*Steak*, by Mark Schatzker

by on July 21, 2010 at 10:15 am in Books, Food and Drink | Permalink

Roughly 98 percent of cattle do live to see the day the truck from the packing plant pulls up because antibiotics are mixed in with the feed to keep livers and guts from failing.  A certain number are fated to die, however.  Feedlot nutritionists, Williams explained, actually want to see a small percentage get sick, as "that way, they know they're pushing the feed to the edge."  The ones that aren't dying are getting fat fast."

That is from the new and notable book Steak: One Man's Search for the World's Tastiest Piece of Beef.  This book is interesting and substantive on virtually every page and it is one of the best food books I have read in some time.

If you are wondering, the best steaks I have had were (in no order):

1. Kobe Beef in Kobe, Japan.

2. Dry-aged, in Hermosillo, Mexico.

3. Southern Brazil, in small towns outside of Curitiba.

It is rare that I end up eating steak in the United States; I just don't see a good reason to do it.  I also think a lot of steak in B.A. is overrated, as does Schatzker.

Ed July 21, 2010 at 10:25 am

For those of us who don’t get to travel all the time, and like steak, we have to make do with the U.S. product. But thanks to factory farming, U.S. agriculture is getting pretty nasty.

K July 21, 2010 at 10:37 am

Is that excerpt supposed to be… appetizing? I think food tastes better when it hasn’t been pumped full of antibiotics and nearly tortured to death.

Braden July 21, 2010 at 10:41 am

Buenos Aires, I assume?

Ted Craig July 21, 2010 at 10:59 am

“But thanks to factory farming, U.S. agriculture is getting pretty nasty.”

As compared to what golden age?

Atlanta July 21, 2010 at 11:28 am

Trader Joe! Their steaks have made us happy (after years of buying disappointing steaks from so many other stores). The meat comes from cows as happy as cows are allowed to be in America, and the flavor and texture are always nice, sometimes even amazing. So if you live near a Trader Joe, go try one of their ny strip steaks (our usual choice), we are so happy to have found them.

dearieme July 21, 2010 at 11:32 am

On the other hand, of the three best French meals I’ve had, one was in Normandy, one in Hampshire and one in Queensland.

long July 21, 2010 at 11:56 am

BB, exactly my thoughts as I read this post.

Andrew July 21, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Feedlot nutritionists, Williams explained, actually want to see a small percentage get sick, as “that way, they know they’re pushing the feed to the edge.” The ones that aren’t dying are getting fat fast.”

Remove the word “Feedlot” and it sounds like the government approach to the food pyramid and our new healthcare overlords.

Tyler Cowen July 21, 2010 at 12:12 pm

People, the contrast is deliberate and put there to speed along thought.

Tom July 21, 2010 at 12:34 pm

I prefer meat from free range animals. Elk or bison are superior. Eatwild.com is a good place to look for healthy food. It’s kind of funny to see how hostile cattlemen get to the bison industry when bison are the only cattle breed native to the US.

pointsnfigures July 21, 2010 at 12:46 pm

try tallgrassbeef.com. very good grass fed beef. no hormones. their hot dogs and hamburger is also the best you will ever order. Made a brisket on the grille. Was amazing.

paa July 21, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Trader Joe’s is a great example of marketing over substance – much of their produce/meat has that “green” or “humane” feel to it, but is factory farmed just like everything else. Perhaps they do have a certain line of steaks that meets some minimal organic/humane standard, but I wouldn’t rely on what their packages say.

If you don’t know who the farmer is and exactly what he/she does, you’re almost certainly not getting steak from a happy cow.

thehova July 21, 2010 at 1:10 pm

“I second the confusion regarding the appeal of steak. It doesn’t really have its own taste, so what advantage does it have over, let’s say, a hunk of seitan, exactly? (I’m not a vegetarian, either.)”

It does have a unique taste (especially if not overcooked).

I love the simplicity of a good steak. The cook has a responsibility to bring out the flavors of the steak and nothing more. Too often with other meat dishes, the cook attempts to put his own spin on it. Because steak has such a bold taste, it’s hard to modify, which is a blessing.

One of the things which occasionally annoys me about BBQ, for example, is it’s often overdone (too much spices, smoke, etc..).

A good steak is subtle and sublime.

thehova July 21, 2010 at 1:20 pm

To answer SP’s question, no. But I would have sympathy for dogs. I guess it all comes down to culture.

Ed July 21, 2010 at 1:50 pm

“‘But thanks to factory farming, U.S. agriculture is getting pretty nasty.’ As compared to what golden age?”

Well, the golden age when cows weren’t pumped full of antibiotics and tortured, though the other comments might have clued you in.

Sadly, factory farming has come to Argentina, and the quality of steaks there has started to decline, according to my Argentine friends.

