December 2, 2016
I’m not sure if this is a beef marketing story or a new-food feature. Actually, it’s both, since it’s about tickling consumer taste buds and boosting carcass value.
With all the high-end, highest-priced steaks coming from the rear quarters, it makes sense for meat scientists to focus farther forward for new retail cuts that better utilize meat. From that, they successfully found the Petite Tender and Flat Iron steaks, both originating from the chuck shoulder clod.
This summer, meat scientists at University of Nevada debuted another promising cut — the Bonanza, named after the old TV show about the Nevada ranch family living on the Ponderosa. Of course, they wouldn’t name it for the actor named “Hoss.” More on Bonanza shortly.
The Petite Tender is shaped like center-cut beef tenderloin, but smaller. From the consumer’s viewpoint, it “eats” like a filet mignon at about half the price. Even at half the price, it still returns more value to the carcass. Otherwise, it’d be sold in cheaper chuck roasts or burger meat. Availability is sometimes limited because it takes a little more time, labor and skill to remove.
The Flat Iron, also labeled as a Shoulder Top Blade steak in the meat case, is the second-most tender beef muscle — after the tenderloin. It’s cut from the beef chuck shoulder clod top blade roast. This steak has really caught on around the country in an ever-increasing number of restaurants.
Back to the Bonanza
University of Nevada at Reno hosted a tasting party for media and meat industry representatives for this new chuck cut now being looked at as a high-end delicacy. The small, quarter-moon-shaped muscle has a taste and tenderness that outclasses all but the filet mignon.
It’s extremely tender and well marbled, reports Amilton de Mello, a UN meat scientist. The cut comes from the rib and weighs only 0.5 pound. “When you break the carcass between the fifth and sixth rib, this small piece of meat stays on the top of the rib. Instead of using it for hamburger, we could be exporting it as a steak,” he says.
As ground beef, it’s worth about $2 a pound. As a steak, de Mello estimates it could be sold for about $5.30 a pound — adding millions of dollars of revenue to the beef community.
“Chefs and restaurants will love this cut; it can be portioned for many sizes of servings,” he adds. “For meat producers, it offers a higher price point and more profits by taking this cut in a new direction.”
Don’t look for the Bonanza in the meat department or restaurants just yet. That’s up to meat producers such as JBS, which funded de Mello's research.
The Bonanza has superior marbling compared to other meat cuts, including the Flat Iron. "Meat processors will like this specialty cut because it's very easy to trim," de Mello says.
When you separate the chuck and the ribs, the Flat Iron goes with the chuck. The relatively small end — the Bonanza — stays with the rib.
The small cut yields two pieces per carcass with a combined weight of about half a pound. By angling the cut when breaking the ribs, meat cutters will gain more volume for the Bonanza.
"This small volume makes this cut even more special based on its high quality and low availability," de Mello says. "Due to its eating characteristics and texture, the Bonanza is a new alternative to replace traditional beef cuts in many different recipes."
Chris Calkins, University of Nebraska animal scientist and part of the team that developed the Flat Iron, gives the Bonanza high marks: "In an industry with a small profit margin, any opportunity to increase value is appreciated. Upgrading this meat from a ground beef-trim price to steak-quality price should return more dollars to the industry. I anticipate a positive reception, especially from countries that recognize U.S. beef for its quality and flavor."
Harpster is a beef cow-calf producer and retired Penn State animal scientist.
A little more to chew on
Maybe “you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear,” but the beef industry can and does make high-end steaks from a beef chuck — the Petite Tender, Flat Iron and now the Bonanza.
The search for those premium cuts has been fueled by simple economics. Anatomically, they’re all found “high up” on the chuck where muscles receive little exercise as the animal moves. All three have a surprisingly high content of intramuscular fat, or marbling. So, it’s little wonder they have excellent eating quality.
Yield ultimately will determine whether Bonanza makes the meat case. Average weights per steak are about 10 ounces for the Petite Tender, 8 ounces for the Flat Iron and 4 ounces for the Bonanza. As meat processors weigh the latter, they may not be motivated to bother removing it, even though it’s the easiest to remove.
From the housewife’s perspective, she can count on one Petite Tender and Flat Iron per person. One Bonanza would be enough for only the daintiest appetite.
While easy to remove, it would still require extra effort at the processing plant to keep it separate. Its small size may limit the number of processors willing to work with it and move it to the meat case. Time will tell.
– Harold Harpster
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