Beef is the culinary name for meat from bovines, especially cattle. Beef can be harvested from cows, bulls, heifers or steers.
Beef muscle meat can be cut into steak, roasts or short ribs. Some cuts are processed (corned beef or beef jerky), and trimmings, usually mixed with meat from older, leaner cattle, are ground, minced or used in sausages. The blood is used in some varieties of blood sausage. Other parts that are eaten include the oxtail, liver, tongue, tripe from the reticulum or rumen, glands (particularly the pancreas and thymus, referred to as sweetbread), the heart, the brain (although forbidden where there is a danger of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, BSE), the liver, the kidneys, and the tender testicles of the bull (known in the US as calf fries, prairie oysters, or Rocky Mountain oysters). Some intestines are cooked and eaten as-is, but are more often cleaned and used as natural sausage casings. The bones are used for making beef stock.
Beef from steers and heifers is very similar, (all treatments being equal), except steers have slightly less fat and more muscle. Depending on economics, the number of heifers kept for breeding varies. Older animals are used for beef when they are past their reproductive prime. The meat from older cows and bulls is usually tougher, so it is frequently used for mince (UK)/ground beef (US). Cattle raised for beef may be allowed to roam free on grasslands, or may be confined at some stage in pens as part of a large feeding operation called a feedlot (or concentrated animal feeding operation), where they are usually fed a ration of grain, protein, roughage and a vitamin/mineral preblend.
Beef is the third most widely consumed meat in the world, accounting for about 25% of meat production worldwide, after pork and poultry at 38% and 30% respectively. In absolute numbers, the United States, Brazil, and the People's Republic of China are the world's three largest consumers of beef. On a per capita basis in 2009, Argentines ate the most beef at 64.6 kg per person; people in the US ate 40.2 kg, while those in the EU ate 16.9 kg.
The world's largest exporters of beef are India, Brazil, Australia and the United States. Beef production is also important to the economies of Paraguay, Argentina, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Russia, and Uruguay.
The word beef is from the Latin bōs, in contrast to cow, which is from Middle English "cou" (both words have the same Indo-European root ). After the Norman Conquest, the French-speaking nobles who ruled England naturally used French words to refer to the meats they were served. Thus various Anglo-Saxon words were used for the animal (such as nēat, or cu for adult females) by the peasants, but the meat was called boef (ox) (Modern French bœuf) by the French nobles —who did not often deal with the live animal— when it was served to them.
This is one example of the common English dichotomy between the words for animals (with largely Germanic origins) and their meat (with Romanic origins) that is also found in such English word-pairs as pig/pork, sheep/mutton and chicken/poultry.
Beef is cognate with bovine through the Late Latin bovīnus.
People have eaten the flesh of bovines from prehistoric times; some of the earliest known cave paintings, such as those of Lascaux show aurochs in hunting scenes. People domesticated cattle around 8000 BC to provide ready access to beef, milk, and leather. Most cattle originated in the Old World, with the exception of bison hybrids. Examples include the Wagyū from Japan, Ankole-Watusi from Egypt, and longhorn Zebu from the Indian subcontinent.
It is unknown exactly when people started cooking beef. Cattle were widely used across the Old World as draft animals (oxen), for milk, or specifically for meat. With mechanization of farming, some breeds were specifically bred to increase meat yield, resulting in Chianina and Charolais, or to improve texture, as the Murray Grey, Angus or Wagyū. Some breeds have been selected for both meat and milk production, e.g. Brown Swiss (Braunvieh).
Beef is first divided into primal cuts, pieces of meat initially separated from the carcass during butchering. These are basic sections from which steaks and other subdivisions are cut. The term "primal cut" is quite different from "prime cut", used to characterise cuts considered to be of higher quality. Since the animal's legs and neck muscles do the most work, they are the toughest; the meat becomes more tender as distance from hoof and horn increases. Different countries and cuisines have different cuts and names, and sometimes use the same name for a different cut; e.g., the cut described as "brisket" in the US is from a significantly different part of the carcass than British brisket.
In the United States, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) operates a voluntary beef grading program. The meat processor pays for a trained AMS meat grader to grade whole carcasses at the abattoir. Users are required to comply with Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) grade labeling procedures. The official USDA grade designation can appear in one or any combination of the following ways: container markings, individual bags, legible roller brand appearing on the meat itself, or by a USDA shield stamp that incorporates the quality and/or yield grade.
