Saturday, August 29, 2015

Product Review: Char-Broil Digital Electric Vertical Smoker 725

For the past month, I have been testing out one of Char-Broil's insulated box smokers - specifically, the Digital Electric Vertical Smoker 725.


Insulated box smokers have become quite the rage on the competition BBQ circuit.  I'd say it's probably the most common and arguably the most successful design on the KCBS circuit.  The big insulated box smokers, like Humphrey's, Stumps, Backwoods, etc, have the entire cooking chamber insulated and provide extra long cooking time and extremely stable cooking temperatures. A backyard version of one of those starts at about $1,000 and competition versions start North of $4,000 and that's before you add the cost of electronic controllers.  

The Char-Broil Digital Electric Vertical Smoker 725 is an insulated box smoker that has been scaled down in size, cost, and complexity for the backyard cook.  Listed at $299, here is what you get.

Features
  • Comes pre-assembled, basically just take it out of the box.
  • Digital electronic temperature controls
  • 750 sq inches of cooking space (Four 15" x 12.5" racks)
  • Remote control with displays for the set temp, set time, count down timer, and meat temp
  • Integrated meat probe thermometer
  • Glass front door for easy viewing during cooks
  • Water pan
  • Smoker box
  • Removable bottom tray for easy cleaning
  • Clean out drawer

Notice how the bottom tray is angled towards the left where the water pan is.  This makes it somewhat easier to collect rendered fat and drippings.

The smoker box is where you put a few handfuls of wood chips.  I suspect wood pellets would work well in this as well but I have not tried them in this.

The integrated meat temperature probe lets you monitor the internal temperature of your meat, which helps you to cook by temp and plan the timing of your side dishes.

The lower clean out tray collects drippings or crumbs that get by the drip pan.

The mounted rear wheels make it easy to move the unit when it is empty.

Secure latch keeps the door tightly shut during the cook.


How It Cooks
I have cooked ribs, chicken thighs, whole chickens, and beef back ribs on this smoker so far.  
First, you have to make sure that you run the pre-heat cycle first.  It takes about 40 minutes and if you skip it, you won't get your smoke applied at the crucial time the meat needs it at the beginning of the cook.


St Louis spare ribs sauced and about to go back into the 725.  They took right about the same amount of time to cook as they would on any of my other pits.  The texture was the same but I only had alder wood chips so there wasn't much smoke flavor, it was pretty muted.  Definitely go with hickory or oak for pork.
The ribs dripped a good bit but the way that everything comes out, it was easy to clean up.


 I did 15 boneless skinless thighs and a whole spatchcocked chicken.  The thighs were seasoned with Dizzy Pig Jamaican Firewalk for one pan and Dizzy Pig Swamp Venom for the other.  Both had butter and chicken stock in the pan.  The whole bird was seasoned with a general purpose BBQ rub that Meat Church is developing. 

Both versions of the thighs were slightly spicy, moist, and had an absolute perfect amount of smoke flavor for poultry. We shredded these for use in pastas, salads, etc.

The whole chicken was spot on perfect in appearance, taste, and smokiness.  I wouldn't have done better on a kamado grill. We used this for smoked chicken salad, wonderful.

The membrane on the back of beef back ribs is tougher to get off than pork ribs.  You have to use a good grip and some forearm strength to get them pulled off.

When you get from the narrow end toward the wider end, you will hit some fat bumps which will slow down pulling off the membrane.  Just go slow and steady and it will all pull off.

 I did a slather ala Chris Lilly of beef boullion and worcestershire sauce to add flavor and bind the rub to the beef.  The rub was my NMT Beef Rub consisting of salt, pepper, green peppercorns, dried onion, dried garlic, dried red and green bell pepper, and oregano.

Smoked these both over a drip pan for even easier clean up.
 
I sauced the beef ribs with a little of Salt Lick's Honey Pecan BBQ sauce in the last 20 minutes.

Beef ribs came out very tasty. The smoke flavor was there but not as strong as I like it, although I like mine heavy. 

