The more I learn about farming and beef production in the US, the more I come across this thing called “Extension.” No, it’s not what happens when a young man sees an attractive woman sans clothing. Let me do my best to try to explain exactly what it is.
The Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA) Cooperative Extension provides non-formal education and learning activities to farmers, residents of rural communities, and people in urban areas throughout the country.
The country’s more than 100 land-grant colleges and universities have a critical mission, which they call “extension.” Through extension, they bring vital, practical information to agricultural producers, small business owners, consumers, families and kids.
That’s where 4-H comes into play. 4‑H is a youth development program delivered by Cooperative Extension. You may remember the commercials that used to air in the 80’s, like this one:
Kids complete hands-on projects in areas like health, science, agriculture and citizenship. They receive guidance from adult mentors and are encouraged to take on proactive leadership roles. 4‑H touches every area of the country via in-school and after-school programs, community clubs and camps.
The Rib Eye is the most ultimate of steaks, period. It is an awesome cut of beef.
Etymology: The etymology on this is pretty self-explanatory. The “rib” part of the name is because this cut of meat is connected to a rib bone. The “eye” part of the name is a reference to the circular, more centrally located portion of the cut that is more uniform than the outer portions of the cut. You will likely see the Rib Eye steak, or rib chop, called by many names.
For example, the Cowboy Rib Eye is a bone-in version of the cut:
There’s also the Tomahawk Rib Eye, which is so named for its resemblance to a Tomahawk-style hatchet. When butchered, a long “handle” of rib is cut clean to expose the bone (it is “Frenched,” as they say), and the steak meat is left at the end of the handle to form the hatchet blade:
Here’s a shot of my buddy; he’s about to get clobbered with a Tomahawk Rib Eye by Chef Josh Capon at Bowery Meat Company:
There’s also the Delmonico cut, otherwise known as a Scotch Filet. Applying what you’ve learned here, you can probably guess that this cut is boneless (filet means “boneless” in French). Delmonico’s claims this cut as their own because they named a house special boneless cut Rib Eye steak after their restaurant, way back in the early 1800’s when they first opened.
Anatomy: The rib section of beef spans from ribs six through twelve, and, obviously, hails from the rib section of the animal.
Rib Eye steaks are mainly composed of the Longissimus dorsi muscle (the “eye” portion of the steak) and the Spinalis dorsi muscle.
The more anterior your cut, the more Spinalis you’ll find in the steak. The Spinalis is the coveted cap of meat that wraps around the fatter end of the steak and usually has much more marbling than the rest of the Longissimus eye, or interior of the steak. That “fat cap” is also called the Deckle when it is butchered away from the remaining eye.
Highly skilled butchers know how to remove it from its position across an entire standing rib roast section of ribs, so as to keep it all together as one giant cut. But then that ruins the rib chop, in my opinion, since you’re taking away the best part. Some steakhouses have taken to tying several Deckle cuts together in a spiral formation to create an all-fat-cap steak. Bowery Meat Company has one such cut, which they call the Bowery Steak:
STK also offers one on special from time to time:
The Spinalis has a more intense marbling, and, thus, much more flavor and tenderness. If you are so bold, the next time you order a Rib Eye at a steakhouse, ask for an anterior cut that has more of this fantastic Spinalis muscle.
Preparation: There are a ton of ways to prepare a rib steak. The most comon forms are searing in a pan, grilling, or broiling. Another common method of preparing this kind of meat is roasting. A “standing rib roast” is a section of Rib Eye steaks that has not yet been portioned into individual steaks.
When this rack of ribs is roasted slow and low to a pink medium rare, the end product is called Prime Rib.
It then gets sliced out into portions for individual consumption. This is a mammoth cut that we got from Burger & Barrel:
I know what you’re wondering, and the answer is Yes: Prime Rib and Rib Eye steak are the same exact thing. They are just prepared differently, using different cooking methods.
Cheaper cuts of rib steaks are actually the most common type of beef found in Philly Cheesesteaks as well. The meat is cut super thin and then cooked on a flat top with cheese, onions and other toppings, then shoved into long sandwich bread (incase you’re an asshole who has no fucking clue was a cheesesteak is).
Side Bar: is a Philly Cheesesteak better than a Cheeseburger? I think so… Man… Now I’m hungry for both…
Flavor: This steak has a high fat content, and that makes it very important to have a quality cut of beef, or an aged cut of beef. In high quality and aged cuts, this fat will render out or melt away much easier during the cooking process. This will impart a tremendous amount of flavor into the steak, and it will leave the remaining flesh with a very tender and soft texture. Don’t be afraid of the fat. Fat is not the same as gristle. Fat is good. Fat is your friend. Any good butcher will get the gristle off and leave the good fat behind. And when that good fat is REALLY good, it’s like having a delicious beef jelly with each bite of steak.
