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Beef cuts hit the market for grilling season

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The relentless search for a moderately priced, tasty steak may be over for Americans who are gearing up for grilling season with the arrival of Memorial Day weekend.
Recently, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), in partnership with the Beef Innovations Group (BIG), released another round of new cuts of beef to provide more of steak choices for consumers.
In recent history, the prices of sub-primal cuts of beef has fallen, and the beef carcass consists of about 30 percent sub-primal cuts, which are underutilized by the industry.
“They wanted to find new opportunities in the muscles to make the value cuts more profitable,” says Dianne Kirkbride, cow/calf and stocker cattle operation owner and Wyoming Beef Council member.
The Muscle Profiling Project began in the late 1990s to identify and improve those portions, specifically the beef chuck and round.
“They did the research and analyzed the individual muscles,” Kirkbride continues. After isolating 39 muscles, the chuck and round portions were selected as “diamonds in the rough” for further development.
From the Muscle Profiling Project, NCBA, funded by the beef check-off, founded BIG to explore options for more efficiently using the entire beef carcass. BIG has since been vital in the introduction and marketing of a number of new cuts of beef now available on the market.
Bridget Wasser, senior director of meat science and technology at NCBA, talks about the purpose of the Muscle Profiling, saying, “The Beef Innovations Group was looking for new items that meet consumer needs, delivering high quality eating experiences.”  
The efforts of BIG resulted in 13 new cuts released between 2002 and 2008. These cuts, derived from the chuck roll and chuck shoulder clod, include Delmonico Steak, boneless country-style ribs, America’s beef roast, Sierra Cut, Denver Cut, Flat Iron Steak, Petite Tender and Ranch Steak.  From the round, the Western Tip and Western Griller were released.
The new cuts experienced incredible success, both in the foodservice industry and in retail markets across the nation. Particularly, the Flat Iron, Petite Tender and Ranch Steak each sold in higher quantity than Porterhouse steaks, and Flat Irons outsold T-bone steaks by more than 30 million pounds in the foodservice industry in 2007, according to Technomic, Inc. reports.
Consumers readily accepted the new quality cuts. Tracking data from each cut shows a number of successes, particularly with the Flat Iron Steaks.
“One of the reasons I think it has been successful is that it has been picked up by a number of restaurant chains,” comments Kirkbride.
Grocery stores, with help from a push by Kroger, also made the Beef Value Added cuts available in nearly 10,000 stores across the nation.
Kirkbride mentions, “I am even seeing some of these products in our smaller, local grocery stores. Two of the products are coming out in the Schwan’s line.”
The benefits of these new cuts reach a number of consumer concerns.
Wasser states, “One purpose of the project was to create more consistent, higher quality cuts, and also cuts that hit a different price point.” Ease of preparation and great taste add to the positive qualities of the product.
“We want to make sure they are all good quality eating experiences,” says Wasser, referring to consumer interactions with beef.
The increasing health consciousness of the American public is addressed as well. In taking large chunks of meat, separating them into single-muscle cuts and eliminating connective tissues, the product becomes leaner.
“Some of the muscles are hidden in there. When you look at it, you can pull them apart, and they are wonderful and have good flavor,” says Kirkbride.
The increased leanness of these new cuts provides a healthier overall product. The ability of these new cuts to meet health and cost standards set by the consumer bolsters the positive economic impact for ranchers across the country.
“When you’re doing research like this, in the long run, the goal is to make things more profitable,” states Kirkbride, “That’s what we want producers to know.”  
The increased percentage of the carcass made into steak cuts takes advantage of single muscle fabrications, says Wasser, which adds more value to the total carcass. When portions previously ground can be sold as steak cuts instead, producers benefit.
The added value to cattle, as estimated by CattleFax, is between $50 and $75 from the cuts released by 2008, which totals approximately $1.4 billion each year.
At the August 2010 Innovative Beef Symposium in Denver, Colo., six new cuts were introduced. These cuts, derived from the round, include the Santa Fe Cut, Round Petite Tender, San Antonio Steak, Tucson Cut, Braison Cut and Merlot Cut.
“It’s too soon to really get any data,” says Wasser on the success of the new round cuts. However, many expect high sales and positive economic impacts.  
Consumers will see more options available for beef on the shelves, and producers will see more money in their pockets. CattleFax forecasts that the round value added cuts will increase the value of cattle by $20 to $30 per head and chuck roll cuts by $40 to $50 per head.
These new cuts are expected to perform well in both foodservice and retail industries.
However, says Kirkbride, “People have to know about it.”
Both NCBA and BIG are working on promoting the products, through in-store demos, social media networks and a myriad of other strategies.
“The culinary innovations team down in Denver does a wonderful job promoting and coming out with recipes,” mentions Kirkbride.
BIG provides preparation instructions and recommended recipes for each of these cuts on their website at  
After finding the numerous new cuts from the chuck and round, Wasser says they are looking, but no additional new products will be released in the foreseeable future. Currently BIG and NCBA are working on marketing the cuts released last August.
Kirkbride adds, “One of the areas I’d like to see them do more work with is the flank steak. Who knows what they’ll come up with. They are working all the time.”
Saige Albert is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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