Why Tender Cuts Of Steak Are Typically More Expensive

Chances are you've been browsing the meat section of your local grocery store and noticed the disparity between the prices of certain cuts of steak. You may have wondered why the bavette, chuck eye, flat iron, and flank steak are so much more affordable than the ribeye, T-bone, porterhouse, tenderloin, or strip loin. Well, it has to do with the steak's tenderness, which is all in the cut.

The tenderest cuts come from high up on the cow. These are the muscles that don't see much work and therefore do not have all of that tough, built-up connective tissue to work around. These cuts, particularly ribeye, also contain a higher amount of marbling and intramuscular fat, which help make the cuts flavorful and soft as warm butter when cooked properly. 

So why exactly does this make it more expensive? Despite the beef cow being a very large animal, those tender cuts only make up a small percentage of the actual meat taken from the carcass and therefore it needs to be priced accordingly.

A butcher's profits

Ribeye, strip loin, tenderloin, T-bone, and porterhouse steaks only make up 8% of the entire carcass of beef. That leaves 92% of the carcass left. Essentially what this leaves consumers with is a supply and demand scenario. As these cuts are coveted specifically because of their tenderness, ranchers and butchers need to be able to charge more for them. This way they are able to make up for the rest of the cow, which is made up of tougher, cheaper meat.

About 38% of a beef carcass goes towards making ground beef, which has historically been inexpensive. Therefore, a butcher or rancher is not going to be making much of a profit from the majority of the beef that gets sold. So, by upping the price of these tender cuts, which are more labor-intensive to remove from the carcass to begin with, the butcher gets more money for less, but better quality meat.

Obviously, there is more to a cow than just ground beef and tender cuts. You've got brisket, beef shank, beef shoulder, and many more cuts that all have the potential to be beautifully flavorful and tender in their own way. But if you want the ones that grill well, the ones that give you that feeling of premium quality, you're going to have to pay more for them.