Eating a nice bit of beef is like a high five for my mouth. A variety of cuts of grilled steak, minced beef chili con carne, Sunday Roast beef and mustard, corned beef sandwiches… from the average to the lavish there’s no mistaking that all beef is beautiful. I’m obviously not on my own with this opinion. The average Briton eats 17.3kg of beef a year and the average British spend is £2.1 billion a year.
My first ever encounter with brisket was stumbling accidentally across a video by the BBQ Pit Boys one Saturday afternoon after I had once again fallen down the Youtube rabbit hole. I swear it’s an addiction watching BBQ videos. Before you know it it’s three hours later and I’m still sitting there promising Mrs shack, “It’s research” or “just one more”. Honestly, sometimes the only thing that can actually pry me away is the knife wielding look in her eyes that makes me shut the laptop lid. But anyway, I digress.
So, imagine my dilemma one cold London morning long before Jack’s Meat Shack at Smithfield market and I come across a whole brisket, approximately 8kg. I could hear my beardy hero in my head and I found myself handing over my cash for my first brisket adventure… and I don’t mind confessing… it fucking bombed.
The meat was overcooked and dry. I was perplexed. Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t inedible. It was… ok. Given how much I'd handed over for it I would have ate it even if it was the consistency of a well used flip flop, but still it didn’t look anything like what the Pit Boys had cooked for Martha. I had beef with my beef.
Looking back now with many, many successful briskets notched on my BBQ bed post I chuckle. Ah, young Jack, how naïve you was. You used an American video to cook a brisket which had been butchered by a UK butcher. You see, the cut is completely different.
I certainly wasn’t making a misSTEAK (sorry couldn’t help myself) with my second brisket. I was ready to graduate from grilling into slow cooks. I needed advice. I reached out to UK Countrywood Smoke BBQ enthusiast Marcus Bawdon who recommended I reduced my cooking time from 12 to approximately 8 hours, still at 135C. He also gave me the best piece of advice to check readiness of the brisket to use the temperature probe to check the consistency of the meat, when inserted it should go through the meat like butter.
It did however get me thinking about UK and US beef and how it goes from farm to fork.
Beef across the pond in the grand US of A grade their meat using grading guidelines maintained and interpreted by the United States Department of Agriculture (or USDA)
The grading system determines the quality rating of beef based upon a very complicated inspection system measuring the amount of marbling in the lean muscle and the maturity of the beef carcass to determine the grade.
The Quality grades are widely used as a “language” within the beef industry in America and although there are eight grades, in reality most of the meat falls into the top three grades; Prime, choice and select.
Only about 2 percent of today’s beef receives a prime grading, 45 percent of beef is graded choice, whilst 21 percent are stamped with the select grade.
Most other countries' beef grading systems mirror the U.S. model, except for those in the European Union (EU). In the UK we use a grading scheme based on carcass shape and amount of fat covering and we can proudly say that we have some of the highest welfare standards in the world which regulate the way that our beef is produced. No growth-promoting hormones are fed to beef cattle in the UK and antibiotics are only administered if prescribed by a vet. In fact, our cows even have their own passports! Every beast can be traced to it’s mother and place of birth.
Whilst we can fly the flag for our unbeatable standards of meat welfare, the 40 year old EUROP grading system doesn’t appear to give consumers a lot of guidance when it comes to selecting steak whilst wandering down the supermarket aisles like that of the Americans who know exactly how much bang they are getting for their buck.
I read a really interesting article by a young lad from Lancashire by the name of Josh Dowbiggin about using Brexit as the perfect opportunity to revolutionise our beef grading system to bring our beef production methods up to our welfare standards with the potential to grow across the world’s consumer market. Who said BBQ and politics don't mix ay? Give it a read for yourself and try out some of this week's recipes.