Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

What's for Dinner Beef Industry Markets New, More Affordable Cuts of Steak

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

What's for Dinner Beef Industry Markets New, More Affordable Cuts of Steak

Article excerpt

For generations, beef shoulder was a blue-collar cut of cow, fit for the meat grinder or crockpot but not much else.

But where others saw pot roast, Tony Mata saw potential.

Mr. Mata is a Dallas meat scientist whose mission is to find hidden gems in rough parts of the steer. He and a team of researchers came up with the industry's newest steak by mining the muscle under the shoulder blade for a tender pad of flesh.

Unveiled last year at a trade show, the meat is starting to land on restaurant menus. At about $6 a pound, it sells for twice the price of hamburger and has a catchy name to boot: the Vegas Strip Steak.

"People think I'm crazy trying to look for new steaks in an animal we've domesticated for thousands of years," Mr. Mata said. "But as an industry, we've ignored all these other muscles. I truly believe there's still two or three more steaks out there."

His persistence is a testament to changing fortunes in the beef industry. U.S. per capita beef consumption has been falling for decades as consumers have shifted to lighter fare. Pricey prime rib and filet mignon have vanished from many American tables in a sluggish economy.

That has the beef industry scouring the animal for affordable delicacies -- cuts that will fetch higher prices than burger without breaking the bank for shoppers. Now steaks with names like ranch, petite tender, Denver and Sierra are popping up in meat cases alongside familiar names like sirloin and porterhouse.

"Any time you can make something steak-able, you're bringing more dollars back to the carcass," said Jake Nelson, a meat processing specialist at Oklahoma State University who worked with Mr. Mata on the Vegas Strip Steak.

Such efforts began in earnest more than a decade ago. That's when the U.S. industry's promotional arm, known as the Beef Checkoff, funded research to find cuts tasty and tender enough to turn into inexpensive steaks.

Researchers at the University of Nebraska and the University of Florida studied more than three dozen muscles, focusing mainly on the shoulder or chuck, as well as the round, which is the back leg. They measured tenderness, trimmed the gristle and spent hours in test kitchens cooking up the results. …

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