Saturday, February 22, 2014

What are the Factors Affecting Beef Texture and Juiciness?


Texture of beef remains the most important aspect of eating quality of beef in United States and has been extensively researched to understand, control, and predict this characteristic. Meat juiciness is also an attribute valued by most consumers. Although consumers routinely pay more for cuts of meat that are typically more tender, there is some expectation that the meat will also be juicy. Moreover, meat juiciness plays a key role in meat texture probably contributing to its variability.

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.

Factors Affecting Beef Texture and Juiciness

The four important factors that determine meat tenderness are background toughness (determined ante­mortem), the toughening phase during rigor onset, the tenderization phase (during the postmortem aging period), and the denaturation/solubilization of proteins during cooking. Logically, antemortem factors that influence the moisture or fat content of meat, as well as the effects of the toughening, tenderization, and cooking phases on proteins, also affect meat juiciness. Thus, numerous ante- and postmortem factors may have a significant influence on the final tenderness and juiciness of meat.

Chilling Regime

Low temperatures are required during carcass storage to prevent microbial spoilage. However, cold shortening or cold toughening depends on the difference between hot carcass and environmental temperatures. Carcass size and degree of fatness are other factors that influence carcass temperature decline. Therefore, regarding beef texture, several strategies have been proposed to increase tenderness by reducing the sarcomere shortening during rigor development.

Delayed chilling has been demonstrated to decrease toughness in beef. Chilling carcasses at temperatures >15°C for 15–20 h leads to a decrease in sarcom­ere shortening and to an increase in proteolysis. However, the higher risk of microbial proliferation makes this method unsuitable for commercial purposes.

Ensuring that muscle temperature is not <11°C before muscle pH reaches 6.1–6.3 minimizes cold shortening. Based on that premise, slower chilling procedures have been developed to reduce carcass temperature in 36–48 h cycles instead of the traditional 24 h cycle. Thus, for the past 20 years, commer­cial chilling regimes have been designed to try to avoid having carcass meat temperatures fall to <11°C within the first 10 hours postmortem. That modification has been shown to increase tenderness acceptability between 10% and 40% in different muscles.

Learn about the Physics of Cooking Meat

On the other hand, several reports indicate that very fast chilling, namely the attainment of –1°C within approximately 5 hours postmortem, can result in improvements to tenderness in species other than beef, such as pork and lamb. Low temperatures, obtained by very fast chilling, bring about a considerable release of calcium from the sar­coplasmic reticulum to the myofibrils. This early supply of free calcium, together with a high muscle pH, could result in an advanced and increased activation of calpains. In beef, applied blast chill temperatures of –20°C or –40°C for ~3 h can lead to deep hip temperatures of only 11°C by 4 h postslaughter if carcass backfat thickness is increased. Thus, some studies report an increase in toughness after very fast chilling, perhaps due to an insufficient decline in the inter­nal temperature of the muscle. In order to obtain the targeted tempera­ture, extreme blast-chilling conditions (7 and 10 h at –35°C) need to be used. Although these conditions result in more tender beef after 6 days of aging, differences disappear after 21 days of aging. Therefore, the main advantage of very fast chilling is a reduction in the necessary aging time to achieve an acceptable product.


When meat is frozen, the cell membranes are damaged, which results in a lower water-holding capacity (WHC) and a higher cook­ing loss, and consequently, a risk of less juicy meat. On the other hand, for similar reasons, it is known that freezing beef also influences tenderness. Thus, beef that is aged and then frozen and thawed has been reported to have lower shear force values compared to chilled meat aged the same time. However, the effect of freezing and thaw­ing on instrumental shear force has not been corroborated by consumers, while the negative effects on juiciness were confirmed by trained panel analysis.

Master the art of tenderizing. Read... How to Tenderize Beef


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