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UI Student Studies Consequences of Meat Aging, Makes Tough Steak Toothsome

Friday, August 30 2013

MOSCOW – In the season of sizzle, budget-conscious grilling fans may welcome University of Idaho graduate student Michael Colle’s research into the science of steak.

Colle’s study showed that inexpensive top round can become as juicy and tender as pricier New York strip steaks with the right aging.

His master’s degree research recently won top honors during a conference sponsored by the American Meat Science Association.

“We’re really proud of Michael,” said Matt Doumit, Colle’s mentor and a professor in animal and veterinary science. “His research helps provide guidelines for retail and foodservice to manage different cuts of beef for maximum consumer satisfaction.”

His research presented during the Reciprocal Meat Conference focused on the consequences of wet-aging meat, storing the bulk cuts in plastic vacuum packages at temperatures just above meat’s freezing point.

Specifically, Colle wanted to know how extended storage affected the retail shelf life and consumer acceptability of popular beef steaks, namely top loin, top sirloin, top round and bottom round.

The large, whole muscles are typically vacuum-packaged, boxed, and stored by either meat packers or stores at approximately 32 degrees for varying lengths of time before being cut into steaks and displayed in retail meat coolers.

Colle’s research tested wet storage times of two days and two, three, six and nine weeks. After each storage interval, steaks were cut from the major muscles and then displayed in a retail meat case. The steaks were monitored for discoloration daily for four days, and fat was analyzed for oxidation that causes off flavors.

The more tender steaks from the top loin, such as New York strip steaks, fared less well with long-term aging. Already tender by day 14, the pricier steaks showed little improvement in tenderness with longer storage.

In contrast, top round, which is initially less tender because cattle rely on this muscle for locomotion, became much more tender and juicy during storage.

Colle and his colleagues conducted consumer taste tests to determine tenderness, juiciness, flavor, and overall acceptability of the steaks as the aging and retailing progressed. The testing revealed the formula to successful aging of top round.

They found that top round steak benefitted most from wet aging, with tenderness and juiciness peaking after 42 days at 32 degrees. It emerged as toothsome as strip steaks costing considerably more.

Colle’s research poster focused largely on issues important to meat packers and grocers.

His work showed that if a muscle has been aged past a certain date, a retailer could offer it at a sale price to quickly turn over inventory, for example. For most muscles, the longer steaks were aged, the more desirable the eating characteristics, but the quicker they discolored in the meat case.

The project could also point to more studies, such as how long prime rib can be stockpiled successfully in cold storage before Christmas, the season of peak demand.

“If I was going to have a party and serving steaks, I’d consider buying a top round, then wet aging it for six weeks at 32 degrees,” Colle said.

Colle’s research was funded through the Idaho Beef Council and the Beef Checkoff, a self-assessment levied by beef producers.