Protein is often the most expensive food purchase, and this fact hasn't changed with the rise in food prices. However, beef and pork are still relatively affordable and plating more of these proteins can help control the bottom line.
Meat is usually a restaurant’s priciest food purchase. But even though wholesale food costs have skyrocketed over the past year, the current news isn’t all dismal at the center of the plate. Red meats haven’t been hit as hard as wheat, eggs and dairy products. Yet.
“The supply of beef and pork is ample to excessive right now,” says Bill Lapp, president of Advanced Economic Solutions, a commodity analysis company in Omaha, Nebraska. “Although there’s been a dramatic increase in feed costs, producers haven’t responded yet with significant price increases.”
With hog farmers currently losing $20 a head and cattlemen, about $100 a head, there’s been an ongoing effort to reduce inventory, but the effects won’t be seen until 2009. Lower supplies and continued high prices for feed lead Lapp to expect meat prices to be the issue next year. To minimize sticker shock, operators and meat experts offer buying strategies you can put into practice right now.
Traditional cuts like the inside skirt steak and flank steak are good buys now, according to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, but for the long term, operators should take a look at the chuck. “There are new cuts that are terrific values right now: the New Delmonico Steak, Boneless Country-style Beef Ribs and a roast that performs well with dry-cooking methods—all cut from the chuck eye roll (IMPS 116D),” says Jane Gibson, executive director of foodservice marketing for NCBA. “In addition, the Denver Steak is available, cut from the chuck roll underblade serratus ventralis [116E]. Like the Flat Iron, Petite Tender and Ranch steaks that were introduced in 2001-2002, these new cuts can help to improve margins without compromise.”
The new cuts resulted from ongoing muscle profiling research by the NCBA. Packers are beginning to roll them out and preliminary testing by chefs and R&D teams is showing that they perform well and provide good value. When braised, the beef ribs are similar in taste and texture to costlier short ribs and the steaks can sub for more expensive loins or ribeyes.
To keep up with the competition, the National Pork Board has been doing its own muscle profiling studies, fabricating cuts from the leg and shoulder as opposed to the pricier loin. A cut from the shoulder that’s making headway is the boneless pork breast, labeled by some packers as the Pork Flat Iron Steak, reports Paul Perfilio, national foodservice marketing manager for the NPB. It can readily stand in for boneless loin pork chops in entrees.
Another new item comes from the leg; it’s a flap of meat that looks like a mini flank steak. “We’re calling it a Cap Steak,” says Perfilio. “Most operators are cutting it into strips to use in stir-fries and fajitas.”
A third muscle—also extracted from the leg—has been named the Pocket Roast. It cooks up especially well on the rotisserie and the cooked meat can be sliced for Cubans and other sandwiches.
“We looked at underutilized muscles that could be extracted, changing the way the pig was fabricated in the past,” Perfilio explains. “We whittled down the choices from 21 to three, all of which turned out to be really flavorful and lower in cost to the operator.”
With veal cutlets going for $13 per pound and rack for $17, the veal industry is making a big push to bring more affordable cuts to foodservice. Economical breasts, ribs, cubed steak, sausages and ground veal for burgers, chili and meatballs have been available for some time, but four “new” muscles have recently been introduced to the market. They include a Bone-in Tuscan Chop, a Double Bone Rib Chop, Osso Buco for Two (a larger shank portion) and Boneless Osso Buco derived from the square cut chuck—all from the inside portion of the veal shoulder. They were “discovered” as the result of a veal optimization study conducted by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
“We are trying to market the whole animal so we can have veal available at a price per serving that’s affordable to casual restaurants,” says Dean Conklin, executive director of veal marketing for NCBA. Some of these new cuts can come in as low as $3 per serving food cost.
Although the American Lamb Board is not fabricating any new muscles, they are promoting the tremendous potential and flavor of the leg. “Rather than cook a whole leg, we are suggesting that operators take apart the lamb leg and look at its quality cuts,” says marketing director Megan Wortman. These include the top round, sirloin and hind shank plus meat that can be ground for burgers or cubed for kebabs.
Jennifer Jasinski, chef at Rioja Restaurant in Denver, buys whole Colorado lamb legs that she breaks down to use in several menu items—from a roast lamb entree to housemade lamb chorizo for a pizza appetizer. “I use lamb legs because I fabricate them differently than any of the meat packers I know and it is the most efficient way to buy and menu lamb,” she notes.