Saturday, January 05, 2008

Just Ask, Part 2: The "Steakburger"

Today is a two-fer in the Just Ask Challenge! In response to my ealier post about Burger Friday, I received another Just Ask query from Ideas Man (who also wrote an entire post about this on his blog). Leave it to Ideas Man to skip the whole romantic story there and instead ask:

How does a steakhouse get rid of its leftover meat through Burger Friday?

Now, Ideas Man's real question is, how do you turn steaks into burgers? or what's the difference between ground beef and steak? Apparently, he had a bad experience with a steakburger at some Steak-n-Shake (pictured above) in Florida. Now, I can't speak to the tastiness of Steak-n-Shake's alleged "steakburgers," but I can explain the principle behind the steakburger, which I will commence to do now...

[Warning: the following explanation may offend the sensibilities of my vegetarian readers... or my carnivore readers who aren't particularly concerned to know where their meat comes from.]

When regular beef is processed, all the "good" parts of the cow are cut first (steaks, roasts, brisket, ribs, etc), then the bones are trimmed of all remaining scraps and that is sold as stew meat. What's left is shavings of meat, fat, and connective tissues which are blasted off with pressured water or air. It's these last scraps that are ground up and sold in the grocery store as ground beef. (Except for the meat that is sold as "ground chuck", which is the ground-up excess of the chuck steak-- the toughest cut of meat.)

Now, we usually make hamburgers from ground beef or ground chuck-- but, theoretically, hamburgers could be made from any part of the animal, since all of it can be ground up, pressed into patties and thrown on a grill. So, you could have a T-Bone burger or a Rib burger as long as your grillmaster has the time and desire to de-bone and grind your meat for you. The reason that steakburgers taste better than regular burgers is because they are made of better meat. There's less fat and other undersirable tissues and they should, theoretically at least, taste like a boneless version of whatever steak meat from which they were made.

Back to Steak-n-Shake. I checked on their website and it looks like you did, indeed, eat a bona fide "steakburger" when you were there. They claim to make their burgers out of steak meat, in the tradition of their founder, Gus, who back in 1934 was grinding up round steak, sirloin and T-bones right in front of his friends to make their burgers. Of course, since Steak-n-Shake is a chain restaurant, we can probably assume that there is a good amount of regular old ground beef mixed in with the "finest quality steak meat"... but that would just be speculation on my part and I wouldn't want to malign Gus' good name without proof.

For future reference, here's a handy guide to the meat parts of a cow:
There you have it. Order up!


Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

Wow! Thanks for the well researched and informative answer. And yes, I think you properly understood the real question.

Doctor J said...

You're welcome, Ideas Man. Though I should say, to be honest, that I was a bit perplexed at your question. I mean, did you really think that steaks could't be ground up to make burgers? What did you think burgers were?

Haven't you heard of "turkey burgers"? (Gross, gross, GROSS!)

Doctor J said...

The real challenge would be to take burgers and make them into steaks.

Incidentally, this seemingly impossible task is performed regularly in the South, where one will often find "hamburger steak" on the menu. What that means, effectively, is that you get a hamburger off-the-bun and covered in gravy... hence, making it a "steak" (I suppose).

There's also "chicken fried steak." That involves a deep-fried chicken patty, also with gravy.

There's no real "logic" to the food down here. If you deep-fry something and slather it with gravy, you can pretty much call it anything you want. People will eat it.

Doctor J said...

And by "people", I mean me. I'll eat it.

Booga Face said...

I think that book Fastfood Nation talks about how ground beef is made. I haven't read it though.

petya said...

If you haven't read FastFood Nation and like eating meat...don't read the book. It will make it very difficult for you to want to eat a burger.

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

Of course I knew vaguely that hamburger was ground up cow; but until your post I had no notion that how one ground said cow up mattered.

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

And I love chicken fried steak.