USDA Choice Braised Beef Strips with packet of Fajita Sauce, a product from Emmber Heat & Serve, is billed as a “Dinner Entrée for Two.” The serving size was a generous 6 oz., but BEEF Taste Test panelists felt the “entrée” claim was overstated.

“This is supposed to be a convenience entrée, but it's really more of a topping or ingredient to an entrée,” said one panelist. “The extra work and cleanup involved in putting together the complete meal hurts this product's convenience rating.”

Another said: “This isn't a complete meal, but one could do other preparation while it was in the microwave.”

The panel felt the product would work well, for instance, as a salad topping or a fajita ingredient. In fact, the package provides a recipe for beef tostadas.

Another criticism was the lack of notice on the package regarding the product's spicy flavor. Some panelists liked the taste; others found it too spicy. The panelists' comments regarding flavor ranged from “very spicy” to “a nice zingy flavor but a little too peppery” to “excellent sauce” and “great taste.”

Emmber Heat & Serve USDA Choice Braised Beef Strips with packet of Fajita Sauce comes in a 12-oz., two-serving package that sells for $4.99 at retail. The product is fully cooked and microwaveable.

The product drew the highest panel scores in packaging and convenience categories. On a five-point scale, panelists found the packaging attractive (4.1) and liked the completeness of the preparation instructions (4.25) and nutrition information.

In the convenience categories, the product drew a cumulative 4.5 score for serving size, but it managed only a 3.7 in ease of preparation and a 4 in preparation time.

In the sensory factors of visual presentation, flavor, tenderness, texture and juiciness, all scores were below 4. The only other product in our series to achieve this dubious distinction was Maverick Ranch Fully Cooked Mini Beef Pot Roasts in our February 2001 issue (page 33).

Generally, panelists found the beef strips too chewy and dry. Overall, the panel rated the product a 7.4 (10-point scale), the second lowest thus far in our Taste Test series. Excel Corp.'s Cattleman's Reserve Fully Cooked Seasoned Beef Patties rated a 7.3 in our June issue (page 35). Nonetheless, two panelists said they would buy the product again.

On the whole, Emmber Heat & Serve is a good product. Its ratings from the BEEF Taste Test panel suffered, however, due to its perceived convenience shortcomings and a level of spiciness (unannounced on the packaging) that failed to appeal to all palates.