As far as temperature regulation, I checked it out several times using a Thermoworks ThermaQ with a k-type air probe.  The Char-Broil consistently regulated the temperature within +/- 10f for all of my cooks.
 
The remote control that comes with the Char-Broil 725 is on the left.  The display shows the set cooking temp at top, the set duration, how much time is left, set meat temp (was not set here), and meat temp (which was not in so the probe was hanging down by the heat element causing the false high of 303f....no I don't cook my meat to i303f ha ha). 

Before and after shots of the wood chips from a cook.

 
So Easy, Is It Cheating?
This smoker uses an electronic heat element to smolder the wood chips so there is no mastery of fire management - one of the first keys to being a pit master.  Is that cheating?  So called traditionalists frown on pellet cookers or other cookers that use electric or gas to burn wood pellets. Ironically, many of those "traditionalists" are using metal offset pits and some folks would argue that even using a metal offset pit isn't authentic BBQ because it isn't cooked on a pit directly over wood coals.  Personally, I prefer to cook with lump coal and wood because I like to play with fire, but I don't have a problem with people using electric cookers as long as it isn't in a BBQ competition.

My Thoughts
After using this Char-Broil Digital Electric Vertical Smoker 725 for a month, my overall opinion is that this is an easy to use smoker for it's target crowd of weekend warriors.  Char-Broil is not marketing this to the hard core, competitions every weekend, "I go through a cord of wood a month" smoker jocks.  This smoker is ideal for normal people who want to smoke foods at home but don't want to devote their entire weekend to it.  Here are some specific thoughts and opinions.

  • Design - very sleek and modern looking.  The pieces fit well together with no air leaks.  The seamless touch pad seems splash resistant.  It's easy to use without a lot of trial and error that you go through with other smokers like my favored kamados.  
  • Super Easy - No fiddling with fire management or chasing cooking temps, the electric controller does that for you.  The temps stay consistent and recover well after opening the unit. This has to be the easiest cooker I have ever used.
  • Temperature Range - I like that it can go as low as 100°F for cold smoking things like pork bellies for bacon, a lot of cookers can't maintain such a low temp easily.  Heck, your oven probably can't.  The upper range only goes to 275°F which is more than adequate for low and slow cooking.  But this limits it from cooking at hot and fast temps (290-325°F) that many people like to use these days.  Not a deal breaker but you need to be aware of that.
  • Smoke - This cooker gives a mild to mildly-moderate amount of smoke as designed, which is just about right for most people who don't do a lot of BBQ.  I like mine a little heavier so I use more chips than the instructions call for and would always lean to the stronger smoke wood chips like hickory and oak.  If I was going to do butts or brisket on these, I'd be tempted to add more smoke in the way of one of those supplemental smoke tubes that they make for pellet cookers and such.    
  • Other Options - If you are a tinkerer, like modifying things, and like playing with fire then this might not be the cooker for you.  In the same price range, you can look at Oklahoma Joe off-set smokers, build your own Ugly Drum Smoker, buy a Pit Barrel Cooker, or check out a WSM 18.5". 
So this smoker is easy to use, reliable, value priced, and is perfect for folks that want to dabble in smoking but don't want BBQ to become their whole life.  If you want a simple but solid performing smoker that you can just pull out several times a year and fire it up without long hours of babysitting your cooker, this is the rig for you.  If that is you, I highly recommend the Char-Broil 725.

[FTC Standard Disclosure] I am a member of the Char-Broil Allstars and received this smoker to review at no cost.  That said, I feel like I was a little hard on this smoker in the review because I don't want my affiliation with Char-Broil to affect my opinion.  Heck, I even mentioned competitors in the same price range, so if Char-Broil was paying for my opinion, I'd get the axe for that! I always want to give my straight, true opinion and this is a good cooker for the right fit.

