[Sca-cooks] Interesting NYT article about "new" beef cuts

Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius adamantius1 at verizon.net
Wed Apr 29 05:19:01 PDT 2009

Hullo, the list!

Sorry about the bandwidth on this one, but I figured it was better  
than supplying a link and then having a series of complaints about how  
you have to be registered, etc.

The article deals with beef cutters "inventing" new, often smaller,  
more tender, specialty cuts that often respond better to dry-heat  
cooking methods than our more normal "chuck" and "round". And, of  
course, it's a great way to turn $1.99/lb chuck into $7.99/lb "Denver  
steak", which, if one sells beef for a living, could be argued to be a  
good thing. Maybe.

And then, of course, this is what European butchers have been doing  
since forever, and which American butchers have only been catching up  
on, with their tri-tips and hanger steaks, for the past ten years or  
so. Some of the new cuts are pretty funny, IMO -- "Oh, look! You've  
created a newer, more expensive stew meat cut into shapes other than  
cubes, with a funny name! I'm so happy!"

"April 29, 2009
Same Cow, No Matter How You Slice It?

ON a stainless steel table in the National Cattlemen’s Beef  
Association test kitchen, a meat scientist named Bridget Wasser began  
dissecting a piece of beef shoulder as big as a couch cushion.

Her knife danced between long, thick muscles, then she flipped the  
whole thing open like book. After a tug and one final slice, she set  
before her visitor the Denver steak.

The three-quarter-inch-thick cut is an inexpensive, distant cousin of  
the New York strip. And it didn’t exist until the nation’s 800,000  
cattle ranchers began a radical search for cuts of meat that consumers  
would buy besides steaks and ground beef.

The idea was simple. Dig around in the carcass and find muscles that,  
when separated and sliced in a certain way, were tender and tasty  
enough to be sold as a steak or a roast. “People know how to cook  
steaks,” said Dave Zino, executive director of the cattlemen’s Beef  
and Veal Culinary Center.

The Denver was invented after meat and marketing experts spent more  
than $1.5 million and five years on the largest study anyone had ever  
done on the edible anatomy of a steer.

The point was to increase the $15.5 billion a year that people spend  
at the supermarket buying beef. The association thinks consumers may  
pay $5.99 a pound for a Denver steak. As ground beef, it’s about $2.99.

“This has been an evolution in the way we think about taking apart  
that beef carcass,” said Chris Calkins, a University of Nebraska  
professor who was part of the muscle study. “It’s a profound shift.”

This year, the Beef Check-off program, which financed the meat study,  
will introduce five new cuts from the chuck. Four cuts from the round  
will be rolled out next year. A handful are already on the market. All  
of them have new names that are sure to confuse some shoppers and  
challenge butchers.

Selling the new cuts will mean persuading more than 600 meatpacking  
plants, thousands of processors and supermarket managers and, at the  
end of the chain, consumers who are already baffled by the names in  
the meat case.

Skeptics, who include old-fashioned beef cutters and a new breed of  
professional cooks who know European butchering techniques, say there  
is nothing new in a carcass.

Mike Debach, who runs the Leona Meat Plant in Troy, Pa., reviewed the  
cutting schematics for the Denver. His analysis: “This is just a  
glorified chuck steak that they cleaned the junk off of.”

Tom Mylan, a butcher who breaks down whole carcasses at Marlow &  
Daughters in Brooklyn, says the cattlemen are not inventing anything.

“The old Italians and French butchers have been doing this forever,”  
he said. The surprise, he said, is that it took the big producers this  
long to figure out how to process and market off-cuts.

“The difference in a good name is worth $3 or $4 a pound,” he said.

Of course, the names have to be good. One wonders if America’s beef  
roast, the name a focus group has given a new cut of chuck steak,  
stands a chance of becoming as familiar as prime rib.

The move to remake the supermarket meat case began in 1998, when meat  
scientists in Nebraska and Florida began pulling apart the chuck and  
the round, looking for diamonds in the rough.

The researchers studied 39 muscles, isolating ones that had enough  
tenderness or flavor to sell as inexpensive steaks or roasts.

In one tenderness test, researchers cooked muscles to medium, punched  
out half-inch plugs of meat and set them in a machine that measures  
the force it takes to shear them in half. Promising cuts were given  
names like the Sierra, the Western Griller and the Petite Tender.

“If we can dig out a muscle and use it in a new way that hasn’t been  
done before, it seems to me we are obligated to give that muscle an  
identity so someone can understand what it is,” said Dr. Calkins, the  
Nebraska professor.

Naming cuts of beef is a murky pursuit that is only lightly regulated  
by the government. Industry guidelines and even some local laws  
prevent butchers from calling a cut from the shoulder a flank steak or  
a piece of round a tenderloin. But there is no harm (except perhaps  
confusion) in giving the name Delmonico steak to any one of several  

The Delmonico was once a rib-eye, but now it can mean a cut from other  
spots on the same long muscle, including a slice of top loin or, in  
the new naming conventions proposed by the beef industry, a piece of  

In the case of the flatiron steak, the industry borrowed an old name  
for what it says is a new cut. The association claims it developed the  
flatiron as one of the first products to come from the muscle study.  
The research showed the cut, from the top of the steer’s shoulder, was  
the second-tenderest part of the carcass, right after filet mignon.

But the name is familiar to people who have been cutting meat for  
generations. The cut, also known as chicken steak, butler’s steak or  
top blade steak, fell out of favor because the traditional butchering  
method left a tough line of connective tissue in the middle, which  
consumers didn’t like.

The cattlemen’s team developed a standard for cutting it, which strips  
away that layer of gristle.

Meat processors began shipping flatirons in 2002. In 2007, restaurants  
sold 83 million of them and butchers and grocery stores 13.2 million,  
according to the cattlemen’s association figures.

Not so fast, argues Bill Niman, a rancher. He says he started selling  
trimmed flatiron steaks to high-end restaurants in the late 1990s.

At the 74-store QFC chain in the Pacific Northwest, managers are eager  
to sell the new cuts, but they’ve taken naming matters into their own  

Oscar Blaser, the senior director of meat and seafood for the chain,  
put one of the new cuts — the boneless country-style beef chuck ribs —  
in his meat cases a couple of months ago. The “ribs” have never seen a  
bone. They are cut from the chuck eye roll to resemble ribs and are  
intended to be braised, like a short rib. They can be finished on the  
grill with barbecue sauce.

Mr. Blaser thought the new name just didn’t work. So he christened  
them bistro braising strips, which builds the cooking method into the  

But even with a new identity, there is no guarantee anyone will buy  
them without in-store demonstrations. “We’ve got to get it into their  
mouths,” Mr. Blaser said. “Then we have to walk them over to the case  
and show them the package. It’s difficult, even if you’ve got the best  
name in the world. People still want steak.” "


"Most men worry about their own bellies, and other people's souls,  
when we all ought to worry about our own souls, and other people's  
			-- Rabbi Israel Salanter

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