, Gloucester, MA

May 16, 2007

Western griller? Ranch steak? Meet the new cuts of meat

By Lisa Singhania , Associated Press

It's no secret that grocery stores are adding coffee bars, mouth-watering boulangeries, even sushi bars in hopes of wooing increasingly discerning consumers who want high-quality food without hours of preparation.

The same is true in the butcher case, where a combination of improved butchering techniques and marketing magic have generated new, attractively named cuts of meat designed to appeal to flavor- and time-conscious cooks.

And now these cutting-edge cuts - which include the flatiron, the Western griller, ranch steak and petite tender - even are showing up on restaurant menus.

"We've had customers tell us the steak is the best they've had in a long time," says David Bodner of Miguel's Baja Grill in Utah, which uses the flatiron steak in fajitas and tacos.

"It's a well-marbled piece of meat. I'd have to compare it to a choice top sirloin," he says. "It's definitely not prime, but in flavor, texture and tenderness, it's quite good."

The new cuts come from the chuck and bottom round, beef mainstays whose popularity has suffered as consumers have become more health conscious and the nation's demographics and cooking habits have shifted.

Smaller families and less at-home cooking have translated into a shrinking market for bigger, fattier cuts of meat. Instead, consumers want smaller, boneless options they can cook quickly with minimal prep and fewer leftovers.

Which is why the beef industry funded research in the 1990s to find new ways to cut and serve large, multi-muscle roasts. By 1999, researchers at the University of Nebraska and University of Florida had developed a new butchering methodology based on a technique called muscle profiling.

The technique involves isolating muscles, then cutting them lengthwise, which allows butchers to offer smaller, more tender cuts of meat just the right size for consumers' appetites and pocket books.

By contrast, the traditional method of meat cutting was less precise, making it nearly impossible to separate more lucrative cuts from less choice ones.

"Now you can take the good stuff out and grind the cheaper stuff which is more profitable," says Tom Schneller, an instructor at The Culinary Institute of America in New York.

"The petite tender is going for $4 to $5 a pound, while the Western griller is about $3.50 a pound, as opposed to hamburger which runs about $2.29 to $2.49 a pound," he says.

Bodner of Miguel's Baja Grill says flatiron steak prices have climbed steadily since he started using the cut about seven years ago. Today he pays about $7.90 per pound, compared with just under $2.60 a pound in 2000. But it's worth it.

"It's no longer a bargain, but the quality is there," he says.

Schneller describes the flatiron as a pretty small cut, about half the size of a flank steak. There's also the Western griller, which originates from the bottom round. The ranch steak comes from the shoulder center muscle. Then, there's the cream of the crop, the Teres Major, also known as the petite tender or shoulder tender, which is the second-most tender muscle on the animal.

He recommends marinating and grilling these cuts. And they do best at medium-rare. Bodner agrees.

"It marinates really well, but it can be used unmarinated as well with good results," he says. "I would season to taste and you'd be happy with it Anything past barely medium is overcooked in my opinion."


5 pounds Western griller or shoulder London broil, 3/4 inch thick

4 teaspoons salt

2 1/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups lime juice

3 tablespoons minced garlic

3/4 cup minced yellow onion

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 each red, green and yellow bell peppers, seeded and cut into thin strips

1/2 red onion, sliced

16 corn or flour tortillas, 6 inches in diameter

Trim the meat to remove any visible fat. In a medium bowl, combine the salt, pepper, lime juice, garlic and minced onion. Transfer to a baking dish. Add the beef, cover and refrigerate. Marinate for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

When ready to cook, preheat a gas grill to high. If you are using a charcoal grill, build a fire and let it burn down until the coals are glowing red with a light coating of white ash. Spread the coals evenly. Clean the cooking grate.

Grill the steaks for 7 to 8 minutes per side for medium done. Remove the steaks from the grill and allow them to cool, about 5 minutes. Cut the steaks into 1/4-inch-thick strips, being sure to cut across the grain, and on a slight bias. Set aside.

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Saute the peppers and onions for 5 to 7 minutes, or until they just begin to soften. Add the steak and cook until just heated through, about another 2 to 3 minutes.

Grill or toast the tortillas until softened and warm, about 20 seconds per side.

Serve the steak mixture with the tortillas and a variety of toppings, such as cheese, sour cream, guacamole or salsa.

Serves 8.

- Recipe adapted from The Culinary Institute of America's "Grilling," Lebhar-Friedman, 2006

Know your beef

The development of better butchering techniques in recent years has created new cuts of beef. Here's a primer:


* Source: Chuck (the meat between the neck and the shoulder blade)

* Use: A very tender steak that does well when cooked quickly and used in fajitas and stir-fries.

Petite tender

* Source: Chuck (the meat between the neck and the shoulder blade)

* Use: Roasting and grilling

Ranch steak

* Source: Chuck (the meat between the neck and the shoulder blade)

* Use: Quick cooking on the grill, in a skillet or under the broiler. Often cut into strips.

Western griller

* Source: Bottom round (the back of the thigh)

* Use: A tough steak that is best for stews or grinding for burgers

- National Cattlemen's Beef Association

Butcher shop talk

In this era of super stores and online ordering, most people know their convenience store clerk better than their butcher.

That's a shame because relationships with your neighborhood butcher can get you custom cuts, the inside scoop on the day's best offering and cooking tips on how to make the most of your meat.

It helps to speak your butcher's language. Even if you know nothing about cuts, at least know what you are serving and how you want to cook it, says butcher Trent Plumley of Nashville, Tenn. Here are some basics to get you started:

* Most grocers stock "choice" cuts, the most popular grade. "Select," the lowest retail grade, is lean and tough, and better reserved for marinating, says Tom Schneller, a meat instructor at The Culinary Institute of America in New York. Higher-end butchers stock the better "prime" grade.

* When it comes to steaks, a hefty price often means a foolproof cut. T-bone, porterhouse, top loin, sirloin and tenderloin steaks are tender enough to call for little more than some salt and pepper and a quick turn on the grill.

* If you want a steak on the cheap, consider tougher cuts such as skirt or flank. Just be sure to marinate them first.

* When looking for ribs, such as baby back, barbecue expert Steven Raichlen says to ask the butcher for a rectangular rack that's not very curved. This helps it sit flatter on the grill and cook evenly. Aim for a rack that's about 2 1/2 pounds (with bone) of well-marbled meat.

* For lamb chops, which are easily and quickly grilled, the best (and priciest) bets are rib and loin chops, says Aliza Green, author of "Field Guide to Meat." Also ask the butcher for sirloin or leg chops, which are leaner and not quite as tender, but are good if not overcooked.

* If burgers are on the menu, ask the butcher to grind your beef for you that day. For the best taste, stick with beef that is 20 percent fat; anything less will produce dry burgers.

- Associated Press