Sponsored by National Beef
Most chefs learn to portion beef as a part of culinary school classes or real-world training. For many, it’s a daily duty they enjoy for its unhurried pace and the challenge of cutting meat accurately.
But to err is human, and errors occur when chefs are rushed, multitasking or directing staffers. Incorrectly cut steaks are costly mistakes that add up to real dollars over time, and when cuts like beef tenderloin cost $12 and more per pound wholesale, it’s easy to see how mistakes of an ounce or two here or there add up to a food-cost problem.
One answer is to purchase pre-portioned beef, steaks cut to spec and delivered in individual, vacuum-sealed packages. It's a solution that can save on both labor and waste due to haste. Many restaurants know that while they may spend a bit more for accurate beef cuts, it will free up their chefs’ time for other jobs like menu development and employee training.
Getting some chefs to sign on is not easy, says Robert George, director of business development for National Beef Packing Co. and its sales subsidiary, Kansas City Steak Company. “They've been cutting steaks for years and take pride in the job they do.”
But the reality is professionals who cut meat for a living do it to a higher degree of accuracy than chefs whose job descriptions entail many duties away from the cutting table. In addition, George says, “We try to help them see the advantage of having more time to operate a business by not cutting steaks themselves. We help them see how it’s costing them more — in time and money — to do the cutting themselves.”
A high-tech touch
Skilled as its meat cutters are, National Beef also employs portioning machines such as “vision slicers” to cut super-precise portions, George says. The machine measures the size of each large cut of meat and calculates how to portion it precisely to customers’ specs programmed into the machine’s computer. The machine takes a picture of the meat and then, based on target weights, cuts portions using computer-guided blades.
“The machine analyzes the whole ribeye to maximize the yield,” George says. If a customer wants 12 oz. ribeye steaks, the machine will find the most efficient way to precisely cut it down to fit their specs. “If there is a portion left that does not fit the spec needed, the machine will automatically adjust to cut to the next size of steak requested.”
Better inventory and cost management
Even chefs who are skilled meat cutters risk product degradation when cutting in bulk. For example, breaking down several whole ribeyes at once to get ahead will expose the meat to air, cause oxidization and trigger browning. To eliminate this, National Beef vacuum seals each portion just after it exits the slicer.
“Vacuum sealing extends the shelf life of a steak,” George says. “When the steak is ordered, you’re only opening the package for what you need, when you need it.”
Individual packaging of exact weight cuts also simplifies inventory as chefs know exactly what their inventory is at all times.
Targeting needs more efficiently
Ordering pre-portioned beef also allows chefs to better target needs without spending more cash than necessary on meat orders.
“Bringing in a whole case of uncut tenderloins could cost $750 or more, depending on the time of year,” George says. “Instead, the chef could order one or two cases of cut steaks and spend $200 to $400 dollars, get the exact amount needed and know the whole time how many portions there are in house.”
Buying from a beef harvester like National Beef Packing, he adds, provides chefs with the shortest supply line possible and the best prices available. “That’s an advantage the guys in the middle don’t have,” he says, referring to third-party meat suppliers. “As the harvester, we’ve got a direct line to the meat.”
Spot checks for quality
George knows and respects chefs who weigh each cut steak to ensure they’re getting what they paid for, and he says National Beef often performs similar field audits for customers.
“We work with different customers based on their needs and will make onsite visits to audit product weights and specs,” he says. “This service guarantees that steaks are cut the way our customers want them.”