If you're thinking of throwing a steak on the backyard grill, there are a whole bunch of choices.
Maybe it'll be a rib-eye this time. Or a New York strip, or a filet mignon. Porterhouse? Delmonico? T-bone? How about a Vegas Strip Steak?
Well, you won't find the last one in your supermarket meat case today or tomorrow, but if Tony Mata has his way, its appearance there may not be too far off.
So who is Tony Mata and what is the Vegas Strip Steak? The former is easier to answer than the latter.
Mata is a meat scientist who refers to himself as one of a group of Meat Geeks. As an independent consultant for 18 years, he's been studying "underutilized areas of the beef carcass."
Here's the thing: The steer may use all parts of its physical being, but the meat industry, not so much. Mata explained that the beef carcass is cut up into a finite number of steaks; the rest becomes roasts or is turned into things such as ground beef. Obviously, a pound of steak is going to mean more to the producer than a pound of ground meat or even a pound of roast.
Enter the meat scientist. Back in '97, Mata said, he introduced the petite tender to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
"Now, 100 percent of it is consumed as steak, as opposed to chuck roast or ground beef," he said.
Mata said he also developed the flatiron steak. But he was convinced that there was another one out there.
"I was looking at underutilized areas of the carcass, primarily the chuck and the round," Mata said. "Four years ago, I started looking at obscure, off-the-path muscles. I really enjoy exploring that interesting carcass."
Yes, a Meat Geek.
You have to consider, Mata said, "what makes a steak a steak." The consumer, he said, is looking for tenderness, juiciness, appearance, flavor and aroma. Tenderness, he said, is the quality that's most challenging for the industry. Of the 450 muscles in a beef carcass, maybe 10 percent are tender; those usually end up as rib-eye steaks or New York strips, he said.
Three times, Mata thought he had found a muscle that represented a promising new steak cut, but none of them panned out.
"Then I came across this one," Mata said. "From the beginning, I realized, 'Wow.' I came across this one and I realized that I better get some help."
He partnered with Oklahoma State University, which has not only meat-processing experts but also an intellectual-property center.
"They convinced me that this item could be protected," Mata said, and he applied for a patent.
Compared to the petite tender, the new steak has a better shape and is more uniform in thickness, he said. It cooks more uniformly, is more tender and has better flavor.
"Aging improves tenderness," he said. "This one hardly needs any aging. At seven days, it's ready."
But, Mata said, "the majority of us meat scientists are lousy cooks," and so he sent samples of the new steak to 10 independent chefs. Feedback was good; the chefs said it reminded them of the New York strip in shape, flavor and tenderness.
And then, he said, there was the question: "What do we call it?"
"It's as difficult to come up with a good name as a good steak," Mata said. "We've come up with some pretty strange names."
Because it was somewhat similar to a New York strip, the Vegas Strip Steak was born. The steak even has its own website, www.VegasStripSteak.com.
As for pricing, Mata said he thinks the Vegas Strip Steak should be positioned between the petite tender and the New York strip. Sizes can range from 5 to 6 ounces, to 8 to 10 ounces or 10 to 14 ounces. Even at the level of USDA Prime, it doesn't exceed 4½ percent fat, he noted.
"It has the flavor but it doesn't have the calories," he said.
Marketing is in the earliest stages; he's looking at launch possibilities. Currently, the steak is served at the 13th Street Grill in Boise, Idaho, and at David Burke's Primehouse in Chicago.
But not in Las Vegas.
"That," Mata said, "is in the planning."
Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at email@example.com or 702-383-0474.