As discussed above, the Rib Eye is really like having two steaks in one (The small Spinalis Deckle or fat cap, and the larger Longissimus eye). The Spinalis is soft, tender, has lots of fat flavor and sometimes develops a crisp during cooking. The eye is more dense, but still well marbled so that it retains intense flavor. The eye is more uniform than the Spinalis. So: two steaks in one, kind of like the Porterhouse. Plus, there’s a nice, meaty beef spare rib to gnaw on at the end, if you order a bone-in chop.
Since there is generally more fat and marbling in this cut across its entirety, you will get better flavors than with the tenderloin or Strip, in my opinion. Clearly, high fat content is not for everyone. If you want to avoid fats in your diet, then go with the tenderloin. I actually really enjoy the flavor of fat. Fat, now, is sometimes referred to as the sixth flavor sensation. There were always four: (1) savory, (2) sweet, (3) bitter and (4) sour. “Umami” claims to be the fifth, and is meant to encompass the earthy, funky, fermented flavor sensations that you experience with mushrooms, truffles, aged beef and blue cheese. I just dislike the word “umami,” so I use “earthy” instead. The sixth is “fat,” apparently, as decreed by various food people who get paid to sit around and do these things. I’m not sure how it works, but I seem to be able to recognize a distinct sensation on my tastebuds, along with a buttery flavor and slippery feel, whenever I eat shit like pork bone ramen or a Rib Eye steak. Maybe there’s something to it?
Anyway, I hope this was an informative and educational post for you meat minions out there. Knowing this shit, I think, is very important.
Etymology: According to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, this steak is marketed under various names, including Ambassador Steak, Club Steak, Hotel-Style Steak, Veiny Steak, Kansas City Steak and New York Strip Steak. Delmonico’s offered Strip as a signature dish way back in the early 1800’s. Due to the cut’s association with NYC, the New York Strip Steak name was born.
Anatomy: The Strip is cut from the other side of the tenderloin, across the vertebra on the T-bone or Porterhouse.
Also known as strip loin, the Strip Steak is cut from the short loin part of the animal, from a muscle that does little work, like the Filet Mignon. It is generally more tender than the similarly situated but more posterior-located sirloin section of the animal. While it is essentially the same kind of meat as sirloin, the muscles in the rear do a bit more work than the short loin, so can be a bit more tough.
Preparation: For me, the Strip is best at medium rare, to preserve the tenderness and reduce any mealy or grainy textures that can develop from overcooking. It is always best to get a really great quality cut for this chop, something prime+, as all the intra-muscular fat, or marbling, will become soft and the muscle will tenderize all over. You will often see it marinated or rubbed with spices, to impart additional flavors, but grilling and broiling in the traditional style is fantastic as well, especially with butter and herbs. It can be served bone-in or boneless. Leaving the bone in will impart more flavor and help with the cooking process, since the bone conveys heat into the center of the meat while locking in juices. At home, marinade this puppy in something like soy sauce and garlic, and slap it on the BBQ for a few minutes on each side and you will have the perfect home-cooked steak.
Flavor: This cut contains fat in levels that are somewhat in between the tenderloin (virtually none) and the Rib Eye (plenty of good, melty fat). Like the tenderloin, there is little variation throughout the cut, so the flavors and textures are more uniform for the Strip Steak, unlike the Rib Eye which has varying textures and flavors from one end of the cut to the other. The texture of a Strip can sometimes be a little bit grainy or mealy, and a bit more tight than a Filet Mignon or a Rib Eye – especially if it’s cooked too much.
Etymology: Filet, in culinary terminology, means boneless. Mignon, in French, means dainty or small. As such, this is a steak ideally suited for chicks: small/dainty, and with no bone.
Occasionally on a steakhouse menu you will see a “bone-in filet.” Given what I just mentioned above, that phraseology is completely self-defeating and confusing, as it simultaneously means both “bone-in” and “boneless.” However, it seems this sort of language is becoming commonplace. If it were up to me, I would prefer “bone-in tenderloin” to be listed on menus instead. There is no wording conflict with that phrasing, and it is an accurate description of what is being presented. In other words: all Filet Mignon is tenderloin, but not all tenderloin is Filet Mignon.
Anatomy: Traditionally, a Filet Mignon was cut from the anterior end of the tenderloin. In the beef chart image below, you can see a portion of the tenderloin section highlighted in red.
That is where Filet Mignon was typically located, though most butchers label all steaks cut from the tenderloin as Filet Mignon (this allows for larger portions). The tenderloins run along both sides of the spine. They taper from thick, in the posterior of the animal, to thin in the front.
