Sunday, May 12, 2013

Steak Tasting - 05/11/2013

The last couple times that I've eaten at steakhouses I've come away thinking that I could do better at home which lead my friends and I to come up with to the idea of a steak tasting. For the steaks we opted for a mix of premium mail-order steaks, top butcher shops, and big box store. The steaks would be graded on three categories: taste (15pts), texture (10pts), and appearance (5pts) with a total possible score of 30 points.

Naturally, for this test we decided that consistency between cuts was key which meant that sous vide was the way to go. The steaks were seasoned with salt and pepper then dropped into the bath set to 123.0F for about 2 hours then finished on a hot cast iron pan with butter.

Flannery California Reserve | Prime | 28 Day Dry-Aged | 1.5" thick | 18oz | $62.75
My Score: Taste: 12 | Texture: 4 | Appearance: 3 | Total: 19 (T 5th)
Average: Taste: 11.1 | Texture: 6.4 | Appearance: 4.1 | Total: 21.7 (6th)
Its rare that I find a steak too rare, but that was definitely the case with Flannery's California Reserve. With a marbling that rivaled Wagyu beef this was easily the fattiest cut of the competition and while I enjoyed the intensity of the fat, I was looking for more of that dry-aged character. Unfortunately the steak never got warm enough to render all of the fat leaving the meat chewy at times and with the absolute lowest score for texture. Personally I think the sixth place finish doesn't reflect the true potential of this steak which would have done much better if cooked to medium rare.

Pat La Freida | Prime | 50 Day Dry-Aged | 2" thick | 18oz | $55
My Score: Taste: 13 | Texture: 7 | Appearance: 3 | Total: 23 (T 1st)
Average: Taste: 12.3| Texture: 7.3| Appearance: 3.9| Total: 23.5 (3rd)
A family run business since 1922, La Freida primarily sells to restaurants in the New York area though they offer online retail sales as well. I expected this steak to do well and it didn't disappoint in terms of flavor, but the texture was at times firm and gristly which cost it some points. Easily the thickest steak and one of the most marbled, perhaps the La Freida suffered from the same problem as the California Reserve.

Costco | Prime | Unaged | 1.25" thick | 12oz | $ 9.07(11.99/lb)
My Score: Taste: 11 | Texture: 9 | Appearance: 3 | Total: 23 (T 1st)
Average: Taste: 10.1 | Texture: 8.1 | Appearance: 3.3 | Total: 21.6 (7th)
While not quite at the level of the dry-aged beef, Costco's prime New York represents quite the value, with an $11.99 price tag not too far off what Wal-Mart and Ralphs charge for lesser cuts. With an incredibly juicy and soft mouthfeel the steak fared well on texture but dismal appearance scores dropped the steak from fifth to seventh overall.

Beef Palace | Prime | 21 Day Dry-Aged | 1.5" thick | 12oz | $19.70 ($25.99/lb)
My Score: Taste: 12 | Texture: 7 | Appearance: 3 | Total: 22 (T 3rd)
Average: Taste: 10.8 | Texture: 7.8 | Appearance: 3.9 | Total: 22.4 (4th)
I was turned onto this place by a co-worker and it has since become my goto place for Prime steaks. For the best meat, ask for the extra aged cuts in the locker rather than the pre-cut selections in the case; the price is the same but the meat is more tender and flavorful. Generally a solid all around steak with a fair amount of the nutty dry aged character and a good texture but not quite as tender as the Costco above.

Wal-Mart | Choice | Unaged | 1.125" thick | 13oz | $8.54 ($10.48/lb)
My Score: Taste: 9 | Texture: 5 | Appearance: 3 | Total: 17 (9th)
Average: Taste: 8.8 | Texture: 7.4 | Appearance: 3.4 | Total: 19.6 (8th)
More of a joke than a serious entry the Wal-Mart steak actually tasted better than I expected which is to say it wasn't bad but in no way would I ever confuse this for beef from a top steakhouse which is what their marketing implies. With relatively little flavor of its own, the steak picked up an intense aroma of butter; making it enjoyable if forgettable. Certainly a reasonable choice for someone wanting steak on a budget. but with very little intrinsic value it was my lowest scoring steak and the second lowest overall.

