Eddie Merlot’s New Menu Scores Big

Ask a restaurateur or chef how they go about changing their menus and you’ll get a wide variety of answers depending upon the type of establishment they run. Whether the challenge is a full menu revamp, or a seasonal change, striking a harmonious menu balance between creativity, cost management and consumer demand is never an easy task.

Wagyu1IMG_0895EWhen Eddie Merlot’s revamped their entire fall/winter dinner menu, (50 changes were made), EM owner, Bill Humphries, further challenged his staff with a very specific task: find a new steak that has the WOW factor! “We went to numerous ranches and top purveyors to find it,” described Tony Dee, Eddie Merlot’s Corporate Executive Chef.

What they found was a 20 oz. Wagyu Bone-In New York Strip that has never been offered in the U.S. from Greg Norman Australian Prime. Per their request, Norman’s company fabricated a “Signature Wagyu” with a marble score of 6.

Considering that most prime grade cuts have a marble score of 3, Merlot’s new Strip promised everything ‘wow’ and more. What makes the cut so different according to Dee, is “the texture and the taste. It has a buttery taste to it and the marbling is fantastic!”

Wagyu2IMG_0899EThe response thus far has been overwhelmingly positive from EM staff and customers. Are they worried that someone will try to copy them now? Dee mused he doesn’t know how you’d ever be able to copyright a menu, “there’s nothing we can do about it if someone copies us now – but that would be the best compliment.”

In addition to the new Strip, Merlot’s upgraded their 32 oz Signature Wagyu Tomahawk Ribeye, and added a 20 oz Bone-In Bison Ribeye and 7 oz Bison Filet Mignon to the mix. Wagyu sliders, burgers and even a ½ pound Wagyu hot dog are on their new Lounge Menu now too.

On the subject of changing menus, Dee says it’s important to do it for seasonal change and variety. You have to keep the freshest of ingredients on the menu when they’re in season to be satiable and fiscally smart. “We try to be smart as much as possible,” offers Dee, “but we’re also not afraid to go out and find great product. We want to provide the very best we can – that’s one of the reasons this company is so great.”

From the desk of John Cecala || Website   LinkedIn   @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Why is it so hard to cut a thick steak these days?

With the bumper corn crop this year and record high cattle prices, feedlot operators are bulking up cattle to make more money. Great for them – not so much for restaurants.

buedel website steakWhile menu trends have “beefed up” in recent years, ‘bulking up’ makes it tough for restaurants that want nice thick steaks on plates while adhering to portion control sizes.

It’s important to know that restaurants don’t always have unilateral control over how thick steaks can be when cutting to a specific portion weight. This leaves many chefs wondering, Why can’t I get thicker cuts of my favorite rib eyes or strips in the portion sizes I want?

The Dilemma

Heavier cattle, also means larger muscles. Rib Eyes, for example, are commonly running over 16 pounds in size when in years past the average was 12 to 13 pounds. At the same time restaurants like to plate nice thick steaks, usually 1.5″ or thicker while keeping to the portion control weight that best controls their food costs.

The increased average size of cattle makes it harder and harder for restaurants to get the portion size they want in conjunction with the thickness they want. The dilemma leaves many to choose between serving thicker steaks that are higher in portion weight, or properly portion weighted steaks that end up very thin and wide making for a less than desirable plate presentation.

Why Size Matters

Let’s say your goal is to serve a 1.5” thick 14 oz portion cut steak. The size of the loin that you start with will largely determine if both your goals can be met.

14oz CutLineImagine you have two whole rib eye loins. One loin is smaller; one loin is larger. As you can see from the picture above, your cut line will be in a different place depending on the size of the loin to achieve a 14 oz portion. Consequently, the larger loin will yield a much thinner 14 oz steak, and the smaller loin will yield a much thicker 14 oz steak.

Price Buyers Beware

The obvious solution would be then to purchase smaller size loins, right? Technically yes, but smaller size loins, or “downs” as we call them in the meat industry, are getting harder to come by and thus, usually carry a higher price.

Price shoppers who buy the lowest cost boxed beef to cut their own steaks will likely be getting random sized loins. Lowest priced commodity boxed beef often comes with higher loin weights from the larger loins of heavier cattle as opposed to lighter loins harvested in years past.

The problem steakhouses then have in offering smaller (lower ounce) sized steaks like Rib Eyes and NY Strips, is that smaller sizes would look like pancakes on the plate because the muscles are so large. People are accustomed to large, thick and juicy steaks –thin cuts are just less impressive on the plate. Steakhouses would be embarrassed to serve steaks in this fashion.

Alternative Solutions

Hand Selecting

If you’re cutting your own steaks and want thicker steaks without giving away portion control, request that your meat supplier hand select lighter loins or pick lighter master case weights to fill your boxed beef orders.

RibEyeWhile hand selecting is sometimes impossible with large broad line distributors, specialized meat purveyors like Buedel Fine Meats can usually accommodate such requests. This helps you deal with the problem before your meat comes in the door.

You can also achieve a nice balance between price, steak thickness and lighter portion weights by being a bit creative with your trim specification and merchandising on your menu. Try using the Boston Cut.

Boston Cuts

You can take a large loin size, say 15+ lbs, and cut it in half lengthwise making two 7.5 lb pieces. From each half then you can cut a thick small portion weight steak.

Boston CutWe call them “Boston Cuts” and they make a beautiful plate presentation for smaller ounce steaks. Boston Cut steaks are becoming more popular for a la carte menus and banquets.

These cuts are trending now for several reasons. Diet conscious people who prefer eating in moderation can still enjoy a smaller portion size with the luxury of a hearty looking delicious steak. Chefs can enjoy consistent sizes and cooking times while having a more attractive way to serve smaller portion sized steaks.

Boston Cuts of Rib Eye and Sirloin Strip are also great alternatives to higher priced tenderloin filets for banquet menus and split plates.

ABF Natural Beef

Another way to battle record high beef prices is to retreat from commodity cattle weights – specifically those getting heavier due to the increased use of added growth hormones, antibiotics and beta-agonists in the feed. Consider purchasing beef that was raised without added growth hormones or antibiotics.

True All Natural Beef such as, Niman Ranch and Creekstone Farms Premium Angus, which come from cattle raised without added growth hormones or administered antibiotics and tend to be smaller in size.

Don’t be fooled by the USDA’s generic definition of “natural” [a product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed] either. Pretty much all conventional beef fit this description today. Rather, look for brands that publish their handling protocols which specifically state never-ever policies.

The nation’s low cattle supply will portend the current state of all time high beef prices a few more years before things return to normal. Or, perhaps what is happening today may indeed be the new normal. The good news is, you do have options to get the thicker steaks you want.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Meet Chuck, Your New Bestie

What’s one of the best things you can do to handle rising meat prices? Get to know Chuck!

With meat prices at an all time high, chefs and consumers alike are scrambling for ways to buy meat affordably. One of the best things you can do to meet the challenge is to get to know Chuck –intimately.

Chuck 101

ChuckMapThe upper shoulder area of a steer, the forequarter, is commonly known as the “Chuck”, comprised of a network of interconnected muscles that move the animal when it walks.

The amount of Chuck’s connective tissue makes it generally less tender and tougher than middle meats such as rib eye and strip loin. But what makes Chuck so attractive is its inexpensive price and versatility.

Chuck costs 30% – 40% less than other cuts. Worth repeating, Chuck costs 30% – 40% less than other cuts! Add this to the fact that Chuck can be ground, as well as cut into a variety of roasts and steaks, and it’s easy to see why hooking up with Chuck is an economically smart and versatile move.

Chuck Cuts

Below are just some of the varieties of ways Chuck can best serve your menu and budget when cut into roasts or steaks: (Pictures from BeefItsWhatsforDinner.com)

Roasts from the Chuck

Roasts cut from Chuck contain a lot of connective tissue, including collagen, which partially melts during cooking. This makes the meat excellent for stewing, slow cooking, braising, and pot roasting.

Chuck Roast (Pot Roast) Shoulder Pot Roast  Pot Roasts offer robust beef flavor; are lean, moist and tender when braised (pot roasting).
Nutritionals: 3-ounce cooked serving: 182 calories; 6 g fat

7-Bone Chuck Roast  The 7-Bone Chuck Roast includes a cross cut of the shoulder blade. The bone is shaped like a “7″, which gives the cut its name. The 7-Bone roast or “steak” is generally considered a rather tough cut of meat and needs to be slow cooked or braised.
Nutritionals: 3-ounce cooked serving: 215 calories; 11 g fat

Petite Tender Roast  The Petite Tender, also known as the Teres Major, is the second most tender muscle in the animal after the Tenderloin. It’s found deep inside the Chuck and is lean, has a great beef flavor, a nice bite texture and is about half the price of Tenderloin. It can be roasted, or cut into 4oz medallions that look just like tenderloin filets which can be skillet cooked or grilled.
Nutritionals: 3-ounce cooked serving: 150 calories; 6 g fat

Steaks from the Chuck

The different muscles found in the Chuck can be further cut into steaks. Recommended cooking methods are Marinate, Grill or Broil and Skillet.