In their unbutchered form, they contain what’s called the “silver skin” still attached to the flesh. This is a thick connective tissue that is pretty much inedible. When butchering the full tenderloin, you will want to slice that off (it is NOT tender).
While this next photo is a repeat shot of a lamb vertebra Barnsley chop (the mutton chop from Keen’s), the anatomy is exactly the same for beef. This will illustrate exactly where the filet comes from. Essentially this is a double porterhouse, with a filet and a strip on each side. In addition to understanding the Filet Mignon, this image is useful in demonstrating the anatomy of the Strip and Porterhouse cuts as well, since they all come from the same place – the vertebrae of the animal:
Preparation: Preparations of this cut vary greatly. You may see this cut sliced thin and pounded flat, served raw for carpaccio. You may also see it finely chopped for tartare. A simple pan sear with butter and herbs, however, is probably the most common preparation.
Yet another style is Chateaubriand, which is a large section of the thick portion of the tenderloin that is roasted boneless, then sliced and served with a reduction sauce.
There is also Beef Wellington, which is a portion of tenderloin that has been coated with pate and then wrapped in puff pastry dough prior to cooking.
Flavor: Widely considered the most tender and least fatty cut of beef on the animal, the flavor should be uniform from one end to the other, with very tender and soft texture the whole way through. There is hardly any fat content in the standard cut of Filet Mignon. Some chefs will wrap the filet in caul fat (a lacy, fatty, web-like membrane that surrounds the stomach of an animal) before cooking. The webbing melts away during cooking and imparts a fat flavor into the meat. But it is more common to use things like butter, or to wrap a filet in bacon to add the fat flavor into the meat.
Etymology: There is some difference of opinion on the origin of the word “Porterhouse,” with several restaurants and cities claiming to have created the name. For example, Martin Morrison served large T-bones in his Pearl Street (Manhattan) “Porter House” around 1814.This history was popular in the late 1800’s, but some say a Cambridge, Massachusetts proprietor by the name of Zachariah B. Porter added his name to the steak. Still, others argue that the Porterhouse name stems from various 19th Century U.S. hotels or restaurants called Porter House, such as the Porter House Hotel in Flowery Branch, Georgia.
Anatomy: The Porterhouse is a cut of steak from the short loin portion of the animal that contains both strip loin and tenderloin meats. See the highlighted portion in the diagram below:
It is cut from a lumbar vertebra that is sawed in half through the vertebral column.
The downward prong of the “T” is a transverse process of the vertebra, and the flesh that surrounds it (spinal muscles) makes up the meat of the Porterhouse.
Essentially, it is a large T-bone steak from the rear of the animal that has two different types of meat (tenderloin and strip loin), one on either side of the “T.” In the picture below, the strip loin or Strip Steak is on the right, and the tenderloin or Filet Mignon is on the left.
The small semicircle at the top of the ‘T’ is half of the vertebral foramen, which is the name of the hole that passes through each vertebra for housing and protecting the spinal cord. They run the whole way up the back, all the way up to the brain of the animal.
The anatomy of a Porterhouse differs from that of a T-bone only in that the Porterhouse contains a larger portion of tenderloin than its T-bone counterpart.
This is primarily due to the fact that Porterhouse steaks are cut from further in the rear of the animal, from lumbar vertebrae, where the tenderloin is much thicker. Experts differ, however, on how large the tenderloin must be to differentiate a Porterhouse from a T-bone. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Institutional Meat Purchase Specifications state that the tenderloin of a Porterhouse must be at least 1.25 inches thick at its widest, while that of a T-bone must be at least 0.5 inches.
Here is a shot of a short loin with multiple vertebrae still intact and not portioned out into individual Porterhouses and T-bones.
You can see on the left there is a good sized, thick portion of tenderloin. That thins down as you move the the right, and seems to disappear by time your eyes reach the far end of the cut.
Just to drive home the anatomy a little more, here is a great excerpt and image from Russ Cooks:
“Up close and personal, this is where the T-bone fits.
The black line across the top of the two T-bones pictured here is the outside (top of the back) of the steer. You can see the T-bone in the schematic illustration higher up on this page as the topmost part labelled Rib. Above the ribs, what you touch if you pat the steer’s back, is the New York strip. Beneath the ribs is the tenderloin from which a filet mignon is often cut. T-bone steaks cut closer to the shoulder are known as Porterhouse while those cut closer to the loin are just T-bones.”
Preparation: Most times, T-bones and Porterhouses are either grilled, seared in a pan, broiled or blasted with high heat in specialty steak ovens made for charring the outside of the meat without over-cooking the inside. Butter is essential, and heavy seasoning is important as well. Herbs and garlic help boost the flavor too.
