Why do Americans eat cows

Erwin Seitz

Commodity Science, November 2014

Great Plains Beef

Appreciable beef from the USA

In no other country in the world do cattle breeding, steakhouses, dinners and burgers play such an important role as in the United States of America. The cowboy became a national icon there, a figure that strengthens the self-image of Americans: an image of freedom and adventure. And the beef that the rancher breeds conveys strength and power, as does its meat: the beef.

This tradition of cattle breeding and beef culture did not develop by chance. The corresponding areas for this were found in the vastness of the North American continent: the "Great Plains", the large areas, the plains of the prairie in the Midwest. Core regions are Nebraska or South Dakota. In the western parts of these areas, towards the Rocky Mountains, there is mainly grassland that is used for cattle breeding, in the eastern parts, where it rains more, mainly wheat and maize are grown.

Marked in green: The Great Plains of North America

In essence, no valuable arable land is wasted on cattle breeding, but the cattle use plant resources that would normally be lost for human consumption, but which, when converted into beef, also benefit us. Most of the year the animals do not live in the barn, but on the pasture, eating grass and herbs in summer and hay in winter. Before they are slaughtered, they spend at least three months in gates under the open sky, where they are not only fed with hay, but also fattened with wheat and corn so that the meat gets the coveted marbling: the strands of fat in the lean meat.

Because of this fattening of wheat and maize before slaughter, arable land is also indirectly used for cattle breeding, but it is limited; In any case, the fattening feed comes from next door. It is a regional interplay of agricultural possibilities. And the really trick is: While the western lifestyle normally preaches the consumption of lean meat, here the fatty marbling of the meat is deliberately brought about. The strands of fat ensure tenderness, juiciness and taste when cooking.

Americans know something about cattle breeding and beef and have specialized in them like no other. The special fattening of cattle was introduced in the Midwest around a hundred years ago. The American Department of Agriculture created certain quality grades that mark the degree of marbling in lean meat. The highest levels are “Choice Grade” with a proportion of five to ten percent marbling, and “Prime Grade” with a proportion of over ten percent. However, in the meantime you also noticed that the degree of marbling does not alone decide whether a meat is above average. Both “Choice Beef” and “Prime Beef” can be exceptionally fine.

There are other things too. You need the right breed for the best possible development of the meat. In the Midwest, the Angus and Hereford are predominantly grazing, pure-bred cattle with a long tradition, originally bred in Scotland and England. Only heifers, the adult female cattle that have not yet calved, and the ox, the castrated bull, are considered for meat processing. The cow, which is used for intensive dairy farming, or the bull would hardly be able to produce a rich marbling.

In detail, the quality of the goods also depends on the so-called “beef packer”, the meat trader. He signs ranchers and takes care of the slaughter and packaging of the meat. He usually lets the “Prime Beef” or “Choice Beef” mature on the bone for a fortnight, and German importers often give the meat the same amount of time before offering it. Even if it cannot be said that the US beef is absolutely the best beef, the “Prime Beef” or “Choice Beef” is very reliable of its kind and offers extremely fine enjoyment.

Although the chef today likes to feel like an artist who works with brushes and tweezers for the gallery, the beef lover would prefer not to have so many frills, because he is interested in a primal experience: the pleasure of meat. The US beef is both meaty and tender, juicy, with an intense taste, mineral to sweet, full-bodied.

The chef should convey something of this primal experience that the beef should offer as a recognizable piece and prepare it without frills. Maybe the portions don't have to be as big as they used to be, maybe it can be half a rump steak, not as a thin slice, but as a thick one, just cut through. Many guests who eat vegetarian every day want to try an extraordinary piece of meat in between and experience a little bit of sin. There is hardly anything more suitable for this than US beef. Such a lust for meat has its price, but small or half servings, accompanied by salad or vegetables, make the bill reasonably moderate.

The transparent cycle between rancher, American beef packer and German importer is important for quality. The meat dealer Albers in Düsseldorf (www.albersfood.de) works together with the beef packer Greater Omaha in Nebraska and offers excellent US beef, also in larger quantities. No less fine is the US beef, which you can get from Frischeparadies (www.frischeparadies.de) and from various beef packers from Nebraska and South Dakota. Otto Gourmet has long since earned a good reputation for the best meat and US beef (www.otto-gourmet.de). A specialty of Otto-Gourmet is the "Sansibar BBQ Steak", a special cut from the shoulder of US beef. It becomes almost as tender as a fillet on the grill or in the pan. The exceptional quality of the US beef makes many things possible.


Further product information of this kind can be found in my book:

Erwin Seitz: Cooking close to nature - simple, good, healthy. Recipes and product knowledge. Insel, Berlin 2018

"Erwin Seitz recommends simple recipes made from the best ingredients in this refreshingly diet-free book." Claire Beermann, ZEIT magazine

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