Skip to comments.Beef cuts renamed steak...premium names on inexpensive cuts to entice buyers
Posted on 07/13/2005 1:24:10 PM PDT by hispanarepublicana
Stores, restaurants put premium names on inexpensive cuts to entice buyers
Is a steak by any name other than T-bone, ribeye or N.Y. Strip still a steak? Many beef sellers say yes.
A stroll down the meat aisles of local grocers offers proof. They are stocking an array of newer cuts of beef, with names such as "beef chuck thin steak" at Food Lion and "ranch steak" at Lowes.
As beef prices have hit record levels -- with filet mignon averaging nearly $14 a pound -- the beef industry has turned to less expensive steak cuts.
These cuts come from the chuck or shoulder and the round or hindquarters of the cow and typically cost 20 percent less than premium steaks, according to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. Filet mignon comes from the center part of the animal.
"The prices Food Lion pays for beef have increased since the first of the year," said Jeff Lowrance, spokesperson for the Salisbury-based grocer. "We, however, have not raised our retail prices." Instead, in May, Food Lion started offering its own Butcher's Brand Premium Beef, which includes at least a dozen of the older and newer cuts of beef.
One of the most popular new cuts showing up in supermarkets is the "shoulder top blade flat iron steak." It comes from the cow's top shoulder, which traditionally is used for roasts or ground beef. At Food Lion, the flat iron steak is called the "boneless upper blade steak," while at Lowes, it's simply called a "flat iron steak."
Some restaurants are starting to offer the different steaks at lower prices. According to the cattlemen's group, about 20,000 restaurants serve the new steaks, twice as many as last year.
Chris Hudson, assistant general manager of Ruth's Chris Steak House in Cary, said the restaurant added the flat iron steak to its lunch menu about two months ago. "It took a while for our food surveyor to get us to taste it." he said. "We cooked it up and it's got a pretty good flavor to it."
A blue-cheese-crusted, 8-ounce flat iron steak on its bar menu sells for $15.95, compared to a 16-ounce ribeye steak from the dinner menu for $31.95.
Hudson said the lower prices help to generate repeat business. "Instead of spending $40 to $65 on cocktails and dinner," he said, "you can have a couple of cocktails and order from the [bar menu] and spend about $35 or $40."
Despite the rising costs, some steak restaurants have resisted adding the lower-cost meats to their menus.
"We have heard of them but it's not something we have considered. We have the traditional cuts and that's what we have stuck with," said Bob Lyford, comptroller at The Angus Barn, a Raleigh steakhouse.
High beef prices
Beef prices have remained high since hitting a record of $4.32 a pound in November 2003. In May, beef was selling for $4.26 a pound. Prices started to peak two years ago when a Canadian cow was found to be infected with mad cow disease, which led to restrictions of the cattle supply.
Despite the scare, demand continued to climb, pushing prices up. Last year as the popularity of low-carbohydrate diets increased, the demand for beef became even stronger. The Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service estimates that in 2004, the average person ate 66.1 pounds of beef. That is expected to climb to 68.2 pounds in 2006.
Tony Mata, executive director of new products and culinary initiative for the cattlemen's association, said that many of the new cuts of meat came from an extensive study by meat scientists that the association, the University of Nebraska and University of Florida released in 2000.
He said the research was in response to declining sales of pot roast, stew meat and other cuts from the shoulder and hindquarters. "We needed to do something to regain the market share," Mata said.
The scientists reviewed more than 5,600 muscles in three parts of the cow -- the shoulder near the blade, the round above the kneecap and the bottom round near the back side of the leg. After testing and processing for tenderness and taste, they found eight key cuts that have since helped to boost beef sales. The cuts come from the most tender parts of the cow and include the petite tender, the sirloin tip center steak and the flat iron, which is second in tenderness to the filet mignon.
Some butchers say they didn't need a study to tell them about the different ways to cut beef.
Cliff Collins has been cutting meat for 38 years at his Cliff's Meat Market in downtown Carr-boro. Collins said he has been selling flat iron steak for quite some time, but has noticed that people are starting to ask for it more than they did in the past.
"They are selling like hotcakes now that the [beef] prices have gone up," Collins said.
Because of the price increase over the past two years, Collins said he has increased meat prices between 50 cents and $2 a pound, depending on the cut.
Tonia Gilmore has definitely noticed the higher prices. While shopping at Food Lion recently, Gilmore said she noticed the new cuts. But the Raleigh mother of three hasn't tried them yet.
"With three kids, I have to stick to hamburger and cube steaks," Gilmore said.
For diehard T-bone steak fans who have endured the high prices, there may be hope.
Ron Gustafson, beef analyst with the economic research service of the USDA, said that several factors will help to pull beef prices down over the next few years. One is that some cattle will continue to be kept in the feed house longer. He said the average now is about 140 to 160 days, compared to 120 back in the mid-1990s. The longer cattle are fed, the larger the muscles, which means more meat is produced per cow.
U.S. cattle inventory has slumped over the past few years, but is expected to rebound. In 1996, the count was 103.5 million heads of cattle, he said. But it dropped to 94.9 million in 2004. Gustafson said it was at 95.8 million at the beginning of this year and will continue to rise.
"As supply starts to increase, the price will move down to accommodate it," Gustafson said.
Staff writer Vicki Lee Parker can be reached at 829-4898 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I noticed the ribeyes were always good but were not marked as to grade. I once asked the butcher about that and he said it was U.S. Choice from Iowa Beef Packers. He said he had always been satisfied with their beef.
There must be a fair amount of variation among U.S. Choice because I have seen it be a little tough at some markets and other times be great.
The cattlemen at markets are really good here. I try and deal with one that I became friends with. He tells me, you ask what you want and I tell you what to buy. Fair enough. He's never been wrong.
The way my dad prepared them, I really liked them. I didn't feel like we were cutting costs by buying them.
We didn't feel that the family was cutting cost, we didn't know that there actually were better cuts of meat. Believe me when I say that I thought that it tasted good. I still like to eat stuff that tastes good, don't care how cheap or how bad it is for you. I never did warm up to that gristle strip through the center though.
Actually he would leave it med rare on the inside. Mind you, not rare enough for me but hey, he tried.
LOL. Has your battery not gone dead yet?