Friday, October 27, 2023

Steak Tasting [2]

Rib Eye Steak Tasting
Fri 10/27/2023, 03:05p-10:00p

Longtime readers may recall that, around a decade ago, some friends and I held a tasting of strip steaks. Following, we'd talked about having a rematch featuring ribeyes instead, but somehow, it took over 10 years for us to finally make it happen. As before, we bought a selection of steaks from a variety of vendors, which are summarized in the table below, sorted by price:

Steak Name Price/lb Price Weight Thickness Aging Grade Notes
Flannery Beef USDA Prime Dry Aged California Reserve Ribeye Steak $63.20 $79.00 20 oz 2 3/8" 30-day dry aged Prime Price does not include $10 shipping
Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors USDA Prime Black Angus Beef Boneless Rib Steak, Center Cut, 30 Days Dry-Aged $48.04 $60.05 20 oz 1 7/8" 30-day dry-aged Prime Price does not include $19.99 shipping
Beef Palace Butcher Shop Prime Rib Eye $32.55 $24.41 12 oz 1 1/2" 14-day(?) dry-aged Prime  
Whole Foods Boneless Beef Ribeye Steak USDA Choice $21.99 $27.05 19.68 oz 1 3/4" Unknown Choice
Ralphs USDA Prime Boneless Ribeye Steak $19.99 $30.18 24.16 oz 1 7/8" Unknown Prime $26.99/lb without Ralphs Rewards discount
Costco Kirkland Signature Beef Ribeye Steak Boneless USDA Prime $17.49 $24.60 22.5 oz 1 5/8" Unknown Prime Blade tenderized; part of a three-pack

Steak Tasting Encryption Key
Steak-Letter Assignment Matching Letters to Steaks Assigning Letters to Steaks
Like last time, we tried to taste the steaks in as impartial a manner as possible, and thus employed the same "encryption" scheme we'd previously utilized. My job was to remove the meats from their packaging, place them on plates, and assign a letter to each one. I then left the area, and the person in charge of cooking the beef came in and, not knowing my letter assignments, secretly designated a number to each letter. Therefore, no one person knew both parts of the "key" necessary to correlate the name of the steak with its number. The two "keys" were only revealed after we'd tasted each steak.

Seasoning Steak
During our last tasting, we'd seasoned the meats with both salt and pepper, but this time around, we went with salt only in order to allow for a "purer" expression of the beef.

Vacuum Sealing Steak
The steaks were first cooked sous vide, and their plastic pouches were prepared using a Nesco VS-12 Deluxe Vacuum Sealer. Note that small cuts were made into each plastic bag in order to denote the number assignment above.

Steaks in Immersion Circulator
A PolyScience immersion circulator was employed, set at a temperature of 129°F. Cooking commenced at around 4:20pm, and the photo above depicts the steaks shortly afterward.

Willett Wheated 8 Year Bourbon 2019 Samuel Adams Utopias
Given that we had quite a while to wait until all the meat was cooked, we enjoyed some booze in the meantime, and up first was the Willett Wheated 8 Year Bourbon. The nose on this one was surprisingly muted, but I did get a top layer of herbs, set over notes of caramel and sweet fruits. On the palate, I found sweet, sharp spices commixed with pome fruits, with a distinctly "candied" character overall. I then sampled the 2019 Samuel Adams Utopias, a now-iconic beer brewed with Vermont maple syrup and aged in a combo of Buffalo Trace bourbon, aquavit, ruby port, Carcavelos, cognac, and Madeira barrels. The ale smelled strongly of dark, raisin'd fruit, cacao, and spicy barrel. Taking I sip, I got more of that dark-toned fruit, joined by chocolate, maple, bittersweetness, spice, and lingering heat.

Steaks in Sous-Vide Machine
Here we see the water bath about 45 minutes in.