Steak StripFlat Iron Steak  Also known as Shoulder Top Blade Steak and Top Blade Steak
The Flat Iron Steak is a trending favorite on many of today’s menus. It is the sixth most popular steak at restaurants in the U.S. now according to recent statistics provided by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
Nutritionals: 3-ounce cooked serving: 189 calories; 11 g fat

Chuck Eye Steak  Also known as English Steak, London Broil and Shoulder Steak
Nutritionals: 3-ounce cooked serving: 178 calories; 9 g fat

Ranch Steak  Also known as Shoulder Center Steak. Ranch steak is cut from the shoulder roast; it has a beefy flavor but is tough. It is best when braised, or grilled, to no more than medium.
Nutritionals: 3-ounce cooked serving: 155 calories; 6 g fat

Short Ribs  Also known as Chuck Short Ribs. Short ribs can be bone-in or boneless, are hearty in flavor and offer a versatile number of menu options –absolutely delicious when slow roasted or braised.
Nutritionals: 3-ounce cooked serving: 201 calories; 11 g fat

Wrap Up

ChuckGroundLast, but not least, Chuck also makes a highly flavorful Ground. It is often used for Hamburgers, Meatloaf, Meatballs, and as an ingredient in many ethnic dishes.
Nutritionals: 3-ounce cooked serving: 215 calories; 13 g fat

You can’t beat the affordability and versatility of Chuck. Use these cuts with creativity and help manage your food costs, increase your food margins and satiate your appetite.

For more tips and ideas read, Value Steaks from Lesser Known Cuts and Cheat Sheet for Meat. Find recipe ideas at: http://www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com/recipes.aspx.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats   Facebook

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Chef Jake Burgess | On Trend at Prime 47

Prime 47 is one of downtown Indy’s top upscale steakhouses. With a second location in Carmel, and a third recently opened in Cincinnati, we spoke with Prime’s Regional Executive Chef, Jake Burgess, about expansion, the state of his industry and trends.

Why Cincy?

The investment group plans to expand the Prime 47 name. It had the same feel and vibe of the [first] restaurant – huge windows… you’re looking outside the whole time.

Pictured Above & Below Right: A long table view from Prime’s mezzanine and  historic preserved windows.

Prime 47 in downtown Indy was originally the Indiana Gas Company, we kept the original floors, ceilings, etc. In Cincy we found the same type of building there, located by the performing arts center.

How many restaurants are you looking to open in the future?

We’ll stay in the Midwest for now for the next 5 years, then, further west/southwest –southwest is where it’s at.

What first attracted you to the culinary field?

I grew up on the east side of Indy in Fortville and started washing dishes at a pizza joint at 15 in 2001. The oven guy called in one night and I got to work the ovens, and that’s when it changed. I majored in Food & Hospitality [at Ball State], but then didn’t think I’d like to take the corporate G.M. route, so I went to work for the best restaurant I could. I did a stint in Georgia, came back, worked for Mo’s, [former Prime owner group] then at Capital Grille, Sensu and on to my dream job with Prime 47.

When did you fall in love with making food?

At 17, when I was managing the pizza place. I came up with some new pizza and styles of pizza. Some of my ideas were put on the menu, and I was really excited about it. But, I started really learning culinary when I went upscale. The best words of advice given to me were, ‘You just have to engulf yourself.’Cooking pic

Pictured Right: Chef Burgess carefully drains bacon grease to reserve for making future stock. Cooking bacon on parchment keeps the bacon in place for easier draining, a kitchen tip he says home cooks can use too.

Industry Views

What do you see as your biggest challenges now?

As most of the restaurants felt with the weather in the Midwest last winter, it was hard to get people out of their houses while prices on protein and fish were going through the roof. We’re heavily convention based downtown; the convention base is down 30% for the year in Indy. Some of the annual conventions have also stopped returning due to cutbacks.

How do you manage prices?

We get steaks in whole and fish in whole and come up with 3 or 4 dishes out of it. We can make fish stock out of bones, etc., for soups and specials. In the past, we wouldn’t have a use for it.

It’s all about “Nose to Tail” now, isn’t it?

Yes. We take stuff that 10-15 years ago was deemed unusable, or nobody wanted.

How easy or hard do you think it’s been for customers to accept that?

Social media is a double-edged sword – but people are now intrigued by it. When people “like” on social media it helps others to want to try new things. You can have some fun with it too.

Are you an advocate of social media?Tuna + Wagyu

I think social is huge – we rely on it a lot – it’s helped a lot of people to change their minds. 15 years ago, there were no phones allowed at work, now we encourage the staff to check in on their accounts and let people know they’re at work. It’s free advertising! It’s changed the way we do business.

Pictured Above & Below Right: Plated Tuna & Wagyu. Prime’s table side fresh meat presentation.

How’s ownership dealing with transparency?meat tray2

They’re getting used to it – you don’t want to be behind or too far ahead. You don’t want to be New York in Indy right now – they say we’re 5 years behind Chicago and 10 from New York – but some things today, wouldn’t have flown then, and can now.

On Trends

What do you see as the next big trend?

Farm to Table –there are a lot of places where that’s all they do …if we can just get corporate into that. There’s a lot of product I’m buying from farmers 15-20 miles away from me now.

What’s the difference between Farm to Table vs. Buying Local?

We intertwine both. We buy the freshest and the best we can buy. So, if my beef prices go up, I have to raise menu price, because I’m not going to sacrifice for grade.

That brings up another good point; how do you feel about the way many restaurants misuse the word, “prime” on their menus?

Prime marketing… Prime Steakhouse has just one prime steak on their menu –a lot of their stuff is choice. Anytime I get a deal; my customers do. I have a great deal on Wagyu right now, better than some of the others, and we pass that on.

Which steaks are really prime? If there are several same steaks on the menu, ask; research before you go in to compare prices.

Logo with quoteWhat are your best selling meats these days?

Our 8 oz. filet is the top seller and Ribeye, which is handcut in-house and a little cheaper, if you’re into marbling. The 14 oz. bone in filet is hot right now too. We also have a 30 oz. Wagyu Tomahawk –it’s known as, “Indy’s most expensive steak”, people split it 30% of the time.

Do you see a difference in the amount of food consumed by customers?

I see carbs going down, lots of steamed vegetables and fresh produce going up… and fish going up. I also had a customer in here recently who ordered the 30 oz. Wagyu, with sides and had dessert too.

Do you think the Steakhouse trend will change?

I hope not. Indy is really booming; there are more coming in. I don’t see any change in the near future, but over time trends happen.

What would you do if steakhouses went out of vogue?

We are a big bourbon steak feel – we’d have to do some quick market research to see where you can take it. I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

Our steakhouse has the best services in the state; we are very interactive –we like to put on a show. We’re “fine dining”, but we like to say, ‘fun dining.’ The martinis are shaken at the table every time, we have the meat presentation and we wish our customers “happy birthday” with a personalized piano rendition played especially for them.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Retaining Pride & Passion in a Conglomerate World

Companies make acquisitions for a number of reasons; often to gain new market share, intellectual property, additional products and new revenue streams. Most of the time however, mergers and acquisitions are driven by a desire for higher stock prices under shareholder pressure.

We’ve seen plenty of consolidations in the food industry over the past year. The largest pork producer, Smithfield Foods, sold to the Chinese group, Shuanghui, Sysco is acquiring US Foods, Hillshire Brands moved to acquire Pinnacle Foods and then Tyson is acquiring Hillshire Brands.                                                        meat-knife-colorado-premium 

Lost in Transition

Acquired companies frequently lose their identity when they’re “synergized” into the large acquiring companies. (That’s code for grabbing the customers, products and profits while eliminating everything else that already exists within the acquiring company.) In essence, much of what made the acquired company valuable in the first place is tossed out, ultimately forcing the customer base into a commoditized system of doing business.

The not so synergistic trail has played out more than several times over in the meat industry. In recent years, privately held Chicago meat companies have been gobbled up by multi channel food industry companies. US Foods [now being acquired by Sysco as noted above] bought privately held Stockyards Packing and New City Meats and Allen Brothers was acquired by Chef’s Warehouse, a publically traded specialty foods distributor.

What would happen if two family run meat companies combined?

Buedel & CPF

Up until now, privately held meat companies have been largely acquired by food conglomerates with multiple lines of business. We are excited to share news of just the opposite: Colorado Premium Foods, a privately held family run fine meats processor, has acquired Buedel.

Buedel Fine Meats & Provisions will now operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of Colorado Premium (CPF). Other than the change in entityPicture1 backing of our company, Buedel Fine Meats continues to operate with business as usual – abiding by our commitment to listen to our customers first, and deliver premium quality meats with professional services.

This marriage makes Buedel Fine Meats stronger than ever and gives us increased size, scale and capacity to continue to develop new offerings, expand into new markets and lead by example into the future.

Our profile now provides:

  • A complimentary customer base to serve larger multi-concept owners
  • Additional product lines, with more buying power benefits to our customers
  • Geographical expansion of the distribution footprint for both companies
  • Mutual growth potential to reach new customers with our value nationally
  • Additional capacity to support growth in both businesses across geographic markets

Wrap Up

Retaining value is a top priority for Buedel and CPF. Our respective customers will not experience the pitfalls of commodity service but gain the opportunity to reap new benefits from a combined product and resource pool solely dedicated to fine meats.