There are eight beef quality grades. The grades are based on two main criteria: the degree of marbling (intramuscular fat) in the beef, and the maturity (estimated age of the animal at slaughter). Some meat scientists][ object to the current scheme of USDA grading since it is not based on direct measurement of tenderness, although marbling and maturity are indicators of tenderness. Most other countries' beef grading systems mirror the US model. Most beef offered for sale in supermarkets is graded US Choice or Select. US Prime beef is sold to hotels and upscale restaurants, and usually marketed as such. Beef that would rate as US Standard or less is almost never offered for grading.
Utility, Cutter, and Canner grade are rarely used in foodservice operations and primarily used by processors and canners.
Beef grading service began in 1917 as a way to determine both the quality and the quantity of beef that would come from each carcass. Stamping the grades began in May 1927. Each carcass can be stamped with a yield or quality stamp, or a combination of both. The standards have been revised many times since the original standards were formulated. A few notable changes include combining Prime and choice grades into Prime, and changing the Good grade to choice, this change occurred in 1950. In 1980 conditions were set forth to establish guidance on grading protocol. This included a 10 minute bloom time before the grader evaluates the carcass. Most beef plants will allow a longer time for bloom depending on the speed of the grading chain. In 1997, the official standards were revised to restrict the Select grade to A maturity carcasses, and to raise the minimum marbling score to qualify for Choice to modest for B maturity cattle. These changes were implemented to improve the uniformity and consistency of the grading system. Yield grades are intended to estimate the pounds of boneless closely trimmed retail cuts from the carcass. Closely trimmed refers to approximately ¼ inch of external fat. The yield grade is determined by considering 4 carcass characteristics: external fat, Kidney Pelvic and heart fat, Ribeye area, and Hot carcass weight. The amount of external fat is measured at the ribbed surface between the 12th-13th ribs. The ribbing of carcasses is described in the US standards for beef grading. External fat is measured at a distance of ¾ the length of the ribeye from the chine bone end. This initial number can be adjusted up or down depending on any abnormal fat deposits. As the amount of external fat increases, the percent of retail cuts decreases. Kidney fat is measured subjectively and is expressed as a percentage of the carcass weight. As the percentage of KPH increases, the percent of retail cuts decreases. The ribeye area is measured at the ribbed surface, it can be estimated subjectively or measured with a device approved by the AMS. As ribeye area increase, percent retail cuts increases. Hot carcass weight is used to determine yield grade. As carcass weight increases, percent retail cuts decrease. The following equation is used to determine yield grade:
There are five grades, 1-5. Yield grade one carcasses are of the highest cutability, while yield grade 5 yields the lowest cutability.
Beef sold in US restaurants and supermarkets is usually described by its USDA grade; however, in the early twentyfirst century many restaurants and retailers began selling beef on the strength of brand names and the reputation of a specific breed of cattle, such as black Angus.
To improve tenderness of beef, it often is aged (i.e., stored refrigerated) to allow endogenous proteolytic enzymes to weaken structural and myofibrillar proteins. Wet aging is accomplished using vacuum packaging to reduce spoilage and yield loss. Dry aging involves hanging primals (usually ribs or loins) in humidity-controlled coolers. Outer surfaces dry out and can support growth of molds (and spoilage bacteria, if too humid), resulting in trim and evaporative losses.
Evaporation concentrates the remaining proteins and increases flavor intensity; the molds can contribute a nut-like flavor. After two to three days there are significant effects. The majority of the tenderizing effect occurs in the first 10 days. Boxed beef, stored and distributed in vacuum packaging, is, in effect, wet aged during distribution. Premium steakhouses dry age for 21 to 28 days or wet age up to 45 days for maximum effect on flavor and tenderness.
Meat from less tender cuts or older cattle can be mechanically tenderized by forcing small, sharp blades through the cuts to disrupt the proteins. Also, solutions of exogenous proteolytic enzymes (papain, bromelin or ficin) can be injected to augment the endogenous enzymes. Similarly, solutions of salt and sodium phosphates can be injected to soften and swell the myofibrillar proteins. This improves juiciness and tenderness. Salt can improve the flavor, but phosphate can contribute a soapy flavor.
These methods are applicable to all types of meat and some other foodstuffs.
