Frequently asked questions

Frequently Asked Questions: buying beef and lamb

The following are some of the most frequently asked questions we receive about buying beef and lamb.

If you’re not sure of the best cut for your needs ask for your butcher or meat retailers help. Most will be happy to discuss cuts and best methods. Learn more here on how to match beef and lamb cuts with the best cooking method.

Another easy way to ensure you select the right cut is to look for Meat Standards Australia (MSA) graded beef or lamb. MSA grades each cut of beef or lamb for a number of suitable cooking methods allowing consumers to easily identify the best cut for a particular cooking style. For more information visit the MSA page.

Q. What is mince made from?
A. Beef and lamb mince is generally made from a wide range of beef and lamb cuts and trimmings.
It is illegal in Australia for retailers or the like to put offal or other ingredients into mincemeat unless labeled in an ingredients listing on the pack or tray.

Q. Why is mince sometimes brownish in colour inside the pack? Is this old meat in the centre?
A. No, it’s not old meat in the centre of the package, it is normal to find that the inner portions are brownish due to lack of contact with air. Once exposed to oxygen, the red colour or ‘bloom’ returns to the meat. If all of the meat is greyish in colour it’s a sign the meat is past its best use-by time. Mince must always be handled with care; it’s best to use it as soon as possible after purchase. When shopping collect your mince (and other meats) last of all, and use an insulated shopping bag (particularly in hot weather) to keep meat cold. 

Q: Sometimes when I buy packaged lamb it is red on the top slices and the lamb chops but underneath the meat is partly brown. Is this normal?
A: It is normal to find a bright reddish colour on the outer portion of packaged meat, since this is the part of the meat that is in contact with the oxygen. Oxygen from the air reacts with meat pigments to form the reddish colour. The pigment responsible for the red colour in meat is oxymyoglobin. Once exposed to oxygen, the red colour or ‘bloom’ returns to the meat. If all of the meat is greyish in colour it’s a sign the meat is past its best use-by time.

Q: What should I look for when I’m buying packaged beef and lamb? 
A: Only buy beef and lamb from undamaged packaging. Ensure the meat is sealed properly and that meat juices cannot run out. Feel or touch the packaging to determine whether it is still well chilled. Always check ‘use by dates’. Meat may still look, smell and even taste acceptable after this date, but it is better to eat it within the suggested time. 

Q. Which cuts of red meat are the best value?
A. We have excellent quality beef and lamb in Australia, high quality beef and lamb will cost a little more than other beef and lamb, but the eating experience is well worth the investment. To get the best value, offset your purchase of more pricey cuts with secondary cuts and use slow simmer techniques like braising to achieve the best results. Best slow simmer beef cuts: chuck, topside, round, blade, diced skirt steak, boneless shin (gravy beef) shin bone in (osso bucco), rolled brisket, uncorned silverside, oxtail. Best slow simmer lamb cuts: frenched lamb shanks, diced lamb forequarter chops, neck chops, lamb topside, lamb shoulder, boned and rolled lamb shoulder. If you’re having a barbecue and you’ve got a crowd to feed the best barbecue steaks are rump, round, blade and oyster blade - they’ll taste great and are very good value for money. The steaks should not be too thin (no thinner than 2 to 3 cm) and not too thick (no thicker than 7 to 8cm) and of even thickness - not wedge shaped. Cut through any fat and membrane to the lean meat at about 3cm intervals. This stops the steak buckling as it cooks.

Q. I’ve seen beef and lamb with an ‘export quality’ label in my supermarket, is it better quality than other beef and lamb?
A: Some people believe that Australia’s best beef and lamb goes to export. That is not strictly true; there is plenty of high quality meat available in the domestic market. In fact, there are a number of misconceptions surrounding the term ‘export quality’. If meat is being sold as export quality, it simply means that it has passed through an export-accredited processing facility, and it is no reflection of the quality of the meat. 

Q: What’s better grain-fed or grass-fed beef? 
A: Grass-fed beef and grain-fed beef offer different attributes that are simply a matter of taste and personal preference. In Australia the majority of cattle are raised on natural pastures. Variations in seasonal geographic factors influence the style and quality of beef produced off grass. While grass-fed beef is thought to have a robust flavour, grain-feeding will increase marbling, giving a tender, mild result. 

Q. The veal steaks I have seen are quite red in colour, is this really veal?
A. Lightweight veal carcasses weighing less than 70kg are generally produced from dairy calves. The young calves are reared on a diet of fresh dairy milk and grain. Heavier veal carcasses weighing up to 150kg are generally produced from vealers or weaners that have had a diet of milk and fresh grass. Because of this natural grass feeding, these heavier veal will have a light pink to light red muscle colour. To source good veal it’s best to speak directly with your butcher. Ask if the veal is from a lightweight calf, that is milk and grainfed or if it's from a larger heavyweight vealer fed on milk and grass. Use ‘light veal’ for roasts, scaloppine/schnitzel, and quick sauté or grill style-cooking methods as it tends to more delicate and have a less robust flavour. Use ‘heavy veal’ for braises and stews as it has a more defined flavour and more connective tissue.