Unlike many of the acquisitions before us, Buedel will continue to operate with pride and passion in a conglomerate world – merging old world family traditions with the best modern practices of today.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website LinkedIn @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

About CPF: Colorado Premium Foods is a family run, privately held premier value added manufacturer of premium beef products focused on serving major U.S. retailers, restaurant chains and co-packing of specialty items for packers across the nation. Colorado Premium custom processes over 100 million pounds of beef annually, operates 2 production and 2 storage facilities with approximately 500 employees and over 100 customers nationwide.                                               Read more at: www.coloradopremium.com

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Big ‘Q in the City

10325158_738899809508482_1853034942772849674_nIs barbeque BIG in mainstream America? The simple answer to that is “Yessum.” To give you a feel for just how big, over five million reviews covering nearly 20,000 restaurants were tallied during Open Table’s Best BBQ survey this year.

Current trends have also stirred discussions on what’s authentic barbeque, and what’s not. Buedel Corporate Chef, Russ Kramer, (also a member of a local BBQ competition team) says authentic barbeque has an “honest approach” to it.

Authentic ‘Q

“BBQ definitely has gotten more popular not only in Chicago but all around the country,” says Russ. “Lots of places have opened up…chains are attaching [to it], and demand for beef brisket has dramatically increased.”

So what types of authenbrisket2tic things should people keep an eye out for? Kramer says authentic BBQ has more of a “rustic feel” to it. “They just concentrate on the food, the smoke, and the rest follows.”

That ‘rustic feel’ is highly void of frills. “If you go down south, to where BBQ was born, you order your food and go into another room to eat at benched tables – and some of those old time BBQ halls and parlors actually still exist.”

City ‘Q

Joining the ever growing list of barbeque branded restaurants in Chicago last February, Green Street Smoked Meats has been written up numerous times since opening. By May, it ranked in the fifth spot on Thrillist’s Top Ten BBQ Joints and continues to draw a steady flow of “best barbeque” guest reviews.

meatWhen Chef Russ walked into Green Street for the first time, he said he didn’t feel like he was in a restaurant but like he was actually inside a ‘BBQ hall.’ “It looks smells and feels like BBQ – they stay true to it. They present things on sheet pans and sell by weight. You can order a half pound [of meat], and it’s served on a tray with butcher paper.”

The restaurant keeps their meat wrapped in paper to keep it super moist. The meat is retrieved upon order and carved on the spot atop big butcher blocks. Part of their success can be credited to their in- house 12,000 pound Texas made J&R smoker, (J&R is a southern manufacturer with a global reputation for top quality) which can house well over fifty pork GreenStSMOKERbellies at once.

On the subject of authentic BBQ, Green Street suggests it’s really the “aficionados” who understand it outside of the average customer and for them, brisket is the highest in demand by far. So much so, the restaurant just added Creekstone Farms beef brisket to their menu this week.

On trend with high-end steakhouses and industry players, Green Street agrees there is a definite shift toward the Creekstone brand. From their perspective, it’s about premium quality and working with a company dedicated to über efficient and humane field to order protocols which also just happens to have a team of “really good people” on board too.

All Q’d Up

communualThere is no doubt that BBQ is big across the country these days and finding brisket is way easier than it used to be. (Picture: Open table seating area at Green Street Smoked Meats.)

Those who know something of barbeque history, understand authentic ‘Q is deeply attached to meat (“…you barbeque meat and grill vegetables,” as one foodie blogger put it) and society. It was the social aspect of barbeque that attracted people to congregate communal style to eat, visit and share the news of the day.

Wouldn’t it be great if restaurants like Green Street helped bring a little of that ole time congregatin’ back for good?

From the desk of John Cecala || Website LinkedIn @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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How Taste & Flavor Affect Your Beef Experience | Part II

TASTESFLAVORSIn Part 1 of our article, we examined what factors affect the way we perceive the taste and flavor of beef. (Remember, flavor is the quality of something you can taste.) We also talked about how beef with higher marbling (intramuscular fat) usually wins the taste test.

There are certain cuts of beef which may be more marbled than others and/or more tender. There are also ways of adding more flavor to beef with Marinades, Rubs and Brines and also increase tenderness.

Adding More Flavor

Marinade is a seasoned liquid that adds flavor and in some cases increases tenderness. Less tender beef cuts, such as several from the chuck, round, flank and skirt, benefit from a marinade with tenderizing ingredients such as food acids or enzymes combined with a long marinating time of 6 to 24 hours.

Tender beef cuts are marinated only to add flavor and, therefore, require short marinate times – 15 minutes to 2 hours. Less acidic marinade ingredients should be used since their tenderizing effects are not required.

Acidic marinade ingredients Marinadeinclude citrus juices, vinegar, vinaigrettes, salsa, yogurt and wine. Fresh ginger, pineapple, papaya, kiwi and figs, also contain natural tenderizing enzymes.

A highly acidic marinade can actually toughen meat fibers similar to overcooking.

Rubs are dry or paste-type seasoning mixtures used for flavoring applied to the surfaces of roasts, steaks and ground beef patties just prior to cooking, they often form a delicious crust during cooking.

Dry rubs consist of herbs, spices and other seasonings that are pressed onto the beef’s surface. Paste-type rubs are spread over the beef and use small amounts of wet ingredients, such as oil, crushed garlic, mustard, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce, to bind the dry seasonings.

Cures & Brines rely on salt mixtures/solutions. For dry cures, salt and sodium nitrate are applied directly to the beef’s surface. Beef is also cured by immersing it in pickling or brining solutions that may or may not contain nitrates.

Originally developed as a form of meat preservation, these methods are mainly used to produce distinctive flavors, such as in corned beef and pastrami today.

Flavor Pairings

When beef is paired with two or more uEpic Burgermami tastes, it creates an explosion of savory, delicious flavors in your mouth.

Popular umami accoutrements to beef are aged cheeses, bacon, barbeque sauce, mushrooms, garlic, onions, red wine, soy sauce, and tomatoes.  Burgers are highly indicative of this practice – cheese and bacon are among the most preferred toppers today. (Pictured above left: Epic Burger)

Less Than Perfect Flavors

There may be times when you experience less than desirable beef flavor. Some of the terms I’ve heard used to describe this are, “livery”, “irony” and “warmed over”. Here are some tips on what you can do to avoid these situations.

Livery Flavor in beef is a complex occurrence without one clear cause, but there are ways to minimize livery flavors. 1. Red blood cells contain iron which has notes of liver flavor. A proper purge of blood during processing will help remedy the situation. 2. Avoid too much aging. Beef does become more flavorful and tender with age, but too much age can also cause a liver flavor. One reason may be that fat oxidizes during the aging process and the affects of oxidation appear to accentuate the liver flavor. If possible, avoid cooking to a high degree of doneness.

Irony Flavor or a Metallic mouth feel or iron taste is attributed to high myoglobin and hemoglobin contents which release iron during cooking. This off-flavor may be reduced by cooking beef to a lower degree of doneness.

takeoutcontainerWarmed Over Flavor occurs from reheating previously cooked meat. (Like when you reheat that doggie bagged steak in the microwave from last night’s dinner.) This undesirable flavor is caused by cooking to a high degree of doneness, improper storage, microbial contamination and exposure of cooked meat to oxygen. Consider having leftovers cold in sandwiches or salads to help minimize the problem.

Flavor Wrap

The taste of beef can be enhanced. Here are our top five flavor tips for getting the most out of your next meal:

1. Choose higher grades of beef, USDA Prime or USDA Choice, that have more marbling  (the marbling score is a large factor in determining the beef quality grade)

2. Opt for Properly Aged beef – anywhere between 14-28 days depending on the cut

3. Keep your beef properly chilled under 40°F until cooking and avoid freezing/thawing

4. Avoid cooking to a high degree of doneness and reheating

5. Experiment with complimentary umami flavors to create a flavor explosion.

Enjoy the taste of beef and savor the flavor!

From the desk of John Cecala || Website LinkedIn @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

 

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How Taste & Flavor Affect Your Beef Experience | Part I

CreekstoneBeeffiletThe words taste and flavor are commonly used interchangeably to describe eating sensation but in reality they are very different. Appearance, smell, and personal judgment can also affect our beef experience. (Pictured right: Creekstone Farms Filet.)

Triggers & Sensations

If you were in grade school before the late 1990′s, you learned about the basic taste receptors on your tongue for sweet, salty, sour and bitter. In the late 1990′s a fifth taste receptor was confirmed as umami which is the way our body interprets and senses protein or savory taste.

Receptors on our tongue send signals to our brains when we experience certain tastes. The ability to detect these five tastes is instrumental to our decision making. We may decide something is too bitter, or nicely sweet, and then decide to keep eating it or to avoid it in the future.

How our innate survival instinct relates to our taste sensors directing us towards certain foods and away from others is further important. For example, sweet indicates energy-giving carbohydrates; sour indicates potential danger from spoilage; bitter indicates potential toxins.

Flavor is the quality UmamiTongueof something you can taste. It is the combination of the taste, plus the other sensations that influence our perception of food, such as aroma, texture, juiciness, color and feel in your mouth.

People sometimes use words such as, rich, buttery, silky, pungent and earthy, when describing something they eat or drink. When doing so, they are actually speaking of flavor. You may have used the term “off-flavor” when something didn’t taste quite right. That’s because the combination of taste and the other influences were not what you expected or experienced before.

