All about Angus
The first time I visited London, I used the red neon lights of the Aberdeen Angus Steakhouse as a visual cue around Soho. After a few drinks I saw the steakhouse and used it as a cue but still got completely lost. My mistake was to think there was something unique about that restaurant and Angus beef.
In reality, central London is full of these steakhouses drawing in the tourist hoards and parting them from their money. These restaurants all name themselves after or infer association with the British (Scottish) cow breed called the Aberdeen Angus.
What’s so special about Angus Beef?
There isn’t a lot that’s unique about Angus beef. In fact, it’s so common for Steakhouses and Butchers in the United States and the United Kingdom to be selling Angus beef that the last steak you had was very likely from an Angus cow.
Farmers like the breed because it’s naturally muscular and matures faster resulting in a good meat yield. Steak Eaters love Angus beef because it is fatty, tasty and likely to have a higher degree of marbling (this is where fat is dispersed through the red meat – usually like little white specs). For some, the degree of marbling (I’m looking at the USDA here) along with the age of the cow is pretty much all that matters for a “prime” steak.
There’s also a degree of branding here. The ‘Angus’ breed brand has been heavily marketed, particularly by McDonald’s, the omnipresent steakhouses as well as a variety of regional interest groups. McDonald’s has marketed it as premium beef in the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Canada representing it as a better quality and tastier type of beef. However, the merit of advertising premium minced beef is somewhat lost as it’s hard to know what has been ground up and shaped into your meat patty.
Due to perceived brand value some beef will be passed off as Angus. In the United States there is clear criteria for certification, but these criteria only reference the appearance (colour) of the cow rather than its actual breed. This means you cannot always be sure that you are eating what you’ve paid for. To combat this cattle societies are using DNA testing to prove that the breed of their cows.
Is Angus steak better than other types of steak?
There is a whole variety of factors and cultural differences at play here. An Angus cow raised in the United States and the United Kingdom receive very different upbringings. While the breed may be the same (or similar), there are differences such as:
- Diet and health
- Pedigree (whether it was cross breed)
- The age of slaughter and the method of slaughter
- The method and length of aging
- The method of cooking
Whether Angus is better is very subjective. Personally, I don’t think Angus beef is a better tasting steak than others. Perhaps it’s because I’m overly familiar with it or because my best steak experiences have been with other breeds. My favourites are the English Hereford and the very mature Spanish Rubio Gallego.
The United Kingdom has a number of excellent cow breeds. The next time you’re at your butcher or local steakhouse be sure to ask if they have any steaks from the Hereford, Shorthorn, Dexter, Galloway and Highland breeds.