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What differentiates expensive meat cuts from cheaper ones?

  1. Aug 30, 2010 #1
    Cheaper cuts of meat with connective tissue and lean muscle fibre are suitable for stewing, and tastier than stews using expensive cuts, as long slow cooking will soften the connective tissue without toughening the muscle. Slow cooking leaves the gelatinised tissue in the meat, so that it may be advantageous to start with a richer liquid.


    What differentiates expensive cuts from cheaper ones? Is it less connective tissue and lean muscle?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 30, 2010 #2


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    I think the main difference is that it's leaner.

    Leaner meat has less taste, but is better for stewing.
  4. Aug 30, 2010 #3


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  5. Aug 30, 2010 #4
    Oh, gosh, please don't get me started.

    My grandfather worked his entire life at a leading meat company, and my father worked there a few years himself.

    The "you get what you pay for" is a myth. It's a marketing campaign, and I routinely cook "out of this world OMG where did you get this?" steaks that cost less than $3 a pound.

    Gah! $50/lb "kobe" beef? Oh, please.
  6. Aug 30, 2010 #5


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    The less expensive cuts are now fads and cost more than the traditionally better cuts.
  7. Aug 30, 2010 #6

    Ivan Seeking

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    On the other hand, many cheap steaks [cheap for the cut, and usually at discount stores] come from old milk cows, not good beef cattle.
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2010
  8. Aug 30, 2010 #7
    my understanding is that cheap cuts of meat are better for stews because if you try to cook them like a filet you will be chewing on rubber.
  9. Aug 31, 2010 #8
    It's the aging process. Cuts which used to be less than a dollar a pound many years ago, are now 8 dollars a pound and up.
  10. Aug 31, 2010 #9
    I did not know that! Stands to reason they're not just going to let old Bessie go to waste, though.
  11. Aug 31, 2010 #10
    There are many factors, but to generalize:

    1,) The right meat for the correct cooking application. If you want to make a pot roast, or anything using a slow-cooking procedure, a cut with plenty of connective tissue is a MUST. That tissue, under low heat, with moisture (braising for instance) becomes finger-licking good gelatin... see ribs.

    2.) Marbling of fat: This is a matter of what you like in your steak, but also informs you how to cook the meat. A piece of tenderloin should be treated carefully, because as a lean cut it's going to be prone to drying out. A rib-eye or porterhouse can be cooked for a longer period to allow the marbled fats to do their magic.

    3.) How you cut it: THIS MATTERS. Take a nice skirt steak for instance; this can be perfect for a nice marinade, or a thin-sliced pan application.

    The biggest factor is the balance between the amount of connective tissues you need to reduce to gelatin, intramuscular fat, and lean protein. Once you grasp that, any cut of meat can be cooked to perfection.

    Cyrus: The "shoeleather" effect occurs when meat with plenty of connective tissue is cooked for a short time, or at HIGH heat. The actin, collagen, and other goodies contract and turn into little bits of rubbery death. Use moisture and medium-low heat over time and you get gelatin. Ribs are the best example: They have TONS of connective tissue, but when cooked for many hours they literally fall off the bone. Much of the unctuous feel is from gelatin, not fat as well. In a stew, the same happens, and the gelatin goes into thickening the stew and giving it texture.

    When you make a stock, the reason you use carcass and roasted bones is for the benefit of flavor, but also to render the rick connective tissue to gelatin. If you clarify the stock with a protein and acid mixture, you get consomme, which in the fridge will turn into meat-jello.

    So, if you're going to slap a steak on the grill, a medium cut of sirloin, a porterhouse, T-bone. delmonico, or other cut that is relatively far from the head and hoof is a good choice. If you're making a stew, you can use pretty much anything, but a brisket requires a tough cut and a big one... hence the use of brisket. Stew meat is cut, so it can come from a variety of sources.

    Finally, as Ivan Seeking said, there is the matter of age of the cow or bull, but that's not something you can discern from sight AFAIK. I know that in the case of chickens, you once again choose a younger chicken (roaster-broiler) for most applications, but an older hen, also called a Stewing Hen, is great for braising, poaching, and... yeah, stew.

    As for dry aging, you can do that at home with a really good piece of beef. If you have a nice roast, it's going to concentrate the flavor of the beef, and some other chemical goodness will occur. Some people love the taste, and others loathe it.
  12. Aug 31, 2010 #11

    Ivan Seeking

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    Yes, I've done some work with the meat mafia.
  13. Aug 31, 2010 #12
    all i know is that a lean cheap beef roast simmered in a crock pot for half a day just falls apart and is wonderful if seasoned to my likes.

    and prime rib (much less than $120 at places i've been) is just divine.

    i also know some people that can barbecue "brisket" well, another cheap cut of meat. i think it tends to involve a long vinegar marinade, followed by a long slow roasting.
  14. Aug 31, 2010 #13
    Time + Heat + Connective Tissue = Gelatin = Yummy. :smile:
  15. Aug 31, 2010 #14


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    Ah, reminds me...I haven't made oxtail soup in a while. Definitely yummy.
  16. Aug 31, 2010 #15
    That's a good one, and I really love the rich flavor you get from it. I think the name just spooks too many people, but I love the Filipino version of oxtail soup most. Chinese oxtail dishes are pretty terrific too... god this is making me REALLY hungry.
  17. Aug 31, 2010 #16


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    braised shanks
  18. Aug 31, 2010 #17
    Mmmmmm... a super-hot cast iron skillet, a couple of ribeyes, seared then slapped in the oven to medium-rare, with a side of Ossobuco, and braised shanks, grilled onions and fingerling potatoes.
  19. Aug 31, 2010 #18
    Like everything else, supply and demand.

    One of the most expensive cuts is the tenderloin. It's tender, which people like, but it's also lean, which isn't a desirable quality. However, the real reason it costs so much is that the supply is low. The largest tenderloin you can find is going to weigh about 6 pounds.

    A ribeye, on the other hand, is both tender and fatty. Theoretically, it would cost more per pound than a tenderloin but it's much larger than a tenderloin, so it doesn't cost quite as much because there's a larger supply.

    A porterhouse is a ribeye plus a tenderloin, with a bone in between. While the bone actually makes it more flavorful, people aren't willing to pay for something they won't eat, so it typically fetches a lower price per pound than a ribeye just like a bone-in chicken breast costs less per pound than a boneless one. While I would actually pay more to have the meat on the bone, most people would rather have it removed, so I luck out.

    To sum it up, there are things people like: flavor (fat), size, and tenderness. There are things that people don't like: bone, connective tissue, toughness. In addition to that, there are market forces driving the price as well. There are also many reasons that people are willing to pay more for a steak from a steakhouse than from a market that were addressed in other posts.
  20. Sep 1, 2010 #19
    Every now and then I will pick up a whole tenderloin from the Costco or BJ's (yes, believe it or not these wholesale places carry *great* meats) and trim and cut into filets. I have a signature filet dish with a porte glaze. It's my own variation on steak au poivre. Served with rosemary-garlic roasted potatoes and steamed asparagus. Oh man I'm hungry.
  21. Sep 1, 2010 #20


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    You need to post that in the food thread. Yum!
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