Beef + Fat = Flavor

Beef without fat lacks flavor. Fat imparts juiciness and flavor in beef but all fat with meat is not equal. There are three types of fat in meat:

  • Subcutaneous or External fat that covers the outside of a carcass
  • Seam or Intermuscular fat that runs between muscles
  • Marbling or Intramuscular fat that is found within muscles

Marbling is the visible flecks of fat within muscles that are directly related to the flavor and juiciness of cooked beef. Marbling affects flavor in two ways. First, fatty acids (the building blocks of fat) experience chemical changes during cooking and produce potent flavor compounds. Second, fat acts as a container for aromatic compounds that are released during cooking. Many beef flavor components are found in these aromatic compounds.

There are ten degrees BeefFlavorBlogof marbling USDA graders use for evaluation, from Very Abundant to Practically Devoid. The marbling score is a large factor in determining the beef quality grade.   USDA Prime has the most abundant marbling, USDA Select has the least marbling and USDA Choice is right in the middle.

Part 1 Wrap Up

Our eating and flavor preferences can be altered by the ways we see, smell, taste and even think about foods. In a study conducted by the University of Nebraska, consumer opinion was put to the test with steak:

70% of respondents visually preferred low marbled steaks, but high marbled steaks were rated juicier, more flavorful and taste acceptable.

What’s most interesting about this result is the inertia between a visual and actual taste. By sight, lower marbled steaks may have been perceived as the better alternative, but it was the flavor profile of higher marbled steak that won out.

From a market perspective, grain fed beef tends to have more marbling whereas grass fed beef tends to have less marbling. Consequently the flavor of the beef is quite different.

Read on: How Taste & Flavor Affect Your Beef Experience Part II 

From the desk of John Cecala || Website LinkedIn @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook 

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Meat Picks | 7.9.14

New Food Show

CNBCA new CNBC show called, Restaurant Startup premiered this week, where famed Master Chef Judge, Joe Bastianich, and renown Chef Tim Love compete against each other investing (their own money) in restaurant concepts they think will hit it big.

Casting for the show (ala Shark Tank) is ongoing: www.restaurantstartupcasting.com. You may also appreciate this video segment Bastianich did with an established NYC restaurateur on survival in the restaurant industry.

Tenderloin in Taiwan

image003 image001The global food market is ever expansive and Taiwan is booming. Last month, a record 7,400 international buyers (up 13% from 2013) visited over 3,900 booths at the Taipei International Food Expo, which took place over four days at the end of June. The core sections of the expo were: food, food industry machinery and packaging, hospitality, laundry and halal markets.

According to Austrade.gov US Beef is considered higher quality in Taiwan and has a “special grade” rating, as opposed to other beef imports classified as a “general grade”. The quality of meat also determines where it is sold. US Beef is usually sold to Western cuisine restaurants and contemporary supermarkets. Tenderloin, Rib Eye, Strip Loin and Short Ribs are some of the most favored cuts in Taiwan. (Pictured: Buedel Fine Meats on display by Tzy Yao at the Taipei Expo last month.)

Shmooze Date

Thursday, August 7th is the next date for the free industry networking event at Drink in Schuamburg, organized by Food Industry News. The featured speaker at the event will be Rich Labriola, founder of Labriola Bakery Cafe and the most recently opened Chicago version of, Stan’s Donuts. All food industry professionals are welcome.

Magic KISS

Paul-Stanley-and-Gene-Simmons-of-KISS-Venue-friendly-Rock-Brews-RestaurantYou have to respect the marketing prowess of KISS legends Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. They have over 3,000 licensed merchandised items and Simmons has built a highly successful multi-faceted empire across the entertainment, hospitality and financial industries for the last forty years.

Four years ago this summer, Stanley, Simmons and three other friends (Restaurateur, Michael Zislis and Rock & Roll Magnates, Dell and Dave Furano) came up with the idea for the restaurant chain Rock & Brews. With locations in California, New Mexico, Hawaii, Kansas and Mexico, the ever expanding brand announced it will also be going into arenas and stadiums opening its first “venue-friendly” location at the StubHub Center in Carson, CA., this summer.

Love KISS or not, you can’t dismiss this perfect parody of food, music and marketing.

Deal of the Day

10488075_759259007448679_8136965851066997891_nGreat hump day deal on “Fried Chicken Wednesdays” at Takito Kitchen. Enjoy $3 fried chicken tacos (sesame or crispy) on a hot sauce tortilla, with cheddar, herb aioli and avocado lettuce. TK also has a Farm to Table Prix Fixe Dinner and offers a Farm to Table Brunch every Friday through Sunday.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website LinkedIn @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

 

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The Latest on Finely Textured Beef

The Wall Street Journal called me last month for thoughts on a piece they were doing regarding the resurgence of finely textured beef (aka “pink slime”) in answer to rising beef prices.

Back in August of 2012,img-learn-packaging-overwrap we addressed the potential future impact on the industry due to the pink slime hysteria ignited by the media on consumer markets. (Read 1 of 10 Things (at the very least) the Foodservice Industry DOES want you to know.)

Thousands of good working people ultimately lost their jobs at companies producing Finely Textured Beef (FTB) who were forced to shut down from an avalanche of cancelled orders due to the misguided media frenzy. What made the situation even more exasperating was the fact that these production processes were USDA approved. All laws and regulations were followed, but it was the processors that bore the immediate brunt of the fallout.

When this occurred, the beef industry was experiencing its lowest herd numbers since 1955 due to drought, and the impact of removing FTB from the food supply required a substantially large amount of additional cattle to fill the demand gap for ground beef.

It was more than logical to predict these effects would likely drive up cattle futures and eventually the price of ground beef for all of us.

How Much is Too Much?

Before the pink slime hysteria in 2012, the average price of 100% ground beef in 2011 was $2.78/lb as per the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, which has been tracking ground beef prices since 1984. By May 2014, the average price of 100% ground beef was $3.85/lb, a 38% price increase compared to the 2% average annual rate of inflation in the United States. Just last weekend, a friend of mine told me she paid almost $5/lb. for 80/20 ground beef at her local grocery store. Consumers, retailers and regrill imagesstaurateurs are all paying much more now for ground beef.

Ground beef is the most bought and consumed type of beef by far. With that in mind, combined with the fact that beef prices are at record highs, it’s no wonder that finely textured beef is indeed making a comeback.  Retailers and consumers, perhaps now more properly educated on the subject, are purchasing products that include FTB in the ingredients.

FTB is currently sold to over 400 retail, food-service and food-processing customers, more than before the 2012 controversy, albeit overall in smaller amounts. Production of finely textured beef has also recently doubled at some manufacturing plants from its low point after the controversy.

Environmentally Sound

The production process for finely textured beef recovers lean beef from steak and roast fat trimmings that would otherwise be wasted. It is made the same way the dairy industry makes cream by using centrifugal force to separate the cream from milk. Cargill posted an easy to follow video outlining the start to finish process early this year; watch it here.

ftbThe maximized use of harvested animals, further popularized by “nose-to-tail” culinary trends, also makes the most of the limited natural resources used to produce beef. Conversely, in a market free of FTB, the following occurs: 1.5M more head of cattle are needed to fill the gap, 10.5M more acres of land is used for grazing those cattle, 375B more gallons of water is utilized to feed and process the cattle and 97M more bushels of corn is needed to feed them, which is grown on 600K more acres of land.

Wrap Up

On the surface, the return of FTB to the market would seem to indicate retailers and consumers are more concerned about cost than method. The good news is, environmentally sound USDA approved beef practices, which produce quality ground beef at better prices, is back.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website LinkedIn @BuedelFineMeats Facebook

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The Grand Champions of BBQ Pitmasters

WINNER - RSSeason 5 of BBQ Pitmasters came to an end last Saturday night with Rescue Smokers taking the title of Grand Champion, $50,000 purse and an exclusive invitation to the prestigious Kingsford Invitational later this year.

Rescue Smokers and Squeal Like a Pig competed in a final showdown where they were challenged to cook an unprecedented four different meats for one turn-in box: chicken, spare ribs, brisket point and pork shoulder. At four hours out from the finish, a surprise “one bite challenge” for whole shrimp was added to the mix for a chance to win an extra point.

Rescue Smokers also won that challenge with a bacon wrapped grilled shrimp. Judge Myron Mixon told the team afterward it was risky adding “an extra protein” to RS-TURN IN BOXthe challenge because it had to be “cooked perfect too.” Squeal Like a Pig’s Pitmaster, Joe Pearce had never cooked shrimp before the challenge.

Robby says he knew their turn-in box looked perfect and affirms you have to be a hit with “appearance” because that’s where the judging begins. Pearce, the youngest competitor, to ever make it to the show’s finals, lost by an undisclosed margin. “Joe is an accomplished Pitmaster for his age,” says Royal, “and I respect him for that.”

BBQ Brothers

Where Joe Pearce actually competed with his brother, Robby says he and teammate Raymond Poore are definitely like brothers. “There’s always a front man, and I have the gift ofRS-TASTING gab,”describes Royal, “but Ray and I are equals…we also argue. You didn’t see this on air, but we had a disagreement in every episode.” Royal says it’s easy to disagree on things because it’s very frustrating when you have to cook something you’re not familiar with.

