If you’ve ever been to a steakhouse in Argentina, you know why this South American country is known for great steaks. A beautiful atmosphere and a choice wine list will certainly add to the experience, but the beef itself is often some of the best around. How is it that Argentines produce such delectable steaks?
No matter where you are in the world, tasting high quality cut of beef has a lot to do with how cattle are bred and raised. For example, most avid consumers of red meat know that Angus or Wagyu beef is more tender and flavorful than other, lesser cuts of beef. But even within the same breed, there are particular cattle breeders and farmers who are known for their quality. The best cattle breeders are meticulous and knowledgeable. That’s how they’re able to breed only the strongest and most suitable heifers and bulls.
Aside from the importance of breeding, a cow’s diet largely determines the quality of the meat. Most cattle raised for slaughter spend the first six months to one year of their lives out to pasture eating grass. After that, they finish at a feedlot where they eat a combination of grains (including wheat, barley and corn). While cows naturally don’t eat grains, a grain based diet towards the end of their lives results in more and faster weight gain.
In recent years, grass-fed beef has become a more popular option (this is how most cattle in Argentina is raised). Grass-fed cattle aren’t finished on a diet of grains, but are fed exclusively on grass for the duration of their lives. While there is a higher price tag involved, many steak enthusiasts and professional steak chefs do agree that grass-fed cattle produce a leaner, more tender cut of beef.
Does this mean that grain-fed beef cannot be flavorful, tender, and of a very high quality? No — but the combination of grains matter. Many beef producers find that a wheat heavy diet produces tougher meat, while corn-fed beef is often more tender and flavorful. A grain-based diet also contributes to higher fat content and marbling in beef, which can be preferable depending on the cut and breed.
At the end of the day, beef is definitely one culinary area where you get what you pay for. Lovers of steak are able to taste and appreciate the differences between a high and low quality cuts of beef.
When you taste a really great steak, you’re actually tasting a lot of things — including the diet, the breeding, the ethos involved in raising and slaughtering cattle, and the overall skill of the beef producer. You’re also experiencing the freshness, aging process, transportation process, and skill of the chef who prepared the steak.
A high quality steakhouse is focused on bringing all of these elements together, and delivering a steak that really is the total package. Don’t be afraid to ask your server specific questions about the various steaks on the menu, including questions about how the cattle were raised and what they were fed. This is a good way to know more about the steak you’re eating, and many people find they enjoy the experience even more as when they take time to learn about everything that goes into it.