Veggies, seafood, and substitute cuts can help you navigate meat challenges brought on by COVID-19.

The effects of the pandemic have rippled throughout the industry, impacting nearly all segments. In response, we have seen an inspiring wave of innovation as restaurants have strengthened their takeout and delivery processes, enhanced their marketing strategies, and injected bold, fresh ideas into their menus. One difficult factor for restaurant operators has been the volatile protein market. But as we’ve seen in the rest of the industry, a little creativity can go a long way.


At this time, it may be a challenge to offer your typical cuts of meat while maintaining costs. Fortunately, there are a number of alternative cuts that will approximate standard quality at a more manageable price point. Rather than using center cut steaks, end-to-end cuts make great substitutions that will save money and allow chefs to use the same fabricated steak. A head cut filet eats the same as a center cut, but the savings will make a difference. Even a New York strip tenderized nerve end steak in place of a center cut strip will have a positive impact on the bottom line. Apply your creative instincts to alternative steaks and try some of these options:

  • Sirloin Cap Steaks
  • Top and Bottom Round Steaks
  • Cubed Steaks
  • Ball Tip Steaks

The current cost challenges can actually allow that inner butcher to emerge. Cutting your own steaks in-house will reduce costs on premium central cut primal. The trim for butchering can be ground for a signature burger. Soups and stews are great outlets for the extras as well. Let your creative juices run wild and use end primal meat segments in place of ribeye and tenderloins. Here are some great suggestions that are profitable and full of flavor:

  • Inside Skirt
  • Outside Skirt
  • Teres Major
  • Flap Meat
For darker, richer alternatives, game meats have become increasingly popular. Not only do they provide a touch of exotic flair to menus, but chefs can really apply some creativity with options such venison and bison. Younger livestock varieties also contain steak-like characteristics. Red veal, or grain fed veal, offers a rich depth of flavor with a red coloring that evokes a beef cut. Lamb steaks from Australia or New Zealand also approximate the richness of beef.


When it comes to pork, barbecue joints and other similar restaurants can really benefit from cut flexibility. Cheek meat, bone-in Boston butts, pork shoulder, and cushion meat are strong substitutes for the more traditional boneless butts and pork loins, but the quality is still quite good at a more competitive price point. Consumers love ribs, and many operations can benefit from featuring country-style pork ribs or whole spareribs. These finger-lickin’ treats can be prepared in a variety of ways using different flavors, while increasing profits and controlling costs. Chefs can cut their own pork chops and bacon from prime cuts, creatively using the excess trim and fat for house-made meatballs and sausage. And certainly not just for the birds, duck and goose breasts, as well as ostrich meat, offer lighter meat options.

Pro Tips for Protein AlternativesVeggies

Of course, animal protein is merely one alternative to beef-esque dishes. The mushroom family is packed with on-trend options, including portabella — with its darker, deep, and rich flavors. The button variety is lighter, more in the vein of pork, while eggplant western, or Japanese mushrooms have multiple applications. Having become a de rigueur aspect of menus nationwide, veggie alternatives such as impossible or beyond dishes, are both essential and cost-effective. Beans — kidney, black, and fava —legumes, and lentils are packed with protein, and can be easily molded into burgers, while tofu, grilled cauliflower, potatoes, and beets add flavor and texture that bring beef to mind.

It’s important to remember that protein is a nutrient made of amino acids, which are the building blocks necessary for critical structures like muscles, bones, skin, and hair. So, consumers are acutely aware of these facts and seek out food that both tastes great and is good for their bodies. That combination means that plant-based meals have already proven to be good for the bottom line. Take it a step further by focusing menus around veggie sources of protein, such as the following:

  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Parsley
  • Cucumbers
  • Green peppers
  • Cabbage
  • Tomatoes
The beauty of incorporating these protein sources is that they are incredibly versatile and complement a spectrum of flavors. Some can serve as the focus of a dish, while others can add a complementary spark to existing menu items. And don’t forget about the protein value of various nuts and grains. Almonds provide a substantial amount of daily protein value, with cashews, oats, chickpeas, and quinoa following as excellent sources of protein.


And finally, what better substitute for meat dishes than the meat of the sea? Seafood provides an extensive amount of lighter meat choices. Consider the following when devising a menu:

  • Swordfish
  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Crab cakes
  • Cod/pollock/haddock
  • Clams/mussels
  • Oysters
  • Shrimp
  • Crawfish tails
For comparison, pork chops and ribeye steaks contain 19 grams of protein per serving, while fish such as tuna and salmon have 25 grams each. Seafood is flavorful, versatile – in cakes, tacos, salads, and bowls – and can be a cost-effective replacement for other meats. Along these lines, frozen foods can be a real boon to an operation – they fit right in with consumer demand for environmentally-conscious, health-forward, and sustainable meals. Advances in today’s packaging ensure a longer shelf life, a fresher presentation, and more menu versatility, which results in cost and labor savings, reduced waste, and potentially increased profits.

Don’t allow issues with meat to affect your bottom line. There are more than enough replacement protein options that can actually enhance menu diversity, connect with consumer trends, and make your restaurant more efficient and profitable at the end of day.

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