At our boutique luxury steakhouse in the Woodlands, we know our beef, and we think you should as well. Our steak education will help you learn the different styles, grades, signature elements, and classifications of beef. It’s everything you need to know to enjoy a steak that is prepared and cooked to perfection. Here are a few common terms to keep in mind before choosing the right steak for you.
Dry aging is an expensive process for tenderizing beef and concentrating its flavor. Large chunks of meat, usually the best cuts, are held in a sanitary room at 34 to 38°F and 70-80% humidity, with brisk airflow for 30-75 days. During aging, natural enzymes break down connective tissue and tenderize the meat while moisture evaporates—shrinking the meat up to 20%. Dry aged beef is noticeably different tasting than fresh beef because the chemistry of the fat changes drastically. Some describe it as earthy, nutty, gamey, leathery, or even mushroomy.
In 1926 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) began grading beef. Today inspectors grade primarily on the age of the animal and the amount of fat mixed in with the muscle as measured between the 12th and 13th rib. This fat is called marbling because it resembles the striations in marble: Thin, weblike filigrees. The more marbling, the more flavor, and juiciness.
USDA Prime beef often comes from younger cattle and is known for its signature “starry night” marbling. Better tasting and more tender than Choice, only about 3% of the beef is prime, and it is usually exclusive to the restaurant trade.
Black Angus cattle are considered by many to be an especially flavorful breed. Alas, it is almost impossible to know if what you are buying really is Angus.
The Certified Angus Beef (CAB) is a trademarked brand designed to market quality beef. If beef is to wear the CAB logo, it must be either USDA Prime or one of the two upper sublevels of USDA Choice. In addition, it is supposed to pass ten quality control standards, ranging from marbling and maturity to consistent sizing, quality appearance, and tenderness.
American Wagyu cattle have Japanese bloodlines and are raised in the US and other countries. Their genetic heritage can be from many different Japanese cattle breeds. American Wagyu does not have to adhere to the same standards as Kobe beef, and many of the American Wagyu are crossbred to better adapt to the local climates and diseases. Wagyu and Angus (Wangus) crosses are frequent, and they make mighty fine meat. Wagyu is usually extremely marbled, more than USDA Prime, with a distinct flavor and texture.
Japan is famous for highly marbled beef, most notably the mythical Kobe. “Kobe Beef” is a trademarked brand name administered by the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association. They oversee producers, slaughterhouses, distributors, retailers, and restaurants who use the name in Japan. Numerous regulations control when the name can be used, not the least of which is that the steer must be born, raised, and slaughtered in Hyogo prefecture (a prefecture is like a state), and fed a specified diet.
There are four bloodlines of special rare fatted Japanese beef, known collectively as a Wagyu. They are revered for flavor, tenderness, and the richness that comes from the chemistry of their fat—which practically melts in your mouth. In Japan, meat is graded A1 to A5, with A5 having the most internal fat. These grades are broken down into 12-tier Beef Marbling Score (BMS). USDA Prime is 4 to 5 BMS (10 to 13% fat), American Wagyu is usually 4 to 10 BMS, Kobe and the other Japanese beef steers can go up to 12 BMS (more than 50% fat) because of their genetics, feed, and handling.
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