Why let chicken and pork get all the glory? Beef it up!
June Cleaver: “Eddie, would you care to stay for dinner? We’re having roast beef.”
Eddie Haskell: “No thank you, Mrs. Cleaver. I really must be getting home. We’re having squab this evening.”
Like Eddie Haskell, a lot of pizzerias may have taken America’s favorite protein for granted. After all, beef can be served in a myriad of ways — burgered, chilied, Salsburied, chipped, Philied, steaked, balled, chopped and even pink-slimed. But according to Mintel’s latest pizza restaurant research in the U.S., pepperoni (65 percent), sausage (54 percent) and mushrooms (51 percent) are the top pizza toppings. These are followed by extra cheese (45 percent), onion (39 percent), green pepper (37 percent), olive (34 percent), bacon (31 percent), ham (29 percent) and pineapple (21 percent). As a real pizza shop owner, you can look at this information negatively. But to stand out from the crowd, this is the perfect beefy niche, primed for a great pizza topping makeover!
There may be a reason why beef is losing to a bunch of pigs. Many pizzerias have just settled for the pre-cooked ground beef sold in frozen-crumble form that can be thrown on a pie without any waste. It comes in cases of 10 pounds and costs between 20 cents for beef with TVP, (textured vegetable protein) and 25 per ounce for cooked frozen crumbles. The upside is the convenience along with having a good spread on a pizza and the downside is you are using the same as everyone else.
Fresh ground beef can cost from 12 cents to 38 cents an ounce for ground kobe beef. The upside of using this beef is that you can form it anyway you want. The downside is the shrinkage and juice that you will lose cooking it, as well as holding it in the freezer (it tends to harden in a solid block).
I also use an organic, local ground beef for $4.25 a pound. That is 27 cents an ounce raw with very little shrinkage because it is so lean. The taste is far superior and I can count on another marketing fact to distinguish me as a very large supporter of local farms in my town. I’ve also trained my staff to make meatballs out of this beef using the following recipe. This should take a trained prep staff only 20 minutes from start to finish.
2 pounds ground beef (70- to 80-percent fat) = $6.40
5 tablespoons egg substitute, or two whole eggs, beaten = 9 cents
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning, (oregano, basil, thyme,) = 28 cents
1 tablespoon garlic powder = 16 cents
1/2 cup Parmigiano = $1.08
1 teaspoon pepper = 3 cents
2 teaspoons salt = 2 cents
Mix everything in a bowl for 5 to ten minutes making sure all is incorporated and the meat is semi-stiff enough to form into meatballs. If it is not, you can put more meat and Parmesan into the mix. If the meat is warming, place in the walk-in for 15 minutes to stiffen for balling.
Form the first meatball by closing your hands over it while pressing, then flatten each and roll in between them. Weigh it on a scale for one ounce, then place on parchment paper on a large sheet pan. Quickly form the following meatballs the same size. Halfway through, weigh another to see if you have the proper size.
Cook in a deck oven at 450 F for nine to 12 minutes. Shake the pan halfway to turn the meatballs so they don’t burn on one side. In a conveyor pizza oven, run through, grabbing the tray with a glove halfway through and shaking. When the pan appears at the end push it back in until just the end of the tray is visible. Store in refrigerator or freezer.
Batch food cost is $8.06. Yield is 30 one-ounce meatballs = 27 cents each.
Each cut into eight pieces takes four meatballs to cover a large, 14-inch pie costing = $1.08 per pizza.
With today’s high cheese prices, a plain cheese pizza (with box) costs between $1.70 and $2.50. Therefore, a handmade meatball pie would cost between $2.78 and $3.58.
At $10.99, this meatball pizza has a food cost percentage of between 25 percent and 33 percent.
If you are using frozen or raw ground beef, here are some pies that may set you apart from the pizza herd:
- Spanish. Make chorizo meatballs (using the above recipe and add half a cup of smoked paprika and delete the Parmesan cheese) with plenty of paprika and pair with onions smothered in chipotle peppers and adobo, cheddar cheese, roasted red peppers and cilantro pesto.
- Mexican. Mix raw ground beef with a taco mix and a little water and run through the oven, stirring after pulled out. Place crispy tortilla chips on a pizza crust first and then your cheese mix, cheddar cheese, onion, green pepper and tomato followed by the taco-beef mix. Can be topped with wing sauce for spice.
- Turkish Beef Pide, (Pee-DAY). This boat shaped pizza is made by making a football shape and cooking a mix of chopped beef, cumin, chopped banana peppers, a little pizza sauce, chopped tomato, parsley and onion. Place your cheese mix down first, then the beefy mix on top and tie both ends of the football into knots, (this may take practice but with proofed high-gluten flour it becomes easy.)
- Chinese Kung Pao Beef. In a bowl, mix equal amounts of your proprietary pizza sauce, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar (or regular) and chili sauce. Slather hot wing sauce on a pizza crust and top with your cheese mix and cooked ground beef. Top with scallions or regular onions and peanuts then drizzle the kung pao sauce on the pizza and cook. When done, top with cilantro.
- Truffled Beef with Mushrooms from Sienna. Spoodle a Béchamel (cream) sauce on your pizza dough and fresh spinach and your cheese blend. Then mushrooms, cooked ground beef and bake. When the pizza comes out drizzle with black truffle oil and balsamic vinegar. (Oven-ready potato chunks rock on this pie!)
John Gutekanst owns Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio and has a pizza blog called Pizza Goon. He is an award-winning pizzaiolo, baker, teacher, speaker and author.