The Denver cut: You know it? Probably not. To be fair — and depending on who you ask — it didn’t really exist until a handful of years ago. We found it at Foragers Market in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood, obscured between familiar cuts like the rib eye and the New York strip. But don’t count on it being there. “We can’t keep it in the house,” head butcher Greg Brockman says of this increasingly popular cut of beef.
Here’s what you should know before bringing home the Denver:
Why don’t you know it?
Chances are you don’t recognize its name because the Denver hadn’t made a name for itself until a few years ago — and we mean that literally. A cattle industry–funded research and marketing effort known as the Beef Checkoff program has been exploring and promoting new, affordable cuts of meat. One cut among them was given the moniker Denver (sometimes called the zabuton or underblade steak, among others). Why Denver? No great backstory here, only that a consumer focus group found the name appealing. It’s certainly more appetizing than “zabuton.”
You could fill a book with all the things that meat eaters don’t know about eating meat. One book in particular, Larousse Gastronomique, according to Brockman, had outlined the most esoteric cuts since 1938, but who’s counting? “There’s no such thing as a new cut,” says Brockman. “We’ve figured out how to break it down by now.” But crafty butchering waned in the United States in the 1960s as beef made its way to supermarkets — crude, or more familiar, cuts reigned in the world of commodity beef. But thanks to the Beef Checkoff program’s “discovery” (read: marketing) and a new wave of butchers digging deeper, the Denver is something worth talking about.
Where does it come from?
“The Denver cut is from the chuck, which runs along the flat side of the shoulder blade,” explains Brockman. That may seem like a tough situation for a cut of steak; the chuck, of the shoulder, is the heaviest worked part of a steer, often used for slow cooking, pushed as a pot roast at most, or even ground beef.
But the Denver has it good. “It’s more of a support muscle,” says Brockman. “Usually if a muscle isn’t used as much, it has less blood going through it and has less flavor.” The Denver is located in a well-used muscle group to which blood flows thoroughly. And being a lesser-used muscle amongst them, it’s more tender with fat deposits. “The Denver is still part of the shoulder, which is used often — it just happens to be a tender cut amongst tougher cuts.”
Why choose the Denver?
“It’s a great everyday steak,” says Brockman. “If you want something similar to a New York strip, this is a great option — it doesn’t have the fat cap, but it’s marbled and cooked similarly.” Fat means flavor; that’s a fact.
Not to mention it’s easy to cook. Brockman explains: “This is a smaller-format meat, so you can get the amount of thickness you want for portion control and cooking abilities.”
And the best part, of course, is price. “It’s easy and won’t break the bank,” says Brockman. “It can be three, four, even five dollars cheaper per pound than other similar steaks.” The Denver is pulled from the chuck, which as a whole is a lower-quality section; by association, the Denver snags a lower rate. At Foragers Market, which butchers only pasture-raised beef, the New York strip is $27.99 per pound. The Denver? $17.99 per pound. Cheap with flavor; that’s a wrap.
Where to find it?
You won’t easily find this hunk of meat just hanging around. “Every butcher has access to it, but not everyone has it on their cut sheet,” says Brockman.
Thank the lucky stars of today’s butchery scene. Like Foragers, more shops, helmed and hewed by craft butchers, are selling a broader range of cuts. You likely won’t find it in supermarkets — commodity beef suppliers aren’t butchering from a whole cow. For this special cut, you’ll need to visit your local butcher.