Flavor: Since this cut contains both the Filet Mignon and the Strip Steak, I refer you to the flavor sections for those cuts below, with a notation that the bone being left in often adds a more robust flavor while helping to retain tenderness and juiciness. These are very popular items at steakhouses because they can be cut large enough to feed anywhere from two to four people. Additionally, with two different types of meat in one steak, one can vary the flavors that one experiences with each bite.
I recently had dinner with a friend of mine who had just gotten an angioplasty. If you don’t know what that is, it’s when surgeons open up blocked arteries and restore normal blood flow to the heart. If your arteries stay clogged, you can have a heart attack and die. Duh.
My friend’s doctor obviously cautioned him to avoid saturated fats and bad cholesterol. That doesn’t mean he can’t have a steak once in a while, and that’s exactly what he wanted for dinner on the night we hung out. I have that effect on people…
So there were two steaks on the menu; a NY strip and a skirt. My buddy asked the waitress, “which one is more fatty?” She said the strip, which, all things equal in terms of grade and cooking prep, is completely false. I informed my buddy why she was wrong after she stepped away, so as not to embarrass her. But I figured I would share that knowledge here with you guys, too. Here’s why she was wrong:
NY strip steak is a strip loin cut of beef, which is the most prized part of the sirloin. Sirloin is considered a lean cut of beef. In fact, any time you see the word “loin” in describing a cut of beef, that means it’s lean. The one caveat I’ll give is that fat content also depends on the grade of beef, not just the location of the cut. Prime has more intra-muscular fat (marbling) than choice, for example, and something like Kobe has more than prime.
The term “lean” means that the beef has 4.5g or less of saturated fat per serving, and 10g or less total fat per serving. About 66% of beef cuts are considered lean cuts. That’s pretty fucking good!
Skirt hails from the “plate” or diaphragm muscle of the bovine anatomy. It’s not listed above because it isn’t within the definition of lean. It has more fat content than a strip steak, especially after a strip is trimmed by a restaurant. Most of the fat on a sirloin lies on the outside of the muscle, as opposed to the inside marbling (which, by the way, contains “good fats,” like olive oil and avocados do). But when external fat is trimmed away, you’re down to low fat content.
The real question, then, becomes: How is the steak prepared? Does it come with a cream sauce? Is it cooked with tons of butter? Is it simply seasoned and grilled? All of this matters tremendously in terms of calculating the total fat content of a particular dish.
Why do I mention this? Because the method of cooking could flip these fat levels very easily. If the strip is being cooked in a pan filled with butter and then smothered in a cream sauce, while the skirt is simply seasoned and grilled, then maybe it’s best to get the skirt if you’re trying to be mindful of overall fat content. It all depends, like adult diapers.
My advice: don’t ruin good beef with a sauce. I love the flavor of beef, so I don’t like to mask it with sauces of any kind. Simply season and fire it up. If you live by those rules, then you can take the fat content of lean cuts at face value and be confident that you’re eating a low fat, lean beef meal that’s both nutritious and delicious.
Newport steak, aka “the apartment steak,” is essentially part of a tri-tip steak, which hails from the bottom sirloin portion of the animal.
Tri-tip is usually butchered into larger sizes for people to use on the grill or in BBQ style smoker preparations. A single tri-tip cut can feed a few people. It has a definitive grain direction and can be very tender and flavorful if cooked, sliced and served properly. For a nice write-up on how to properly execute a tri-tip on the grill, check out this post from BBQ Pitstop.
If you like the flavor and texture of tri-tip, but only need to feed yourself, you can get a Newport steak, especially if you’re living in Manhattan. In New York City, Florence Meat Market in the west village has popularized the “Newport” cut, which is a single serving size of steak that has been butchered from the tri-tip.
It also has been called the “NYC Apartment Steak” by food blogger and recipe historian Kathryn McGowan. I think this is a fun reference to the small NYC apartments near the butcher shop in which it is nearly impossible to cook. She provides a recipe as well – check it out. Very simple to execute.
This cut is meant to be easy to cook, and small enough to fit into your small pans, set upon your small stove top in your small kitchen, within your small apartment for which you’re paying a large rent.
A recent trip to Italy renewed my interest in, and appreciation for, all things “sliced meaty.” I thought I’d seize the opportunity, capitalize on my rekindled passion for this delicious shit, and dive a fuckload deeper into the various types of salumi with a detailed-as-balls educational post for you assholes.
Check it out you savages. This was an actual street name in Trastevere, Rome:
In case you’re a complete dunce, that means “Street of Salumi.” I like to call it Meat Street, if you will, which is where I’m about to take your ass right now.
