Dear Lifehacker, McDonald's and Hungry Jack's both claim that their premium burgers are made from Angus beef. From my understanding, this is just a breed of cow rather than a special cut of meat. Do different types of cow really have unique tastes or is this just a marketing gimmick used to bump up the price of burgers? Thanks, Crazy Cow
Burger picture from Shutterstock
Interesting question! Angus cattle (AKA Aberdeen Angus) is a breed of cow popular with beef manufacturers in the western world. The name derives from the cattle's place of origin; Aberdeenshire county and Angus county in Scotland.
Since the 1970s, Angus beef has enjoyed a reputation for superior meat quality with consumers. This is in large part thanks to the marketing efforts of the American Angus Association, which created the so-called "Certified Angus Beef" (CAB) standard.
CAB-graded beef must match specific quality standards covering everything from marbling texture to fat thickness. Here's the full list of criteria:
- Modest or higher degree of marbling
- Medium or fine marbling texture
- "A" maturity
- 10 to 16 square-inch ribeye area
- Less than 1,000-pound hot carcass weight
- Less than 1-inch fat thickness
- Moderately thick or thicker muscling
- No hump on the neck exceeding 5 cm (2")
- Practically free of capillary rupture
- No dark cutting characteristics
- Usually black or red in color
However, to be Angus-certified, the beef only needs to exhibit "Angus influence". As long as it meets the above criteria and is at least three-quarter Angus, crossbred cattle is allowed to fall under the CAB standard.
When it comes to the burger patties sold in fast food restaurants, the importance of cattle type becomes less crucial. There's no guarantee that you're getting the best portions of the cow -- the mincemeat could come from pretty much anywhere. Plus, factors such as the age of the cattle and what it was fed can influence the taste. It's a safe bet that an $8 Macca's burger probably isn't using the choicest cuts from top-of-the-range stock.
With that said, both McDonald's and Hungry Jack's aren't just selling snake oil: the beef patties used in their Angus range are considerably thicker and juicier than the regular menu. So yes, they do taste better, but the breed of cattle is largely irrelevant.
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