Try a Little Tenderness

Because Nobody Wants a Tough Steak

April 27, 2017

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the very best meat is juicy, flavourful and tender. It’s impossible for me to pick a favourite cut because truly, it’s about so much more than which part of the animal you’re working with. One day my favourite might be our beef flat iron, and the next day, the best thing I can have is a pichanna. It’s about quality, and that can be found in any of our products. In fact, that’s our mission – to make every cut of meat your favourite.

At VG Meats, we are dedicated to achieving that holy trifecta of deliciousness: juiciness, flavour and tenderness. A large part of this quality assurance involves tenderness testing on all beef products – a proven, scientific method that provides our customers with exceptional meat on the table every day. Let’s talk a bit about what that means, and why it’s so important to our farm and retail shop.

The tenderness testing process is technically called a Warner-Bratzler Shear Force Test, and it’s used by meat scientists to objectively assess beef products. It starts with a small meat sample taken from between and 12th and 13th rib of the animal. We use a shearing machine that is basically composed of a load cell – like the machines engineers use to test the strength of a bolt or a screw – and we apply the same testing principle to our meat sample. Instead of wanting to meat to be strong, like a bolt, we want it to be tender. The test is essentially measuring the amount of force needed to bite through a piece of beef – the less force required, the more tender the product is.

For a few years, we were doing research with the University of Guelph. They did a great job, but getting the results back was a long process, and it was hard to understand data and apply changes when paperwork came in so long after the fact. Fortunately, I (Kevin VG) studied meat science at U of G and am passionate about this part of the business, so with the help of a great team here at VG, we were able to bring our tenderness testing in-house in 2013. Since then, we’ve had efficient results and data that can be implemented right away. Tougher beef is identified and used for other means, while our most tender cuts are sold to customers like you. Our beef’s quality has always been exceptional, but now it’s truly top notch!

Quality assurance happens on all levels at VG, from the farm to the butcher shop and the retail store. Tough meat is a common complaint in the retail world, but we’ve found a way to guarantee tenderness in everything we sell. This way, there are no surprises and none of our customers are going to end up unexpectedly serving a tough cut at their dinner party.

As far as we know, VG Meats is the only farm using this process industrially on every animal we handle. It’s not a fast or cheap process, but we believe it will be one of the mechanisms to put Ontario on the map for the world’s best beef. After all, quality matters a lot more than quantity, and we aren’t willing to cut corners. We’re constantly innovating and finding ways to improve. It’s a collective effort – when the farmer knows what the butcher and the retailer and the customer know, it all comes together.

One more fun fact about our super tender meat: a lot of farms rely on aging, but we’ve discovered that with high quality beef, aging does not guarantee tenderness. It certainly helps, but not all beef age to be tender. The same goes for marbling – the idea that marbling means tenderness is actually a myth. It is easy to find examples of beef that are heavy marbled and tough. Because of our tenderness testing process, we can identify which ones are tough and provide feedback to those who can fix the problem: the farmers.

The next time you’re talking about steak with your friends (it’s almost barbecue season, after all) and someone says that marbling or age as the best indication of a tender beef cut…you can tell them they’re wrong. Tell them about tenderness testing instead, and then send them to VG Meats!