So just what exactly is salumi? Generally, it’s any food product made from pig meat (usually), especially cured meats, such as salami. That’s not super explicit, and some salumi even involve beef, but essentially we’re talking Italian pork-based “cold cuts” here.
One thing we all love is prosciutto. Prosciutto is a TRUE salume (singular of salumi), meaning it’s a whole cut of animal, usually a leg or shoulder. A leg gets hung to cure, and later it is sliced and eaten.
Then there are items that involve ground meat, like salami and salsicce (sausage). Salami are smoked, air dried or salted, and then left to age. Salsicce is either raw or cooked slightly, and is a kind of salame (singular of salami).
Okay so salumi, salami: is that like potayto, potahto? Nope. Salumi is more of an umbrella term. All salami are salumi, but not all salumi are salami. Get it? Of course you don’t, because it’s fucking confusing. You had to go back and read that twice, didn’t you? I did. Maybe a Venn Diagram will help illustrate the point better:
Okay so let’s ignore the umbrella salumi term, since it’s kind of useless for our purposes here. I’m going to give you some info about the two major types of Italian meats: true salumi and salami.
As mentioned earlier, these are cured meats that have been made from a whole cut of animal, usually a leg/thigh or shoulder.
Prosciutto is a dry-cured leg o’ pig, and is probably the most common salume. These legs actually hang in Italian salumeria shops like decorations. It’s amazing.
Prosciutto crudo is the uncooked version, while prosciutto cotto is the cooked version.
For crudos, you’ll often see differences in the aging time based on the regions in Italy from which the ham hails. For example, Prosciutto di Parma is usually aged about 10-12 months, while San Daniele is 15-18 months. Some regions will age their hams longer, like 24 months, to impart different flavors, increase sweetness levels, etc.
As for prosciutto cotto, think of it like a traditional cooked ham.
Speck is a type of prosciutto that’s smoked (as well as dry-salted and aged), so it has a stronger, more unique flavor.
This salume is usually lightly seasoned with garlic, herbs, spices and wine, but the execution differs by region. The meat is then salted, stuffed into a natural casing, and hung for up to six months to cure. The meat itself is whole muscle from the neck and shoulder areas, so it is a salume despite being stuffed into a casing.
Fun side note: You may have seen capocollo spelled coppa, capicollo, capicola or capicolla. It’s even referred to as “gaba-gool” by NY/NJ area Italians and the show The Sopranos (or in this case, MadTV):
This is Italian pork belly (bacon). It’s usually cured and sometimes spiced. They slice it thin and eat it like cold cuts over in Italy. While technically not the same, you will often see pancetta swapped out with guanciale (pork cheek) or lardo (pure fat) in many Italian dishes that traditionally call for pancetta.
Bresaola is a cured, lean cut of beef.
You can see it here in my wife’s video from a salumi shop in Rome called La Prosciutteria, which I refer to as fucking heaven. There are a few selections of bresaola across the top right, immediately as the video begins:
While this may not necessarily be a salume, it is very often found in Salumeria shops throughout Italy. With that said, and the fact that this shit is delicious as fuck, I figured I’d mention it here.
Porchetta is a savory, fatty, and moist “pork roll.” It’s essentially a boneless pork roast whereby the pig is gutted, de-boned, arranged carefully with layers of stuffing, then rolled, wrapped in skin, and spit-roasted over a flame. Stuffing usually includes rosemary, fennel, garlic and other herbs, and porchetta is usually heavily salted.
It is typically served hot, cut thick, and eaten like a main course dish with a fork and knife. However it’s also common to see it sliced thinly after cooling. It’s then put into sandwiches or served on wooden meat board platters like the other salumi discussed above.
Okay, so a recap: Salami are ground meat, encased products that are smoked, air dried or salted, and then left to age.
If you’ve ever eaten an Italian hero, you’ve eaten some of these meats. Ingredients and parts can vary. In some cases you may even see non-pig versions, like venison or elk. In Venice, I even saw horse salami:
Salami varies greatly by region. In some areas of Italy, the meat is finely ground with tiny flecks of fat visible.
Other regions use a more coarse grind, use larger chunks of fat, or add spices and herbs.
My favorite varieties are the ones in which truffles are added.
The pepperoncino pepper is a mildly spicy variety of chili pepper. That pepper is what makes a salame “piccante” (spicy), as it is mixed up into the grind when making salami piccante. In the US, salami piccante is typically called “pepperoni.” However, in Italian, the word “pepperoni” actually means “bell peppers.”
Soppressata also varies by region and exists in different sizes and shapes, but the spice level and red coloring are both universal traits. It is almost always more coarsely ground than salami.
All that said, one can still find varieties of soppressata that aren’t quite as “hot.” While these pictures show a thinner chub, the most common forms I have seen were thicker, like three or four inches in diameter (like a giant’s penis).
