Now that MythBusters' episode 103: Exploding Steak has hit the air waves, Packaging Digest thought it would be a good time to update our Web site visitors on the role packaging machinery played in confirming this "myth." Meat tenderizing 'mythology'As many of our food manufacturing and packaging industry readers might already know, the use of explosives to tenderize meat falls under the umbrella of industry practice not myth. A quick search on the USDA's website reveals an explosive meat tenderizing technique that is more than a decade old. In 1992, Morse Solomon, a meat scientist currently with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, and engineer John Long, who is retired from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in San Francisco, CA, developed Hydrodyne--which uses shock waves in water to tenderize meat. Using an ordinary plastic drum filled with water and fitted with a steel plate at the bottom to reflect shock waves from the explosion, Solomon, Long and licensed blaster Eric Staton successfully demonstrated the Hydrodyne theory by tenderizing individual cuts of meats, such as steaks and small roasts, using small quantities of explosives. Explosive popularityThe challenge that was presented to us from the the Discovery Channel MythBusters Fan Forums was whether or not a person could use explosives to tenderize a lower quality meat to make it equivalent to a higher quality meat, recalls Dennis Kwon, a mechanical engineer for M5 Industries (the visual effects studio where Mythbusters is filmed) and researcher for the MythBusters show. The challenge received such a high-level of response from forum visitors that we had to to give it a shot, he adds.Early into their research, the Mythbusters crew realized they needed a way to protect the steaks from both the blast and the chemicals. This protection also had to exceed the quality afforded by standard at-home vacuum packing methods. "So we searched [the Internet] for local packaging manufacturers within the San Francisco Bay area and was able to find a company willing to help us out," Kwon remarks. The company was PACMachinery Group, which loaned them a VMS 163 compact tabletop vacuum chamber. Transparent suctionThe VMS 163 was a good fit for the television show's experiment because the machine had a clear acrylic cover that allowed the MythBusters cameramen to film the vacuum cycle in operation. Its digital controls are engineered to allow precise adjustment on the level of vacuum while maintaining the unit's compact size.The VMS 163 also has a stainless steel chamber and double 1/8-in. seals.Explaining why a chamber vacuum system was desirable, PAC Machinery Group vp Mark Goldman states: "To do the type of experiment that they were talking about, you need a chamber-type of device because it is the only way you can approach the vacuum level that you need to validate the experiment. The chamber gives them a commercial piece of equipment without having to build laboratory-type machinery." Let them eat steakThe MythBusters tested the meat tenderizing theory with both high- and low-powered explosives. Standard vacuum sealing bags were used to seal the meat. The experiment using high-powered explosives had less than edible results: The plastic from the bags was seared onto the meat. The test using low-powered explosives had a more palatable result. The steaks were tenderized effectively while being sufficiently protected by the vacuum sealing process. Commenting on the delicious results, Kwon states, "What fun would it be if would couldn't cook up the steaks for a MythBusters feast?"
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