Incidentally, in both Argentina and the southern states of Brazil, steak is a pretty common dish and not just for wealthy people or to impress a special date. Neither place is as wealthy as the US, and they did this without factory farming until recently. I wonder about some of the comments here on some threads.

Bernard Guerrero July 21, 2010 at 2:11 pm

“Incidentally, in both Argentina and the southern states of Brazil, steak is a pretty common dish and not just for wealthy people or to impress a special date. Neither place is as wealthy as the US, and they did this without factory farming until recently.”

Ed, that’s for the same reason it’s always been a pretty common dish in places like Texas. That is, because that’s where cattle ranches are common. Particularly prior to “factory farming”. I wonder about some of the comments here, too.

Brad July 21, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Since its not on your list of best beef, I will assume you haven’t tried ours up here in Alberta, Canada…

Anderson July 21, 2010 at 4:31 pm

It doesn’t really have its own taste

That is weird. Try ordering something below medium-well next time.

Also, a bite of steak has a *texture* that’s appealing.

I confess to marinating my steaks, but that’s b/c I can’t afford to buy Prime.

Dan H. July 21, 2010 at 5:02 pm

You can’t go wrong with Grade A Alberta Beef. Give it a try.

BillWallace July 21, 2010 at 6:36 pm

Grass-fed beef is probably the best food for humans on earth.
Grain-fed beef is downright bad for you. The earth isn’t big enough to feed 6 billion people on Grass-fed beef. Perhaps the world shouldn’t hold 6 billion people. I can afford it and so I eat healthy and well and feel no guilt.

Peter July 21, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Just eat bacon and quit worrying about overpriced tasteless steak :)

Seriously though the best steak (on pure steak quality, i.e. rare and no sauce) I have ever had has all been from small family farms in the Balkans served at the local joints. It has that nice grass-fed gamey taste and tenderness you only seem to get from small mom and pop operations.

Shane M July 22, 2010 at 1:03 am

I grew up on a farm and we always had homegrown beef in the freezer. It was tastier than what we could generally buy at the grocery, but my impression was that it had to do with fat content. Fattier steaks just seemed taste better and the steaks in the stores seemed lacking in comparison. For some reason the stores seem to go for too lean. Homegrown also seemed to make a higher grade hamburger although I think it might be because we elected to put some higher grade cuts we normally didn’t like into the hamburger. I’m not sure what a happy cow was, but none of the cattle seemed overly stressed on our small farm – max of maybe 60-80 head capacity but we couldn’t carry that many over the winter. Ours were grass-fed mostly, but I do remember us pulling some out and feeding corn occasionally. I don’t know much about cattle being pumped full of drugs or antibiotics or anything, but if a cow got sick we would treat it. Pink eye was the main thing I remember, but certainly no regimen of drugs unless they were sick.

To me growing up on a farm the lifestyle of living off the land and growing your own food always seemed very natural and I wondered why so many folks I’ve met in my adult life had trouble with it.

Xmas July 22, 2010 at 11:14 am

I’ve had a few good steaks in Johannesburg. The steaks were very lean and you can taste that they’re grass fed. They have an unfortunate habit of wanting to dip everything in a sweet BBQ sauce after it’s cooked, so you have to ask for the sauce on the side. If overcooked (above medium/medium rare) the meat can get tough because of the lack of fat. American beef is pretty bland in comparison.

Matt Flipago July 22, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Wegman’s has had certified prime, and even that American version of Kobe beef. Also I’ve been to a normal grocery store, Giant Eagle, and one of the stores had actual prime beef.

beef July 22, 2010 at 11:37 pm

Roughly 98 percent of cattle do live to see the day the truck from the packing plant pulls up because antibiotics are mixed in with the feed to keep livers and guts from failing.

Not quite.

If trace amounts of “antibiotics” are in the feedlot ration it is generally not an antibiotic in the traditional sense that would kill bacteria and treat disease. What they do is favor bacteria in the rumen that digest grains more efficiently.

They generally have no therapeutic action on the cattle.

Dan * July 23, 2010 at 1:19 pm

First off, let me counter the Alberta, CA folks by saying come to Montana and eat some delicious grass-fed, American beef!

Secondly, I am still shocked that few talk about the different ways to eat a stake. I prefer a lean, rare steak, but I’ve been told most Americans prefer a fatty, medium-well steak. The best steak I’ve ever had was a Bison steak in Bozeman, Montana. Lightly charred on the outside, cool and tender on the inside, that super-lean delight was immaculate. If you enjoy a fatty cut, then maybe all this corn stuff is the way to go, but count me out.

Bernard Yomtov July 24, 2010 at 11:19 pm

Southern Brazil, in small towns outside of Curitiba.

But only if you go on Tuesday or Wednesday.

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