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Choosing the best beefsteak tomato is a process of proper identification and careful selection. Beefsteak tomatoes are noted for their hearty size and exquisite flavors, but are harder to find than more easily cultivated tomato varieties. When choosing a beefsteak tomato, it is important to determine the purpose, consider its source, check for ripeness, and know the signs of an overripe or decaying tomato.
Beefsteak tomatoes are not simply a single variety, but a whole category of tomatoes. Learning to recognize the most common cultivars is a good way to fit the right type of beefsteak to the right recipe. For a classic, red tomato that goes perfectly on a BLT or cheeseburger, the bright red Big Beef is an excellent choice. For maximum flavor and unusual colors, the beautiful pink-purple Brandywine or deep mauve Purple Cherokee are excellent choices. Some yellow beefsteaks, such as Hazel Mae are noted for their low-acid content, and may be good choices for those with sensitive stomachs.
Finding a beefsteak tomato may be a little more involved than a trip to the local supermarket. Specialty or locally-based markets may be more likely to carry some beefsteak varieties. One of the easiest places to hunt down the perfect tomato is at a local farmer's market during the tomato season, which typically runs from late spring through late summer. Garden centers also may carry beefsteak seeds and plants starting in early spring; growing these meaty tomatoes at home is the easiest way to get fresh, fully ripened flavor.
Once a beefsteak variety has been tracked down to a market stall or bushy plant, it is critical to inspect each tomato for signs of ripeness, disease, and over-handling. A ripe beefsteak will have vibrant colors, but retain a firm texture. Cracks in the skin, mold spots, or a bruised appearance may signal an inferior tomato. Tomatoes that are soft to the touch may be overripe, or may have been damaged through squeezing. Diseased or damaged tomatoes may not have the same beautiful flavor or texture present in an ideal fruit.
The final step in choosing a great beefsteak tomato is to consider the origin and destiny of the fruit. Some people may prefer to purchase organic tomatoes to avoid possible contamination or flavor problems caused by pesticides; others may wish to purchase locally-grown tomatoes to help support nearby farms and the local economy. A person's plans for a beefsteak tomato can also affect buying decisions; if tomatoes will be roughly chopped into a salad, a rainbow of colors and irregular shapes may add contrast and style to a dish. For a backyard BBQ, choosing uniformly shaped tomatoes may make slicing easier and lead to better proportioned burgers.
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