“The team that Robby and I used to compete on before we created Rescue Smokers believed that one man made it all happen, ” recalls Poore. “So when we got started we never put the “i” in team. If I need to do a comp and Robby needs to do a comp, we are confident that we both can make it happen. And if I make a change or Robby makes a change, we trust each others’ decision whether good or bad.”

Royal and Poore always kRescueSmokersnew each other, but never had a relationship before BBQ. Royal says he got into it because of his father. “My dad joined a cook team and my brother and I would go hang out with them. When my dad died in 2002, Ray came to me and asked if he could take my dad’s place.”

Their relationship blossomed as a social hobby at first. “When we originally started, it was Ray and our wives, then another couple joined us, and a younger couple was also with us for a while.” Both couples eventually dropped off according to Royal because, “…it doesn’t give you anything back. You’re lucky if you break even – it’s just been the four of us for the last 5 years. BBQ is a passion – it’s not about the money. I’d love to do this full time, but it doesn’t pay the bills.” And, there’s only one Myron Mixon, right? “Exactly!”

Winning Profile

RS-BRISKET AND BUTT ON THE PITWhen they’re not competing, Royal says he and Poore’s family get together in their backyards. “Our families taste test for us.” Their children take on the role of spectators, “They love BBQ, and they love to hang out.”

Having lost by a miniscule margin in the semi-finals last year, Robby professes the biggest difference between BBQ Pitmasters Season 4 and 5 was that he and Ray came back ready and prepared to cook anything. “We took swings to hit a home run and it paid off.” Some of that renewed readiness may be attributable to an experience they had late last year when Destination America was filming a new cook show in their home state of Georgia.

RS-BRISKET BURNT ENDSBBQ Pitwars would have four top crews (including Myron Mixon and Pitmasters co-judge, Moe Cason), competing against each other during BBQ circuit competitions. When Royal heard Pitwars would be filming at the Big Pig Jig® in Georgia last November, (his “home cook”), he called the show producer to tell them they better keep their eye on Rescue Smokers while filming because they were going to “take Myron down.” The gauntlet was somewhat brazen at the time given the fact that Rescue Smokers had come in 2nd behind Mixon for the last three consecutive years in a row at the competition.

Placing 9th in Ribs, 4th in Shoulder, 1st in Chicken and 1st in Whole Hog out of 130 teams, Robby and Ray did beat Mixon and won the 2013 BPJ Grand Champion title. [You can see the win in Episo2013BigPigJigChampionde 3 of BBQ Pitwars.] How did Myron react? “He was happy for us,” says Royal, “as he would be for himself.” After that win, Rescue Smokers was invited back to BBQ Pitmasters for Season 5.

Beating Mixon was a full circle moment for Robby who says it wasn’t until he went to Mixon’s cooking school in 2007, that he truly learned how to cook BBQ. “We never won anything before that time and at the very first competition after that, we won a state championship!” Royal is also quick to point out that winning championships Myron competes in is absolutely essential. “You want Myron there. If we’d won [the Big Pig Jig®] without him there, it would be like Barry Bonds’ home run record – there’d always be an asterisk after your name.”

In competitive BBQ, “you have to be extremely consistent,” offers Royal. “Don’t change anything, try it again – be very careful with timelines, and get the product out at the right time. Be confident, have fun, be consistent, and get lucky …in judging.”

Status ‘Q

RescueSmokehouseGrillIn 2007, Ray and Robby each put in $1,000 and have never put in anything since. “We’ve been blessed to have it pay for itself,” says Royal, who says they’ve been able to buy their equipment, supplies and cover expenses with their winnings.

In 2012, Ray opened a restaurant in Ashburn, Ga., Rescue’s Smokehouse Grill, on the same day Robby received a promotion to Director of EMS and County Fire Chief. Poore says winning BBQ Pitmasters has meant the world to him and his family, “…not only is it nice to see your dad or husband on TV, but it has greatly helped out my restaurant.” He likes “making people smile with great food” and the challenges that come along with that. “I have one customer that wants his steak med-rare with no blood, who would figure?”

Prior to restaurant openings aMyron & Ray outside restaurantnd promotions, Rescue Smokers used to compete over 28-30 weekends a year, now they limit it to 10-12. Royal says it’s always been a stress release for him, “The average working life in EMS is only 7-8 years. You see a lot of awful things.” He says the guys at the station have always been supportive of the team, “…and now I’m their boss.”

The team’s winning track record, BBQP experience, and lighter weekend travel schedule has also paved the way to new opportunities. Ray and Robby are getting ready to launch a line of sauces (in July) and have plans to open a cooking school in the very near future. “We don’t just cook in one sanction – we cook them all across a 3-4 state area,” points out Royal. “We were the first team to win in four different sanctioning bodies; your flavor profiles change so much by cuisine, region and requirement. We are one of the most versatile teams in the nation.” [Read more about sanctioning bodies here.]RS- RIBS OFF THE PIT

Royal is looking at the new endeavors as an opportunity to “make a little bit” from their competitive efforts. He also made a point in saying that Rescue Smokers has never had any sponsors until recently – kinda. “Last December, my wife and I bought a camper. Several weeks later, the guy we bought it from invited us to lunch. He wanted to know why with all the BBQ competitors in our area, he wasn’t selling more trailers.” Royal ended up buying a new trailer for Rescue Smokers (which they’d planned on doing) by striking a “better” deal with the dealership in exchange for putting their logo on the trailer.

That’s a Wrap

BBQ Pitmasters was filmed last January and February over a five week period. “Every 3-4 days they did a new round,” describes Royal, “we were there from sun up to sundown – at one point it was 32 degrees – it was really cold!”

BUEDEL FINALS MEATAfter the final episode was filmed, they brought their check home and hid the trophy. It wasn’t too tough keeping quiet about the results until after the first episode aired in April when people kept asking them how they ended up in the competition. Robby tooled a standard reply: No matter if we won or lost, we met some great people, cooked some great product and had a great time.

Royal says they didn’t do anything special for the first airing of the final episode last Saturday night. “We had a bigger crowd. I smoked some sausage; Ray cooked some pizzas. Afterwards, it was a blast.”

From the desk of John Cecala || Website LinkedIn @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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New Chew on the Block | Mikey’s Jerky

LOGO trimmedOf all the possible businesses, a young entrepreneur could get into these days (tech, being the most obvious choice) you can’t help but wonder why Mikey Allen chose jerky. Yet the decision to go into the snack biz was far more logical than you might think. At the ripe old age of 25, Allen has been making jerky for 20 years.

Family Passion

“I remember we [he and his siblings] got this tiny little hydrator for Christmas when I was 5 – it probably made about 2 lbs. worth of meat at a time,” says Allen. “My dad used to go hunting, so the first jerky we made was with venison. We made it a couple of times a year and gave it to friends and family.”

Allen says his father and grandfather always had a great appreciation for doing things by hand. “My dad grew up in Champaign and went hunting with my grandfather. The recipe we used to make jerky was the same recipe my dad used with his father, and it’s the same recipe I use for Mikey’s Or894030_230185417188667_608606519362212903_oiginal today.”

Pictured left: Mikey and his Dad at one of their first open market stands.

The youngest of three children, Allen’s family moved from St. Louis to Louisville so his father, then a general dentist, could go back to school for orthodontics. “My dad was unhappy with general dentistry, so he went back to school and my mom, who was a nurse at the time, supported us.” The family eventually planted permanent roots in Wheaton, Illinois when Mikey was 6.

Allen went to work after college for Groupon in sales and on to logistical and advertising sales after that. It was during this time when his lifelong “hobby” started taking on a different perspective. “I started selling jerky to co-workers and friends and they all said, ‘you really have something here’”.

Perfecting the Product  

A year ago last April, Mikey quit his job dedicating himself to turning his passion for jerky into a legitimate business. He executed extensive due diligence, went through the agonizing process of getting industry licensed, and set his goals on producing a healthy handcrafted all natural snack. “In the jerky business, there’s not much out there yet in this niche.”

10301430_243618842511991_2282074179221836951_n(Pictured right: One of Mikey’s customers started sending his jerky overseas to her brother in the Army. She says the soldiers  love it.)

Allen currently rents commercial kitchen space and contains production costs by pulling “all-nighters” working a perpetual graveyard shift. “The process is very labor intensive” he describes. “There’s slicing, trimming, marinating, hydrating and then packaging. I lay every piece out singly for hydrating. It takes about 10 hours per run, plus the 4-8 hours for prep and marinating. I can make about 250 pieces in a 24 hour turn around. If a batch doesn’t turn out right, I throw it out!”

Dedicated to producing healthy, all natural and antibiotic free products, Allen says he Googled “grass fed suppliers” and found Buedel. “James [Melnychuk] has been just awesome with me, showing me the ropes of the meat business – he treats me like I was ordering 1,000 pounds a week.”

Mikey uses eye of the round cuts for his jerky with little fat from grass fed cattle and Creekstone Farms Black Angus beef. “I admired the companies who used only eye of the round cuts when I first started out, because it’s super lean. You can use bottom round, but it’s more labor intensive to trim it.”

Flavor Profiles

Having made venison and bison jerky in the past, Allen says he’d also like to experiment with some exotic meats in the future too, but will keep his focus on handcrafting beef jerky for now. “A lot of my competitors outsource to mass production facilities.”

