Barbecues and grills offer superb meat fare for summer!

The summer months are once again upon us, which means it’s time to take advantage of Australia’s fantastic weather … and start serving up meals al fresco style!

The great Aussie barbie is as popular as ever and foodservice professionals across the country are looking to serve barbecued and grilled food as a key component of the menu over the Christmas/New Year period.

Of course, when you’re talking barbecues red meat springs immediately to mind – and luckily for us, the quality of Australian beef and lamb is as excellent as ever. In fact research conducted by BIS Shrapnel in November last year indicated 87 per cent of chefs are ‘satisfied’ to ‘extremely satisfied’ with the quality of the beef and lamb they serve.

According to Sam Burke, Corporate Chef at Meat & Livestock Australia, there has been an uplift in red meat quality in recent years, partly attributable to the increase in branded beef and lamb underpinned by the Meat Standards Australia (MSA) grading system.

“The MSA system takes the guesswork out of buying and selling beef and lamb and ensures consistency for chefs, meaning customers receive tender, juicy quality every time,” Sam tells us.

All animals farmed under the MSA system are reared, aged, processed and cut under strict guidelines resulting in a high standard of eating quality.

Sam adds that while there’s a growing interest among consumers in the provenance of the meat they choose from the menu, the MLA believes there’s an opportunity for foodservice staff to better market the meat they have on their menu by educating customers even further.

“Australian consumers are becoming more and more interested in where their produce comes from,” Sam explains, “but according to our research they’re not so focused on how it was produced. They might acknowledge the difference in farming methods but don’t have a deep understanding of them.

“There is a real opportunity here for chefs to educate their diners about how the meat they have on their menu is grown, if that’s something they’re passionate about.”

Sam says that while branded beef and lamb can add a sense of ‘romance’ to the menu, simply naming the brand isn’t enough.

“The location of the farm is something that really grabs your customer’s attention. According to our research 50 per cent of foodservice use brands on menu but only 13 per cent actually state where the meat was farmed and only nine per cent state the farming method.”

He says that simply by stating the number of days that the animal was fed on grain, or the fact that it was grass fed in (for example) Tasmania, a chef can raise the profile of a menu item from stock standard to something special.

“It’s all about telling the story and triggering deeper engagement between the restaurant staff and the consumer,” Sam explains.

“On that point, it’s obviously important for the kitchen to educate the wait staff so that employees can answer any questions customers may have about the farming methods and process involved in getting that piece of meat onto the menu.”

When it comes to red meat, steak is still king on the foodservice menu, a fact confirmed by the MLA’s research data. But Sam points out that while steak cuts such as rump, scotch fillet, rib eye and striploin are all on the increase, so is mince usage – due to the burgeoning popularity of gourmet burgers.

“Mince is a versatile menu item and shouldn’t be underestimated – it can be grilled, roasted, simmered, slow cooked or stir fried,” Sam emphasises. “Fat content or Chemical Lean (CL) is an important consideration – the leanest mince is the best choice for minced meat sauces like bolognaise, while mince with a little more fat is good for burgers, meatballs, kofta and meatloaf. That little bit of extra fat helps keep them moist.

“In burgers we can mix chuck, short ribs or brisket to get a distinct blend of flavours and textures in the pattie – there’s more fat content and flavour in short rib, but more texture in chuck, so when you combine them like this you end up with a distinctive flavour profile. The aim of course is to have a nice, moist burger with a real beefy taste.”

Sam adds that there’s also been a strong growth in the awareness and popularity of some of the lesser-known red meat cuts on the foodservice menu.

“These used to be known as secondary cuts but that’s really a misnomer – most countries around the world don’t favour the primal cuts that we do, they prefer to use these others first,” Sam explains. “At the MLA we like to call them ‘Masterpieces’ because these cuts allow a chef to show creativity, innovation and skill. You can use these cuts to create something memorable that’s often beneficial to menu item profitability.”

He uses the examples of brisket, skirt, lamb belly and rump, all of which are growing in popularity as chefs recognise these are cost-effective menu choices which still deliver the taste that diners are looking for.

“The Australian diner is cautious and frequently indulges in behavior called ‘safe experimentation’ – they are happy to push the food boundaries, but not too far. In Australia everyone trusts steak, they love their steak and once they’ve had a good experience with those primal cuts they’re more open to try other types,” Sam points out. “That provides opportunity for the creative chef to be more innovative – if you’re happy to eat steak and chips, you’re likely to try a skirt steak with chips. If you’ve had good aged ribeye, you might like to try a flat iron steak. The creative chef can increase yield and improve the food cost on the menu by adding some of these more cost-effective cuts as long as they’re presented in a comfortable format.”

Sam acknowledges that there may be a little more skill involved in preparing some of the lesser-known cuts, but adds “that’s our job at MLA, to help chefs overcome those hurdles!”

“There’s many ways to get a beautiful, tasty meal through taking a slightly different approach than just straightforward grilling. Braising is fantastic, then chilling and grilling – or you can use a sous vide, where the meat is put in a cryovac bag, the marinade and bastings added, then you put it in a water bath, remove the cut once cooked and finish on the grill to caramelise before serving.”

Southern American slow barbecued style cuisine which is currently big on menus all over the country – featuring such delights as pulled brisket, smoked lamb ribs, sliced flank steaks and slow barbecued short ribs.

“South American is also massive right now,” Sam confirms, “such as rump cap with chimichurri, sliced skirt steaks, full lamb carcasses splayed over charcoal, beef mince, Empanada Parrilla, asado and the churrasco trend.”

He adds that the next big thing might well be Middle Eastern cuisine – “grilled meats served with complex sides and salads of fruits and ancients grains, lamb kibbeh and shiskaba. Chefs like Shane Delia in Melbourne and Greg Malouf in Sydney are doing great things as is Yotam Ottolenghi internationally. I think we may well see that trend take off in the coming months.”