Whole Foods | Prime | 28 Day Dry-Aged | 1.5" thick | 12oz | $34.96 ($21.99/lb)
My Score: Taste: 12 | Texture: 7 | Appearance: 3 | Total: 22(T 3rd)
Average: Taste: 12.3 | Texture: 8.6 | Appearance: 4.0 | Total: 24.9 (1st)
A handful of Whole Foods stock dry aged beef unfortunately the place I went only offered Rib-Eye and T-Bone cuts. The butcher agreed to cut just a New York Steak but unlike most shops, weighted the meat before trimming. That plus the weight of the bone meant that a 1.5lb steak only yielded about 12oz of usable meat. Despite my misgivings on the price, they put that 12 ounces to good use, scoring second overall in terms of flavor and first in terms of texture.

Flannery Midwestern | Prime | 28Day Dry-Aged | 1.5" thick | 18oz | $48.50
My Score: Taste: 10 | Texture: 6 | Appearance: 3 | Total: 19 (T 5th)
Average: Taste: 12.1 | Texture: 8.2 | Appearance: 4.2 | Total: 24.5 (2nd)
An oddly inconsistent steak, the Midwestern had a number of very high scores including 2 perfect scores but also some fairly low ones. Less fatty than its California Reserve sibling, the Midwestern had a more complex flavor striking a good balance between: buttery, nutty, and mineral-y. Overall the proponents carried the day, making this the second place finisher overall.

Lindy & Grundy | Prime | 42 Day Dry-Aged | 1.5" thick | 16oz | $41
My Score: Taste: 6 | Texture: 9 | Appearance: 3 | Total: 18 (T 7th)
Average: Taste: 7.1 | Texture: 7.4 | Appearance: 3.6 | Total: 18.1 (9th)
Run by Amelia Posada and Erika Nakamura, Lindy and Grundy is arguably the hottest butcher's shop in LA; not bad for two former vegetarians. The duo apprenticed at Fleisher's in New York before making the trek cross country to set up a sustainable shop that sources their meats locally and practices nose-to-tail butchering. Among their sustainable initiatives is the decision to sell grass-fed beef. For those who haven't tried it before, the meat is noticeably leaner with a steely mineral flavor where a corn-fed cow has a light sweetness to it. Already something of an acquired taste, dry aging amplifies the grass-fed flavor leading to tasting notes like "fishy" or "seaweed" which clearly our party hadn't acquired a taste for.

Ralphs | Select | Unaged | 1.5" thick | 20oz | $13.74 ($10.99/lb)
My Score: Taste: 8 | Texture: 7 | Appearance: 3| Total: 18 (T 7th)
Average: Taste: 10.2 | Texture: 7.5 | Appearance: 4.0 | Total: 21.7(5th)
Representing generic supermarket steak was a select cut from Ralphs. Frankly I was surprised how well this steak fared, a bit steely and lean for me but fairly tender it managed a very respectable fifth place showing overall just slightly edging out the California Reserve.

In some respects the tasting went largely as I expected, with the La Freida and Flannery scoring well though I was surprised at how well Whole Foods and Ralphs did. While I initially wanted to go for a less formal tasting process I am happy with how the grading turned out though I would probably drop the appearance category next time since how the meat looks is largely a function of how its cooked and cut rather than any intrinsic worth


Aaron said...

Did you taste these blind? If not, don't you think that you'd be a bit biased?

Epicuryan said...

We tasted blind. Kevin came up with a two code system where each steak is coded to a letter by him and each letter is coded to a number by me so nobody knows which steak is what.

Charlie Fu said...

thanks for hosting ryan! it was good fun.

I wonder if we should have eliminated all categories and just rated the steaks by overall impressions? Having a bunch of us non-pros rate out taste and texture might be a bit too much. You already know I didn't care for the visual rating ;)

I think if this was ever done again, also to do less steaks.Or to only do steaks of "like quality". Like you said, it was a mistake to cook the Flannery Cali and the Pat La Freida at rare, the texture scores alone would change. THe La Freida wouldn't have been as firm and the Flannery wouldn't have been so chewy.

MRB said...

Harvey's Guss is the best butcher in LA for steaks. You gotta check it out.

Epicuryan said...

I thought people did well with taste and texture categories, but like you I gave all the steaks a 3 on looks. We maybe could have also something to capture overall as well. I wouldn't mind fewer steaks as well maybe 6 or 7 contestants with fewer people so everyone gets a bit more material to work with when tasting.

Thanks for the recommendation. My friends and I discussed doing another round next year and they might have to be on the list.

David said...

That's awesome! Steak tasting, can't go wrong with that! You guys cooked each perfectly btw.

Epicuryan said...

Thanks David but we kind of cheated since the sous vide machine pretty much takes all the guesswork out of getting the proper temperature.

Charlie Fu said...

ryan don't be modest, you had to set the temperature ;)

Epicuryan said...

And I didn't do so hot if the la freida and flannery steaks are any indication