Beef can be cooked to various degrees, from very rare to well done. The degree of cooking corresponds to the temperature in the approximate center of the meat, which can be measured with a meat thermometer. Beef can be cooked using the sous vide method, which cooks the entire steak to the same temperature, but when cooked using a method such as broiling or roasting it is typically cooked such that it has a "bulls eye" of doneness, with the least done (coolest) at the center and the most done (warmest) at the outside.
While searing and the Maillard Reaction are important to the final flavor of a piece of beef, the degree of doneness is also important. A chef can judge the degree of doneness of steak using the finger touch test, without a meat thermometer. Temperature ranges can be found at Temperature (meat).
Meat can be cooked in boiling oil, typically by shallow frying, although deep frying may be used, often for meat enrobed with breadcrumbs as in milanesas. Larger pieces such as steaks may be cooked this way, or meat may be cut smaller as in stir frying, typically an Asian way of cooking: cooking oil with flavourings such as garlic, ginger and onions is put in a very hot wok. Then small pieces of meat are added, followed by ingredients which cook more quickly, such as mixed vegetables. The dish is ready when the ingredients are 'just cooked'.
Moist heat cooking methods include braising, pot roasting, stewing and sous vide. These techniques are often used for cuts of beef that are tougher, as these longer, lower-temperature cooking methods have time to dissolve connecting tissue which otherwise makes meat remain tough after cooking.
Meat has usually been cooked in water which is just simmering, such as in stewing; higher temperatures make meat tougher by causing the proteins to contract. Since thermostatic temperature control became available, cooking at temperatures well below boiling, (sous-vide) to (slow cooking), for prolonged periods has become possible; this is just hot enough to convert the tough collagen in connective tissue into gelatin through hydrolysis, with minimal toughening.
With the adequate combination of temperature and cooking time, pathogens, such as bacteria will be killed, and Pasteurization can be achieved. Because browning (Maillard reactions) can only occur at higher temperatures (above the boiling point of water), these moist techniques do not develop the flavors associated with browning. Meat will often undergo searing in a very hot pan, grilling or browning with a torch before moist cooking (though sometimes after).
Thermostatically controlled methods, such as sous-vide, can also prevent overcooking by bringing the meat to the exact degree of doneness desired, and holding it at that temperature indefinitely. The combination of precise temperature control and long cooking duration makes it possible to be assured that Pasteurization has been achieved, both on the surface and the interior of even very thick cuts of meat, which can not be assured with most other cooking techniques. (Although extremely long-duration cooking can break down the texture of the meat to an undesirable degree.)
Beef can be cooked quickly at the table through several techniques. In hot pot cooking, such as shabu-shabu, very thinly sliced meat is cooked by the diners at the table by immersing it in a heated pot of water or stock with vegetables. In fondue bourguignonne, diners dip small pieces of beef into a pot of hot oil at the table. Both techniques typically feature accompanying flavorful sauces to complement the meat.
Steak tartare is a French dish made from finely chopped or ground (minced) raw meat (often beef). More accurately, it is scraped so as not to let even the slightest of the sinew fat get into the scraped meat. It is often served with onions, capers, seasonings such as fresh ground pepper and Worcestershire sauce, and sometimes raw egg yolk.
The Belgian dish filet américain is also made of finely chopped ground beef, though it is seasoned differently, and either eaten as a main dish or can be used as a dressing for a sandwich. Kibbeh nayyeh is a similar Lebanese dish. And in Ethiopia, a ground raw meat dish called tire siga or kitfo is eaten (upon availability).
Carpaccio of beef is a thin slice of raw beef dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and seasoning. Often, the beef is partially frozen before slicing to allow very thin slices to be cut.
Yukhoe is a variety of hoe, raw dishes in Korean cuisine which is usually made from raw ground beef seasoned with various spices or sauces. The beef part used for yukhoe is tender rump steak. For the seasoning, soy sauce, sugar, salt, sesame oil, green onion, and ground garlic, sesame seed, black pepper and juice of bae (Korean pear) are used. The beef is mostly topped with the yolk of a raw egg.
Bresaola is an air-dried, salted beef that has been aged about two to three months until it becomes hard and a dark red, almost purple, colour. It is lean, has a sweet, musty smell and is tender. It originated in Valtellina, a valley in the Alps of northern Italy's Lombardy region. Bündnerfleisch is a similar product from neighbouring Switzerland.
