A Steak's Journey: From Farm to Table Skip to main content

A Steak's Journey: From Farm to Table

A steak's journey from farm to table is crucial in ensuring the meat maintains its quality and freshness. There are many different parts of a steak's journey that lead it to your dinner plate. These include raising the animal, stunning, slaughtering, butchering, grading, cutting, preparing, preserving and maintaining.

1. Raising the Animal

The first step of a steak's journey begins at the farm. Each farm raises their cattle differently depending on their ethics and budget. Some pastures allow their cows to roam free on the farm while others keep their livestock inside constrained areas. A cow’s quality of life varies from farm to farm. Most major factory farms use feedlots which is a type of animal feeding operation. These feedlots allow for mass feeding to different types of animals including cattle, horses, chickens, and pigs.

Another aspect that can vary when raising the animal is the cattle’s diet. The way cattle are fed can have a large impact on the nutrients and fat content of their beef. Some farmers feed their cattle a high-quality, grass-dominant diet, while others prefer a grain-dominant diet that is more cost and time efficient. Grain diets can include soy, corn and distiller grains; whereas, grass diets consist of mostly natural grass, forage, and legumes. Typically, grass-fed cattle produce healthier meat which is less fatty and more nutritious.

It is important to recognize that even if your meat is labeled as “Grass-fed” it doesn’t particularly mean they were treated ethically and free to roam a grass farm. They could have been fed dried grass from the constraints of crowded feedlots. Upon purchasing meat, it is crucial to understand the background of where it came from and how it was raised. Doing some research before purchase can help ensure that you are getting meat from ethical and humane farms.

Grand Peaks Prime Meats maintains partnerships with the best in the industry. We ensure that we receive our meat from slaughter plants who are dedicated to delivering quality products. In addition, we ensure that our slaughter plants raise their own cattle and do so using humane practices. By sourcing our meat from local, trusted, ethical partners, we can guarantee that we are practicing the right and ethical way of business. Our customer satisfaction is of the utmost importance to us, and we want them to understand the benefits of local and ethically sourced meat.

2. Stunning, Slaughtering and Butchering

The next step in a steak's journey is preparing the animal for slaughtering. To ensure the farm animals endure no pain or stress, they are stunned prior to slaughter. Stunning can be practiced using mechanical, electrical, or chemical methods (CO2 gas). Stress in cows can cause their meat to become extremely tough, and, in some cases, not usable. Therefore, stunning allows for the animal to receive a humane end while also producing a high-quality meat.

After the stunning occurs, the animal is no longer aware and can be slaughtered without pain. All slaughtering must happen under conditions of the Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act.

Following the death of the animal, the process to prepare the meat for butcher begins. After slaughter, the animal must be drained of blood, skinned, and broken up into smaller pieces to prepare for butchering. Then, the internal inedible parts of the cow are removed carefully to make sure nothing is ruptured. If organs rupture around the meat, this can spoil the beef.

3. Grading

The US Department of Agriculture evaluates different factors of quality meat cuts to determine which grade the beef receives. This grade is given upon evaluating various factors of the meat's content and can be determined as prime beef, choice beef, or select beef. Some of these factors include tenderness, juiciness, flavor, marbling and lean content.

There are two types of ways beef is graded, including the quality grade and yield grade. The quality grade evaluates the tenderness, juiciness and flavor; whereas the yield grade evaluates the amount of boneless high value lean meat that can be extracted from the carcass.

Factors that determine the quality grade:

  • Maturity
  • Firmness
  • Texture
  • Color of the Lean
  • Marbling

The yield grade is given numerically; it can receive a 1,2,3,4 or 5. If the beef receives a Y5 grade, they have a higher content of cuttable, boneless quality meat. If the beef receives a Y1 grade, they have less cuttable meat that can be extracted from the bone.

Once graded, the beef is determined to be prime, choice or select. All of them are considered quality beef; however, they vary with tenderness and flavor.

  • USDA Prime Beef: Prime beef is the most quality grade. It also has the highest concentration of marbling. Marbling refers to the amount of fat streaks throughout the piece of beef. The higher the marbling content, the more juicy and flavorful the piece will be. Prime beef is often used to broil, roast or grill. This beef is usually sold by high end restaurants and hotels, and may not be available at your local grocery store.
  • USDA Choice Beef: Choice beef is a high quality grade, but has less marbling than prime beef. More tender cuts can be cooked using dry-heat methods; however, these cuts are recommended to be roasted, braised or simmered in a pan.
  • USDA Select Beef: Select beef is the uniform quality of beef that is normally leaner than choice and prime cuts. These cuts have less marbling than the previous two and are, therefore, often marinated to give the beef more flavor.

If you understand the different types of meat grades, this could make your meat buying process more effective and efficient. Next time you're shopping for meat, pay attention to the grade the beef received.

4. Cutting

The large cow must be divided by part and separated by the different kinds of beef cuts. Usually, the cow is separated into three parts, and then from there it is cut into smaller pieces. There are many different types of beef cuts that are separated and organized. Once the meat is separated, it can then be inspected and prepared for preservation.

Some basic kinds of beef cuts include:

  • Chuck
  • Ribs
  • Lion
  • Round
  • Brisket
  • Flank
  • Shank

Some of the most popular steak cuts you are more likely to recognize include:

  • Tenderloin/Filet Mignon
  • Strip Steak
  • Ribeye
  • Top Sirloin
  • T-Bone

Having trouble determining which cut is best for you? Check out How to Choose the Best Cuts of Steak (Everything you need to know)

5. Preparing and Distributing

One of the last steps in the steak process is getting the meat to retailers and consumers safely. Throughout this entire process, safety protocols must be followed by the butcher to minimize the risk of disease or bacteria spoiling the meat.

The entire farm to table process is carefully inspected by the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA-FSIS). This inspection ensures that the meat is safe, wholesome and properly labeled. Once the process and meat passes inspection, the meat is prepared and is ready for distribution.

When locally sourcing meat, it is taken straight from the factory to the butchers in temperature controlled trucks. However, meat distribution can vary. If the meat is being processed, it will first have to be taken to a meat processing factory. After processing, it is vacuum sealed, labeled and ready to be sold to retailers.

We ensure our meat is always fresh and travels directly from our own packaging shop to your table. Have questions or concerns? Our butchers are highly educated experts that can answer all of your questions. It is important to check with your butcher to ensure that you are taking the proper precautions when purchasing and storing your meat.

Interested in learning more? See Journeyman Meat Cutters and Butchers: What’s the difference? to learn the benefits of shopping with a local butcher.

6. Preserving and Maintaining

Proper meat preservation is key to maintaining freshness and preventing disease. The meat must be properly sealed and stored in a temperature between 28 degrees and 32 degrees to maintain freshness. Each type of beef can have a different expiration date depending on its cut and whether it is being refrigerated or frozen. Locally sourcing your meat helps meat shops ensure that their meat is fresh and that they are selling their meat well before its expiration date.

Tips to keep your beef fresh:

  • Carefully read the packaging labels and instructions
  • Never use refrigerated meat beyond the use-by-date
  • Check with your butcher for the meat’s fridge or freezer shelf life
  • Never refreeze meat that has already been defrosted
  • Thaw out your frozen meat in your fridge to prevent food poisoning

A steak’s journey can vary based on an abundance of factors that get your beef from farm to table. We make sure your steak is completing the proper steps to ensure you are receiving beef that is high quality, safe, ethical and delicious. Our butchers are extremely educated on this process, and you can ask them anything about the journey of your beef before your purchase.

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