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.
But there is a tradeoff to the trade down. “They’re very flavorful but a little tougher,” said Beth Salzl of Roseville, Minn. She has tried both the flat iron and the tri-tip, but said that it’s better to cut across the grain to make the cuts seem more tender.
In Minneapolis, Tim McKee, owner and award-winning chef at La Belle Vie and vice president for culinary development at Parasole restaurants, said that the tri-tip has been on the menu at Salut and the flat iron at Pittsburgh Blue without any complaints. But don’t go looking for the cheaper value cuts at serious steak shrines such as Manny’s, Capital Grille or Murray’s. “We use only the highest-quality, center-cut steaks at Manny’s,” McKee said.
Murray’s experimented with value steaks four years ago during the recession but ended up regretting it, said its executive chef, John Van House. They put the coulotte on the early dinner menu, and customers complained about toughness, he said. But Murray’s brought back an improved version of the coulotte in the Murray’s steak sandwich sold at Target Field for $11.50. “We trim the edges, which can be tough, and serve only the center of it,” said Van House.
Consumers can usually find the coulotte, the Denver or the tri-tip on restaurant menus, but in the supermarket they may need to ask a butcher. Retailers are supposed to use the true name of the product, not just a nickname. Some butchers or grocery stores will label a steak a “beef top loin boneless steak,” while others and restaurants would call it a New York strip or Kansas City strip steak. Either way, consumers can get confused. Kowalski’s meat departments don’t use the fancy names, to avoid confusion, said Terri Bennis, vice president of perishable operations. “We have the coulotte, but we have to call it sirloin. We can’t call it a flat iron. It’s chuck,” she said.
Depending on what the consumer is looking for, all they have to do is ask, Bennis said.