Q: What is an ‘aged’ beef?
A: Aging improves the tenderness and eating quality of meat. Dry-aged meat (the beef carcass is hung for a certain period) has distinct flavour characteristics (nutty, buttery flavours). The cooked texture of dry-aged beef retains a level of firmness while being very tender. Wet-ageing (vacuum packaged) meat produces a tender product, with mild or little flavour development. The cooked texture of vacuum packaged steak is a little softer due to higher moisture content.

Q: Are sausages made with processed meat?
A: Sausages in Australia are generally made from fresh beef and lamb. When people think of sausages they might be thinking of the processed sausages in Europe which include a range of fermented and preserved meats such as frankfurts, kranski or chorizo. 

Q: I’ve seen beef ribs used by chefs on the latest cooking shows, but I’ve not tried them. How do you cook them at home?
A: You might not have cooked them before, but beef ribs are well worth a try. You’ll find them very meaty, very tasty, and very easy to prepare. Preparing them for the barbecue is a two-part process, but the actual hands on preparation is very minimal. Beef ribs can take on lots of different flavour combinations from sweet and sticky chilli to spicy barbecue sauce.

Q: What the difference between lamb fillet and lamb backstrap, and why are they so pricey?
A: Lamb fillet and the lamb backstrap (or eye of loin) are the two sides of the loin chop. When preparing these cuts, the butcher removes each muscle from the whole loin, thus producing a boneless lamb cut about 20cm in length of which the eye of loin is wider in comparison to the fillet. Both cuts are very lean because they are completely removed of fat. These cuts are premium lamb cuts that are very sweet and tender, and are best barbecued, pan-fried or grilled.

Q: How do I calculate how much to buy to feed a specific number of people when I want to roast a large piece of beef for my Christmas parties?
A: For each serving allow about 200g uncooked boneless beef or 350g uncooked bone-in beef. These amounts take into account the fact you may need to trim a little fat from the beef and the fact that the beef will shrink in weight during the cooking time. Rest the beef for about 20 minutes before serving – the beef will lose less juice when you carve it and it will be juicier and tastier. 

Frequently Asked Questions: beef and lamb cooking techniques 

The following are some of the most frequently asked questions we received about preparing and cooking beef and lamb.

Q: What’s the best way to thaw frozen steaks?
A: Beef and lamb is best thawed in the fridge. Steaks will take about 12 hours or overnight, depending on your fridge settings. Thawing meat at room temperature encourages bacterial growth as the outside will defrost before the centre (this is particularly important in summer). It’s not a good idea to defrost meat in water (hot or cold) - this causes bacterial growth as well as flavour and colour loss. If time’s short, use the microwave on defrost setting. Cook the steaks immediately. Pat the steaks dry with kitchen paper and rub a little oil into each steak before cooking.

Q: Can lamb shanks be cooked in a slow cooker? 
A: Yes, they certainly can. A slow cooker is an ideal way to cook them…or you can simmer them in the oven. Taking the time to brown the lamb shanks before cooking (just as you do for casserole recipes) intensifies the flavour of your dish. 

Q: I have a 4 burner hooded gas barbecue, can I use it to cook a beef roast?
A:  Yes cooking a beef roast in a covered barbecue is an easy and fuss free, as well as a delicious way to cook a beef roast. Cooking a beef (or lamb) roast in a covered barbecue is just a little different to the way you would cook it in your oven. 

Q. If frozen meat has defrosted, can it be refrozen?
A.  It is not recommended, unless the meat is cooked first.
The reasons for this are:
• There can be microbial risk as a result of refreezing; this is avoided if the meat is cooked before refreezing.
• The quality of the meat is affected. Freezing creates ice crystals within the structure of the meat (as meat contains a high percentage of water). These tiny ice crystals rupture the fibre of the meat, which causes the meat to lose a little of this water when defrosted. If repeated freezing occurs, the meat will be very dry.
Learn more

