Marcus has covered food for Newsday since 1998.
What's with all the new names for pork and beef?
In April, the National Pork Board and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association jointly announced they were introducing new names for cuts of pork and beef. (The USDA has approved the program, but it is voluntary.)
You are hereby advised that a pork loin chop is now a porterhouse, the rib chop has been promoted to rib-eye, the top loin chop to New York chop. Pork picnic roast is now a shoulder center roast; the Boston butt is now a blade roast.
On the beef side, the boneless shoulder top blade steak is now officially known as flat iron steak (which most retailers have been calling it for years); the bottom round heel side boneless steak is now a merlot steak.
The new names will "help clear up confusion that consumers currently experience at the meat case, helping to move more pork in the long term," said National Pork Board President Conley Nelson. According to Trevor Amen, director of "market intelligence" for the cattlemen, the old system was "based on anatomical structure," whereas the new one "will make it easier for them [consumers] to choose the right cut for the right cooking application."
The butchers react
"Merlot steak? Like the wine?" That was the reaction of Dennis Brucculeri, lifelong butcher and owner of Sal's Meat Market in Massapequa Park. He hadn't heard about the new names.
Brucculeri also was confounded by sirloin bavette steak which, according to the new spreadsheet (see it at meattrack.com) is the updated name for flap meat. "Bavette? Is that French? Anyway, I just learned about flap meat. I always used to call that the porterhouse tail."
The truth is, American meat names have never been regularized. And this new campaign doesn't seem destined to change that. Albert Gerrity, a second-generation butcher and the director of meat and seafood at King Kullen, hadn't been contacted by either the pork board or the beef association. "I did pick up some tidbits from my newsfeed, but when I asked my contact at the New York Beef Industry Council to explain to me why he hadn't reached out to me about the new names, he said he hadn't heard about them."
Gerrity is glad the official name for flat iron steak is now flat iron steak, but he doesn't think that "bavette" or "coulotte" (formerly top sirloin cap) is going to be of great use to the consumer. The new scheme would have him calling his shell steaks strip steaks. "Then my customers are going to ask me what happened to the shell steaks," he said.
The best advice
The real problem, according to Gerrity, is not that the names are not standardized. It's that many consumers don't realize that different cuts of meat need to be cooked in different ways. "It happens all the time. We have eye round on sale and I hear a customer say, 'I'm going to pot-roast it.' 'Stop! Don't do it,' I say. Pot roast is for cheaper, tougher cuts, like bottom round. With eye round, you make a roast beef."
Gerrity's best advice for buying meat: "Don't just look at the label. Ask someone behind the butcher counter."