Douglas Laing Timorous Beastie 24 Year Old Highland Blended Malt Scotch Whisky Sherried Edition Calumet Farm 16 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Next to imbibe was the Douglas Laing Timorous Beastie 24 Year Old Highland Blended Malt Scotch Whisky Sherried Edition. Aromas here highlighted "seedy" strawberries, candied fruit, and sweet spices, while taste-wise, I detected more of those strawberries and baking spices, countered by a marked nuttiness and nuances of caramel. This was followed by the Calumet Farm 16 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, which was probably my favorite of the bunch. The bouquet on this one was decidedly herbaceous, almost grassy at first blush, but with a sugary backing of caramel-coated fruit. Meanwhile, flavors demonstrated both rye and sweet spiciness, supported by a "baked goods" sort of character, with accents of oak and herb.

Sous-Vided Steaks
Given that we were looking for a medium-rare temperature, we targeted a cooking time of two hours. Here we see the steaks near the end of that duration.

Fortaleza Blanco + Casa Dragones Blanco + G4 Blanco
Once we were through with the whiskies, we enjoyed a tasting of silver tequilas. Up first was the Fortaleza Blanco, with its soft-yet-heady nose of classic agave, joined by vegetal and citric notes. On the palate, I found this plata cool and supple, with an almost rye-like spice working hand in hand with your expected agave flavors. Next came the Casa Dragones Blanco, which was altogether quite a different beast. The bouquet here was much sweeter, with a peach-like character and less overt agave, and in terms of taste, I got more long-lingering stone fruit on the mid-palate, commingled with soft, warming spices. Finally, we tried the G4 Blanco, which was perhaps the most interesting of the three. Its aromas recalled cacao and peppered meats, and taking a sip, I found the tequila sharp, bracing, and boozy, but with a cool, almost minty quality undergirded by citrus and minerals.

Cooling Down Steaks
After being removed from their water bath, the steaks were chilled before being finished on a cast iron skillet, sliced, and served serially in random order. Shown below are my thoughts on each of the entrants.

Pat LaFrieda Steak (Raw)
Pat LaFrieda Steak (Sous-Vide'd) Pat LaFrieda Steak (In the Pan)
Pat LaFrieda Steak (Cooked) Pat LaFrieda Steak (Sliced)
#6 – Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors USDA Prime Black Angus Beef Boneless Rib Steak, Center Cut, 30 Days Dry-Aged
We kicked things off with an offering from legendary New Jersey-based meat purveyor Pat LaFrieda, which actually didn't make as strong of a showing as I'd expected. Overall, I found the steak's taste a bit muted for some reason, and I didn't get those deep, beefy, dry-aged flavors I was looking for. Texturally, the center of the cut was denser than expected, while the cap was more tender, and more enjoyable overall.

1982 Château Palmer
The steaks certainly called for some red wine, so we opened up a 1982 Château Palmer. Initial whiffs from the bottle showed off dark fruits, roasted meats, and mint. In the glass, the nose demonstrated more of that mature, dark-toned fruit combined with a distinct zinginess, a touch of floral, and a smidge of funk. On the palate, think savory and herbaceous, with a surprisingly sweet backbone. As the night progressed, the Bordeaux began displaying dusty leather, earth, and herb on the nose, while its flavors got softer, and highlighted menthol, leather, and dusty, acidic berries. Overall, a well-aged claret that stood up admirably to all the beef we were having.

Costco Steak (Raw)
Costco Steak (In the Pan)
Costco Steak (Cooked) Costco Steak (Sliced)
#2 – Costco Kirkland Signature Beef Ribeye Steak Boneless USDA Prime
The Costco steaks came in a three-pack, and the most marbled of the trio was selected for this comparison. I started with the eye, and found it tender, juicy, and almost brisket-like. The cap was tougher, but with a richer, fattier flavor profile that went in a nearly "briny" direction.

Mashed Potatoes
Garlicky mashed potatoes were made with an immersion blender, giving the dish a sticky, gummy sort of consistency.

