Consumers generally love beef – whether in the form of steaks, roasts or ground. However, many struggle with a common perception that beef is difficult or time-consuming to cook, and generally less convenient than some competing proteins. To address this issue, the Checkoff-funded Beef Innovations Group (BIG) continuously develops, tests, refines and introduces new beef products, packages and preparation methods to provide consumers with easy, delicious and nutritious beef “meal solutions.”

Earlier this week, BIG hosted a group of trade journalists at the NCBA headquarters in Denver, to showcase some of these culinary innovations that will soon hit the market. Earlier, we outlined some of the new beef-cutting methods for adding value and building demand in “Innovation in beef cutting.” Following the cutting demonstrations, Steven Wald and Shenoa French, both members of NCBA’s Department of Science and Product Solutions, explained and demonstrated a variety of new, ultra-convenient beef products at various stages of development or test marketing. These included microwavable roasts, microwavable ground beef, self-contained skillet meals, delicatessen beef items for in-store preparation at supermarket delis and packaged pot roasts that make slow-cooker preparation and clean-up a snap.

Microwavable roasts: Tri-tip roasts and Sirloin Cap roasts (also known as Coulotte) make delicious center-of-plate entrees, but take time and skill to prepare. The BIG has developed special FDA-approved packaging, coupled with specific seasoning and fat trim, to allow microwave preparation of these roasts with less than 20 minutes of cooking time followed by a rest period. The roasts are packaged in a special plastic bag that allows air to vent while cooking the roast to an appetizing brown exterior and desired level of internal doneness in the microwave. Following cooking, liquid drains to a separate chamber in the lower part of the bag, for transfer to a sauce dish or gravy pan.

Microwavable ground beef: The packaging for this product is similar to that of the microwavable roasts. The product safely cooks from frozen or fresh in six to nine minutes, and the ground beef then can be crumbled and added to sauces, seasoned for tacos or used in any recipes that incorporate ground beef.

Self-contained skillet meals: These “weekday steaks and roasts” are packaged with seasonings and easy preparation instructions, to provide a beef entrée in less than 20 minutes. Choices include Flat Iron steaks, Sirloin Cap roasts and Denver Steaks. The products currently are in test markets with several grocery chains.

Delicatessen beef: Delis are a rapidly growing section within the supermarket, and a popular choice for shoppers wanting to purchase prepared foods for consumption at home. Chicken and ham tend to dominate the meat selections though, and the Checkoff and BIG are working with supermarket chains to develop beef options for in-store preparation. These efforts focus on products, and also on cooking facilities and preparation methods, so that deli employees, who typically are not trained chefs, can efficiently and consistently prepare items such as smoked, sliced beef brisket.

Slow-cooker pot roasts: A traditional pot roast in a slow cooker is a relatively easy and convenient meal for many home cooks, with a few minutes of preparation followed by a long, unattended period of cooking. But for some busy families, even that small investment in removing the meat from its packaging, seasoning it, adding water and cleaning up afterwards represents a barrier to using the slow cooker, particularly during the work week. To make it even simpler, the culinary experts at BIG have developed a packaged, pre-seasoned slow-cooker chuck roast that cooks in its own bag. Just cut off one corner of the bag, set it in the slow cooker, cover and turn it on. As with the microwave roasts described above, the juices move to a separate chamber in the bag when removed from the cooker, for easy separation. Still in the early stages of testing, this product could provide greater market penetration and add value to an under-utilized cut of beef. In early consumer testing, 80 percent of panel participants said they would cook this product once per month or more, and 100 percent said the packaging and preparation method would cause them to buy chuck roast more often.

Following the presentations, participating journalists had an opportunity to sample most of the products, and the consensus was overwhelmingly positive. The Tri-tip roast, cooked in the microwave, was tender and juicy, browned on the exterior and medium-rare in the center. The convenient skillet steaks – as tasty as most prepared from scratch. The deli meats were ideal for sandwiches or salads and the slow-cooked pot roast, shredded with some BBQ seasoning, was moist and melt-in-your mouth tender.

The Checkoff and BIG currently are working with private-industry partners to introduce these products, and others, to into retail markets and restaurants nationwide. The process takes time, but all producers stand to benefit from products that improve the convenience of beef while preserving or enhancing its inherently desirable flavor and overall eating experience.

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