    Tuesday, August 25, 2015

    Chorizo Chili Cheeseburger with Deep Fried Avocado Slices

    This cheese burger is a bit over the top with gooey Oaxacan cheese, spicy chorizo chili, and deep fried slices of avocado.

    fried avocado, crazy burger, burger month, chorizo chili, beef


    But this burger needed to be a bit over the top because Kita at Girl Carnivore is hosting a Burger Month with an epic burger every day of August. Yes, the official Burger Month is in May but is one month really enough for burgers?  



    Kita is on the Char-Broil All Star Bloggers  with me and she also knows a thing or two about burgers. She and Clint Cantwell (Grillocracy) teamed up and kicked the rest of the food bloggers' butts in the best custom burger grind competition at the Certified Angus Beef #GrillTalk session this summer.  So I wanted this burger to be extra special to make up for the crushing emptiness that I felt in my burger soul after that humbling defeat!  (Kidding, we all get along great and it was all in good fun.  Plus they cheated:) )

    Here is why I picked the Tex-Mex characters that I did.

    Chorizo
    I love the edge that chorizo brings to a chili sauce for burgers and dogs.  This is the raw style Mexican chorizo, not the cured, hard Spanish style.  It is highly seasoned and packs a flavorful punch without being too spicy. 

    Oaxcan Cheese
    The Oaxacan style cheese is what we call Mexican mozzarella - it's semi-soft, has a mild buttery taste, and is an excellent melting cheese.  That makes it a perfect candidate for cheeseburgers.   I've seen this cheese even at Walmart so hopefully you can get your hands on some.  If not, you can substitute mozzarella or maybe some thin sliced pepper jack cheese.  

    Deep Fried Avocado
    Ahh the deep fried avocado slices. We got this idea from a food truck that was selling fried avocado tacos and man, were they fantastic!  The crispy texture contrasts the chili and cheese.  The richness helps tame the spiciness of the chili sauce.  You could just use avocado slices without frying but if you have time, it's worth deep frying!

    Chorizo Chili Burger with Deep Fried Avocado Slices

    www.nibblemethis.com
    Published 08/25/2015

    Ingredients

    • 1 1/2 pounds ground chuck
    • salt, pepper, and granulated garlic to taste
    • 4 hamburger buns
    • 4 ounces Oaxacan cheese
    For The Deep Fried Avocados
    • 1 avocado, seeded, peeled, and sliced lengthwise
    • 1 cup all purpose flour
    • 1 teaspoon fajita seasoning or taco seasoning
    • 2 eggs lightly beaten with 2 tablespoons cold water
    • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
    • oil for deep frying
    For the Chorizo Chili Sauce
    • 3/4 pounds ground sirloin
    • 1/2 pound chorizo sausage
    • 1/2 cup beef broth
    • 1/4 cup picante sauce or salsa
    • 3 tablespoons ketchup
    • 2 teaspoons chili powder
    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 1 teaspoon dried minced onion [or 1 Tbsp grated fresh onion]
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
    • 1/4 teaspoon celery salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground corriander
    • season salt to taste, about 1/2 teaspoon

    Instructions

    1. Make the Deep Fried Avocados. Preheat oil between 350 and 375°F. Season the flour with fajita seasoning, coat avocado slices, and knock off excess. Dip in the egg wash and then roll in the bread crumbs. Carefully deep fry until golden, 60 - 90 seconds and remove to a resting rack. Season with salt to taste as soon as each batch comes out.
    2. Make the chili. Place all chili ingredients in a medium saucepan over a medium high heat burner. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, stirring and breaking up the pieces of meat. It should take about 45 minutes to reduce to a chili sauce consistency. Taste for seasoning and add more salt/pepper if desired. If you want more heat, kick in some of your favorite hot sauce.
    3. Preheat your grill to 450°F. Obviously the grates should be scrubbed clean and spritzed with a high temp oil just before the burgers go on.
    4. Keeping the meat as cold as possible and handling as little as possible, form the ground chuck into four 6 oz patties.  Sprinkle some salt, pepper, and granulated garlic over the patties only right before they go on.
    5. Grill the burgers until the brown color creeps up the edges and liquid starts to push out of the tops - about 4-5 minutes. Flip and cook another two minutes. Top with slices of the cheese, close the grill lid, and cook until the burgers reach an internal temp of 160°F - about another 2-3 minutes. Remove to a resting rack. [If you know the risks and know how to mitigate them by grinding your own meat, feel free to cook them to medium rare instead.]
    6. Toast your buns. Lightly brush the buns with some melted butter and toast on the grill until slightly crispy and brown.
    Yield: 4 Big Booty Burgers


