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Alternative meat cuts provide different options for retailers, consumers

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Riverton – Over the past decade, significant research has provided a number of new cuts of meat for beef and lamb, as well as other species, and University of Wyoming Extension Meat Specialist Warrie Means noted that those cuts provide more variety at the meat case.

“There are a lot of different meat cuts,” Means said during a presentation at Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days on Feb. 10.

“There are pages and pages of lists of different cuts,” he continued, “and there are lots of good resources for meat cuts. However, some of the resources we’ve used for a long time are a little outdated because of the alternative cuts that we’ve developed lately.”

He explained that since the 1970s, a trend toward leaner, more boneless and more specific muscle cuts has been seen.

The resulting development of new cuts has created smaller portion sizes that are more uniform in cooking and tenderness.

“These are all good things for our consumers,” Means emphasized.

Cutting meat

Means delved into the varied reasons that meat is portioned into cuts.

“We cut meat because slaughter animals provide too big a portion size,” he said. “We also cut up roasts, steak and chops for our use.”

Chops differ from roasts based on the size of the animal, he explained.

“Many years ago, large meat cleavers were used to cut meat, and with a cleaver, we could more easily chop through the backbone vertebrae of a lamb or pig,” he said. “We couldn’t get through the backbone of a beef very easily. Therefore, chops come from lambs and pigs.”

Means continued that cutting meat allows similar muscles to be kept together. 

“We want the similarity because muscles have differences in tenderness,” he said. “The loin is generally more tender and has a different fat content compared to the chuck, so if we can separate them, it is better for cooking, eating and for our profits.”

Middle meats are derived from the rib and loin, which are most valuable, most tender and have the least amount of connective tissue.

Cooking techniques

“We also have to think about how we are going to cook the meat,” Means said, noting that different cuts should be cooked in different ways.

“If we are going to cook a roast, we want it to be more consistent and globular-shaped,” he said. “This also allows it to cook more evenly. Steaks also need to be evenly cut, not wedge-shaped.”

The degree of doneness is also important in the tenderness of the product.

“If we cook a steak more than medium degree of doneness, it will toughen,” Means explained. “That is called myofibrular toughening. As this happens the proteins also start to lose moisture at an accelerated rate. Therefore, beef cooked to well done is drier and less tender.”

“Cooking changes the tenderness, and it changes the texture,” he added. “It also changes the flavor and the color. All of these things are important to people when they are looking at a piece of meat.”

New cuts

In beef, cuts like the flat iron steak, petite tender, mock tender roast, flanken-style ribs and Korean style ribs have all been recently developed or, in some cases, rediscovered.

The flat iron steak comes from the shoulder top blade.

“A top blade roast can be cut into steaks, but the problem is the huge seam of connective tissue that runs through it,” Means said. “To make the flat iron, they filet out the connective tissue for two steaks.”

Though the steaks are thin, they are flavorful and tender, he explained..

The petite tender comes from the shoulder, as well, from a muscle named the teres major. This is a relatively tender muscle that can be made into small medallions.

Another cut from the beef chuck is the chuck tender, also called a mock tender roast.

“The mock tender roast is different than a tenderloin,” he said. “It’s been around for a long time. They don’t make good steaks, but it’s a good roast.”

Flanken-style ribs are similar to short ribs, and they are cut from the beef chuck. When flanken-style ribs are cut thin, they are called Korean-style ribs. 

“Korean-style ribs can be cooked in a wok,” he explained. “They are very flavorful and very sought-after for Asian-style cooking.”

Other chuck cuts

The deep pectoral is a muscle that also offers desirable traits.

“The deep pectoral muscle is the same muscle as the brisket, but it is left in the chuck when we separate those two,” Means said. “It can be ground or used as a roast, and it’s really good if cooked properly so the connective tissue is broken down, similar to brisket.”

The chuck roll or chuck eye roll also comes from the beef chuck. It comes from the area of the chuck at the fifth rib and forward.

“We cut the chuck and the rib between the fifth and sixth ribs,” Means explained. “There isn’t much difference between the steaks on the chuck or the rib at that interface, and it is pretty good. The posterior end, say ribs three through five,  of the chuck eye closest to the rib can be cooked like a prime rib. It is awesome and about one-third the cost of a prime rib.”

Means noted that these cuts are only a few of the many options available to consumers.

With new advancements in cutting meat, Means emphasized, “There are a lot of things we can do with these muscles to make them more consumer friendly.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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