NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - With the American barbecue season set to kick off in earnest from the Memorial Day holiday weekend at the end of May, the question on many meat lover's lips is -- where can I get the best steak?
A new book by food and travel journalist Mark Schatzker, "Steak: One Man's Search for the World's Tastiest Piece of Beef," attempts to answers that question.
From the science of what makes for the perfect blade of grass to a look at the work of a Scottish man whose job is retrieving sperm from bulls, the book covers every aspect of what makes the best serving of the king of meats.
"I was getting very annoyed with spending top dollar on supposedly good steaks that just didn't deliver," Schatzker told Reuters in an interview.
"They did not have a lot of flavor and I felt they were lacking in some way. That put me on a mission to find what makes a good steak. Where is the very best steak? Who has got it? And, how can I get some?"
That mission turned into three years traveling the world seeking the most perfectly marbled, succulent beef and resulted in more than 100,000 words of prose recounting his odyssey.
Schatzker traveled in America from Texas to Colorado and to France, Scotland, Italy, Japan and Argentina in search of the perfect morsel of steak.
The book leaves no stone unturned in its efforts to find the best beef. It even includes the story of how he raised his own cow and fattened the rare Canadian breed on a diet of grass, apples, acorns, carrots and Persian walnuts.
But it not intended as a definitive search for the best steak in the world. For example, he did not visit Australia or Ireland, both known for fine beef.
"People should get out and look for themselves," said Schatzker, who said he found three perfect steaks.
For him, the best steaks were in Scotland, Argentina and the United States.
In the tiny Scottish town of Bridge of Earn he found a highland farm where you can buy steak so tender you can cut it with your fork. In Buenos Aires he had a heavenly experience at El Mirasol restaurant (www.elmirasol.com.ar/en).
And he found the best American steak at Idaho's Pahsimeroi Valley, home to the Alderspring Ranch, which also sells its meat online (www.alderspring.com/store/page1.html).
Schatzker said the basic problem with steak is that corn-fed cows produce bland meat. Most steak, he said, has no flavor thanks to the use of antibiotics, genetically modified grains and modern methods of producing steaks cheaply.
"The whole world is eating average beef with the possible exception of Japan," he said, noting most steak produced in Japan was high quality.
If you want good beef, it should be grass fed, he said. But some grass-fed steak can be awful too.
Schatzker dreams of a day when Americans pay more attention to their meat, in the same fashion they devote time and thought to the choice of wine to accompany a particular dish.
"The American beef world is where the wine world was in the mid-1960s," he said. "I hope it does not get pretentious like wine, but I hope people will understand that there are differences, that not all steak is the same and that people start to approach it with a more nuanced eye."
The book ends with tips for cooking the perfect steak, just in time for the start of the summer barbecue season. Schatzker cautions against relying on tricks and to focus instead on getting the best piece of meat.
"People are too focused on tricks," he said. "If you are dealing with really good beef, you don't need any of that. In fact, you could probably boil it and it would taste good."
After becoming an expert, Schatzker said he now eats less red meat than before, avoiding beef in many restaurants, and never eating it at banquets or on planes.
"The irony is now having finished the book, I probably eat less beef than at the beginning because I am now really keen on the good stuff," he said.
Editing by Michelle Nichols and Patricia Reaney