    Thermapen, best instant read thermometer,
    Make sure that your oil is at temp before dropping the avocados in or you will get a soggy, nasty mess.  A trusty Thermapen or other super fast read thermometer is your best bet for checking this out.

    Char-broil, avocados, deep frying, burgers,
    I hate deep frying inside the house because of the lingering odors, that is why I love using my grill's side burner for deep frying outside.

    NMT Beef Rub, burgers, seasoning burgers,
    Waiting to season the burgers at the last minute keeps the salt from drawing moisture out.  Salt, pepper, and garlic are fine, but I cheated and used my NMT Beef Rub (black pepper, green pepper, garlic, onion, bell peppers, oregano, salt) for a bit more flavor.

    Char-broil Commercial
    This isn't a sponsored post but I have to say that I have really enjoyed my Char-Broil Commercial Series gas grill this summer.  The TRU-Infrared panels and cast iron grates deliver even, powerful heat without drying out my food - unlike any gas grills I have used in the past.  For a charcoal and wood guy, I have been really impressed with this gasser.  If you're in the market for a gas grill, you should check these out at Lowe's.

    grilled burger, char-broil
    The sizzle and smoke of grilling burgers is a part of summer magic, whether it's something a bit involved like this recipe or something as simple as a plain grilled burger.

    best cheese for melting
    The Oaxacan cheese is from the Oaxaca state of Mexico.  It is rich, buttery, and melts easily.  It is great on burgers, in queso sauce, and casseroles.

    cheeseburger, grilled burger, char-broil
    I liked to put my burgers on a resting rack when they come off.  If they go directly on a flat surface like a plate, the heat gets trapped and will create a steaming effect on the bottom, making it easier to lose juices.  

    burger month, tex-mex burger
    This was a fantastic burger.  More involved than your usual cheeseburger but well worth it.

    So put this burger on your "try soon" list and hop over to Girl Carnivore to see a month's worth of killer burgers.

    [FTC Standard Disclaimer]  We received no compensation for this post, but I am a member of the Char-Broil All Stars and they are a sponsor.  Thermoworks is also an equipment sponsor.

    Saturday, August 15, 2015

    High Low Beef Filet with Marsala Portobello Sauce

    National Filet Mignon Day was this past week so I decided to try out Adam Perry Lang’s High-Low method on my Grill Dome.

    filet mignon, steak, beef, steak recipe, beef recipe, filet recipe
    Certified Angus Beef filet from Food City here in Knoxville.

    Adam is a renowned pitmaster, a classically trained chef, restauranteur, and appears regularly on Jimmy Kimmel Live! Adam has "dabbled" in competition BBQ, winning first place pork shoulder at The American Royal (one of the BBQ “majors”). He is also an accomplished grilling cookbook author. His Serious Barbecue book is a modern classic and I think that BBQ25 is a must have for up and coming grillers.

    Adam’s High-Low technique comes from his third book, Charred and Scruffed, and it is similar to the wildly popular “reverse sear” technique. But instead of doing a low temp and then a high temp, the High-Low technique relies on positioning in the grill. This method starts off cooking “high” up in the grill on a raised rack to moderate the heat intensity. Then it finishes close to the red coals, searing it off. This technique works extremely well in a kamado grill.


    I followed his technique and baste recipe but used my normal rub and I made a Marsala-Portobello sauce to compliment the filet.  For the beef rub, you can use Adam's Four Seasons Blend or another beef rub, I used my NMT Beef Rub.  To make the herb brush, an APL signature technique, take a handful of fresh herb sprigs and tightly tie them around the handle of a wooden spoon with kitchen twine.

