Nebraska Famous Steaks sends frozen steaks out to customers who purchase meat from them. Most people are familiar with this concept by way of other companies like Omaha Steaks. I had not heard of Nebraska Famous Steaks until they reached out to me. Their ask was simple: Would I like for them to send me some meat to try out at home and post some pictures, write a review, etc? My answer was fast: Yup.
Here’s what they sent me:
I was blown away. I wasn’t expecting so much!
I have to say, their filet mignon destroys Omaha Steaks. The filets I recently cooked up from Omaha were thin, while these were nice and thick. Quality was similar, however, at good choice.
The Nebraska Famous Steaks rib eyes had some really nice marbling throughout the muscle tissue, and a nice sized spinalis cap. I was impressed! And also excited to eat them.
I did my usual quick and easy cooking method for steaks at home: sous vide followed by blow torch. Here’s a video of the whole process, from unboxing through to plating.
And I took a shitload of photos, of course. I simply seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic, then seared, and then added some flake salt. We also ate this with some wasabi as well. Nice touch!
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.
A little over a year ago, the World Health Organization published a finding through their International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that the consumption of red meats represented a “hazard” and classified red meat as “probably carcinogenic.” While the craziness over that fake scare has already passed like a cow fart in the wind, I think it’s useful to talk about it here, even if just to reiterate how wrong it was.
First, I think it’s important to discuss a few things right off the bat.
Okay but seriously…
Difference Between Hazard and Risk: The IARC does not evaluate cancer risks. They only identify hazards. A risk is a statement about the probability, possibility or likelihood to cause harm, while a hazard is merely representative of a possibility to cause harm under any circumstances. It is always important to look at hazard and risk together when talking about things like cancer.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate the difference between the two is by way of analogy. Think about driving, for example. If it’s raining, we know that wet roads represent a hazard to drivers for getting into an accident (cancer). Now let’s say you’re speeding, driving with bald tires, and not using your windshield wipers after drinking a six pack of Bud. You’ve significantly elevated your risk of getting into an accident during hazardous driving conditions like wet roads.
If we apply this to beef, the IARC merely told you that the roads are wet. They identified a hazard, and nearly anything can be hazardous. Water is hazardous. It only becomes a risk when you try to breathe it, or drink it while hanging upside down or something ridiculous. So, wet roads? Maybe you walk to work, or maybe you have new tires, drive very slowly in the rain and never drive while intoxicated. As a result, your risk of getting into an accident due to a wet road hazard is very low.
See the difference, and the need to always consider both together? Of course you do, because you’re not an idiot. So when we extrapolate this to something complex, like diet or personal health, the need to assess both becomes absolutely vital. If you’re an alcoholic smoker who works around asbestos all day, never exercises, and consumes nothing but bacon grease, then chances are you’re going to die of cancer pretty quickly, because your personal risk levels are through the roof and you’re dancing around several big hazards.
Scope of Study: First, the IARC does not seem to specialize in the evaluation of food. They’ve looked into more than 1000 chemicals, mixtures, biological agents, personal habits and occupational exposures, but diet and food represent large complexities that are simply out of their realm of specialization.
Second, the IARC only categorizes things into five wishy-washy designations: Probably Not Carcinogenic to Humans (Category 4); Not Classifiable as to its Carcinogenicity to Humans (Category 3); Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans (Category 2B); Probably Carcinogenic to Humans (Category 2A); and Carcinogenic to Humans (Category 1). Aside from the fact that language like “probably” and “possibly” is arbitrary at best, only one substance has ever received the Category 4 designation of “Probably Not Carcinogenic,” and that was caprolactam (whatever the fuck that is).
They claimed that red meat was “probably carcinogenic” (Category 2A) and that processed meats were “carcinogenic” (Category 1). So what do “red meats” and “processed meats” even mean?
According to IARC, red meat refers to “unprocessed mammalian muscle meat.” This means beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse or goat meat. Yeah, you read that right: Pork is not “the other white meat.” Based on the amount of myoglobin or “stuff that looks like blood, but really isn’t blood” in the muscle tissue, pork is categorized as a red meat.
Processed meat refers to “meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation.” In the U.S., processed meats like bacon, sausages, hot dogs and deli meats primarily contain pork and poultry, but sometimes contain beef as well.
Note that all production and processing methods fall into these definitions, and that even includes organic, grass-fed, nitrite- and nitrate-free meats, as well as conventional meats. NO ONE IS SAFE FROM THE IARC!!!
Findings: The findings are based on pre-existing research. What is that research? How can they control for external factors that may increase or decrease risk when studying human diet? Well, according to their Q&A, “In the case of red meat, the classification is based on limited evidence from epidemiological studies showing positive associations between eating red meat and developing colorectal cancer as well as strong mechanistic evidence. Limited evidence means that a positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer but that other explanations for the observations (technically termed chance, bias, or confounding) could not be ruled out.”
In layman’s terms, that means other factors could have influenced the weak positive associations between red meat and cancer, like poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, bad habits like smoking or excessive alcohol consumption, or even genetic health conditions or pre-existing diseases (think speeding, driving on bald tires, driving while intoxicated, etc). So there’s that difference between hazard and risk being played out again.
In short, don’t believe the hype!
