America's Beef Producers announced the top winners of National Beef Backer Contest today at the Annual Cattle Industry Conference in Denver, Colorado. The Beef Backer Award, funded by the Beef Checkoff Program, recognizes independent and chain restaurants that set the highest standards in menuing and marketing Beef -- America's #1 protein. The three national winners included Golden Corral (Raleigh, North Carolina) in the Restaurant Chain category, The Branding Iron Restaurant (Merced, California) for the Independent Restaurant category, and Trostel's Greenbriar (Johnston, Iowa) as the "Innovator of the Year."

The National Beef Backer Contest, established in 1988, solicits restaurant entries through State Beef Councils. The selection criteria are based on menu creativity, use of new beef cuts, quality of beef products, menu share of beef, marketing communications and waitstaff training programs.

Laurie Bryant, Joint Foodservice Committee Chairman, notes, "As people eat out more frequently as part of their daily regimen, it's important that we, as an industry, recognize those restaurant partners who continue to delight their customers with great beef-eating experiences. Last year, more than 11-billion beef meals were served in America's commercial restaurants, and we expect to see that number increase as more restaurants capitalize on beef's menu versatility and the consumers' passion for the King of Proteins."

Accepting the Chain Restaurant Beef Backer Award, Beverly Lynch, Vice President of Food & Beverage at Golden Corral Corporation, comments, "We're honored to be recognized as a National Beef Backer and take a lot of pride in the variety and quality of beef items we serve at all of our restaurant locations -- everything from beef fajitas to meatloaf to our popular new Applewood Sirloin Filet steak, appeal to the entire family. Our patrons also appreciate the lively open kitchen, where they can see the entire action taking place -- steaks being flame-broiled or grilled. This just drives home the fact we use only the finest cuts of beef and we place a priority on freshness."

Accolades continue to accumulate for the Branding Iron Restaurant in Merced, California, winner of the Independent National Beef Backer Award. Established in 1952, the restaurant has collected numerous awards over the years for their extensive beef-focused menu and dedication to supporting local ranching establishments. According to Owner Greg Parle "We're overwhelmed by this national honor and share it with all of the local ranchers and regular customers who have supported us over the years. Over 90% of our sales come from beef, and we've seen our business continue to grow year after year."

The Innovator of the Year Award belongs to a restaurant that features the newer cuts in high-end, creative menu items like the "Flat Iron with Gremolade Rub Crostini" and "Chipotle Steak Salad with Petite Tender." According to owner/operator Paul Trostel, "We're always looking for new beef cuts and applications to add creative flair and interest to our upscale menu. The Flat Iron and Petite Tender not only perform beautifully, but they are also flexible enough for a variety of applications, flavors, techniques and ingredients. Our chefs simply love working with them." Trostel's Greenbriar knows how to showcase beef, presenting even the more traditional cuts in new exciting ways-like their "Lollipop Ribeye."

Restaurants interested in entering the 2006 Beef Backer contest should contact their State Beef Council.

The Beef Checkoff Program was established as part of the 1985 Farm Bill. The checkoff assesses $1 per head on the sale of live domestic and imported cattle, in addition to a comparable assessment on imported beef and beef products. States retain up to 50 cents on the dollar and forward the other 50 cents per head to the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board, which administers the national checkoff program, subject to USDA approval.

Producer-directed and consumer-focused, the NCBA is the trade association of America's cattle farmers and ranchers, and the marketing organization for the largest segment of the nation's food and fiber industry.

Source: Cattlemen's Beef Board; National Cattlemen's Beef Association