This delicious shit generally comes from southern Italy. It’s an aged, spicy, spreadable salami “paste” that’s made from various parts of a pig. The spice levels are pretty hot in this product, and since it’s so soft, it is often spread onto bread like butter, or thrown into tomato-based sauces to kick them up a little bit.
This might be my favorite of the lot, and that’s a bonus for me, because it is usually the cheapest to buy in stores. The meat itself is similar to bologna in texture (in fact it IS bologna, since it hails from the town of Bologna). It’s extra finely ground (almost like it was processed by machine) heat-cured pork, which incorporates small cubes of pork lard.
I think mortadella is more smooth and soft than standard bologna here in the US, and it has a real porky flavor. Sometimes truffles, pistachios, olives and garlic are added for flavoring as well. Those are the best kinds. Also, lots of times these meats are formed into HUGE logs that are upwards of a foot in diameter.
Sausage party! The main difference here is mainly that, most times, salsicce is raw, uncured, or un-aged and needs to be cooked prior to eating. But some sausages are smoked and, thus, can be eaten as-is (like a hot dog or kielbasa).
So that about covers most of the common types of salumi you’ll see out there. I hope this information was helpful. If it wasn’t, then I should add that I don’t really give a fuck. Either way, go forth and eat this delicious meat. It will make you happy.
I hesitate to even use the word “industry” when talking about beef in the USA. Perhaps “Sustainability in US Beef Production” is a better title for this post. “Industry” makes people think of the “factory farming” bullshit myth, which I already debunked HERE.
In any case, Happy New Year!!! As usual, this post is designed to do away with yet another set of myths about US beef. Apparently some false ideas have spread that beef production in America is vicious to the environment, emits far too many “greenhouse gases,” is responsible for “global warming” (or whatever people call it these days), is wasteful, and is generally not a sustainable practice. Lies. Every one of them.
Grasslands involved in beef production account for nearly 75% of US natural wildlife, and cattle spend a majority of their lives feeding on these natural grasslands. Up to 85% of grassland in the US is actually not suitable for crop farming due to soil characteristics, topography or rainfall. Cattle grazing is a good use of the otherwise inarable land, and it even helps prevent wildfires. Also, cattle can eat shit that almost nothing else can. Bovine digestive systems are made to convert inedible plants into protein that we can eat.
That’s all wonderful, and you may have read a little about that on here before. But what I’m going to do now is introduce you to the concept of “diversified farming” practices.
What the fuck is a diversified farm? Essentially it’s when a farm produces a variety of crops or animals, usually both, with the crops feeding the animals that they raise, in an effort to create a self-sustained farm with little waste or reliance upon other operations.
You may recall that Walbridge Farm is like this as well, where they grow sunflowers and raise cattle. The sunflowers are used to produce cold pressed sunflower oil, which they sell at their market.
The hulls, shells and ground up sunflower byproduct from that oil-making process is then used to create cattle feed. Pretty brilliant, if you ask me. Not only is this a good idea from a business standpoint, since you are becoming more self-reliant and utilizing more of what you make, but it is also responsible environmental stewardship.
Speaking of environmental stewardship, many diversified farm operations also catch water runoff from their feed yards to be processed and rendered inert before being reclaimed by the land. In fact, water management is an area of the industry that has seen great improvement in recent years. In addition, almost all diversified farms collect cow dung as well, which is then used as fertilizer for their crops. Even waste is not wasted!
But aside from diversified farming efforts, cattle are natural recyclers. They kick so much ass at recycling that you can literally feed them the waste from other industries.
Do you enjoy bourbon? Of course you do, because you’re a man with balls and a dick swinging between your legs. You’re a red-blooded fucking American, and nothing is more American than bourbon, except for maybe jazz or steak. Do you know how bourbon is made? With corn! Good: You’re not an idiot. Corn mash, to be more accurate. That gets fermented and turned into booze. But what happens with the mash after the fermentation and distillation process? You guessed it: it often gets turned into cattle feed.
You all know how much I love Martin’s Potato Buns, right? The reason I love them so much is because their buns are always fresh, supple and soft; perfect for constructing a burger. I recently learned why that is the case. They pull their bread from shelves a little earlier than most, to ensure freshness to the consumer. Know what they do with the buns after they get pulled from the shelves? Rather than going to the garbage heap, they get re-purposed and turned into cattle feed.
That’s just two examples of other industries and businesses that contribute their unused byproducts to the beef production cycle, thereby reducing and re-purposing waste. The ethanol fuel industry is another big one, but many others contribute as well.
