Remake Denver Steak

This one is aimed at the fresh meat retailers.  There ain’t no need for pics with you all.

In order to justify a call to remake the Denver Steak I’m going to start by speculating about how its current incarnation may have come about.

As a youth growing up during the 60’s & 70’s I recall eating bone-in 7 bone chuck roast that had an extremely tender muscle on the ridge side of the scapula.  That section of pot roast also contained a good “mouth-feel” piece of gelled collagen.  The section I’m referring to is the larger of the two muscles that sit on the lateral side of the shoulder blade.  As the muscle boning of beef carcasses increased over time; along with boxed beef sales, so did the popularity of individual muscles and muscle groups as boneless retail cuts.  To that end, I have a National Meat Board book from the late 1970’s that uses the meat cut name Flat Iron to denote the whole boneless cut described above.

Enter Beef Check-Off dollars; where a dollar from the sale of every beef animal is set aside to go toward industry promotion.  Check Off Dollar, University funded research aimed at adding value to underutilized (less expensive) beef cuts revealed that by knife removing the gristle strip from the center of the old thick Flat Iron cut, two to four thinner – high heat cookery suitable steaks could be fabricated fairly easily.  High quality steaks are prized (fetch high prices) because they can be cooked quickly, the finished product displays tasty/desirable texture Millard Reaction browning and the palatability characteristics of flavor, tenderness & juiciness are all present in the finished product.  Furthermore, Flat Iron steaks are taken from the beef chuck where marbling degrees tend to increase in the more anterior regions of beef carcasses.  The Flat Iron steak was and is a success story.  The ensuing logic goes: as long as we are seaming out chuck muscles in order to remove bones and fab higher dollar Flat Iron steaks lets see what other restaurant steak suitable – portion size muscles can be fabricated.

Side note: some still refer to the beef scapula as the paddle bone because it is said that in days of old it made a good canoe or small boat paddle when affixed to the correct length wooden pole.  And, the ridge of the scapula would seem to facilitate such usage.  As luck would have it, another well-marbled plump muscle; that rates comparatively high on objective shear tests for tenderness was found located on the medial (under) side of the scapula.  But, it ain’t no Flat Iron.  The Serratus Ventralis (the muscle Denver Steaks are cut from) does not yield uniform size steaks (portion control consideration), the edges of the muscle taper off gradually and objective shear test scores vary quite a bit from the more subjective eating tenderness findings.  My guess is that the small diameter plugs, of optimally cooked meat, which are prescribed for shear testing, are not big enough to accurately account for strands of intermediate level connective tissue running through some sections of Denver steaks.  After taking a good size bite, one sometimes ends up with a small wad of connective tissue in their mouth that are left after meat proteins have been easily chewed away.  The high tenderness ratings obtained from objective shear tests are likely due to small test plug size, loose texture of lean and the often high degrees of marbling found in the cut.  It’s important to point out that the Warner-Blatzler shear machine is not buying any meat.  People buy meat and a lot of them have voted with their wallets to tell us that the Denver steak experience is too chewy to be rated as a traditional high-heat cookery steak; as we have come to expect from beef rib & loin steaks.  In a related thought, funded University researchers don’t have to be concerned about repeat retail meat buyers to ensure their livelihood.  It’s important that beef check-off funded information live up to promotional claims made about the attributes of every cut.  Expert credibility is not worth loosing by pushing a cut that is anything less than advertised.  Customers being fooled once or twice then deciding not to stay on as  repeat buyers of Denver steaks seems to be what happened.  Having said all that, the Serratus Ventralis can still be fairly easily prepared to be one of the higher eating quality muscles found in the beef chuck.  The shortcomings of past Denver steak promotion should be admitted to and realistic & convenient ways of enjoying this cut need to be promptly presented to the public.

Some current Denver steak fabrication tutorials advise splitting the Serratus Ventralis (SV)along the vein seam in order to facilitate the cross grain slicing of all steaks.  I agree with that being a good practice; to divide the whole muscle into retail London Broil or corned beef/pastrami (main difference is that pastrami is smoked) roast size pieces.  Further, split roasts are then easy to thin slice across the meat grain at serving time.  However, when an intact muscle is cooked at high heat, as it is for a London broil, it tends to plump up a lot.  I advise splitting an uncooked SV London broil so it’s thickness is more like that of a thick flank steak.  Beef cut sales volume might well be increased by the selling of larger roasts; that also provide great meals in the near future when sliced as leftovers.  I’ve found it good practice to lop off the tapered edges of Denver roasts in order to both square-up the main cut plus generate some great beef for stir-fry, or similar cooking techniques.  Simply cut the mostly denuded edges into stew beef size cubes then freeze in approx. 1/2 pound packages.  When needed for cooking, slightly temper package contents using a microwave thaw setting then thin slice the still frozen together clump into what warms up to be small – thin pieces of beef.  Judging by how good this type of beef for stir-fry is I’m guessing that there are less strands of connective tissue in the tapered edges of Denver roasts.  This procedure makes very tasty and tender beef for stir-fry etc. when meat is added toward the end; so it does not overcook.

Admittedly, this concept for the Denver roast pretty much excludes it from restaurant sales.  Although thin slices from this higher quality London Broil do work very well as a salad topping.  It’s my contention that the Denver cut is large enough to be suitable for high volume retail sales.  Weighing in at almost 1/4 of Choice chuck roll, the cost per pound of fabbing out the Denver roast(s) should not be cost prohibitive.  And, this higher quality London Broil style cut should demand closer to Flank steak prices as opposed to either Top Round or Shoulder Clod.  While fabbing the Denver cut, the lesser known Splenius muscle (makes a good faux flank steak) and small Vegas Strip Steak (which is touted as being tender enough for fast high-heat cookery) are both well worth taking.   Denver roasts can be pumped with a water, bourbon, garlic salt and sodium phosphate solution (or something similar) to enhance fresh product yield as well as eating enjoyment.  Successfully selling water at meat prices is always a winning idea.  With the aid of either a hand operated or electric brine pump and sodium nitrite, making great corned beef or pastrami from Denver roast is also fairly easy.

Written by George Wolfer

George Wolfer

Been associated with the meat industry pretty much since starting at a Vocational High school Meat Processing program in 1974. Like to learn and teach interesting and worthwhile livestock production, meat processing and marketing practices.

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