    Beef Filet with Marsala Portobello Sauce

    Adapted from Adam Perry Lang's High Low Filet
    Published 08/15/2015
    The high-low technique slowly cooks the filet before finishing it off with a high temp sear to build that delicious crust.

    Ingredients

    • 4 8-10 ounce Certified Angus Beef tenderloin filet
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons beef rub
    For the baste
    • 1/2 cup olive oil
    • 1/4 cup tallow
    • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
    • 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
    • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
    • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
    • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
    • 1 teaspoon dried minced onion
    • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 1 teaspoon black pepper
    • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flake
    For the Marsala Portobello Sauce
    • 4 tablespoons butter, divided
    • 16 ounces sliced baby bella or crimini mushrooms
    • 1/4 cup dry Marsala wine
    • 1 cup beef stock
    • 1/2 teaspoon fresh herbs, finely chopped
    • black pepper to taste
    • salt to taste
    • several sprigs of herbs for an herb brush

    Instructions

    1. Take your steaks off of refrigeration and let rest at room temperature. Set up your grill with a raised rack (see notes) and preheat to 450-500°F
    2. Make the baste. Mix all ingredients in a small pot and bring to a slow simmer, whisking frequently for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
    3. Make the sauce. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and melt 3 tablespoons butter. Add sliced mushrooms and saute until softened and browned, 8-10 minutes. Carefully add Marsala wine and deglaze the skillet, scraping any stuck bits with a wooden spoon. When liquid is almost all evaporated, add in the stock and herbs. Simmer until reduced by half and thickened, about 15-20 minutes. Season to taste with salt (1/4 -1/2 teaspoon) and black pepper (about 1/2 teaspoon). Stir in 1 tablespoon of butter and keep warm over very low heat.
    4. Season steaks with the rub. Then with wet hands, work the rub all around the steaks to form a paste. Let set for 5 minutes.
    5. Place the steaks on the raised rack and grill for 2 minutes. Flip and grill another 2 minutes. Grill the sides for 1 minute each.  Keep the grill lid shut each time.
    6. Continue cooking the steaks, turning and basting them with an herb brush every minute, until the steaks reach an internal temperature of 90°F, about another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest at least 5 minutes or up to 30 minutes.
    7. Remove the raise grate and return the steaks to the grill. Flip and baste the steaks every minute until they reach an internal temperature of 110-115°F. This will take about 5 more minutes if doing on a regular grate or only 1-2 minutes if using a lowered grate (see notes).
    8. Remove steaks and let rest for 5 full minutes. To serve, spoon some of the Marsala Portobello sauce onto the plate, top with a filet, and then spoon a slight amount more of the sauce on top.
    Yield: 4 servings
    Prep Time: 00 hrs. 15 mins.
    Cook time: 00 hrs. 20 mins.
    Total time: 35 mins.
    Tags: beef, filet, grill, steak

    A note on substitutions

    • Baste - This is all about building layers but if you don't feel like making your own, you can buy a jarred baste.  The Shed and Stubbs both make a pretty good bottled beef baste.
    • Tallow - I need to do a post on this but tallow is just rendered down beef fat that I keep on hand.  You can substitute additional butter or bacon fat.
    • Herb brush - sure you can skip it and use a basting brush but again, it's building layers.
     
    mise en place, certified angus beef, filet, Food City
    I am loving these disposable cutting boards.  We got a roll of them for BBQ comps but they really come in handy for outdoor cooking at home too.
    Big Green Egg table, Grill Dome table, Kamado Joe table
    Gorgeous afternoon for outdoor cooking. I used the Grill Dome as my main grill and had the Egg fired up to fire roast the potatoes.

    fire roasted potatoes, Meat Church, kamado vegetables
    I roasted the potatoes at 400°F for a total of 50 minutes.  Rubbed with oil and seasoned with Meat Church Season All, chopped garlic, and a few pinches of chopped herbs.

    fire roasted potatoes
    Flipped them after about 30 minutes.

    saute mushrooms, portobello, beef side
    You can do the mushroom sauce on the grill or on stove top.