So what about greenhouse gases? We’ve all heard how cow farts are supposedly destroying the planet, right? Come on…
According to numbers from the EPA, cattle production is not even a top contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
Here’s some recent data:
Agriculture: 6.9% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Livestock: 3.1% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Livestock Methane: 2.8% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Beef Cattle Methane: 1.5% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
What about other industries?
Electricity Generation: 33% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Transportation: 26% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Industrial Use: 11% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Residential/Commercial: 8% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s really pretty simple though: Cattle are not the major cause of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. And as far as the US is concerned, we do a pretty damn good job at containing the impact that beef production has on the environment. The US is actually one of the most efficient nations in terms of lowering greenhouse gases and environmental concerns that stem from beef production. Click the image below to see a larger version:
Furthermore, a “Lifecycle Assessment” of the beef industry was recently conducted. What that means is that everything and anything that touches the production cycle was examined. Use of farm equipment, water, machines, everything – not just the cattle themselves or the land use.
Take a look at this nifty graphic that encapsulates the findings of the life cycle assessment (click for a larger version):
It turns out that the beef production cycle scored much better than car emissions from the auto industry. Why mention emissions and the auto industry? Because they promoted a poor emissions study and leveled some wild accusations at the beef industry.
Better still: the emissions study didn’t focus on the entire auto industry lifecycle in the way that the beef study did. Had they conducted a full lifecycle study, they would have had to include assessments of things like power plants and such. Once those things are factored in, the beef industry becomes squeaky clean in a direct comparison with the auto industry in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.
For more information about the improvements made in the beef production lifecycle, go HERE.
Niche Market Beef
A lot of hulabaloo has been going on around the discussion of grain finished vs grass finished beef. People seem to think that grass finished beef is somehow more natural and environmentally friendly. Yet we know it takes about 226 more days for grass-finished cattle to reach market weight than grain-finished cattle. More days on grass may mean greater environmental impact.
Let’s look at the difference. Each pound of grain-finished beef requires:
45 percent less land;
76 percent less water; and
49 percent less feed;
51 percent less manure; and
42 percent fewer carbon emissions.
So it would seem to me that grain finishing is more environmentally sound. For more on that, click HERE.
Just the idea of it makes me cringe. What would possess someone to avoid meat just because of alliteration? Why not increase beef intake and call it Meaty Monday? Because some fool out there thought it would be healthy and better for the environment to cut meat from your diet just one day a week. Were they right? Of course not. Let’s examine the idea:
As for the environment, “Meatless Monday” would have a very small impact even if every American followed it. One meatless day per week would account for less than one half of one percent of the U.S. carbon footprint. For more on that, check out THIS LINK.
Nose to Tail
Are we, as a society, wasting any part of the animal? Not really.
First, you’ve all noticed some of the shit I’ve been eating lately at fine dining establishments: Oxtail stew, blood sausage, bone marrow, tripe, and all sorts of offal or “variety meats.”
There is a readily identifiable trend in the food biz where chefs want to use the entire animal, from nose to tail, to reduce waste and elevate their cuisine by offering on their menus the proteins that used to be relegated to the impoverished.
Offal and “variety cuts” were always cheap and within the budgets of the poor, especially outside of the US. You know what I’m talking about: stews, cured meats, slow and low cooked meals, etc. Now, restaurants are taking inspiration from some of those humble dishes and featuring them on their menus.
But even outside of human consumption, the carcass is utilized across a wide spectrum of modern society. Take a look at this diagram, courtesy of Facts About Beef:
I also liked this one from Snopes, mainly for the conclusion at the bottom of the image:
I haven’t independently verified all uses claimed on the Snopes chart, but the Facts About Beef chart is 100% legit and it looks like whoever made the Snopes pic just grabbed the same list from the BeefUSA graphic. The overall point is that beef byproducts are in a lot of things we use every day. It’s not like we just kill cows, cut the meat off and fling the carcass into a ditch on the side of the road. There’s really no waste.
I guess I should cut this baby off here. There’s a lot to talk about as far as sustainability is concerned, and if I tried to tackle everything, this would be a book as opposed to an article.
Just remember that America’s cattle ranchers have a vested interest in sustainable environmental practices. After all, the beef community thrives on multi-generational family farms. Cattle farmers have an average of 13 different practices in place to accomplish environmental goals.
A whole crapload of unnecessary freaking out has happened over ranchers’ use of antibiotics in the raising of animals for human consumption. While some of the alarmist stuff out there might sound scary, in reality it isn’t. So I feel the need to ease some tensions here with this beef advocacy post.
The judicious use of antibiotics is the humane thing to do for animals that are in need of care. Just like humans, animals need help every so often to fight off a bug. When sick, their ears droop, they cough and have runny noses. They separate from the herd and go off by themselves. Some diseases can be avoided through the use of vaccines, and illnesses can be prevented and combated with the use of vitamins and antibiotics.
