Genes, breeding help deliver the perfect steak

By Seth Truscott, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences

SteaksPULLMAN, Wash. – A 10-year breeding project to build the perfect beefsteak has found that tenderness is in the genes – it is an inherited quality.

“American beef is a wonderful product, but its tenderness can be improved,” said Frank Hendrix, a Washington State University Extension educator and animal scientist who teamed with fellow researchers in the WSU Department of Animal Sciences ( to select and breed cattle for tenderness.

Current technology allows breeders to pluck a hair from a cow, look for DNA markers linked to meat tenderness and assign a tenderness rank. Hendrix bred cows with a top tenderness-ranked bull named “Heritage,” raising the calves under identical conditions on irrigated pasture in central Washington.

Frank Hendrix, left, and Mark Nelson.

He checked meat from the animals for tenderness using an instrument that measures the force it takes to slice a piece of steak.

The results showed a significant difference in tenderness between typical beef and steaks from Hendrix’s specially bred cattle, revealing that tenderness is an inherited trait.

He has presented the research, “In Search of the Perfect Steak” at conferences for the past three years, most recently at WSU’s spring 2016 Academic Showcase.

“It’s remarkable that there was such a strong correlation,” said Mark Nelson, an associate professor in WSU animal sciences who helped analyze results from the shear-force test.

“It’s better beef,” Hendrix said. “The risk of buying a steak that’s way too chewy just won’t be there anymore.”


William F. “Frank” Hendrix, WSU Animal Sciences, 509-574-1600,
Mark L. Nelson, WSU Animal Sciences, 509-335-5623,



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