Mikey’s Jerky currently comes in three core flavors: Mikey’s Original – a smoky bite with a strong, lasting finish, Great Barrier Beef – a zesty exotic herb and spice blend, and Grim Beefer – a hot and spicy version, “not for the faint of heart”.10012228_226415907565618_1235124841889871716_o

Allen says most people say his Grim Beefer flavor has just the right amount of kick, and others tell him “it could be hotter.” Always experimenting with new flavors, feedback from family and friends often weigh in. “Someone wanted me to do a brown sugar and maple syrup version and at one point we tried a Paleo diet version – it had a LOT of pepper.”

The ingredients on a package of Mikey’s Original include beef, water, salt, crushed red pepper, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, Worchester, liquid smoke and hot sauce. The jerky has soy and wheat allergens, however Allen also plans on expanding into gluten free products in the future.

Until last week, Mikey’s Jerky was only available by word of mouth and at local area weekend markets. Two new access channels were launched this week: Online Order and a special Father’s Day Gift Offer good for three consecutive monthly deliveries.

After Father’s Day, customers will have the option of joining The Jerky of the Month Club, which will include new and limited flavor profiles. You can also buy a bag this weekend at the French Markets in Wheaton and Glen Ellyn.

Building a Brand

17-20 pieces of Mikey’s Jerky fill every brown bag which has a tested shelf life of three months. “People love the packaging because it gives you a clean feel,” he says. “I’m selling the week of production right now, but when I hit retail, I’ll have to have it retested.”

Already approached by a Whole Foods rep, Allen is busy laying the groundwork for production expansion refurbishing a kitchen to commercial standards to move into next fall and hiring his first employees. His immediate goal is to be cooking 24/7 while staying true to the handcrafted process. The new kitchen would allow him to produce 750 bags a day – three times his current 24 hour turn around.

Mother's Day promoThankful for the support he’s received from friends and family, Mikey credits his dad for coaching him, his mom for teaching him “Quick Books”, (and helping him with all the “cute packaging” he’s really bad at), his siblings for helping him sell and his college buddy, graphic designer Adam Vicarel, for creating his logo. (Pictured left: Mom’s ‘cute’ Mother’s Day packaging.)

As with many startups, crowd sourcing may also be on the horizon, but Allen is quick to mention the help he’s received from his friend, Bob Sorenson at Threadfunds.com. Thread Funds is a platform for “crowd funded apparel and merchandise”, where startups can sell logo branded items to raise awareness (and funding) for their products, services and/or events. You can buy a Mikey’s Jerky tank top here.1557590_203964463144096_1545155536_n

Allen says his biggest challenge is “time management”. He only pulls two ‘all-nighters’ a week, but they wipe him out the next day. It’s about meeting supply and demand, and he says he’s trying to “work smarter”.

Mikey’s big vision is to keep the company family operated and handcrafted within the healthy/all natural retail market. “I want to provide a quality product people will appreciate that tastes good!”

From the desk of John Cecala || Website LinkedIn @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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How to Tell What’s Prime and What Isn’t

Google U.S. Prime Steakhouse and you’ll get over 7.7 million listings in return. Considering that only 2% of all USDA graded beef legitimately qualifies as “Prime”, there are more restaurants across America claiming to serve “Prime” than there is actual prime beef available.

What’s in a Word?

The word “Prime” can be used in many ways. As an adjective – first in quality or value, as in first rate: This steak is prime! As a verb – to prepare or make ready: Prime the grill to prepare beef. As a noun – the highest quality, choice, best part of anything: I ordered Prime steak.Prime definition

According to a recent U.S. restaurant census conducted by The NPD Group, there are over 600,000 restaurants in the U.S. We see items on restaurant menus like Prime Rib, Prime Steaks, Prime Beef and Prime Burgers, described in a variety of ways, but are you truly being served USDA Prime graded beef?

Remember, of all the beef produced in the U.S. only about 2% is certified as USDA Prime grade. Some restaurants use clever menu descriptions that mislead their guests into thinking they’re ordering certified USDA Prime beef when in reality they may be serving something else. One well known national restaurant chain proudly promotes “U.S. Prime” on their menu, yet USDA Prime Graded beef is not served for all their steaks.

Other popular merchandising terms are, “Prime Cuts”, “Prime Aged” and “Prime Beef”, but none of these terms guarantee certified USDA Prime Graded Beef is being served. Using “prime” terms, allows restaurants to buy lesser grades of meat and sell them as “prime”. The ultimate goal being to make an extra buck by getting a premium price for a less than premium product.

USDA primeWhile there are no guarantees for truth in advertising on restaurant menus, one way to determine if you are ordering the real thing is to look for the words “USDA Prime”, or a symbol bearing the USDA PRIME shield. If you just see “U.S. Prime”, it means nothing.

Making the Grade

The USDA has ten degrees of marbling that determine the grades of beef. Marbling is the term used to define the abundance of little flecks of white fat that visually appear within the meat muscle – the more marbling, the higher the quality grade.

MarblingMost restaurants serve these three grades: PRIME, CHOICE and SELECT. USDA Prime is the highest quality grade designation in terms of marbling which helps deliver tenderness, juiciness and rich flavor.

Beef inspection is mandatory, however, beef grading is a voluntary practice. Yes, you can purchase State Inspected beef that is not graded by the USDA, or even USDA Inspected but ungraded beef. When beef is USDA graded, it is given a USDA shield stamp. That shield is the most accurate way to determine what grade of beef you’re actually eating.

Other marketed terms, which can be confusing, are: “Certified Angus Beef” (CAB), “Black Angus”, “Angus Beef” and “Premium Angus”. These terms describe the breed of the animal, not the USDA quality grade related to marbling. There are hundreds of branded and private label beef programs claiming to be unique in some way, but unless that Premium Angus carries a USDA grade certification, it is only describing the cattle breed, not the quality grade.

The next time you dine at a “Prime Steakhouse” look for the words “USDA Prime” or the USDA Prime Shield on the menu. (Use the same rule of thumb when buying raw meat.) If they’re not present, ask more questions. Avoid having, and paying more for something less than certified USDA Prime beef.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Meat Picks | 5.8.14

Beard Winners

PurplePigThe James Beard Award winners were announced earlier this week. Of the many winners (see full list here), three Chicago stars shined bright.

Jimmy Bannos Jr. of River North’s The Purple Pig was a co-winner in the Rising Star category for chefs under 30. Dave Beran of Next won Great Lakes Best Chef and Outstanding Restaurant Design (75 seats or less) went to the design team at Lawton Stanley for their work at Grace.

Congrats to all!

Burger Bonanza

FlipTSignatureRiversBurgerMay is a popular month – gardens are tilled and grills get fired up – it’s also National Burger Month. (Read Art of the Burger and Fun Facts for the Burger Connoisseur.) River’s Casino came up with a nifty promo this year: a different burger every day for $10 at FlipT – great deal.

Rivers Chef Jason Herling brought some burger samples to Windy City Live last week. He said it took them two weeks to come up with 31 different variations and at 25, it got challenging. There was the Saigon, Philly, Makin’ Bacon, Carnivore and French Connection, to name a few, which had brie cheese, carmelized onions and pear slices – but his personal favorite remains their signature Rivers Burger, with cheddar, jalapenos and a large onion ring (pictured above).

FlipTChallengeRivers took their burger bonanza one step further by adding a weekly burger eating contest to the mix this month. Every Thursday in May, at 5, 7, or 9, you can challenge the (professional) standing consumption record of 5 Rivers burgers in 6:45. The first person to break the record wins $5,000; if you can come within 5 minutes of the record, you win a free burger every week for a year. Who’s hungry now?

NRA Countdown

Housewares – March, Restaurant – May, are fixtures on the Chicago convention scene. This year’s NRA Show (National Restaurant Association) is the 95th (yes, ninety five!) Anniversary of the annual event. Over 60,000 industry buyers from all 50 states and over 100 countries will pile in to McCormick Place May 17-20 to peer, poke NRA 2014and peruse through more than 900 product categories.

One of the new additions to this year’s show is the Foodamental Studio where attendees can learn (for free) from award-winning chefs such as, Tim Graham of Travelle, and then have the opportunity to try out the new skills for themselves.

If you’re going to the show, please stop by and see us! Buedel’s booth # is 7863!

P.S.

NtlBBQMonthMay is also National BBQ Month. According to the HPBA (Hearth, Patio & Barbeque Association), 58% of adults agree that cooking out is more fun and relaxing than dining out – being outside is great! In honor of National BBQ Month, the National Barbeque Association (NBBQA) is running a Facebook campaign throughout the month too. Simply post your best what-bbq-means-to-me pic on their fan page and win a prize.

From the desk of John Cecala ||  Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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The Vegas Strip Steak

Vegas Strip RawYou may not know who Tony Mata is, but I’m sure you’ve heard of Flat Iron Steak, a cut he discovered years ago. Mata’s most recent discovery is a new type of strip steak.

Antonio (Tony) Mata is a meat scientist, product development specialist and self-proclaimed Meat Geek®. A native of Mexico, he studied at the University of Arizona where he earned his Ph.D. in agricultural biochemistry and nutrition. Dr. Mata has been involved in adding value to the carcass for most of his professional career.

