The first time I spied a steak labeled “Denver” at my supermarket I figured it was part of a marketing scheme simply renaming the same old cut of beef. Turns out, though, that the Denver steak is actually new to the market, and it’s tender and delicious to boot.
The Denver, and other new beef cuts, resulted from an extensive study conducted at the Universities of Nebraska and Florida for the United States beef industry. The goal of the study? To identify muscles from the chuck (shoulder) and the round (hind leg)—traditionally sources for tough cuts best suited for slow cooking—that when cut a specific way would yield meat tender enough to be steak-like and perfect for the grill or sauté pan.
The Denver steak, the flat iron steak, and the shoulder petite tender are the most tender of these new cuts. All come from the chuck, which is more routinely turned into ground beef for burgers and Bolognese or sold as pot roasts. In the study’s ranking of tenderness for all kinds of beef cuts, the flat iron came in second overall, with only filet mignon ahead of it. The Denver placed fourth, just behind rib-eye, and the petite tender ranked a respectable seventh place out of 40.
Tenderness, however, is just one of the attributes of these new steaks. Well-marbled and boneless, they pack a lot of flavor and are generally priced lower than their cousins cut from the rib, loin, and flank.
Because they’re relatively new to the market, these steaks can be difficult to find. Of the three, the flat iron was the first to be extensively promoted and so is the one you’ll most likely come across. If you have trouble finding any of them, each of the recipes that follow also includes a more commonly available substitution. But given the beefy nature, supple texture, and lower price tag of these new cuts, they’re definitely worth seeking out. If your butcher doesn’t carry them, ask for them. Your palate (and your pocketbook) will thank you.