Research has always shown that beef should be part of a healthy and balanced diet. But don’t just take my word for it; check out what some dietitians think. To me, it’s clear that the scientific evidence doesn’t show that red or processed meat causes cancer. Studies in humans are limited and inconsistent, and evidence has weakened over time. Take a look HERE for research that the Beef Checkoff submitted to the IARC. The Beef Checkoff is an organization that’s funded by farmers giving $1 for every animal produced in order to pay for research and marketing campaigns within the industry. If you think those submissions are biased for some reason (which is silly, because beef farmers and ranchers feed their families with the same beef and have a vested interest in the industry’s safety), then go HERE for independent submissions that were sent to the IARC.
Okay so what about hot dogs and bacon, the “processed meats” that were categorized as being “Carcinogenic?” If you poked around their website you may have noticed that smoking and asbestos are in IARC Category 1 as well. But on their Q&A they’ve explained that eating processed meats is not equally as dangerous as smoking – not even close, as a matter of fact. As I mentioned above, rather than assessing the level of risk, the IARC classifications merely describe hazards and potential causes.
Just one last note here on the findings: every one of us has about a 1.8%-4% chance of getting colon cancer, which is the form of cancer that many of the studies focused upon for red meat. Colon cancer is the third most common cause of cancer and cancer-related deaths. Even if the risk of colon cancer goes up 17-18% due to eating red meat, as some of the more fear-mongering studies said (and recall that some studies said there was no increased risk), it’s only about 17-18% of that 4%, or an increased risk of 0.72%. That’s only 4.72% total, if we use the worst figures we can find. The bottom end all-in figure is more like 2.1%, and again that’s only if we ignore all of the other studies that found no risk in eating red meat.
I don’t know about you guys, but even if these false-positive studies were somehow believable, I’d be perfectly willing to take on a 0.3% to 0.7% risk in exchange for a lifetime of enjoying nutritious and delicious red meat in my diet. The air I breathe here in NYC is probably way more hazardous or risky to me than red meat.
Charred Crusts: Another concern that was floating around the web was the idea that the charred outer crisp on meats that develops when the meat comes in contact with fire (like the crust of a broiled steak or the smoky crisp on a flame-kissed burger) is also cancerous.
The chemicals that form during this charring process are present on any meat that gets hit with flame (not just beef). They’re called heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).
They are, indeed, known or suspected carcinogens. However, they aren’t present in high enough concentrations to be a real concern when grilling or cooking. I’ve known of people who charred meat to a crisp and tested the meat afterward, and the amounts of harmful chemical present were so small that they were insignificant. Concentrations matter here. There are probably harmful chemicals in the water you drink too, but unless they’re highly concentrated there’s no cause for concern.
Conclusion: Given the totality of the studies, it’s clear to me that no single food, including red or processed meats, causes cancer. So, my meat minions, beef on with confidence and pride. And go forth and continue to develop that delicious, nicely-textured crust on your steaks and burgers as well. Just don’t overcook anything, for fuck’s sake!
All cattle are grass fed. The difference is how they’re “finished” before they go off to be slaughtered into burgers and steaks. “Grass-finished” means they continue to eat grass until the day they die. “Grain-finished” means they get a mix of grains to fatten them up quicker before they are consumed. This “finishing” period lasts a few months, from what I understand.
Typically, a farm or feed yard won’t send an animal off to slaughter until it reaches a certain weight, that way the producer can pull the most value out of the animal. More pounds = more money.
As you might guess, it takes much longer for an animal to get big enough to go to market if it eats nothing but grass. Thus, the grass-finished animal that you see at the market or butcher was older and leaner when it was slaughtered. Older animals produce a darker red meat color in the muscle, with much less marbling within. This can lead to a more tough end product.
Grain finishing allows the fattening process to happen faster, which means the consumer is eating a younger animal. Don’t get all weepy-eyed about the ages of the animals either. Grain-finished animals aren’t babies; they’re 1400 pounds! Besides, eating older animals means you are generally eating tougher meat, potentially from an animal that may have been exposed to more illnesses during it’s lifetime. So young is good. And since grain imparts more fat, the meat is generally more tender and has more marbling. That translates directly into flavor for the consumer.
Depending on what you’re looking for from your beef, you’ll have to decide if grain-finished is your thing, or if you prefer grass-finished. Some people who are concerned about fat content (the difference isn’t huge, by the way), or who like some game flavor, may lean towards grass-finished beef. If you’re like me, however, flavor and tenderness rule the day. That means you should avoid grass-finished and stick to grain.
I find grass-finished beef more difficult to cook properly (it cooks faster). Also, the small difference in fat content isn’t going to stop you from being a fat fuck if you are an over-eater who doesn’t exercise or eat a balanced diet.
Grass-finished animals produce meat which also contains more Omega fatty acids Conjugated Lineolic Acid (CLA). This has been linked to long term weight management, and is thought to have health benefits that help combat a host of diseases, including cancer and heart disease. You just have to be careful with some of the research here, as many proponents of the grass-fed trend are very quick to bash anything that has to do with grain feeding without having the full picture. While I generally don’t particularly fancy the flavor of grass fed beef, the nutritional benefit of CLA is something to consider, and it just further strengthens the argument for consuming beef.
One caveat to this Omega business: The difference in content between grass and grain -finished beef isn’t really big enough to justify excluding grain-finished beef from your diet. If Omegas are what you’re after, maybe work some salmon into your diet, as that seems to contain more. But don’t forget to eat that yummy and nutritious beef either!
One final tip I’ll give is this: If you’re cooking or ordering a grass-finished steak, cook it or order it one temperature step less than you normally prefer, to preserve some nicer texture. If you typically order medium rare, then go with rare.