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updated: 2/15/2011 7:55 PM

Lean and lovin' it: Meat's on the menu

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  • mauerdon_5sl051007bc Photo0607166 Cook Photo by Bob Chwedyk ///Food columnist Don Mauer.

    mauerdon_5sl051007bc Photo0607166 Cook Photo by Bob Chwedyk ///Food columnist Don Mauer.


For this lean guy, meat's a dinnertime mainstay. Turning to chicken makes that meal easy since the USDA's poultry nutritional information could not be more precise: one 4-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breast delivers 129 calories and 2.9 fat grams; well under 30-percent fat calories.

The USDA's analysis for ground beef works out nicely, too. Four ounces uncooked, 95-percent lean ground beef delivers 155 calories and 5.7 fat grams. Once again; clear nutritional numbers.

Their database can toss up warning flags, too. For example: 80/20 ground beef (80-percent lean, 20-percent fat); a Food Network burger favorite may seem like lean eating (80-percent lean), but it's not. A four-ounce burger (before cooking) brings 288 calories and 22.7 fat grams to the table; 133 more calories and four times as much fat as 95-percent lean. That's right; four times.

If you search the USDA's database for a rib-eye beef steak the math starts getting a little murky. The reason: fat and calorie numbers are directly related to how closely that steak's been trimmed. The only USDA numbers for rib-eye reflect a steak that's had ALL the fat trimmed.

A four ounce rib-eye trimmed surgically clean delivers 190 calories and 9.8 fat grams; fewer calories and less fat than 80/20 ground beef. Who knew?

When was the last time you checked-out rib-eye steaks at your store's meat section and saw one trimmed to zero inches? I'd guess: never.

Here's the reality: If you take a close look at your store's rib-eye steak, you'll see a thick ribbon of fat circling that steak's outside edge. Since that steak's package contains no nutritional information at what you're actually looking, how can anyone figure calories or fat grams? Most of us can't.

This brings me to a steak that's been my guilty pleasure for years, one I've never shared until now because its nutritional numbers aren't even in the USDA database: a beef chuck eye steak. Don't be surprised if you've never seen one, since your butcher probably keeps it well-hidden so he can take it home. (No lie; that's what a young butcher revealed to me three weeks ago).

When I can find a chuck eye steak (aka: poor man's rib-eye, since it's priced at a half to a third of a rib-eye), I closely trim the fat from its outer edge before I cook it; trimming more visible fat once it's on my dinner plate. If cooked to medium-rare, a chuck eye's tender and juicy with a big flavor (that's why true ground chuck tastes so good). I didn't know how lean a chuck eye steak actually was until Nutrition Action Healthletter listed it as the leanest beef cut (even leaner than top round) in their October 2010 article, "The Kindest Cut." A 4-ounce cooked chuck eye trimmed to 0-inches of fat serves-up 180 calories and 6 fat grams. That's better than the equivalent cooked, 4-ounce, 95-percent lean burger. Astounding. Now a chuck-eye steak for dinner's a true, lean pleasure.

Some advice: don't think that a chuck mock tender is the equal of a chuck eye steak, it's not even close. And, don't fall for a chuck eye that's been pumped-up with saltwater and seasonings; the only one I tried was too salty to eat.

If you can find chuck eye steaks in your butcher's favorite hiding spot, here's a most excellent way to prepare them.