Denver steaks are one of the increasingly popular steaks that come from the beef chuck primal cut. They're relatively tender, with nice beefy flavor, and they usually feature a good amount of marbling. As long as they're trimmed and sliced properly, Denver steaks are great for cooking on the grill.
Where Do Denver Steaks Come From?
Denver steaks are made from the serratus ventralis muscle, which comes from the under blade portion of the chuck roll. The beef chuck is the shoulder of the animal and it gets a lot of exercise. That means most of the muscles in the beef chuck are pretty tough. The serratis ventralis is one of the exceptions and isn't very tough. It's situated directly underneath the shoulder blade bone and doesn't get used much. This makes it one of the more tender muscles in the beef chuck.
It also happens to be one of the major muscles in the classic 7-bone chuck roast. The only difference is that in a chuck roast, you're getting a cross section of the muscle. Historically, an entire beef chuck primal would be cut into slabs on the meat saw and sold as pot roast. To produce a Denver steak, the serratus ventralis is extracted all in one piece. To a skilled butcher, it's more like surgery than carpentry.
Producing the Denver Steak
Extracting a Denver steak does require a skilled butcher. Even though it's tender, the serratus ventralis muscle is encased in a layer of very tough connective tissue, which needs to be removed before the muscle can be sliced into steaks. It's also somewhat teardrop-shaped, with a pointy part at the front which widens out toward the rear. The muscle fibers at the front part run in a different direction than the ones at the rear, adding to the challenge for a butcher.
Slice Denver Steaks Against the Grain
Now, for maximum tenderness, the Denver steak needs to be sliced across the grain. Ideally, the butcher will separate the front section from the rear section before slicing each part into steaks. Doing it this way allows every steak to be sliced across the grain. When you separate the front part from the back part, the front part becomes a triangular piece of meat. Producing uniformly-sized steaks from a triangle means trimming off the points. All that trim goes into stew meat or ground beef, which means less profit.
What often happens instead is that the butcher will simply slice the muscle into steaks from back to front. This is the fastest technique and it produces the most steaks with the least amount of waste. Unfortunately, that means the steaks won't be uniformly sliced against the grain, so could be chewy. For that reason, be very careful to avoid overcooking them, as this will just make them even tougher.