Q: Are your recipe temperatures fan forced oven or convention oven temperatures?
A: The oven temperatures we use in our recipes are for convention ovens, unless stated otherwise. Different manufacturers and oven types vary; as such, it is no easy task to give specific temperatures for each style of oven. There are fan-forced, fan-assisted and convection ovens to choose from and most of these will cook as a conventional oven too. Despite the fact that recipes and charts may indicate certain temperatures, your own knowledge of how your oven works is vital. It is up to this understanding of your own oven, and how you choose to use it that will help to determine the most suitable temperature and cooking length times. Fan-forced, fan-assisted and convection ovens are all more efficient at pushing around the heat during cooking. This means that the food is cooked more quickly and evenly than in a regular (conventional) oven. While it is important to follow the instructions for your own oven an easy rule to follow when using a fan-forced oven is to slightly reduce the recommended temperature by 10C and select the shortest cooking time the recipe suggests. Preheat the oven (with the fan on) for foods with a short cooking time (any foods that cook for less than an hour). For roasts, preheating is not necessary. Roasting times will be about 20% less than a conventional oven, if temperatures are not reduced. Do note, too that some fan-forced and fan-assisted ovens have two fan speeds - high or low. High speed is used for the majority of cooking requirements. Low speed is used for cooking fruitcakes, casseroles and pavlovas.

Q: What temperature should beef topside be roasted at?
A: A beef topside roast should be cooked at 160ºC for 25-30 mins per 500g for a medium result. Our tip is to take the meat from the fridge about 15-20 minutes before cooking, this way your roast will cook more evenly. Different cuts require different cooking times per fixed weight. Find suggested times on the 'How to Roast page' listed below. For ease and accuracy use a meat thermometer.

Q: What’s the best way to barbecue beef and lamb that’s been marinated?
A: Take the meat from the marinade and lightly pat it with paper towel before barbecuing. This helps the meat brown well. Don’t pour marinade over the meat while it’s cooking, this makes the meat stew and causes flare-ups. To keep meat moist you can brush the meat with a little of the marinade as it cooks. Don’t brush it on the meat during the last minutes of cooking time. 

Q: Any tips for making gravy when I cook a roast dinner?
A: An essential part to any roast is delicious gravy. To make rich, tasty gravy using the pan juices from your roast follow these easy steps. 

Q: I never really have any success when I cook a stir-fry. The meat always turns out grey and tough, what am I doing wrong?
A: Maintaining the heat of the wok is vital to a tender result when cooking a stir-fry. Overcrowding the wok with too much meat at once will cause it to lose heat and your meat will start to stew and turn grey and tough. To avoid this, meat must be cooked in the small batches. Once you return the meat to the wok with the veggies and sauces take care that it does not boil in the liquid or it will toughen. Stir-fry only to combine and warm through.
Learn more: How to stir-fry

Q. Do I need to wash beef and lamb before I cook it?
A. There is no need to wash fresh beef or lamb. If meat has been frozen, it’s a good idea to pat the meat dry with absorbent paper before you cook it to remove any moisture. This avoids meat splattering as it cooks and helps it brown well.

Q: I love lamb loin chops, any tips for cooking them?
A: Lamb loin chops are prized for their eyepiece of sweet tender meat. The best ones are thick and juicy. Loin chops, just like their beef counterpart T-bone steak, come from the upper mid section of the carcase and so too are very tender and subsequently suitable for quick, dry heat cooking such as barbecuing and pan frying. Lamb loin chops consist of the loin and fillet, however unlike T-bone steak; they are generally sold with the ‘tail’ still intact. So, when preparing loin chops for cooking, curl and secure the ‘tail’ with toothpicks to keep them uniform in shape, or, alternatively cut off the tail as this can make presentation more appealing.

Q: I would like to know how to make a good beef stock. I’ve heard it’s a time consuming process. Are there any shortcuts?
A: It is true stock does take a little time to make, but time is its major ingredient. You can go about other things as your stock simmers away and the richness from the meat and bones slowly yield their flavours. Making your own stock isn’t difficult, a few easy steps to get it started and the jobs just about done. You will be surprised at how easy to make, and how deliciously good homemade stock can be. We think you’ll agree it’s worth the time.

Q: Do I really need a meat thermometer when I cook a roast?
A: There are many variables involved when roasting beef and lamb, and judging if it’s ready or not. Variables include size, shape and thickness of the cut. There are two simple ways to determine how long a roast should cook, and if it’s ready. You can estimate using weight and timing using the how to roast chart and test for doneness with tongs. Gently prod or squeeze the roast - rare is very soft, medium rare is soft, medium is springy but soft, medium well is firm and well done is very firm. Alternatively, you can use internal temperature as measure of doneness and for this you’ll need a meat thermometer. Inexpensive leave-in style thermometers cost around $10 from kitchenware shops. Place the thermometer in the roast before cooking. Insert it into the thickest part of the roast away from any bone. 

Q: Can you give some ideas for easy family meals this winter?
A: A beef or lamb casserole makes an ideal family meal, as they’re nourishing, warming and full of flavour. They’re a meal the whole family will enjoy. Casseroles are also quick and easy to prepare. Choose from slow-simmered casseroles to fast, flavoursome versions from the pressure cooker.

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