    My beef rub is black peppercorns, green peppercorns, dried garlic, dried onions, dried red and green bell pepper coarsely ground up and then oregano and salt added.  It's a bit of a pain to make since we dry the peppers ourselves but well worth the flavor for beef.  BTW, I love these flip top shaker tops you can buy for plain old mason jars now, perfect for BBQ dudes and dudettes.  I think we found ours at the grocery store or Walmart.

    filet, beef filet, Certified Angus Beef, NMT beef rub
    Rubbing the seasoning in with wet hands to make a paste is one of Adam's techniques. Normally I just lightly oil them before seasoning but this technique worked well too.

    The "raised grate" or "elevated grate" set up for my Grill Dome was the double duty Indirect rack.  It served as the raised and lowered rack for this cook, I just flipped it upside down.  Here are some other options.  For a gas grill you can just use the top rack.  

    direct raised kamado, Grill Dome accessory, filet, beef, steak
    There is a lot of turning, flipping, basting, and handling in this recipe - that's a trademark of Adam Perry Lang. He's the opposite of the "only flip a steak once" school of thought.   Cooking on the elevated grate like this is effectively cooking at a lower temperature like the start of a reverse sear.  


    Basting with the herb brush just adds layer upon layer of flavor.

    There's a lot of fat in the baste which will cause flare ups.  Don't panic, your elevated grill grate will take care of that for you.  Closing the grill lid between each step helps keep flames knocked down too.

    Flipping the indirect rack grate for the second part of the cook gets the steaks right next to the super hot coals, giving you a power sear in just a minute or two. You could also use a spider rig with a 13" grate.  If you are cooking on a normal level grate, this step will take more like 5 minutes. 

    This was a great meal.  Even the green beans were something special because that bacon on them was home cured and smoked by my BBQ teammate and neighbor, John.
    I like this technique and plan to use it this weekend when I try to recreate a pork tenderloin dish that I had at a restaurant recently.  I like the layering of flavors and the crust that this builds up.  It doesn't replace the reverse sear, this high-low technique is just another awesome tool to have in one's grilling skill set.

    Have a great weekend and fire up those smokers and grills!

    [FTC Standard Disclaimer]  Grill Dome is our kamado grill sponsor and Certified Angus Beef recently provided me with an educational trip package.  I paid full price for the steaks, Meat Church Season All, APL's books, and the mason jar shaker caps. The links for the books and caps are Amazon Affiliate links.

    Thursday, August 13, 2015

    How Certified Angus Beef is Graded - CAB #GrillTalk Trip

    This summer, I was lucky enough to travel to Wooster, Ohio for a #GrillTalk session and butchery lesson with the fine folks at Certified Angus Beef (CAB). I was excited to learn more about one of my favorite brands.

    I have been using Certified Angus Beef for years but I really didn’t know that much about them as an organization or what they do. That’s the first thing that I learned. They were formed in 1978 after a bad steak experience in a restaurant. CAB is owned by the American Angus Association which consists of some 25,000 ranchers and serves as a resource to the ranchers and 15,000 partners (grocery stores, restaurants, etc). So they don’t actually own or sell beef, rather they are the brand and provide the framework (quality, best practices, etc) and marketing in which CAB is sold.

    I have a ton of information but I'll limit this post to the most important thing I learned which is how beef earns that Certified Angus Beef label.

    How Beef Is Graded In The United States
    Dr. Phil Bass (yes – a meat scientist, what a cool job!) first walked us through the USDA grading process. 

