Overall beef tenderness has improved over the past 20 years but has remained stable for the past five, according to a national survey that evaluated beef palatability in several markets.

The 2010-2011 National Beef Tenderness Survey, the fourth in the series that started in 1990 and published in 2013 after two years of peer review, found that with few exceptions, most beef cuts evaluated were considered tender.

“In beef tenderness, scientifically, we have seen a significant improvement in tenderness over the past 20 years and slight to no improvement over the past five years,” said Meagan Igo of the American Meat Science Association.

“That said, most of today’s beef has been shown to be classified as tender or very tender.”

The survey, led by researchers from Texas A&M University, involved a number of collaborating universities and included product collection, shipping, cooking, data and analysis.


The survey included a consumer sensory evaluation portion that assessed the palatability of various steaks from retailers and food service groups in 12 locations around the country from March 2010 to February 2011.

Eight to 12 supermarkets per metropolitan area and one food service facility in five of the 12 cities were sampled.

Representatives of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s retail marketing team assisted in identifying and obtaining permission from the participating retail chains.

Information provided by the survey “has been very important in setting priorities for the additional research that needs to be conducted in product enhancement, to look at where there are gaps in information or lack of information in certain areas,” lead researcher Dr. Jeff Savell explained in the executive summary.

This allows for meat to be marketed more effectively and the consumer to have more information before taking a beef product home, Igo said.

If a consumer has a positive eating experience, they are more likely to buy another meat product as opposed to an alternative source of protein.

“Tenderness is very important to the consumer, and because of that it’s important to the industry,” said Dr. J. Chance Brooks, a professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences at Texas Tech University, one of eight universities that conducted the survey.

“We can’t manage things we don’t measure, and this allows us to benchmark the progress that has been made at the retail and food service levels.

It allows us to see if any progress has been made, or if we’re maintaining, when it comes to managing beef tenderness. We’ve put a lot of research dollars into management. The palatability trait is the most important.”

Some things the survey revealed:

  • Retail beef was aged an average of 20.5 days compared to 22.6 days in 2005-2006. The aging period for retail cuts ranged from one to 358 days as opposed to three to 83 days in the last survey.
  • For food service cuts, the average aging time remained relatively constant at 28.1 days compared to 30.1 days in 2005-2006.
  • Bottom round and top round had the highest WBS (Warner-Bratzler shear force) values compared to all other cuts. Top blade steaks, in both the enhanced and non-enhanced groups, had the lowest WBS values.
  • All food service cuts had low WBS values, with the lowest being steaks from the top loin and ribeye.
  • The total percentage of top round and bottom round steaks with a WBS value in the “tough” category was lower than in the 2005-2006 survey. Consistent cooking methods used during the last survey and this one allowed for tenderness comparison between cuts in each survey.
  • Food service top loin steaks had the highest percentage of steaks in the “very tender” category.
  • Comparing retail cuts, consumer sensory panelists rated the top blade steak, the boneless ribeye steak, the boneless top loin steak and the bone-in top loin steak the highest for overall like. Consumers rated the top blade steak and the boneless ribeye steak the highest for tenderness.
  • In retail, top sirloin steak, top round and bottom round steaks were rated lowest by consumers for overall like, tenderness like and tenderness level.
  • Among food service cuts, top loin steak took all honors, rating highest across all attributes including overall like, tenderness, flavor and juiciness.
  • USDA choice and ungraded ribeye steaks received the lowest ratings for overall like than did all other grades, while USDA prime ribeye steak received the highest ratings.

Several industry trends were considered responsible for improved tenderness, according to an executive summary of the survey, including increased aging times.

“We see evidence that the industry is aging meat products and it is paying off, reflected by consumer input,” Brooks said. “That’s definitely favorable.”

Other things that contributed to tenderness were longer and slower chill rates, processors paying more attention to tenderness parameters and an increased number of retailers participating in branded programs focused on tenderness.

“Breed type, diet and age of the animal are just some of the factors that can influence beef tenderness from the live animal aspect,” Igo said.

“Postmortem, length of aging, ionic strength and intramuscular fat (marbling) are a few factors that will influence tenderness.

The tenderization process is very complex and encompasses many different possibilities that may affect the tenderness of meat, but many factors are still unknown and currently being researched.”

The national survey, funded through the Beef Checkoff program, is published about every five years.  end mark

Length of aging, ionic strength and intramuscular fat (marbling) are some factors influencing tenderness in beef. Photo by Paul Marchant.