Beef jerky is dried, salted, smoked beef popular in the United States.
Biltong is a cured, salted, air dried beef popular in South Africa.
Pastrami is often made from beef; raw beef is salted, then partly dried and seasoned with various herbs and spices, and smoked.
Corned beef is a cut of beef cured or pickled in a seasoned brine. The corn in corned beef refers to the grains of coarse salts (known as corns) used to cure it. The term corned beef can denote different styles of brine-cured beef, depending on the region. Some, like American-style corned beef, are highly seasoned and often considered delicatessen fare.
Spiced beef is a cured and salted joint of round, topside, or silverside, traditionally served at Christmas in Ireland. It is a form of salt beef, cured with spices and saltpetre, intended to be boiled or broiled in Guinness or a similar stout, and then optionally roasted for a period after. There are various other recipes for pickled beef. Sauerbraten is a German variant.
Hindus consider killing cattle and eating beef a sin, and Jains are forbidden to eat any kind of meat. Similarly, Vaishnavism considers eating meat to be an act against the virtue of mercy and compassion towards animals, and hence strictly prohibits eating meat of any kind. Killing of cows and bulls (including calves) is considered to be an extremely great sin by Vaishnavism. Bovines have been highly revered as sacred to mankind in Indian culture][ due to the critical role of cattle, especially cows, as a source of milk, and dairy products, and their relative importance to the pastoral Vedic people allowed this special status; and this rose to prominence with the advent of the Jain tradition and Hindu Golden-age during the Gupta period. The slaughter of cattle has been likened to the matricide in these cultures, due to the idealisation of the cow providing milk and sustenance for society.
Cow slaughter is currently banned in many states - Gujarat passed the Animal Preservation Act in October 2011 that prohibits killing of cows along with buying, selling and transport of beef. Orissa and Andhra Pradesh states allow butchering of cattle other than cows if the animal carries a "fit-for-slaughter" certificate. But in West Bengal, Kerala, Goa etc. consumption of beef is not deemed an offence. Kerala and Goa have a considerable number of Christians who consume beef. In Kerala, beef is either curried or made as a stir fry called beef fry.
During the season of Lent, Catholics traditionally give up all meat and poultry as a religious act. Observant Jews and Muslims may not eat any meat or poultry which has not been slaughtered and treated in conformance with religious laws.
Beef is an excellent source of complete protein and minerals such as zinc, selenium, phosphorus and iron, and B vitamins. Red meat is the most significant dietary source of carnitine and, like any other meat (pork, fish, veal, lamb etc.), is a source of creatine.
A study released in 2007 by the World Cancer Research Fund reported "strong evidence that red meat [defined as 'beef, pork, lamb, and goat from domesticated animals'] and processed meats are causes of bowel cancer" and recommended that people eat less than 500 grams (18 oz) of cooked red meat weekly, and as little processed meat as possible. The report also recommended that average consumption in populations should not exceed 300 grams (11 oz) per week, stating this goal "corresponds to the level of consumption of red meat at which the risk of colorectal cancer can clearly be seen to rise."
Cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease
The Harvard School of Public Health also recommends consumers eat red meat sparingly as it has high levels of undesirable saturated fat. This recommendation is not without controversy, though. Another study from The Harvard School of Public Health appearing in Circulation (journal) found "Consumption of processed meats, but not red meats, is associated with higher incidence of coronary heart disease and diabetes mellitus."
This finding tended to confirm an earlier meta-analysis of the nutritional effects of saturated fat in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition which found "[P]rospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease. More data are needed to elucidate whether cardiovascular disease risks are likely to be influenced by the specific nutrients used to replace saturated fat."
Some cattle raised in the United States feed on pastures fertilized with sewage sludge. Elevated dioxins may be present in meat from these cattle.
Ground beef has been subject to recalls in the United States, due to E. coli contamination:
In 1984, the use of meat and bone meal in cattle feed resulted in the world's first outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or, colloquially, mad cow disease) in the United Kingdom.
Since then, other countries have had outbreaks of BSE:
In 2010, more than 20 years after the disease emerged, the EU tentatively decided to relax a ban on feeding meat to animals, introduced to prevent the transmission of BSE by that route.
Top 10 cattle and beef producing countries
Beef production (1000 MT CWE)
National cattle herds (1000 Head)