    • First, only a USDA Inspector is required at a plant and his/her role is limited to making sure the food is wholesome to eat.
    • Grading (prime, choice, select, etc) is actually optional and the plant has to pay for the USDA grader.
    • If the meat is not graded, it is referred to as “no roll” beef. (My personal experience is to avoid “no roll” and “cow” beef. There’s a chance “no roll” could be as marbled as prime, it just wasn’t graded. But it’s a gamble I don’t take.)
    • Grading is done only at the 12th and 13th rib 24-48 hours after the steer has been harvested. This is why you will sometimes see a piece of USDA Choice beef that looks like it should have been select – they only look at the one spot to make the call for the entire steer. I've also seen Choice look almost as good as prime. The grade is based on maturity and marbling.
    • Black hide” carcasses get an “A” stamp for Angus.
    So that last one (black hide) was an open issue for me. Like I said, I have used CAB for years but in November 2011 on the BBQ Central Radio show, I heard a butcher decry Certified Angus Beef as “nothing but a marketing ploy” because they rely on phenotype (appearance) instead of genotype (genetics) to determine if a steer is Angus. At that point, I decided to not rely on the CAB label and just go by which steaks looked better to me. But I quickly noticed that I was still buying the Certified Angus Beef steaks anyway because they consistently looked better than the regular USDA Choice steaks.

    So was it just chance that the CAB steaks always looked better? No....

    How Certified Angus Beef Makes The Grade
    There are lots of Angus products on the market, but only 1 in 4 Angus get selected for the Certified Angus Beef program because they use 10 quality standards above and beyond the USDA grading. These standards ensure that when you buy CAB, you are getting beef that is in the upper 2/3rds of USDA Choice. The standards include:


    1. Modest or higher marbling - There are 7 levels of marbling in the beef in most meat counters. Select has slight. Choice has small, modest, and moderate. Prime has slightly abundant, moderately abundant, and abundant.
    2. Medium or Fine Marbling Texture – With USDA grading, coarse marbling is cause for beef to be knocked down one grade level. But with CAB, the marbling MUST be medium or fine, coarse marbling disqualifies a carcass for the CAB program.
    3. Only “A” Maturity – This isn't a chronological age, rather physiological based on color, skeletal aging. It is categorized A through E. USDA Prime must be A or B. Certified Angus limits itself to only A maturity, so in this case, it's a higher standard than USDA Prime.
    4. 10-16 Square Inches For The Rib Eye – They use the clear guide pictured below to measure this. This is important for portion sizing. Bigger than 16 inches will result in either a too thin steak for a typical 12 ounce portion or an expensive steak if cut to typical thicknesses.
    5. 1050 Hot Carcass Weight or Less – Hot carcass means fresh killed, not refrigerated and dressed yet.
    6. Less than 1” Fat Thickness – as measured ¾ way down the side of the 12th rib.
    7. Superior Muscling – this is a way to exclude dairy cows and such.
    8. Practically Free of Capillary Ruptures – Ever see a gross, dark, bloody spot on meat? That's a capillary rupture. It's mainly cosmetic but can cause a metallic taste.
    9. No Neck Hump Greater Than 2” - No lovely lady humps here. This rules out Brahman beef (boss indicus) that was brought in for cross breeding in the South because it's heat and parasite resistant but has tough meat.
    10. No Dark Cutters – Beef is usually bright red because it oxygenates or blooms when exposed to air because of the iron in the beef. If it fails to turn red, it is called a “dark cutter” and will likely have tenderness and palatability issues.
    That is why the CAB products always look better to me – they are held to these higher standards to ensure I get a great cut of beef. I have confidence that when I get a Certified Angus Beef product, I am getting quality beef.

    So here are some pics from our 2 days of training.  This was definitely a "hands on" experience and I loved every minute of it.
     
    Certified Angus Beef, grading beef, CAB beef
    Dr Phil Bass explaining how the physiological age of a steer is rated.

    Certified Angus Beef, beef grading, ribeye, steer
    The carcass cut between the 12th/13th rib for grading on the left.  On the right, you see the guide used to determine the area of the rib eye to make sure it is between 12 and 16 square inches.
    beef tattoo, beef grading
    "Beef tattoo"

    Chef Michael Ollier says that he butchers by feel as much by sight.

    Angry Texan Rub, Brisket, Certified Angus Beef
    Chef Ashley Pado seasoned a CAB brisket with their Angry Texan Rub (click for recipe).

