The British Love Affair With Beef

A long-time favourite with a long and storied history, beef continues to be high on the list of British favourites. From the Sunday roast to the growing popularity of gourmet burgers, the Briton’s passion for beef remains as strong as ever.

One of the chief savoury staples of British cuisine is beef. Together with lamb and fish, beef is one of the most common forms of protein encountered in the plates of all four home nations. In England, beef is a perennial dining staple—one that has evolved into a culinary tradition across the country.

There exists an assortment of beef dishes in British cuisine. Roast beef has taken its own character in England, where it’s become an enduring symbol of Sunday lunch alongside Yorkshire pudding. Roast beef is usually eaten with an assortment of sauces on the side—horseradish sauce, English mustard, and gravy. Beef has also found its way into savoury pies, often a most hearty meal after a long day. Special occasions are often punctuated by the very British beef wellington.

A Longstanding Reputation

The British love of beef is a time-honoured tradition that has been entrenched well into the consciousness of the average Briton. The first inhabitants of the island had been hunting wild cattle since the Palaeolithic, and today, several breeds of cattle trace their origins to Great Britain, with English and Scottish breeds enjoying widespread popularity across the globe. Across the UK, beef has been a prominent part of the sumptuous offerings in meals for special occasions.

In England, especially, the enduring love-affair with beef has been definitive of their national identity. The Sunday Roast—today a popular part of the UK’s culinary tradition—was entrenched as a celebrated tradition in the reign of Henry VII; his personal guard, the Yeomen, were called “Beefeaters”, a moniker that the guards at the Tower of London continue to bear today.

The idea of consuming beef is so entrenched in the British psyche that it has coloured the rivalries that Britannia has had in Europe. A popular nickname for the English in France has been rosbif (literally, “roast beef”) owing to the prominence of the Sunday roast in English cuisine.

The Great British Steak

Sliced medium rare grilled steak

In contrast to the near-staple that roast beef has become, steak, meanwhile, is a more occasional dish. A more exacting dish, steak is a product that takes several days to prepare to get its full depth of flavour. The ideal British steak is dry-aged over the course of 28 days to allow the enzymes to break down the natural fibres of the meat, creating a more tender cut.

The aged meat has a bolder, more defined flavour. These are a sought-after dish in many fine restaurants in Tunbridge Wells and across Kent and are typically eaten with a side of chips and vegetables.

Modernity and Refinement

Many dishes from across the globe have found their way into Britain, where they’ve become part of the menu for the typical Briton. Beef dishes are prominent among them—the most famous of them being the American standard, the hamburger. However, hamburgers—commonly eaten as inexpensive fast food across the globe—have taken a sharply different turn in the UK in the past decade.

Gourmet hamburgers are not unknown in America but are a relative niche item. Meanwhile, this posh approach to burgers is experiencing a massive surge in popularity in Britain, where one in ten Brits have a strong preference for gourmet burgers.