A Cut is Born

In 2012, Mata was searching new ways to glean value added beef cuts, in conjunction with the Oklahoma State University Food & Agricultural Products Center. Through research, he discovered a new cut of beef from the shoulder, or chuck, normally used to make ground beef. Using non-staVegas Strip Cut Outndard butchering procedures for loin seams – a big outside the box move – he was able to discover the new cut.

The chuck is an inexpensive primal cut that by its nature contains a lot of connective tissue, fat, cartilage and gristle. Dr. Mata’s butchering procedure, since patented, was to trim the bad from the good and yield a tender cut of meat, he ultimately trademarked as The Vegas Strip Steak®. Delivering tenderness, flavor and visual appeal, the steak weighs in at about 14 oz and can easily be cut into smaller portions.

Vegas Strip TendernessTenderness  It is tenderness that is the most important characteristic in a beef cut; it is also the most challenging to deliver. The tenderness of the Vegas Strip Steak® is on par with the New York Strip Steak. It does not require aging or marinating to achieve desired tenderness.

Flavor  Steak flavor can vary across cuts, and steak lovers are dedicated to their favorites. The Vegas Strip Steak® offers universal appeal and solid steak flavor that satisfies any beef craving.

Appearance While tenderness and flavor matter most, visual appeal can enhance the overall enjoyment of steaks. The Vegas Strip Steak® portions beautifully and can be grilled, pan fried, roasted or smoked; it works well in just about any presentation a chef may wish to plate.

Vetting the Vegas

Vegas Strip by Rick GreshDr. Mata worked side-by-side with Chicago’s very own Chef Rick Gresh to validate product performance, establish target specifications, develop and identify menu possibilities and confirm profit potential. Chef Gresh, highly excited about the opportunities the steak would bring to menus, regularly features The Vegas Strip Steak® at David Burke’s Primehouse in Chicago.

The Vegas Strip Steak® is available exclusively through specially appointed partners of Creekstone Farms Premium Black Angus Beef. (In the Midwest, Buedel Fine Meats is the branded Creekstone Farms partner.) Affordably priced, it wholesales for under $7/lb, which in comparison to steaks cut from the strip loin, rib eye and/or tenderloin, delivers remarkable value.

Round Up

blogcollage2If you haven’t tried The Vegas Strip Steak® yet, but it sounds familiar, the cut was most recently showcased on BBQ Pitmasters. (Buedel Fine Meats is the current season’s chosen meat provider.) When the Lone Star Smoke War episode aired, the BBQP judges referenced Dr. Mata, but just one of the Pitmasters competing that day had heard of or cooked a Vegas Strip Steak® before then. Yet, all the pitmasters fired them up to perfection and loved their visual and tender flavor rendering.

Dr. Mata done good!

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Buedel Goes Global

The FHA 2014 (Food & Hotethumb_showfloor02l Asia) expo was just held in Singapore. Promoted as Asia’s largest and most comprehensive international food and hospitality trade show, there were close to 65,000 attendees from well over 100 countries and regions over the four day event.

Industry buyerFHA2014_LOGO1s perused an extensive range of products and services put up by over 3,200 exhibitors inside 63 international group pavilions. Buedel Fine Meats was on hand exhibiting with our export distributor featuring USDA Prime Dry Aged Angus Beef.

Global Tastesthumb_showfloor07

One may think in Asia, where Wagyu beef and authentic Japanese Kobe beef are prevalent that Angus beef from the United States would be passe, but just the opposite is true. Highly coveted, Dry Aged USDA Prime Angus Beef is considered a luxury by the elite.

Ironically, dry aging is the way all beef used to be aged until the 1970’s, when vacuum packaging was brought to the meat industry. Today, USDA Dry Aged Prime, is highly valued because we, in the U.S., have mastered the sophisticated process of dry aging beef.

There were many exhibitors of Chphoto 3illed Beef at the show, including Wagyu from Japan, USA and Australia, but few with Dry Aged beef. Buedel exhibited a variety of USDA Prime Angus Dry Aged cuts. The excitement over our dry aged beef in Singapore was incredible, with the most favored Dry Aged cuts being:

  • Bone-In Strip Steaks
  • Boneless Strip Steaks
  • Bone-In Rib Eye Steaks
  • Bone-In Rib Eye Roast

Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan are all seeing an uptick in the number of steakhouses offering dry aged beef.

The Process

Dry Aging is a time honored, old world tradition where primal beef cuts are aged for 28-50+ days in a controlled open air environment.

During this process, the external service of the meat becomes hard and envelops the meat with a crust. The beef inside the crust develops a fine rich concentrated flavor and photo 2tender texture as the natural moisture in the muscle is evaporated. When the beef has reached the desired age, the inedible outer crust is carefully removed and the meat can be cut into steaks that deliver an incredible flavor.

To properly dry age beef you must have separated refrigerated space with precise temperature, relative humidity and air circulation controls, along with specific UV lighting to control bacteria growth to create the perfect environment.

Dry aged beef is more expensive than wet aged beef because there is typical loss of about 20% of the meat during the dry aging process. Dry aging is best for cuts of beef that have higher marbling such as Prime and Upper Choice grades. The most typical dry aged cuts are from the short loin (Porterhouses, T-Bones, Bone-In Strips) and the ribs (Bone-In Rib Eye Steaks).

Overseas Logistics

Exporting to Asia is quite comphoto 4plex and requires a myriad of paperwork and certifications. Every country has their own set of specific requirements. Once the initial requirements are met, consistent evaluations must be made for any changes. Japan, for example, is now holding vendors accountable for certain anti-microbial compounds. This list is ever evolving, and it’s up to every business to stay on top of these requirements, and bear any on-site audits conducted by the USDA.

Buedel is currently exporting to Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. For this type of beef export, you must write a dedicated exporting program that includes source verification and tracing raw materials. (Read more about food safety guidelines and protocols here.) Collaborative efforts by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) have helped pave the way for achieving global standardization.

We are proud to be able to serve these growing markets and help build global appreciation for U.S. beef producers.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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5 Tips to Keep from Paying More

One of our vetupsidedownpiggybankeran team members has been in the meat business for almost 50 years. To the many pricing peaks and valleys he’s seen over the decades, he remedies, “It’s not about us, but how we can help our customers to keep from paying more.”

This year we’ve seen tremendous price inflation on beef and pork. Beef prices are higher due to the low cattle supply, and pork prices are higher due to do the PED virus killing piglets.  As consumers, we’re paying more for commodities like bacon and ground beef.  On average, prices are as much as 20% higher than last year.

Our job as a partner to our customers at Buedel Fine Meats is to help them deal with rising prices and supply them with options to ‘keep from paying more’ than necessary in a rising market. How can you control costs in a rising market then? Here are five savings tips you can use:

1.  Bill & Hold

An option we offer our customers when prices are on the rise is the opportunity to Bill & Hold. They make a volume purchase at current market rates, and we hold their inventory, delivering it to them as needed – it is a highly flexible solution.

This method gives customers a fixed predictable cost for as much inventory as they can purchase without having to take delivery all at once. Customers can then reap the benefit of a predictable food cost with locked-in menu profits on the items they select for delivery when they need them. One of our customers who took advantage of this option currently enjoys grndbeefground beef at 50% less cost than the current market price.

2.  Reduce Portion Size

You can keep from paying more out of pocket while still keeping product quality intact by making portion size adjustments as a means of saving center of the plate cost. Reducing the portion size by just one ounce can deliver a 13% reduction in your out of pocket cash flow.

For example, let’s say you serve a 8oz Tenderloin Filet that costs you $18.00/lb. Your portion cost on this would be $9.00, but a 7oz portion cost would be $7.88, a cash flow savings of $1.13 per portion. This type of cost reduction can add up substantially over time.

3.  Change Trim Specs  

French and Rust Cut Pork Rib ChopsThe more you trim off the steak or chop, the lower the finished good yield. The lower the finished good yield, the higher the cost. Evaluate your trim specifications and determine if you can adjust them to increase the yield and reduce your food costs.

Here are two examples of how this works:

If you’re serving a French Cut Bone-in Rib Chop, consider an un-Frenched version and offer it on your menu as a “Rustic Cut”. Leaving the meat on the bone [un-Frenched] can reduce your portion costs by as much as 20%.

For center-cut only steaks or chops on your ala carte menu, consider the options for purchasing full-cut steaks or chops. The yield difference can reduce your food portion cost by 10%-20%.

4.  Use Alternative Cuts

HangersTake advantage of value cuts, which you can offer on your menu at a lower price, yet deliver the same or higher margins for your operation.  An example of these would be hanger steaks, bistro steaks and double cut bone-in pork chops.

5.  Buy More & Decrease Deliveries

Purchasing more items when prices are rising seems like an oxymoron.  However, consider how the challenges of your purveyor partners factors in the equation. If you purchase just one or two items from a purveyor, then that purveyor needs to configure your pricing to cover 100% of their distribution costs on just those items with each delivery.

Distributors will typically determine your average delivery size and set pricing accordingly. If you work with your purveyor, to purchase more of the items they offer and/or reduce by the number of  deliveries, the purveyor will have more flexibility to spread their costs/margins over multiple items per delivery. This gives your purveyor the benefits of economies of scale and cost reductions that they can (and usually will) pass on to you. Remember, quality service purveyors want to earn your business.

