This month, the BEEF Taste Test panel put Excel Corp.'s “Cattleman's Reserve Fully Cooked Seasoned Beef Patties” to the eye and palate test. This is a 32-oz. package of pre-grilled, then frozen, 4-oz., ground beef patties that can be prepared in a microwave oven in just 2 to 2½ minutes. They can also be grilled or pan-fried.

The 12-member panel, consisting of Minnesota Beef Council board members, was hoping to find what the product packaging promised: “all the taste that might otherwise require an hour or so of my time.” The panel's consensus? The product is convenient but it doesn't deliver on taste.

Cattleman's Reserve rated an overall score of 7.3 on a 10-point scale. That's the lowest-rated product thus far in the BEEF Taste Test series, eclipsing the 7.5 that Huisken Premium Quality Beef Patties, an irradiated product, garnered in our December 2000 issue (page 14).

Panelists held a wide disparity of opinions on Cattleman's Reserve. The overall comments ranged from “good” to “bland flavor” to “little bit of a bad taste.” One panelist rated the product a 9.5 (10-point scale), while two gave it a 5.

The product's highest scores came in the convenience categories. On a 5-point scale, Cattleman's Reserve rated a 4.75 in ease of preparation, a 4.75 in preparation time and a 4.66 in adequate serving size. These, by the way, are the highest convenience category scores recorded by any product thus far.

The product fell down in the packaging and sensory categories. The packaging consists of a convenient, resealable, zip-top plastic bag. Most panelists, however, decried its unattractive color scheme. They also found the printed material on the back of the package difficult to read due to the small type size that was reversed out of a black background.

Meanwhile, in the sensory categories, Cattleman's Reserve fared best in tenderness and visual presentation. Its scores for flavor, texture and juiciness didn't lag far behind.

All in all, individual category scores for packaging, convenience and sensory factors were respectable. In fact, the lowest score in any of the 11 individual judging criteria was a respectable 3.75.

The panelists, however, apparently wanted and expected more. Cattleman's Reserve is tops in convenience, but that's only half the equation. The other half — taste — is equally important, and Cattleman's Reserve is lacking in that department.