Food Science

I was at a farmers market a few weekends ago, and there were a lot of meat venders there.  One person was selling ground buffalo, another selling ground elk, and a third selling ground grass fed beef.  Exotic meats fascinate me, so I bought all three.  I ended up with three pounds of meat.  One thing I love more than exotic meats is science.  So, I decided to set up a taste test so I could figure out what the best meat was.

Eighteen people, six pounds and three hours later, I ended up with some results!

Step 1: I needed to get enough meat.  I didn’t know how many people were going to show up but in general I often end up with ten to twenty people.  My first question was how much meat I needed per person.  I did some tests, and I determined that 1.5oz was the optimal slider size.  If I was going to plan for twenty people, that means I needed thirty ounces of meat per round, or a little less than two pounds. At the farmer’s market I only bought one pound of meat per type. Next weekend I went back to the farmer’s market.  I bought another pound of buffalo and grass fed beef, but the elk seller wasn’t there. I only had two different meats.  I knew I wanted to have regular beef as a control, but I wanted at least one more type of meat. Like always, Adventures in Food Trading came to the rescue.  I bought five pounds of kangaroo and boar.  (They don’t sell in smaller packages) So, now I have five different meats, and I was ready to go.

Step 2: I needed to figure out how to cook it.  I like my burgers medium rare.  I also love sous vide.  A medium rare burger is 130 degrees, so that was my goal.  Sous vide has a lot of great qualities but in this case it gave me two things: I could feel safe that it would destroy most of the bacteria, even at 130 degrees; and it could allow me to cook all of the meat identically. Unfortunately, if I wanted to cook five different types of 1.5oz burgers for twenty people, I’d need to cook 150 ounces of burger, or almost 10 pounds. Ten pounds of burger is ten quarts.  My crockpot was only six quarts.  Out of desperation, I bought a seven quart crockpot, but still far too small to make 1.5oz for each person.  I decided to make one ounce burgers.  To maximize the space usage, I decided to create twenty ounce slabs of meat, and then to cut them up after the sous vide.

Step 3: Now, it’s time to Anonomize!  I wanted to be part of the test. The night before the test, I used random.org to randomize each burger.  In a sealed envelope, I create a lookup table.  Then, I asked a friend to create a second mapping, and to seal that mapping in a separate envelope.  That way, neither he nor I knew which burger was which until the great reveal.

Step 4: The test!  Seventeen people arrived.  I removed each anonymous meat packet from the crock pot.  Threw the big slabs of meat on an extremely hot pan to brown the outside.  Finally, I chopped it up into little one ounce cubes for everyone to taste.  Some people ate it straight, some with salt, some with bread, but everyone took the testing very seriously.  After tasting each burger, people were instructed to either fill out a paper or electronic form.  Each burger was rated on taste, color, texture and overall flavor.  At the end of the night, people had to order the burgers on quality.

The results: The two favorite burgers were boar and grass fed beef.  The average rating gave grass fed a slight advantage, but more people rated the boar as their favorite.  Choice comments for grass fed were “strong boned flavor” and “good finish.”  The one negative comment was that the burger was “grainy,” which makes sense since it was a 90% lean burger.  For boar, comments focused on how fatty the meat was (either positive like “creamy” or “soft”, along with negative with “a little fatty” and “greasy”)On the other side of the coin, the big loser was kangaroo.  The overall opinion was that it tasted like fish or cheese.  People said things like “fishy,” “cat food,” “weird taste,” and “not pleasant.” Additionally, a number of people noted that it was far too dry, which also makes sense since kangaroo is supposed to be around 98% lean.The second least favorite was the bufalo.  In general, the complaint was that it was too gamey.  Finally, right in the middle was regular, good old fashioned beef from Price Chopper.  Most of the comments were fairly positive, with people most pleased with the texture of the meat.
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Now, for the over all ratings I forced people to order their burgers.  If we look at the average rating each burger got, we end up with similar, but slightly different results.  Grass fed still inches out a victory against boar, and kangaroo comes in dead last — But the difference between buffalo and beef is much closer, with buffalo having a fairly high standard deviation of 1.15… that too makes sense, since it seems like the gameyness lead to a somewhat love-hate relationship.
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But, what about the other metrics?  In general, no one had a strong opinion about texture, except the kangaroo was slightly lower rated than everything else and the board was slightly higher rated, although not particularly significant.
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The regular beef was rated as the best color, and the vivid redness of the kangaroo freaked some people out.
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Taste mostly agreed with overall, except here boar and grass fed beef were nearly identical, and the buffalo was rated quite poorly.
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But the fun part of science is looking at crazy metrics!  One thing I found was that I am the harshest burger rater, where I gave a total of 10.40 as my average score for a burger while Chelsey and Kate were the most positive with an average score of 15.80.
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One interesting thing about this tasting was I ended up with eight men and eight women. I guess that’s not too suprising, but it lead me to start to think about the opinions of men verse women. There weren’t a lot of differences, but there was some subtle differences. For example, ladies liked grass fed better than average and dudes like plain old regular ground beef better than average.
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Take aways: In general, everything went really well. Boar meat is delicious! My only major complaint was that all of the burgers were over cooked. Because I overfilled the crockpot, my temperature sensor got confused and the temperature raised all the way up to 135 degrees or higher.

Now, I just need to figure out what to do with the extra meat I have, and to start planning meat science part two… any advice?

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