Chuck just got a new name. New cuts of steak and even some of the older, traditional cuts have been given fancier names — Vegas strip, flat iron, coulotte, Denver and tri-tip — to make them sound like the next big thing. In fact, the Vegas strip steak is so exclusive that there’s a patent pending on the cut’s fabrication and butchers will need to pay a licensing fee to cut it, said Daren Williams of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
It’s part of a trend to add value and profit to an industry plagued by high prices and changing food habits.
“People are eating less red meat for many reasons, including health, animal welfare and environmental issues,” said Bea Krinke, a registered dietitian in St. Paul, Minn.
Beef producers are trying to maintain market share by using parts of the carcass that can be made into steak instead of going to the grinder, said Tony Mata, the meat geek behind the Vegas strip steak.
“The chuck and round portions make up 50 percent of the carcass but only 25 percent of the value,” he said. His goal is to find economic potential in less desirable cuts.
While most of the steaks with new names are considered value-priced, some butchers still think the fancy name is just an excuse to boost the price for a piece of meat that’s really not new at all. A flat iron is just a certain cut off the chuck portion and the tri-tip is bottom sirloin, said Dave Kleszyk at Hackenmueller Meats in Robbinsdale, Minn. “There’s not a lot new under the sun. They’re just putting a different name on it and trying to charge more for it.”
Chris Calkins, a professor of animal science at the University of Nebraska, describes the designer steaks as a win-win for consumers and cattle producers. The value steaks offer the premium beef-eating experience at a lower price. Instead of paying about $20 per pound for porterhouse, T-bones or tenderloin, the value steaks can cost less than half that much. “Demand for very expensive steaks dropped in the recession,” said Calkins, “but demand for intermediate steaks held steady.” The intermediate steaks, also known as value steaks, sell for $4 to $9 a pound on sale, said Steve Brooks, director of meat merchandising at Supervalu, which owns Cub Foods. Cub has recently rolled out the tri-tip steak ($6.69 per pound), which has had strong sales. “We’re staying on trend with mid-priced steaks and attention to serving size,” Brooks said.