Whole Foods Steak (Raw)
Whole Foods Steak (Sous-Vide'd) Whole Foods Steak (In the Pan)
Whole Foods Steak (Cooked) Whole Foods Steak (Sliced)
#4 – Whole Foods Boneless Beef Ribeye Steak USDA Choice
Whole Foods was actually the winner last time around, but its performance tonight wasn't quite as strong. The outside of the ribeye had this almost "flaky" consistency, while its taste was surprisingly nutty, with a salty kick. Meanwhile, the inner portion was noticeably firmer, with a more assertive flavor profile.

1982 Opus One
Our second red wine was the 1982 Opus One, a quintessential Napa Valley Bordeaux blend that we thought would make for a good comparison with the Palmer above. From the bottle, I got aromas of soft, sweet strawberries, with a subdued herbaceousness. In the glass, the bouquet showcased cool berries, cedar, and tobacco, while the palate brought supple tannins, more herbs, and mature fruits. With more time, I found more fruit on the nose, along with leather and a nearly candied underpinning. The wine also became smoother and surprisingly easy-drinking, with a subtle spiciness along with elements of earth and berry. This one had aged quite well, and we generally preferred it to the Palmer.

Ralphs Steak (Raw)
Ralphs Steak (Sous-Vide'd) Ralphs Steak (In the Pan)
Ralphs Steak (Cooked) Ralphs Steak (Sliced)
#3 – Ralphs USDA Prime Boneless Ribeye Steak
The Ralphs steak was a bit unique in that its cap was tougher and chewier than its eye. Taste-wise, it wasn't bad, and was perhaps the butteriest of the bunch.

A side of asparagus really took well to a dusting of paprika.

Beef Palace Steak (Raw)
Beef Palace Steak (Sous-Vide'd) Beef Palace Steak (In the Pan)
Beef Palace Steak (Cooked) Beef Palace Steak (Sliced)
#5 – Beef Palace Butcher Shop Prime Rib Eye
This ribeye ended up as my favorite of the six, a conclusion that I came to on just my first bite. I easily found it the most flavorsome, with the steak's dry-aging really coming through in a nutty, just-earthy-enough manner, while texturally, the cut was on point as well.

Flannery Steak (Raw)
Flannery Steak (Sous-Vide'd) Flannery Steak (In the Pan)
Flannery Steak (Cooked) Flannery Steak (Sliced)
#1 – Flannery Beef USDA Prime Dry Aged California Reserve Ribeye Steak
Our final steak was the priciest of them all, and showed off by far the most dry-aged character. In fact, the rib eye was almost gamy, with a blue cheese-esque funk that we all noticed. No complaints about the texture here, either, with the cap especially possessing a lovely "flake."

Friendly Doughnuts
Dessert duties were handled by a dozen donuts sourced from Friendly Doughnuts out in Orange.

With my personal thoughts out of the way, I'll now present the aggregate ratings for all tasters. Shown in the table below are the average (mean) ratings for the six steaks, as well as their resultant rankings.

Steak Name Taste (15 pts) Texture (10 pts) Total (25 pts) Overall Rank Taste Rank Texture Rank
Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors USDA Prime Black Angus Beef Boneless Rib Steak, Center Cut, 30 Days Dry-Aged 10.3 7.0 17.3 4 4 T3
Costco Kirkland Signature Beef Ribeye Steak Boneless USDA Prime 10.8 6.8 17.5 3 2 5
Whole Foods Boneless Beef Ribeye Steak USDA Choice 10.0 7.0 17.0 5 5 T3
Ralphs USDA Prime Boneless Ribeye Steak 8.8 5.8 14.5 6 6 6
Beef Palace Butcher Shop Prime Rib Eye 12.5 8.5 21.0 1 1 1
Flannery Beef USDA Prime Dry Aged California Reserve Ribeye Steak 10.5 7.5 18.0 2 3 2

The winner was the steak that we purchased from Beef Palace, a longstanding (since 1970), old school butcher shop in Huntington Beach. Their rib eye was actually voted #1 by all but one taster, who ranked it #2 behind the Flannery, so it was a clear favorite, and I'm glad to see a local small business perform so well here. Overall though, we were pretty happy with all of the contestants. There were no "bad" steaks in the bunch, and I wouldn't mind eating any of them again (in fact, I took leftovers home to enjoy the next day). Our cooking was a bit more consistent this time, which probably helped with that, and I think aiming for a higher temperature was the right way to go as well. I wonder if there'll ever be a part 3 to this...