    Weber, Southern Pride, CAB Brisket, how to smoke brisket
    Then we went outside and started talking smoke, barbecuing on both a commercial smoker and a Weber Smoky Mountain.

    Chef Ashley checking a tri tip for a reverse sear.

    Beef Bacon - cured from the short plate pastrami, aka center cut beef navel. It tasted like a very intense bacon and this would be fantastic on a burger.

    My butchering partner, Mike of Dad Cooks Dinner, shows off the pretty eye that we cut from a whole ribeye.

    Certified Angus Beef
    Erin of Dinners, Dishes, and Desserts cleaning up the cap or spinalis dorsi from the whole ribeye.

    beef, steak, manhattan steak, faux filet,
    Manhattan style steaks cut from the whole ribeye.

    Certified Angus Beef, butcher lessons, beef
    Mike Vrobel breaking down our ribeye.
    Scott Thomas of Grillin Fools contemplating what he wanted to do with his cap steak.  It's one of the best cuts from the steer and you only get 2 per carcass so you want to treat it as something special.

    CAB steak, spinalis dorsi, beef,
    My favorite cut of the butcher sessions.  It is the cap from the ribeye wrapped around the complexus muscle for a mini-ribeye roast that you can stuff with just about anything. 

    CAB steak, ribeye, butchering
    Kita Roberts of Girl Carnivore rolled her cap steak as a roast.  Same cut as the picture above but a different presentation.

    Testing the pH of beef.  The pH affects the color and should be between 5.2 and 5.6.  Greater than 5.8 will cause it to be dark and rejected from the Certified Angus Beef program.

    custom burger grind, burger, grinding meat,
    We had a custom burger grind competition where we picked from an array of cuts and ground our own burgers.  Clint and Kita won.  Mike and I used ribeye, short rib, and sirloin flap.

    This is the device that measures the amount of fat that is in a batch of ground beef.  It grills down a sample of the meat and measures the rendered fat.  Very cool device.

    How about the classroom kitchen, eh?  I could "make do" if I had this at home, how about you?

    One of the cuts we broke down was the top sirloin butt.  Before cleaning them up, right to left, here is the coulotte, top sirloin petite roast, roast that we will steak out, and the "mouse".

    For every individual cut that we did, staff grilled them off so we could taste the differences between the various cuts. Yes, we ate a LOT of beef in 48  hours.

    Clint Cantwell
    Clint "Don't Call Me Blackwell" Cantwell of Grillocracy talks ribeyes with Chef Ollier.

    Certified Angus Beef class
    Dr. Bass walking us through one of the cuts we were to break down.  Very educational sessions.  For me the hardest thing was breaking out the flat iron steak from the shoulder clod - I'll never complain about their price again, it's a pain to break down.

    Of course we did side by side comparisons for appearance, taste, and texture. 

    We had a food styling and photography session where they gave us the secrets to creating those flawless "on the grill" money shots.  Hint....it's not on a grill.  Very insightful session.


    The dry aging cabinet at Certified Angus Beef's headquarters. This wouldn't fit in my carry on luggage unfortunately.

    dry aged steak, dry aged strip loin
    A 45 day dry aged strip loin that we had for dinner.  Just gorgeous steaks, right?

    charcuterie, brisket point, strip steaks
    Did I mentioned that the kept feeding us and feeding us?  Top is the charcuterie buffet that was just an appetizer.  Bottom left strip steaks, bottom right "bar candy" made from deep fried smoked brisket point.

    Top left is a dry aged strip loin.  Top right, Chef Peter Rossenberg dishing out Bar Candy.  Bottom is the dry aged NY Strip that I had the last night we were there.

    I'll just skip the bull and steer puns here...just too easy. 
    This was a whirlwind trip and there is so much more to cover - I took 7 full pages of notes.  Thanks to the people at Certified Angus Beef for a fun and highly informative adventure! 

    [FTC Standard Disclaimer]  My trip was paid for by Certified Angus Beef and I received a steak/grill package from them; however, I have used CAB for years and the opinions given are my own.