Takeaway

Five methodLightbulb2s you can use to help defray meat costs in a rising market are Bill & Hold, Reduce Portion Size, Use Alternative Cuts, Change Trim Specs and Buy More & Decrease Deliveries.

Train your culinary staff to segregate cuts where they can best be utilized. Buedel also offers free trainings and consultations. We help staff members evaluate their options and educate them on alternative cuts, different trim spec options, and how to apply them to a variety of menu applications.

Be collaborative with your suppliers. Openly and honestly discuss win-win scenarios with them to find best solutions. In doing so, you will likely benefit over the long term and keep from paying more.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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WHERE’S THE BEEF?

Have you noticed the rise in beef prices lately? Or, should I say, ‘OMG – what’s going on with the price of beef?’

pricesIn a nut shell, there is a shortage of cattle nationwide. Demand exceeds supply, so prices are on the rise. Next question: Why are we short on cattle supply and when will it get better?

First, let’s understand the key components of how beef gets to market in an easily digestible way.

BEEF SUPPLY CHAIN

Cow-Calf Operators  Our beef supply starts with these folks. These are the farmers or ranchers that keep cows to produce calves to sell. A mother cow’s gestation period is a little over 9 months. A newborn calf takes about another 12 months to reach 400-500 lbs. before they can be sold off to feeders. They make their money by selling off their calves, which the industry calls Feeder Cattle.

Feed Lots / Backgrounders These are companies  that purchase the 400-500 lb. calves and feed them to harvest weight, typically 1,200 – 1,400 lbs. Feed lot operators use grain for feed. Backgrounders keep the animals on grass for feed. Grain fed animals take about 6 months to reach harvest weight. Grass fed animals can take up to 9 months to reach harvest weight. These feeders make their money selling animals, called Fed Cattle, to packing plants for harvest.

beef supply chainFuture prices for both feeder cattle and fed cattle are traded as commodities on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME). The future price of cattle is a reasonable indication where beef prices are headed.

Packing Plants  The companies that purchase fed cattle at harvest weight typically between 18-24 months old, harvest them for beef production. The largest packing plants in the country are run by Cargill, Tyson, JBS and National Beef, who operate multiple plants across the country. These packers make their money selling the beef they harvest to further processors and distributors who bring their finished goods to market to the end users – retail stores and food service operators.

Adding it all up, it takes over two years for one animal to come to market. Each operator in the trail needs to make a profit to remain in business.

THE CATTLE CYCLE

The Cattle Cycle is the alternating expansion and contraction of the U.S. beef cattle supply. Under normal conditions, the cattle cycle is approximately a ten year period. During this time period, the supply of cattle will be alternatively expanded and reduced over several consecutive years, in response to changes in profitability by the cow-calf operators.

When cattle numbers are high, beef prices are lower, which precipitates several years of herd liquidation. As cattle numbers decline, beef prices begin to rise, prompting several years of herd building.

The herd building cycle is relatively long due to the length of time it takes a cow-calf operator to expand a cow herd by breeding more cattle between the cow’s 9 month gestation period and the subsequent 12 month period it takes for a calf to reach feeding weight. Ultimately, the cycle takes at least 3 years before an increase in beef production will be seen on the market.

DroughtMapTHE DROUGHT OF 2011-2012

The available supply of fed cattle had been declining since 2010 amidst a normal cattle cycle until the severe drought of 2011-2012 that disrupted everything.

Over 80% of the nation’s agricultural land was hit hard by severe drought. Seed crops used for feed dried up and prices of feed shot up. No crops meant no feed for livestock. Ranchers couldn’t fatten up their herds profitably, so they sold them for slaughter.

Beef production has dropped nearly 8% since then. Three years ago, meat packers processed an average of 620,000 cattle a week; today that number is in the low 500,000′s. The U.S. is the world’s top beef producer, and our nation’s cattle herd is currently at a 63 year low. Experts predict that it make as many as 8 years for U.S. agriculture to fully recover from the effects of the drought.

BEEF PRICES

The economic laws of supply and demand largely determine what we pay for beef. Beef demand was up 1.7% in 2013 to the highest level since 2008. Overall beef demand is 7.4% higher than 15 years ago, which is a bigger increase than  pork, chicken or turkey. Export demand for U.S. beef in 2013 was up 4.9% compared to the year before and was 24.2% greater than 15 years ago.

chart-retail-meat-pricesHigher demand and lower supply caused beef prices to rise.

Beef prices have been on the rise since the drought, and especially so over the past six months. We’re just now feeling the real impact of the low cattle supply. Live cattle futures closed at an all time high in February at $150/cwt. – 16% higher than last year.

It is expected cow-calf producers will continue to build their herds as they are getting higher prices for their cattle this year. Feed lot operators, while benefiting from declining feed costs, are losing that benefit by paying higher prices for feeder cattle to keep up with demand. Consequently, packing plants are paying more for fed cattle and passing on the increased prices to consumers.

Ultimately, consumer demand will determine the future prices of beef. Retailers and restaurants will eventually need to pass on these increases and consumers will either accept them, or reject them by spending their dollars on lower cost alternatives. It remains to be seen how all of this will play out in real time, but it appears we will see high beef prices throughout 2014.

TIPS FOR RISING PRICES

In the midst of the drought, we posted a blog (October 2012) that is even more relevant today with strategies to battle the rising cost of beef: What’s Your Beef? | How to Combat the Rising Fallout Cost of Drought.

beef-300x282Chefs and restaurateurs should look for suppliers that are able to create customized solutions tailored to their specific cost management needs. Having a strong partnership with key suppliers who can demonstrate creativity and flexibility, is the best way to deal with rising beef prices.

Ironically, it was 30 years ago this past January, when Clara Pellar shot to rock star status when she queried, WHERE’S THE BEEF? Here’s the link.

From the desk of  John Cecala   @BuedelFineMeats   Fan Page   Slideshare

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Pride and Passion in a Conglomerate World

Late last year, another chapter in the Chicago food industry closed. Local meat supplier, Allen Brothers, was bought by Chef’s Warehouse, Inc., a Connecticut-based food conglomerate, after a 120 year run of family ownership.

If you didn’t see one of the few blurbswatchdog7 about the deal, you probably haven’t heard about it. The company’s (recently revamped) website makes no mention of it, and it is business as usual on their fan page where holiday specials and New Year wishes filled their Facebook feed throughout December and into January.

Reports provided by a, “Chef’s Warehouse spokeswoman” claim,  “…the Allen Brothers’ management team, including Todd Hatoff, [great grandson and grand nephew of the founding brothers] will be retained. The big question is, will this really matter going forward?

History (Does) Repeat Itself

When businesses change ownership structure from family to conglomerate and beyond, it’s tough to keep the “q” in quality alive. Reach replaces service and diversification destroys the very brand essence from which many local and family owned businesses were built.

Looking back to the 19th centmeatpacking industry in Chicago in the 1930s364pxury, when Chicago was first being developed as a livestock mecca, there were the Armour brothers. Yes, Armour & Company was started by Philip and Herman Armour in 1867. The family owned the brand until the 1920’s when they sold to Frederick Prince, an investment banker and chairman of the Union Stockyard & Transit Company, due to financial problems. Prince continued building the meat brand and expanded into by-products, such as deodorant soap (Dial).

The Chicago slaughterhouse was eventually closed in 1959 and by the 1980’s, the Armour meat brand had morphed into two lines: “shelf-based products” (ie hash, chili, etc.)  and “refrigerated meat products”. The lines were eventually split and sold to different entities.Swiftcar

Today, the refrigerated meats brand is owned by Smithfield Foods, notorious for their use of antibiotics in pork production and most recently, the ethically suspect sale of the company to the Chinese.

Swift Brothers & Co. was also started by two brothers, Gustav and Edwin Swift, in 1878. (The company name was changed to Swift & Co. in 1885.) Gustav Swift was credited with pioneering the refrigerated rail car and the use of animal by-products in the manufacture of soap, glue, fertilizer, sundries and medical products. Swift & Co. is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Brazilian company JBS, the “world’s leading animal protein processor”.

In 1971, the doors of the UniChicagoUnionStockYardlimestonegateon Stockyards closed for good. All that remains of more than a century’s worth of rich and tumultuous industrial and labor history is its famous limestone gates.

You have to wonder what the Swift and Armour brothers would have to say about that.

Future Forecast

In an ultra fast paced global economy, it is easy to understand why Allen Brothers made the move from family run business to enterprise ownership. Maintaining market share and integrity against volume discount suppliers is challenging, to say the least.

Could Buedel compete head to head with a Smithfield? No. Nor, do we want to, because our customers deserve far better than that.

AnthonyBuedelfromVideoThis is an industry where chef, restaurant and hospitality reputations are on the line with every meal served. It is a proud, caring and passionate arena. Our customers deserve the same blood, sweat and tears they pour into every dish, delivered in every center of the plate product they buy.

Buedel Fine Meats is now the oldest family owned meat supplier left in Chicago – 2014 marks our 107th year in business. We merged old world family traditions with the best modern practices of today. Delivering premium quality meats and professional personalized services remains our sole initiative.

Pride and passion can’t be commoditized.

From the desk of  John Cecala   @BuedelFineMeats   Fan Page   Slideshare

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