Turning research into more tender beef cuts

COLUMBUS – Meat palatability has been the object of meat research ever since there was such a thing. And Ohio State University was among the earliest practitioners of the science.

But palatability is quite a different question for Ohio State’s newest meat scientist than it was for his predecessors.

Henry Zerby joined the OSU animal science department fresh from his doctoral studies at Colorado State University to update the OSU meat science program and to serve as extension meat science specialist.

He is already deeply ingrained into the culture of the palatability of Ohio meats, beef in particular.

When OSU was a pioneer in meat science, Zerby said, the issue of palatability concentrated primarily on how to increase muscle tissue and decrease fat in the beef carcass.

Already determined.

Although there is now research studying how variations in feed will do that in lambs, Zerby said those issues have been settled for most meat animals.

“The question of increasing muscle tissue has pretty much been taken as far as it can go in beef,” Zerby said. “Now we’re looking more at genetics to continue the increases in palatability and tenderness.”

A team at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster has been working on isolating specific genes that make beef more palatable. Zerby’s lab in Columbus has been working with them to gather the data needed to determine exactly which beef is more palatable and more tender.

While they still rely on the traditional taste panels, where a group of tasters actually eats and rates meat cuts, Zerby said there is now a way to scientifically measure tenderness.

Measuring force.

He is using a testing device that measures the force necessary to cut a core through a beef muscle.

This way, Zerby said, there is actual data of the force, in pounds, that it takes to shear through the meat of one animal in comparison to that of another.

Zerby said another project that will begin this summer involves the cross-breeding of standard beef breeds with a breed of Japanese cattle known for the exceptional amount of marbling in its meat.

Waygu genetics will be crossed with other cattle breeds in an attempt to capture some of that breed’s marbling characteristic.

Marketing approach.

An entirely different way of looking at certain cuts of beef is also under development, Zerby said.

This will be an attempt to develop new products from those cuts of meat that are now not considered quite as valuable.

The loins and the traditional steak cuts will always sell themselves, Zerby said. They don’t need any marketing efforts.

But the chucks and rounds probably have more market potential if the qualities of the individual muscles are separated and studied.

“We know that there are some muscles in the chucks that are tender,” Zerby said, “but they are cut with other muscles that aren’t as tender, and marketed as roasts.

“We think we can separate these muscles out and develop some new steak items, or finger food products that can compete with chicken wings for additional market appeal.”

This project, Zerby said, is likely to involve a lot of brainstorming and trial-and-error testing.

“We are going to be willing to try anything and everything,” he said.

Cattlemen’s seminar.

Zerby is one of the featured speakers at the Commercial Cattlemen’s Seminar offered by the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association at the Ohio Beef Expo.

It will be at 1 p.m. March 16 in Sale Ring No. 2 of the Voinovich Building at the Ohio Expo Center.

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