03.What to look for
Fine texture and firm to touch A piece of steak that holds its structure well is ideal. Meat should not feel slimy and if there is blood it should not be congealed.
Bright cherry-red colour indicates freshness. Some meat may appear brown if other items have been resting on it because it hasn’t been able to receive any oxygen; the red colour should come back once it’s again exposed to oxygen. Stay away from meat that has a brownish and/or grey tinge, as these pieces will have a sour taste when cooked.
Marbling appears as threads of fat running through the meat and increases its juiciness, tenderness and flavour. Keep in mind it’s still possible to achieve good eating quality without marbling.
Use-by date is critical if you’re buying pre-packaged meat. Meat normally has a use-by of about five days if stored correctly. If you’re buying pre-packaged, also check that it doesn’t have excessive moisture at the bottom of the package, which can lead to dry meat when cooked.
Thickness Where possible, always buy steak of consistent thickness, as it will cook evenly.
Colour of fat/bone should be whitish. If the fat is brownish in colour, you may experience a sour taste once it’s cooked. For T-bone steak, freshness can be largely determined by the colour of the bone; like fat, it should have a whitish colour.
Smell This is harder to assess if you buy pre-packaged meat. Old meat will smell rancid and unpleasant.
- Ask the butcher or retailer if the meat is MSA certified. If so they should be able to give you information about the recommended cooking style.
Grain-fed vs. pasture-fed All cattle are grass-fed at the beginning of their life cycle (up to two years). In the final months, grain-fed cattle move onto a feedlot for at least 60 days and are fed a nutritionally balanced, high-energy, grain-based feed. This feeding regime results in a consistent meat and fat colour, often with high levels of marbling. Certification for grain-fed beef is administered through the National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme and audited by AUS-MEAT, the industry body responsible for establishing and maintaining national standards for meat production and processing. Alternatively, pasture-fed cattle are raised on open grazing land with access to water and supplemental feed comprising mixed grasses. Our experts had mixed views on which they prefer, with one claiming pasture-fed cattle are “as close to natural as possible. Altering the feeding regimes can take away the natural flavour.” Also keep in mind the environmental implications of grain-fed beef.
Organic meat must comply with the National Standard for Organic and Bio-dynamic Produce. All organic beef is pasture-fed and must not use growth promotants or feed produced with synthetic pesticides or genetically modified inputs. It is expensive to produce and usually comes at a premium price. To ensure you’re buying guaranteed organic beef, look for one of the seven logos from organic-certifying organisations.
Angus is a cattle breed developed in Scotland in the late 1700s. Its meat has a smooth, close-grained texture, carnation-red colour and finely marbled fat within the lean muscle. Certified Australian Angus Beef (CAAB) is an industry-quality assurance program whereby products carrying the CAAB logo guarantees Angus genetics produced to exact specifications. One of our experts said Angus are “fantastic cattle that produce superior beef, consistent return to the producer and product to the consumer.”
Wagyu is a group of cattle breeds from Japan, more likely to be grain fed and is genetically predisposed to intense marbling (higher fat content). It also has a higher percentage of the healthier unsaturated fat than any other cattle breed in the world. Considered a luxury item, it can cost up to $250 per kilo for the best cuts.