Blogger Wandering Surf said...

What a fascinating tasting. Where do I begin?
I am a Willett fan (e.g. Noah's Mill, Pure Kentucky XO), particularly their Family Estate Rye. I haven't had the wheated example that you have there. Jealous! I live near Vancouver, Canada and have to get anything from them on business trips as they aren't sold here (Canada doesn't allow shipping of alcohol across the border).
Utopias - I was lucky enough to try the 2012 and 2013 thanks to a group of friends entering our names in a draw to buy one, and two of us were drawn and we got both. They were certainly different than anything we had ever tried before. Preferred the 2013, it wasn't as sweet as the 2012. The 2019 sounds very good!
That Calumet 16 is a great bourbon. Had it at a tasting and went back for more.
Tequila - I rank the Fortaleza and G4 blancos very highly. However, the Casa Dragones veers too sweet for my taste. I see you noted that it was sweet as well. I wouldn't be surprised if there are additives in it.
Aren't those pureed potatoes at that point? Not really mashed. Did you like them? You only mentioned sticky and gummy.
I have not tried paprika on asparagus before, but those look really appetizing, I'll try that for sure. Maybe smoked paprika, actually.
Steaks - Were they chilled after the sous vide so they didn't keep cooking while waiting their turn to fry? They all look delicious. I thought the Ralph's one appeared to be quite tasty, and you noted it was perhaps the most buttery. Surprising that it scored lower overall.
Thanks for the post, as always!

Tuesday, January 02, 2024 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger H.Peter said...

As long as we don't have to wait ten years......

A hard to get cut of meat here in Austria, the closest would be Beiried of which I have a nice chunky one in my freezer. Maybe I have to tell my supplier to get me a thick cut Rib Eye next time.

Tuesday, January 02, 2024 9:32:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Wandering Surf: Willett – So interestingly, from what I understand, the Willet I had here was quite hyped when it was released, but has largely failed to live up to said hype. This is why prices have remain stable despite it being a limited release whiskey.

Utopias: I wonder how much variation there is year to year. I've only had the 2017 and 2019 vintages myself, and I recall them being fairly similar.

Casa Dragones: Now I'm curious, what kind of additives would even be allowed in tequila?

Potatoes: I don't recall the taste all that much, but the texture did throw me off, since it wasn't what I was expecting.

Asparagus: Smoked paprika might be a bit much though, given that the asparagus already had a bit of a smoky quality from the grilling.

Steak: Yeah, so the thought was that chilling the steaks would allow them to be seared in cast iron without overcooking.

H.Peter: I'm curious, why would rib eye be more difficult to obtain in Austria versus Beiried (short loin)?

Friday, January 05, 2024 12:58:00 PM  
Blogger H.Peter said...

Rib eye is not a common cut in Europe. I've seen it around, but at specialty shops.
Same goes for (long) beef ribs. Hard to find as well

Friday, January 05, 2024 9:39:00 PM  
Blogger The Prophet said...

Longtime lurker but first time poster...

I'm glad to see Costco coming through with great value since that's where I buy most of my steaks. I wonder if their "blade tenderizing" impacted the texture.

Making mashed potatoes in a blender is a major party foul! Using a ricer and then hand mixing is the tried and true method for great mashed potatoes.

Monday, January 08, 2024 2:52:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

H.Peter: That makes me wonder, if not consumed much locally, are rib eye and long beef rib cuts mostly exported?

The Prophet: Now I'm curious, why did it take you this long to finally comment?

I actually felt that the blade tenderizing had more of an impact during our NY strip tasting, since that cut isn't generally as tender as rib eye.

And yep, that ricer method is more of what I'm accustomed to, so a lesson learned for next time!

Tuesday, January 09, 2024 9:35:00 AM  

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