Local chef says look for alternatives when searching for the right beef

Local chef Todd Barrios
Local chef Todd Barrios

NACOGDOCHES COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - There may not be many steak dinners this Valentine's Day. If you haven't already noticed, beef prices are soaring.

The meat counter is where Betty Allen says she only 'window shops'.

"I don't buy it. I'll find something else because it's just too expensive," said Allen.

Allen hates to pass up those steaks.

She used to raise cattle, but like so many ranchers had to sell out because of the drought.

"We're down around 91 million beef cattle in the United States which is down about a million and a half from last year of this time," said Dr. Erin Brown, assistant professor of animal science.

As a result,  beef prices could climb a much as 10% a year in 2012 and 2013.

Pretty frightening since some cuts today are close to five dollars a pound.

"A calf born today, she won't be in production for another 2 years before she has her first calf, then that calf won't go to market for some time after that," said Dr. Brown.

It's a long and slow process, exactly how chef Todd Barrios says to cook less expensive cuts of meat to make them fork tender. His recommendation, iron steak.

"Flat iron steak, actually, has been rated the second most tender cut on the animal, only behind the tenderloin," said Barrios.

In his seven years as a chef instructor, Barrios has seen food prices increase 200%.

His advice, learn the grades of beef.

"Prime is the top. Choice is usually the next top which is the highest quality you can get in grocery stores. Under that is select. Doesn't necessarily mean anything about the safety or the animal. It just reflects the marbling and age of the animal," said Barrios.

So no need to pass up the meat counter entirely.

Look for specials, get out the slow cooker and splurge a little.

Beef sales may drop off here in the United States, but overseas there's a huge demand for American beef, particularly in Japan.

Beef exports are at an all-time high.

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