When it comes to eating steak, there are a couple of things that we all willingly accept.
First, we know that to have a tasty piece of steak is going to be expensive.
We also know that if it is not cooked correctly, it will taste like an old shoe.
For these reasons, many of us are willing to pay more.
Have you ever wondered why steak is so expensive?
Continue reading to find out more about what drives the cost of your favorite dish.
This article gives you some insight into why you are paying so much to enjoy your favorite steak dinner.
Why Is Steak So Expensive?
1. Supply And Demand
Before digging into the expensive cost of steak, it is essential to note that there are cheaper cuts of steak that you can purchase.
Some of those cuts are used for hamburgers, and some are sold in grocery stores.
However, for the purpose of this article, the focus will remain on the more expensive cuts of steak.
You are probably questioning the problem of supply and demand, considering cows seem to be abundant.
If that’s the case, how can there be too little supply for the demand?
The issue is not the prevalence of cows but the choice cuts of steak.
The better cuts of meat, porterhouse, filet, tenderloin, etc., make up only 10 percent of the cow.
That means that 90 percent of that large animal is made up of less than choice cuts of meat.
When the amount of choice meat is limited, supply and demand come into play.
Fortunately, butchers and slaughterhouses use every part of the cow, so there is no waste.
Unfortunately, that still leaves you paying the high cost of the cut you prefer.
2. Tender Meat
The more tender the meat of your preferred cut of steak, the more it is going to cost.
The better the cut of meat is, the more tender it is.
The reason the meat is more tender is its location on the cow.
These tender cuts of meat come from a part of the cow that gets little exercise because of their location on the cow.
They are higher up on the cow and used less.
Most of us prefer more tender cuts of steak because no one wants to chew on one piece of meat for 30 minutes because it is so tough.
Not only is chewing tougher cuts of meat more difficult but so is cutting them.
You will feel like you are sawing away at it and not getting anywhere.
3. Butchering Time
Skilled butchers are like artists, and it takes time to learn their craft.
Sure, anyone can take a knife to a large side of beef and start cutting.
That does not mean they are cutting it correctly.
An experienced butcher knows all the cuts of meat and exactly how to chop it up.
Some of the most prized cuts of beef are in more difficult places, and they take a decent amount of time to clean them.
When you get a cut of meat like filet mignon, you expect that it will have no fat and little gristle.
This cut of meat does not come off of the cow this way.
The butcher has to work for it.
They slice up the beef removing all the unwanted parts but leaving all the good stuff.
That takes time and adds to the cost.
It can take as much as 30 minutes to cut off all the fat and gristle from a quality cut of meat.
Even cuts of meat like a porterhouse, which can be cut more quickly, must still be appropriately cut and trimmed neatly.
Not only do steak consumers want their meat to taste good, but they also expect it to look appealing.
4. Prime Meat
When consumers are looking for meat, they want high quality.
Many people know they want a steak that is labeled as a prime cut, but they do not know why it has that label or why it costs so much.
A prime cut of meat is going to cost the most out of all the cuts.
The USDA gives each type of beef a grade.
These grades include “prime”, “choice”, and “select”.
Prime is the designation that is given to the highest quality meat.
This cut also tends to be the youngest and has the most marbling.
The marbling is an indication of flavor for the meat.
Prime is also considered restaurant-quality meat.
Prime cut is what you pay a high price for at your local steak restaurant.
Choice is usually given to cuts like rib and loin because they are flavorful, tender, and there are many cooking styles.
Select beef is often leaner with less flavor.
It will benefit from braising or marinating to make it more tender.
There are a few other ratings of which you should be aware.
The cuts of meat with these ratings are not typically expensive, but you should know about them.
You do not want a hefty price tag attached to them just because they are cuts of beef.
These ratings are “standard”, “commercial”, “utility”, “cutter”, and “canner”.
Many standard, commercial, and utility cuts do not have a grade on them and are often considered store brand meat.
Utility, cutter, and canner are grades of meat that typically are not available for retail sale.
However, you will find them in hamburger.
The grading system helps to keep the higher graded cuts of meat at a higher price.
5. Dry Aged Beef
Dry-aged beef has been specially treated to give it a nuttier flavor.
Unfortunately, this process causes it to be more expensive.
This beef sits in a room that has the humidity and temperature carefully controlled.
It stays there for about three to four weeks.
This process dries out the meat to allow enzymes and bacteria to enter the meat.
These are trimmed off before the meat is cooked.
This process is like a style of cooking with a demi-glace.
In this process, a sauce slowly reduces to really allow the flavor into the food.
This is the same type of process for beef.
This process increases the price of the beef because there is an additional cost incurred.
First, the meat must be stored for weeks.
This increases the cost of storing as well as the time cost.
Second, the meat is sitting and not being sold, which means no money is being made on it while it sits in the controlled environment.
While the steak sits and ages, it is drying, which means it is losing some volume.
There is a crust that forms on the meat that is cut off before cooking.
This also causes it to lose some weight.
Once the process has finished, you have less meat, extended amounts of time it has been sitting, and a cool name like “dry-aged”, all of which increase the price.
6. Cost Of Feed
It goes without saying that steak comes from beef, which comes from a cow.
The cow has to be raised so that it can produce beef for your plate.
This means the cow must be cared for, fed, and watered for about 18 months of life.
