Grocery stores are adding coffee bars, mouthwatering boulangeries, even sushi bars in hopes of wooing increasingly discerning consumers who want high-quality food without hours of preparation.
The same is true in the butcher case, where a combination of improved butchering techniques and marketing magic have generated new, attractively named cuts of meat designed to appeal to flavorand time-conscious cooks.
And now these cutting-edge cuts — which include the flatiron, the Western griller, ranch steak and petite tender — even are showing up on restaurant menus.
“We’ve had customers tell us the steak is the best they’ve had in a long time,” says David Bodner of Miguel’s Baja Grill in Moab, Utah, which uses the flatiron as a stand-alone steak, in fajitas and in tacos.
“It’s a well-marbled piece of meat. I’d have to compare it to a choice top sirloin,” he says. “It’s definitely not prime, but in flavor, texture and tenderness, it’s quite good.”
The new cuts come from the chuck and bottom round, beef mainstays whose popularity has suffered as consumers have become more health conscious and the nation’s demographics and cooking habits have shifted.
Smaller families and less at home cooking have translated into a shrinking market for bigger, fattier cuts of meat. Instead, consumers want smaller, boneless options they can cook quickly with minimal prep and fewer leftovers. Which is why the beef industry funded research in the 1990s to find new ways to cut and serve large, multi-muscle roasts.
By 1999, the investment paid off. Researchers at the University of Nebraska and University of Florida had developed a new butchering methodology based on a technique called muscle profiling.
The technique involves isolating muscles, then cutting them lengthwise, which allows butchers to offer smaller, more tender cuts of meat just the right size for consumers’ appetites and pocketbooks.
“It’s almost like the European style of cutting,” says Tom Schneller, an instructor at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. “The old-school butchers knew how to do this. But in America, we were stuck in this crosscut, large family thing, where we focused on larger pieces of meat.”
He recommends marinating and grilling the newer cuts. And they do best at medium-rare. Bodner agrees.
“It marinates really well, but it can be used unmarinated as well with good results,” he says. “I would season to taste and you’d be happy with it. Anything past barely medium is overcooked, in my opinion.”
THE NEW CUTS
The development of better butchering techniques in recent years has created new cuts of beef. From National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
Source: Chuck (the meat between the neck and the shoulder blade). Use: A very tender steak that does well when cooked quickly and used in fajitas and stir-fries.
Source: Chuck (the meat between the neck and the shoulder blade). Use: Roasting and grilling.
Source: Chuck (the meat between the neck and the shoulder blade). Use: Quick cooking on the grill, in a skillet or under the broiler. Often cut into strips.
Source: Bottom round (the back of the thigh). Use: A tough steak that is best for stews or grinding for burgers.