By law, producers must wait a certain amount of time after administering an antibiotic before an animal can be slaughtered for consumption, to ensure that no traces of the antibiotic remain within the animal. These “withdrawal times” are strictly monitored and vary from 0-60 days based on the substance being administered. That means you can be confident that there are no antibiotics in the meat you buy at stores or order in restaurants. Once the withdrawal time is tolled, that basically means the antibiotic has been completely metabolized and has worked its way out of the animal’s system.
Ranchers must carefully follow directions for administering the proper amounts of antibiotics to their animals, and the FDA tests for traces of antibiotics in meat products as well. There is a mess of paperwork, regular federal inspections and tedious record keeping involved in this entire process. It really is a tightly run ship.
Let me unpack those generalizations a bit here: Under new FDA guidelines, there are very specific, detailed measurements that are set for antibiotics in feed – authorized by veterinarians – that are called “veterinary feed directives.” These directives outline exactly how long an antibiotic can be used and which illnesses can be treated. They also specify the number of animals that can be treated.
Again, these drugs will only be used to treat, prevent and control disease with the oversight of a veterinarian. Farmers and ranchers will be required to form even stronger relationships with licensed veterinarians in order to receive authorization for the appropriate antibiotic for a specified illness, and for a specific time period. I’d say that creates a pretty well regulated and closely monitored situation.
Additionally, new laws require that little to no antibiotics given to the herd can be in the same class as human medicines. This is done to prevent any potential reduction in the effectiveness of antibiotics that are needed to treat human diseases.
Even something as simple as a vaccination carries with it a host of guidelines. For example, no shots are allowed in the hip or thigh, as this can damage the sirloin or round cuts of beef.
This is a good time for me to talk about ionophores, actually. Ionophores are a class of antibiotics that are not involved in human health because they work specifically in the rumen (a digestive organ which we do not have).
Coccidiosis is a parasitic disease in the intestinal tract of animals caused by coccidian protozoa. Ionophores combat these organisms, so they’re technically “antibiotics” from the US standpoint.
In Europe, these ionophores have a different term (anticoccidials), and are not classified as antibiotics like they are here. You may have heard that Europe has much lower antibiotic use in their beef industry. That’s misleading, mainly because Europe does not consider the ionophore to be an antibiotic.
Hormones and steroids are often used for growth promotion, digestive aids, and to prevent illness and the later need for antibiotics in a herd. Small pellets are implanted behind the animals ear, under the skin, to release these aids into the animal’s body. Many don’t realize that these are completely metabolized and no traces are found in the beef products at the point of consumption.
The FDA and USDA enforce rules on these things, and scientists have tested them for safety. Additionally, once the use of a hormone has been reviewed and approved, it’s continually re-tested, annually, and reevaluated. It will only stay on the market if it continues to pass all FDA and USDA testing. So this stuff may sound scary, but in reality it’s completely safe according to all scientific testing.
Despite these numerous safety assurances, U.S. consumer concern about using antibiotics in animal feed has led producers to create niche markets for products with specialty labels. “Never ever” means that the animal was never given an antibiotic, for example, throughout its entire lifetime. Other labels tout the fact that the animal was not given any antibiotics in the last 60 days of it’s life, or from various points of its life cycle onward (for example, no antibiotics administered once the animal is sent to the feedlot).
The USDA makes no claim about these products being safer. They are, however, more expensive to produce, and, therefore, more expensive to buy at the consumer level. Here are a few more:
Natural: minimally processed with limited additives.
Naturally Raised: No antibiotics and no hormones except for ionophores.
Certified Organic: No hormones, and raised on 100% organic feed, which means no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers were used to grow the feed.
While our beef producers are wonderful for creating new markets and catering to the odd and unique demands of a diverse population, I felt obligated to set the record straight on the issue of antibiotics with this post.
In general, the use of antibiotics is more an issue of animal health than human health, but it’s still an important topic to know about.
Remember, beef producers have a vested interest in raising healthy, safe and nutritious food, because they feed themselves and their families with the same beef that you and I eat. They understand that antibiotics are vital for the health of the herd, and administering them is a humane act to safeguard their animals.
Farmers and ranchers are dedicated to providing safe products to the market. It’s their livelihood, after all. Implementing new antibiotics guidelines and working closer with veterinarians are just a few examples of how farmers and ranchers are continuously improving the cattle industry.
There’s really nothing to worry about. US beef products are safe, nutritious and delicious. There are safeguards put into place at every step of the beef life cycle, and even afterward at the slaughterhouse and packing plant, to ensure our safety.