A cow is not considered ready for slaughter until it reaches about 1,000 pounds to 1,200 pounds.
This is typically around 18 months unless the cow is grass-fed.
A grass-fed cow usually takes about three years to reach that weight because they are not ingesting the same number of calories as a grain-fed cow.
While about half of a cow’s diet is grass or hay, they also eat grain.
They eat stems and leaves from corn, oats, and wheat.
They even eat corn kernels.
The grain cows eat is usually grown specifically for them.
It may include food that has been recycled after production for other foods and beverages.
Barley used for beef is a great example of recycled food for cows.
Regardless of what the cow is eating, they eat a large amount of it.
Cows typically are not limited to what they are allowed to eat each day.
The food is always available to them, and they graze on it.
This causes the price of the food to increase, which in turn is passed along to the consumer.
7. Restaurant Pricing
When you go to a restaurant, you are not only paying for your food but also for an experience.
Most people go out to eat because they want to enjoy a nice meal that they did not have to cook themselves.
In addition, they are often celebrating or catching up with friends.
The entire point of going out to eat is to experience something you cannot get at home.
Steakhouses, especially, work to make sure you have an experience while you are there.
The servers may be dressed elegantly, and the ambiance of the restaurant may scream class.
All of these come at a price.
In addition to the atmosphere that you have come to expect and pay for at a restaurant, many of them have something special and unique to offer you.
They may have cuts of meat that are selected for a specific restaurant.
Some restaurants may have their own butchers cutting the meat in the back.
They may have a recipe or style of cooking that is unique to them.
You will not find it anywhere else.
That also means that you are going to pay a hefty price tag for your meal.
When we go to restaurants, we often order more food than we would typically eat.
In addition, you often order drinks and desserts, which add to the cost of your bill.
After all, going to a restaurant is about the experience and the atmosphere, not just the food.
8. Wagyu Beef
You already know that certain cuts of beef are more expensive than others.
This is also true for the type of cow from which the meat comes.
There are certain breeds of cows that have a higher price tag associated with them.
If you want to eat this beef, you are going to pay for it.
Wagyu beef is one of those types of meats.
It is one of the most expensive.
The term “wagyu” translates to Japanese cow.
There are four breeds of wagyu.
The meat is considered buttery and has rich marbling.
It can sell for as much as $200 a pound.
These particular types of cows are bred specifically to have physical endurance.
This gives them more fat cells in their muscles.
When the cow has more fat distribution through its muscles, it makes the meat more tender and gives it a nice pink color.
The production of wagyu is tightly regulated to ensure it is of the best quality and highest value, also adding to its cost.
The beef is graded based on two criteria.
The first is how much meat can come from the cow, and the second is the quality of marbled fat.
The higher the grade that the beef is given, the more it will cost.
In Japan, only meat with grades A3 to A5 is certified for sale.
9. New Steak
This may sound strange, but the beef industry is creating new cuts of meat.
The cow has not changed, and it is not as if there are new ways to generate growth in a cow.
However, butchers have found new ways to cut the existing cow to get to different cuts of meat.
Beef chuck can now be cut in a way that isolates specific muscles.
These muscles make the meat tender, and it is sold as a roast or an individual steak.
These “new” cuts are called flat iron steak, ranch steak, and Denver steak.
As we have come to understand more about what makes particular parts of the cow tastier, we can better isolate those cuts of meat.
Since there is a limited amount of the highest quality cuts of meat available on each cow, butchers had to find creative ways to get more out of the cow, which leads to new cuts.
Those new cuts are considered exotic, if you will, and have a higher price.
10. People Will Pay
Steak is so expensive because consumers are willing to pay the price.
If there were not people visiting restaurants or butcher shops and paying whatever the price tag says for their steak, they would not be as high.
This is not to suggest that steak is not worth the price.
If you enjoy steak and you do not mind paying the price for it, then continue doing so.
However, if everyone out there stopped buying steak, the prices would go down.
It is a simple equation of supply and demand.
If the consumer stops demanding steak, there would be an abundant supply, and the prices would come down.
Unfortunately, I am not sure anyone is willing to stop eating steak just to see if the prices come down.
How Can I Save Money When Buying Steak?
If you truly enjoy steak, there are some ways that you can still feast on your favorite meal without always spending a small fortune.
Instead of going to your favorite restaurant and ordering one piece of steak, you can buy in bulk.
You can purchase a side of beef or even the entire cow.
If you buy directly from the farmer, you are saving yourself a large amount of money.
You are cutting out all the middle steps which add to the cost of your steak.
This also allows the farmer to get all of the money instead of everyone above the farmer adding in their own cut.
The farmer can set the price and get 100 percent of it.
This allows you to have more insight into the beef you are getting.
You know how it is raised and its surroundings.
When you buy and butcher your own meat, it gives you access to some of the parts you would not otherwise get.
This includes the bones and fat, which are both useful in many ways.
Have no fear, though.
If you are not interested in butchering your own meat, you can still buy a whole side of beef and take it to a butcher.
If you learn to cook other cuts of meat, you can save yourself a lot of money.
You can find a lot of flavor in the meat that is just outside of the middle section, which is where the more expensive meats are located.
If you have a butcher you trust, you can also talk to that person about less costly pieces of meat.
If you learn more about the meat from a cow, you are better able to pick cuts of meat, and you may not always have to pay for the most expensive cuts to have an excellent tasting meal.