Beef has been a centerpiece of the American diet dating all the way back to Colonial times when low population density and large acreage allowed for more production compared to Europe and other countries. In fact, historians believe beef’s relative ubiquity was a major draw for immigrants.
Per capita consumption may not be as high as its heyday in the 1970s now that consumers diversify their diets with other animal proteins, as well as plant-based alternatives. Nevertheless, beef remains a mealtime favorite both in restaurants and at home. Its popularity around the world also makes it an ideal canvas for chefs to incorporate more global flavors.
It’s especially remarkable that beef sales soared last year considering that prices also increased dramatically. In 2020, retail prices for beef were 9.7 percent higher than the previous year. The last time prices rose so sharply was 2014 when they increased 13.4 percent compared to the year prior. If the patterns hold true in foodservice, restaurants might consider paying more for their supply to win consumers. (Cattle Buyers Weekly)
Unlike water, beef doesn’t freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, so the best temperature to store it is between 28 and 30 degrees. To ensure the best quality, it’s best kept in the coldest part of a walk-in freezer. (Russ Pagano, Cargill Foodservice)
The price of beef runs the gamut, which offers restaurants some flexibility in building their menus.
Most expensive: A5 Wagyu (from Kobe, Japan)
Least expensive: Shoulders (chuck), Rear (rounds)
(Russ Pagano, Cargill Foodservice)
In 2020, burgers were the most popular menu item for full-service restaurants across the board, from family and casual to upscale and fine dining. Oddly enough it was only the third top-selling item for limited-service brands. And while burgers can comprise all sorts of proteins, beef remains the quintessential patty. (National Restaurant Association)
The pandemic may have devastated the restaurant industry, but it proved a boon to certain commodities, including beef. In 2020, beef sales shot up 22.5 percent in terms of dollars and 11.3 percent in terms of pounds. In fact, beef accounted for 61 percent of growth in the fresh meat sector. (Nielsen IQ and Dynata, via National Cattlemen’s Beef Association)
America has a longstanding love for beef, whether served as a humble burger or a fine-dining filet—and it also has the supply to meet demand. The U.S. is the largest beef producer in the world, yielding about 12.5 million metric tons—or about 20 percent of the total global supply—each year. Brazil clocks in second with 10.3 million tons, followed by the European Union at 7.8 million tons. (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Agriculture Organization)
Mac’s on Main
Dallas—At Mac’s on Main, chef and owner Rena Frost plays with texture and flavor profiles for a lighter take on the beef entrée. The savory notes of grass-fed, Australian sirloin are balanced by a chipotle-honey vinaigrette while a jicama salad brings a global flourish and fresh crunch to the dish.
Minneapolis—Lengua (meaning tongue in Spanish) is an inherently tough muscle, but in the hands of an expert, it can be incredibly flavorful. At newly opened Petite León, chef and owner Jose Guzmán thinly slices the rich meat before brightening it with house-pickled-andcharred cucumbers and piri-piri.
Arlington, Virginia—Specializing in Balkan cuisine, Ambar in Northern Virginia elevates the typical goulash, a hearty Eastern European dish. Instead of using ground beef, the restaurant slow-braises short ribs from Wells Family Farm in red wine reduction for five hours before combining the tender meat with trofie pasta.