Tuesday morning I got an email about beef quality from my supervisor and good friend, Dan Crummett.
He just read an article on beef demand in another publication and said he felt compelled to make some comments.
I think they're especially worthwhile since Dan and his wife, Jerrie, are pretty typical consumers. They are cost conscious and buy most of their food and certainly buy all their protein at the grocery store. Yet Dan has worked nearly all his adult life in agriculture journalism so he has industry ties and, arguably, loyalty.
Here's what he said:
Alan … beef is rarely on my purchase list anymore. I buy small filets in restaurants on special occasions but bringing beef home from the supermarket is becoming more rare (no pun intended).
As we’ve all discussed for years, consistency is a big part of this. Lately I’ve been hitting Texas Road House or Chili’s for their small sirloins … and 75% of the time I’m very pleasantly surprised at the quality of a sirloin cut in a popular mass-appeal restaurant. But, there’s that 25% of the time it’s tough. Still has beef flavor but really not a pleasant dining experience.
Even when you go for the steak in restaurants that cost nearly $40 for a ribeye or filet, you can’t consistently get a product that is what you have your mouth 'set on' as you make your order.
And if you buy that kind of cut of beef from say Osage Meats just east of the U.S. 60 bridge in Ponca City (they supply the Rusty Barrel restaurant with their tasty beef) you still run onto steaks that just don’t cut it.
At home, I can buy a pork tenderloin from nearly anyone, or 'boneless' pork chops, or chicken breasts. In all three instances, I know what I’m getting. I know what it will taste like when it comes off the grill and I know how to cook it on the grill to get the results I want.
Crock pot roasts… Usually this is a Dan-proof way to cook beef roast and most of the time a crock pot roast is tasty. Despite a higher price per unit than pork or chicken, the experience makes the expenditure worth it. This past weekend however, we cooked a roast in the crock pot and despite the obvious presence of muscle in the cut … the final product to the table had cooked up to the point there was really very little lean.
I’m no expert, but I do know about the variabilities in such products, and the beef folks just ain’t got the consistency that makes Joe Stop At the Store and Buy Meat very confident about a beef purchase – unless it’s hamburger ... and that’s not how you build a product image.
I fired off this answer.
I’d say you are right on all counts. I keep harping on this over the years. Some is from inconsistent genetics. Some is environment. Some is handling from kill forward but not much problem there anymore.
I maintain a big part is genetics, followed by environment. The beef industry keeps harping on hybridization to the degree there is no longer any attempt to maintain homozygosity in the base seedstock. This is EXACTLY the opposite of the pork and chicken industries and presents unpredictability in both performance and meat product.
And of course, as my friend Bill Helming says repeatedly, beef is expensive and consumers are cutting back. Ground beef consumption has been rising per capita for years and whole muscle cut consumption has been falling for years. The lines are almost perfectly inverse, depending on how they are charted. Bill's numbers are USDA numbers, incidentally, and CattleFax presents similar data.
The packers are grinding large amounts of whole muscle meat, especially from the round, when lean ground beef gets high enough and their oversupply of round muscles gets burdensome enough.
Truth is, I think we have a long way to go before we sort all this out. Market signals in the beef industry have rewarded primarily the production of pounds for many years and to a degree that still pays the bills. It's an especially false signal on the cow-calf operation, of course, since costs are so slow to show themselves in the production cycle. But it looks real on the surface.
Personally, I'm worried whether we can get these problems worked out before the next few crises take us down another notch or 10.
We're a complex industry with an amazingly complex production process. The hardest thing may be sorting through all the messages that trickle down the grapevine. If I had all the answers, however, I might sell them and retire.