University of Minnesota Beef Team
We are heading full steam into the heart of grilling season, and it is worth stepping back to evaluate our behaviors when it comes to how we decide what goes on our grills.
To say that our economic climate is challenging would be a massive understatement, which means that each dollar spent on meals is weighed against the value to the family. As a consequence of our economic downturn, we see the growing trend of “stay-cations” where families choose to remain closer to home rather than traveling for days or weeks to an alternate destination. In so doing, the tendency to spend time outdoors is far more prevalent and the family grill or BBQ may often become the centerpiece of your family life this summer.
With the financial challenge of fulfilling the protein portion of the plate coupled with increased focus on high quality food to enjoy while spending time with the family this summer, there becomes a tremendous opportunity to take advantage of the innovative strides made by beef researchers and the beef checkoff with the “Beef Value Cuts.”
Early successes with cuts like the flat iron steak have lead efforts to further develop opportunities for cuts from the beef chuck. Traditional beef carcass fabrication utilizes the beef chuck largely as a source for flavorful roasts and quality ground beef, but more recently research has been devoted to evaluating the chuck as a source for single muscle cuts used for steaks. Moreover, cuts from the round are also being evaluated and offered as single muscle steaks used for grilling and roasting.
Perhaps of most noted success with regard to these cuts is the flatiron steak. Composed of the infraspinatus muscle, taken from the beef chuck clod, this highly marbled cut has been shown to be very tender and suited to grilling.
Data from the Beef Innovations Group indicates that the volume of the flatiron cut increased by 96 percent to an estimated 92 million pounds for a year span ending in August of 2006. Additionally, it was estimated that the number of retailers offering one or more of the Value Cuts increased nine-fold in the same time period.
Considering typical consumption, growth like this is simply explosive and is an indicator of the consumer's demand for affordable and nutritious beef steaks.
In order to understand the motivation to develop such cuts, one must simply consider the challenge that the beef packer faces. As demand goes, middle meats, such as those found in the rib and loin, tend to sell at a higher retail price due to their tendency as a general rule to be more tender. Furthermore, these tender cuts are highly regarded by foodservice establishments and thus, overall demand for the middle meats is higher than their counterparts in the round and chuck.
Thus, the packer is left with a scenario where, generally speaking, product movement is higher for the middle meats than the end meats, and thus prices must be lowered to address the issue.
Unfortunately, when prices are lowered for end meats, it does cause the need for the middle meats to increase in price to account for the shortfall. Therefore, the lack of demand for the end meats not only affects the processor, but the consumer as well.
Complementary to this scenario is what many in the food industry have come to refer to as the 4:30 meal problem. Simply stated, the majority of our society does not know what it is having for dinner as late as 4:30 in the afternoon.
This has a lot to do with modern eating habits, but perhaps more to do with our modern economy. Throughout the majority of the 20th century, most family households were single income, with one adult primarily responsible for evening meal preparation. In modern society, the majority of households are dual income, with both adults responsible for evening meal preparation not leaving work until 5 or 6 in the evening.
As previously mentioned, traditional beef cutting strategies have largely utilized the chuck and round for roasts that require longer preparation time, commonly 2-3 hours. In the dual income household, where meal preparers are not considering their dinner preparation until 5 or 6 in the evening, this type of preparation time is certainly not ideal.
Evidence of this trend can be seen throughout grocery retailers in this country. Larger portions of these stores are being devoted to convenience items; “ready to eat” meals and “heat and eat” foods. Smaller space in the meat case is now devoted to roasts with larger space occupied by steaks and ground products easily prepared in shorter time frames.
Thus the challenge of the beef chuck and round is at hand. We will continue to consume the majority of beef as ground product; it is estimated that approximately 70 percent of the beef that we consume as a nation is ground beef. However, in order to increase the value of the carcass and increase the varietal offering of convenient and wholesome beef to the protein portion of the plate, the Beef Value Cuts play a significant role.
Cuts such as the flat iron steak, the petite tenderloin, the chuck eye steak, the Denver cut and the ranch steak are a dynamic approach to the fabrication of the chuck. The sirloin tip side steak, the western griller and the western tip are novel approaches to the beef round.
These flavorful and tender cuts, taken from portions of beef previously viewed as roasts, provide the opportunity to processors to offer the consumer a lower priced, convenient steak while still maintaining a tenderness and quality similar to the middle meats.
Additionally, these cuts are typically smaller in portion and more likely to be consumed in higher frequency than larger loin cuts.
For more information on the Beef Value cuts, visit: http://www.beefretail.