methods & madness… class 13: meat pt. 1
in the moo’d for beef?

Tri-Tip Tacos with Guacamole and Salsa
Recipes & Ramblings from Chef School

With Super Bowl around the corner, this week’s recipe of Santa Maria Tri-Tip Tacos with Guacamole and Salsa is a perfect game day winner. It was all about beef this week with a side note on lamb, pork and veal. Beef is the culinary name for meat from bovines, including cows, bulls, heifers or steers. It is the third most widely consumed meat in the world, after pork and poultry at 38% and 30% respectively.   

Grass Roots

All beef is grass fed for the first six months to a year of their lives. However, most finish at a feedlot on a mix of corn, soy, grains, supplements, hormones and antibiotics.

A U.S. feedlot cow can grow faster than a cow fed only forage, grass, and hay. This process also enhances fat marbling, which creates a juicier and richer taste. The grass-fed cow, which is not “finished” on a diet of grains is said to have less overall fat, and more omega-3s and other “good” fats. (source CNN)

Making the Grade

Beef quality refers to the tenderness, juiciness and flavor of the cooked product. Grading by the USDA is optional and paid for by packager of the final beef product. There are eight USDA Quality Grades for beef, but as a consumer, you will only see three listed on meats bought at the supermarket. These labels will help you select the best meat.

USDA_primePRIME This grade contains the most marbling. It is produced in limited quantities and usually sold to finer restaurants and some meat markets.

USDA_choiceCHOICE This grade is often found in grocery stores. It has enough marbling for taste and tenderness, but usually costs less than prime.

USDA_selectSELECT This grade has the least amount of marbling, making it leaner – but it may not be as tender, juicy or flavorful as the other two grades.

Coming of Age

All fresh beef is aged for at least a few days to allow enzymes naturally present in the meat to break down the muscle tissue, resulting in improved texture and flavor.

These days, most beef is aged in plastic shrink-wrap—a process known as wet-aging. This can be accomplished during distribution of the meat. Dry-aged beef, on the other hand, is exposed to air in humidity-controlled coolers for 15 to 28 days so dehydration can further concentrate the meat’s flavor.

Making the Cut

In the U.S. beef is first divided into 8 primal cuts. These are basic sections from which all other cuts are made. The most tender cuts come from behind the shoulder where there isn’t much muscle. These are best for dry-heat cooking methods. The legs and neck area have more muscle, making the meat tougher, and best used for moist-heat cooking.


Chuck: Used to make pot roast, short ribs and is frequently ground up for burgers. Cuts from this area benefit from slow, moist-heat cooking methods like stewing or braising.

Rib: Known as standing rib roast, this cut produces prime rib and rib eye steaks. It’s also the source of the Delmonico and Spencer steak, as well as the classic French entrecôte.  Tender and richly flavorful rib meats can be cooked any number of ways.

Loin: Beef short loin is where we get the most delicate cuts, including T-bone and Porterhouse steaks, as well as the strip loin, club steak or strip steak. The most prized and flavorful steak, from the lower back, the sirloin contains all tenderloin cuts and the filet mignon. Chateaubriand is made from the center cut of the tenderloin. These tender cuts respond well to sautéing, pan-frying, broiling, or grilling. 

Brisket: Meat from the lower chest, which is traditionally used for corned beef and pastrami. Brisket is best prepared with moist heat methods such as stewing, braising and pot-roasting.

Plate: A tough cut below the ribs, produces skirt steak and hanger steaks. They are best marinated before roasting or grilling.

Flank: Lean and flavorful; primarily used for fajitas and should be sliced thin against the grain.

Round: A tough, lean cut from the back of the steer, which is often braised or included in chicken fried steak. It is well suited to long, moist-heat cooking methods.

Shank: It is the toughest cut and used primarily for stews and soups. It is the most flavorful meat with plenty of connective tissue for a rich stock.

Cooking Beef

A safe temperature needs to be reached to destroy harmful bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli. Using a meat thermometer can help remove the guesswork.

These temperatures are approximations:
beef cooking tempsTIP:  Before cooking, make sure your meat is at room temperature. Cold meat will contract when it hits the heat, causing it to toughen and cook unevenly.The interior meat will still increase in temperature 5–10 degrees after it is removed from an oven or other heat source. The meat should be allowed to “rest” before being served, which allows for the juices in the center to return to the edges.


Another way to judge the degree of doneness of your meat it to use the finger touch test, click here to learn how.

Class Assignment

At the beginning of class each week, we are given the recipes for the evening. First on the list was Wiener Schnitzel. Now having spent some time in Germany, I have to say it is my least favorite food and I prayed this assignment would pass over me. The good Lord heard me, and I was assigned Tri-Tip Tacos. I forgot to extend my prayer to Rona, as she was appointed to make the Wiener Schnitzel and Spatzle, a dish that turned out really well, to both our surprise.
Rona making weiner schnitzel Click here for the recipe and her side of the story.

Santa Maria Tri-Tip Tacos with Guacamole and Salsa

From New School of Cooking
Serves 6-8


  • 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 lbs. Santa Maria Tri-trip
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seed, toasted and ground
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder (Gebhardts)
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon. cayenne pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot, minced


  1. Combine ingredients, rub over meat, and allow to rest at least 30 minutes at room temperature or as long as 24 hours in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic.
  2. Roast at 450 degrees or grill on a medium-hot grill until the internal temperature is about 135 degrees. Allow to rest. Slice against the grain, then chop into 1/2 inch chunks.


  • 2 large ripe avocados, mashed
  • 1/4 cup white onion, finely diced
  • 2 serrano chile, finely diced
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro leaves, chopped
  • lime juice to taste
  • salt

Combine ingredients, adjust seasoning.


  • 2 large tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 small white onion, finely diced
  • cilantro leaves, roughly chopped, to taste
  • lime to taste
  • salt to taste
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and season. Allow 30 minutes before serving.
Serve tri-tip with guacamole, salsa, rice, pinto beans and and corn tortillas.

Fun Fact:

tri tip on the grillThe tri-tip cut comes from the bottom sirloin area, and is shaped like a triangle (hence the name). Someone in Santa Maria, CA, decided to apply a rub, then put the tri-tip on a rotisserie and cooked until it was medium rare. This was so well received that Santa Maria steaks are still sold to this day, and the majority of tri-tip cuts are shipped to California.

Quote of the Day

“To laugh is human but to moo is bovine.”  – Author Unknown
…and then she paused for thought

Hope you have enjoyed our adventure in the culinary classroom. Join us each week as we continue learning new culinary skills.

You can also read about Rona’s experience on her blog or What’s Cookin online magazine.



About Cathy Arkle

Cathy Arkle is a food blogger, culinary explorer, graphic artist, and cooking class junkie. Her inspirations come from her travels across the globe (50 countries) in the last 20+ years partaking in various ethnic cuisines while working as a graphic artist for major networks (NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX & ESPN). She has collected a few Emmys in the field of graphic design for sports & entertainment. Cathy is also a graduate of the Pro Chef courses at The New School of Cooking in Culver City, CA

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2 Responses to methods & madness… class 13: meat pt. 1
in the moo’d for beef?

  1. Nan January 26, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    Another great job! Thanks! I learned something! “Before cook­ing, make sure your meat is at room tem­per­a­ture. Cold meat will con­tract when it hits the heat, caus­ing it to toughen and cook unevenly.”

    • cathyarkle January 27, 2012 at 7:38 pm #

      Thanks… there is so much to learn about cooking!

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