New Denver steak rated fourth most tender beef muscle
Steak lovers worldwide know the cuts called tenderloin, ribeye, strip and sirloin. Beef enthusiasts with grill skills are familiar with recent additions to the lineup, such as the flatiron steak. But those in the know within the beef industry have been among the few talking about the Denver steak. Fresh signs point to a change in its awareness, and the reasons are plentiful.
“The Denver Cut is the fourth most tender muscle in the whole animal,” said Chef Dave Zino, executive chef for the Beef Checkoff. “Tenderloin is first, then the flatiron, and the spinalis through the ribeye cap, I believe, is No. 3,” he added. “Then the Denver steak.”
Saying it is tender and flavorful is one thing, but Chef Zino has the experience and expertise to explain why and how.
“It is muscle separation that helps with tenderness,” he began. “The way we used to cut the chuck, you would get pot roast and ground beef. When we separate the muscles out, boom, that gives us an advantage of a single muscle being more tender. If you think about a schematic of the animal, flavor goes from the front to the back. So you get deep, rich flavor in the chuck and the rib and by the time you get to the round, we start to mellow out. So (tenderness) and a very good, deep, rich beef flavor are two positives of the Denver steak.”
While a round of research in the 1990’s brought to the public the flatiron steak, among others, the Beef Checkoff also funded another round in the mid-2000’s that “discovered” the Denver steak. In that second round, beef researchers explored the chuck roll to find there was a flavorful, well-marbled, tender cut, if they separated the chuck underblade and trimmed away the connective tissue. Although it takes time for new cuts to gain wide attention, it is important for the beef industry to spend its resources developing them.
“Developing and presenting new cuts of beef is part of what we really attempt to do,” said Greg Bloom, executive director of the Colorado Beef Council. “It takes a long time to implement a new item. You can dream it up in a test kitchen, but then getting it commercialized is difficult. The Denver steak is kind of where the flatiron steak was 12 or 13 years ago. The flatiron steak was developed in a test environment by the National Cattleman’s Beef Association, but it took a long time for meat cutters to actually start cutting it.”
RAMPING UP DEMAND
Despite its flavor and tenderness attributes, asking for a Denver steak in most restaurants or large chain grocery stores will typically earn the questioner a blank stare. Smaller independent butchers and meat shops are a better bet for finding the cut, (this writer hit paydirt at Sam’s Meat Market in Aurora, Colo.), but the law of supply and demand is always at play. Without large scale demand, meat processors will not go through the extra effort to cut the Denver steak from the chuck roll. According to beef officials, it takes at least two or three national chain restaurants selling a new cut on their menu to raise the demand, as well as consumer awareness, high enough to get the processors on board and have the cut offered for wider retail.
“That is the driver,” said Bloom in reference to large chain restaurants. “Without that, it will never take hold. You can’t do it with five or six independent steakhouses. You need some major volume to put on an assembly line to make it work for a packer who is all about efficiency.”
One national chain raising awareness for the Denver steak is Maggiano’s Little Italy, who made the decision to offer the cut on its regular menu starting in March of 2017.
“We take our steak seriously,” said Chef Jeffrey Hanak, senior director of culinary for Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurants. “We are built around value and experience and we wanted to make sure we could offer dishes that were new to most guests and also some dishes that were affordable. We needed other (meat) options that were priced a little bit more affordable, so that was where the Denver steak began.”
Asked how the Denver steak initially caught their attention, Chef Hanak relayed the process.
“I was looking at a national cattlemen’s beef magazine or I was on YouTube,” he started in explanation. “I was (researching) the cuts of tender beef. We went right down the list and … up popped the Denver steak as the fourth most tender piece of beef on the cow. So I ended up calling our local meat guy, and had him bring a whole chuck roll so we could break it down, look at it, see if it would taste good, and how long it would take. We landed on (the opinion) that we really liked the Denver steak and we felt it was easy enough to get to it that we could have our chefs and teammates in the restaurants … relearn the skill of breaking it down.”
Customer response to their new menu item has been positive.
“We were ecstatic that guests loved it, ordered it, and we’ve been using a lot of Denver steaks,” Hanak said. “We are a family-oriented brand and we have family values. When you come into our kitchens and our restaurants, we are cooking for you from our heart. The Denver steak is something we crafted so you can enjoy without breaking the bank. We definitely have sold quite a few of them.”
“That’s great to hear,” Bloom said about customer response at Maggiano’s Little Italy locations. “I’m sure they will do really well with it. There are not a lot of jewels left in the beef carcass that we haven’t uncovered over the last 200 years, but this is one of them.”
— Rogers is a freelance writer and photographer located east of Parker, Colo. He can be reached at email@example.com or you can find him on Facebook at Official Lincoln Rogers Writing & Photography Page.