Freezing steak improves tenderness of some cuts

Response to freezing strip loin and inside round steaks linked to moisture loss; further results to be presented at Cattlemen's Day.

Meat lovers may find it appealing to take a fresh steak from the store right to their home grill, but research continues to show that freezing the steak and cooking it later actually improves the tenderness of certain cuts.

Kansas State University meat scientists say they've confirmed previous findings about the impact of freezing strip loin and inside round steaks. In a recent study, they tested six major muscles from the hind quarter and found that the tenderness of those two cuts increased as much as 10% after freezing.

Steaks were evaluated for tenderness using the Warner-Bratzler Shear Force test, which measures the force needed to shear muscles.

John Unruh, professor of animal sciences and industry at Kansas State, said the question the researchers had was why those two cuts reacted to freezing while the other four did not. Part of the answer, Unruh noted, was moisture loss. "These two muscles, for some reason, did not lose as much moisture during freezing as the other four," he said.

Unruh and a team of graduate students also evaluated 125 paired strip loin steaks available in a retail setting. The steaks were frozen, thawed and evaluated for tenderness.

"The strip loin steaks showed a 6% improvement in the Warner-Bratzler Shear Force test, indicating a more tender steak," Unruh said. "Moisture loss did occur, but it was low — about 2%."

Freezing does, indeed, improve the tenderness of beef strip loin steaks, Unruh said.

In a related study, the scientists tested the tenderness of strip loin steaks sold in retail grocery stores.

"We monitored the differences in these steaks at different times of the year and different quality grades, including Premium Choice, Choice and Select," Unruh said. "A higher percentage of the steaks in the higher quality category — Premium Choice — met Warner-Bratzler shear thresholds for tender or very tender."

Lower-quality cuts were more likely to fluctuate in tenderness throughout the year, he said.

Unruh and his students will present their findings at the Kansas State University Cattleman's Day, which will take place March 4 in Manhattan, Kan. For more information on that event, visit asi.k-state.edu/species/beef/cattlemens-day.

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