The Meatier Issues
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“The Meatier Issues,” Ensign, Apr. 1979, 68–69

The Meatier Issues

What shopper has not wondered why steak sells for $2.50 a pound when a market steer is worth only 52 cents a pound? The answer is found in the simple saga of a beef from hoof to table. And such information can help you be wiser in your purchase of meat.

Dr. Leon Orme, chairman of the Animal Science Department at Brigham Young University, explains that when a 1000-pound choice beef is slaughtered, approximately 40 percent of the animal’s weight—head, hooves, hide, and tallow—is waste. To break even, the meat packer must sell 600 pounds of meat for the same amount he paid for 1000 pounds. This hikes the price up to 86 cents a pound.

The 600-pound carcass is then cut into saleable portions. The bone and excess fat constitute nearly a thirty percent weight loss of the 600 pounds, so a 1000-pound beef yields only 420 pounds of closely trimmed retail meat. And the half side of beef that is ready for your deep freeze costs $1.25 a pound. By way of analogy, Dr. Orme explains that shoppers pay a per-pound price for bananas or oranges and then throw away the peel. The price for the edible portion is actually much higher, but they don’t think about that. With meat, the “peeling” is done before purchase, and the price reflects it.

Obviously, cutting, packaging, and labor costs boost the price again. And if the retailer sells a less tender chuck roast for $1.19 a pound, he must make up the difference on the more desirable cuts of meat, such as fine steaks, sirloin and rib roasts. This accounts for the higher price of steak.

The best way to get your money’s worth is to know the meat you purchase. Tender cuts, coming from the parts of the animal that have had the least exercise, are more expensive. Tender roasts include standing rib, rolled rib, rump, rolled rump, and sirloin tip. These should be cooked with dry heat—roasted uncovered, at 250°–300° to avoid shrinkage and keep in the juices. The drippings will taste better, too, without the burned flavor from higher-temperature cooking. Tender steaks for broiling include club, rib, T-bone, porterhouse, sirloin, and filet mignon.

The bone configurations—T-bone, rib bone, and sirloin bone—help to identify the tender cuts; the seven-bone and round bone indicate less tender cuts. Fat marbling through the meat indicates tenderness and juiciness; but muscle bundles (connective tissue) indicate a less tender cut. If the bones are red in color and porous, the animal was young when it was slaughtered and the meat will be more tender; if the bones are white and flinty, the animal was more mature.

Less tender roasts or steaks should be braised—cooked with liquid in a covered vessel at a low temperature for a long period of time. These include round roast, rump, sirloin, chuck, flank steak, and short ribs. Brigham Young University, Public Communications Bulletin