Growing up, when we had steak for dinner it usually meant that everybody got one serving of steak — or in our house, one steak per person. And, if someone at the table couldn’t finish their steak, there was no problem finding someone to finish off those leftovers. Never in our house did we think of a “serving” of steak as being 3 oz. of meat. Depending on where you look, you’ll find that a serving size of meat is 3 ounces and 2-3 servings of meat per day is the usual recommendation. On the upper end, that’s 9 oz. of meat a day, or just a little more than 1/2 pound. Lamb, pork and veal cuts will be omitted from this discussion (less one price mention below) because they are generally, though not always, smaller and more akin to a single “serving” of meat than beef; thus, the focus of this post will be on beef.
It is not uncommon to see steaks on a menu tipping the scale at 18 oz. or more. A petite tenderloin or sirloin cut might creep up from time to time, and if memory serves me well, might be in the 7 oz. neighborhood. [Bear in mind that the recommendations take cooking into account.] That single 18 oz. steak, a strip steak let’s assume (we don’t need to confound this with bone-in vs. boneless, etc.) is 6 servings of meat, or roughly 2 days worth. The more common (my observation) 12 oz. strip steak would be 4 servings, enough to justify vegetarian meals for the rest of the day. One burger of two- 1/4 pound patties fulfills the day’s meat needs as well. And don’t forget those 3 lb. burger or 72 oz. steak challenges.
The standard presentation of nutritional information is based upon portion size — 3 oz. The question is, however, who eats meat 3 oz. at a time? Or more importantly, where can you get a steak that is roughly 3 oz. in size? It’s been stated that 3 oz. of beef provides less than 10% of a day’s calories in a 2,000 calorie/day diet and that it’s a nutrient dense food. It really is a “superfood.” But what about moderation? On a serving basis, this could easily be extrapolated to that 18 oz. steak: “One of our steaks provides less than 60% of your day’s calories.” This is simply because the “portion” is so incredibly huge.
Portion Controlled Cuts
A few years ago I met a butcher named Kari Underly. She’s pretty much awesome and recently released a book, “The Art of Beef Cutting.” One of Kari’s previous endeavors was to work with The Beef Checkoff and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to develop “Beef Alternative Merchandising” (BAM) a few years ago. This concept was recently covered in a Drovers article. A demonstration of some the BAM cuts can be found here. From the article about reasonably portioned beef cuts:
“…consumers appreciate cooking tips and detailed recipes. They also prefer smaller cuts with less trim. ‘The right-size portion for many of them seems to be a 4-ounce (oz.) portion,’ she says. That might seem discouraging, considering the impetus was how to deal with larger carcass size, but it actually opens more doors in beef marketing, Underly says.”
Alas! A steak portion cut nearly the size of a serving of meat. As well, there is an opportunity to improve upon eating quality of meat by just portioning it differently. Let’s consider the traditional way to cut a ribeye steak. Just cut across it and there you go, that’s your steak. Well (and this is why some people say ribeyes of cattle be too big — they can be), in order to get a 12 oz. steak, the steak has to be cut rather thin and the eating experience is just not the same as eating a thick, properly prepared steak. I know this is an old example, but a relevant one here. Instead of sandwich-type steaks, that ribeye can be cut a bit thicker after the cap has been pulled off (see the BAM videos) and then halved to create two ribeye steak. And, that’s just one option to creatively cut them.
Some of you might be thinking, so what? Why doesn’t the consumer just cut up the steak in their own kitchen? Two things to consider. (1) There is a certain pride of ownership by having your own steak, even if that just means that someone else cut it up for you, and (2) pork loins. It’s not uncommon to find whole pork loins at the supermarket for a cheap price, then see pork loin chops right next to it that costs more.