen, three sets of paired steaks, each representing 1 of 3 steak thicknesses (0.75 in, 1 in and 1.5 in) were randomly assigned and cut from each section. One steak of the pair was designated for consumer panels, while the other was designated for testing of mechanical tenderness and steak appearance. Every thickness and cooking method treatment combination was represented within each carcass.
All steaks were cooked using the assigned cooking method to an internal temperature of 145°F. Six panels were conducted to discover consumer’s steak thickness and cooking method preferences. A total of 307 discriminating beef consumers participated in panels held in conjunction with 3 cattle industry meetings. Participants were asked to mark results for each sample using a 15-cm (0—very tough/undesirable, 15—very tender/desirable) unstructured line scale for the traits of tenderness, juiciness, flavor desirability, and overall desirability. Measurements of Slice Shear Force (SSF), Warner-Bratzler Shear Force (WBSF), cook loss, visual degree of doneness, and measurements of external and internal color were measured.
The MARK+COOK cooking method had among the highest values for consumer ratings of tenderness, juiciness, flavor desirability and overall desirability regardless of steak thickness. The MARK+COOK cooking method also had among the lowest, most tender values, as measured by SSF and WBSF, and the lowest percentages of cooking loss. GRILL and BROIL, 0.75 in thick steaks also had high overall desirability ratings by consumers. The PAR+MARK cooking method steaks that were 1.5 in thick had higher consumer ratings for overall desirability than 1 in or 0.75 in thick steaks.
Steaks 1 in thick representing all cooking methods are displayed in Figure 1 to show differences in internal and external appearance. External appearance of the steaks varies greatly from cookery method to cookery method. GRILL steaks are the most brown in appearance, and have the greatest percentage of external surface char. BROIL steaks had the least amount of external surface char. BROIL steaks were also found to have the most pinkish grey internal color that also resulted in having a higher, more medium degree of doneness score for internal degree of doneness . MARK+COOK steaks have the most greyish brown external appearance.
Cookery method and steak thickness do impact the steak eating experience of discriminating beef consumers. A cooking method and steak thickness recommendation for the foodservice industry is presented in Figure 2. The recommendations pair cookery method and steak thickness to provide the best combination to increase the probability of the consumer having a great eating experience.
Figure 1. Visual representation of exterior and interior appearance of 2.54-cm steaks resulting from all cookery methods.
Figure 2. Steak thickness and cooking method combination final recommendations