You’ve heard that fat equals flavor. But is that really the whole story? In his new book, “Franklin Steak: Dry-Aged. Live-Fired. Pure Beef,” celebrated pit master Aaron Franklin of Austin’s Franklin BBQ gets to the meat of the matter.
“Fat is flavor” is to meat as “location, location, location” is to real estate, Franklin says. It’s a catchy phrase, but when taken at face value without any other considerations, it could lead you astray.
Fat on its own actually doesn’t taste like much, Franklin points out. It’s fat and muscle in combination that accounts for flavor and that flavor arises from a number of factors.
First, the flavor in a steak depends on the cow’s diet. Grass-fed cattle taste different from corn-fed, different from those that eat millet or rye and those that eat Texas sagebrush.
The age of the cow is a factor too, with older cows having more time to store nutrients and compounds in their muscles and fat. For proof, look to Spain, where cattle might live up to six years or more, as opposed to going to slaughter at 12 or 14 months, as many do in the U.S. An older animal will have a stronger, more intense, more savory flavor.
Then there’s the matter of dry- or wet-aging (Franklin prefers the former), which concentrates flavor due to moisture loss and the breakdown of enzymes into sugars, fatty acids and amino acids like glutamate, which translates to umami.
Finally, “a general rule of thumb is that a happy animal is going to taste better,” Franklin says. That means one that moves around a lot and isn’t stressed. “Animals should be happy. They’re going to grow a lot better.”
Fat can yield flavor in the form of marbling—the intramuscular fat that disperses “like veins in a leaf,” as opposed to the fat cap, or external fat, that can’t penetrate the meat. Marbling may always amount to juicy texture, but it's all the other factors that will bring the big, beefy flavor to that marbling and the meat around it.
“Franklin Steak” is full of juicy tidbits like this, covering everything from how long to rest a steak and what to do with meat scraps to detailed breakdown of individual cuts, equipment guides and answers to questions you may have always wondered, like, “Does a steak need to be at room temperature before cooking?” (Spoiler alert: Not always.)
To follow through on his point about flavor, “go to an actual butcher shop to find out where your meat is coming from,” Franklin advises. Don’t worry. Thanks to the “ten butcher shop commandments” and a cheat sheet on steak lingo, the book will guide you through that process, too.
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