Thin Steaks

I recently read an article in the Washington Post entitled “Cattle Have Gotten So Big Restaurants and Grocery Stores Need New Ways to Cut Steaks.”   Let me remind you, the Washington Post is NOT a beef industry publication.   However, it is read by thousands and thousands of beef consumers.   I will share a Few Excerpts from This Article along with my thoughts – for your consideration.

If you’ve dined at a steakhouse recently or grilled a rib-eye for dinner, you may have noticed a curious trend: Steaks are getting thinner.   As U.S. beef cattle have ballooned in size, experts say restaurants, grocery stores and meat processors have had to get creative in how they slice and dice them up.   For the most part, that means thinner steaks – as well as more scrap meat.

The cattle industry argues that it provides cheaper and more plentiful beef from fewer cows – but there’s emerging evidence that consumers dislike the changes to their steaks.   That could hurt the beef sector in the long-run.  

Larger cattle means larger muscles.   For restaurants and grocery stores, that has proved to be a challenge.   “It’s a lot more work for our meat cutters,” said Travis Doster, the spokesman for Texas Roadhouse, a steakhouse with more than 400 locations.

The surface area of the average rib-eye grew roughly two square inches (two postage stamps) between 1991 and 2016.   Those larger muscles result in massive, expensive portions if they are cut to a traditional one- or 1½-inch thickness.   “As a result,” said Davey Griffin, a professor of animal science at Texas A&M, “restaurants and grocery stores have changed how they cut and market steaks.   The most common adjustment is to simply slice traditional cuts thinner.”

If you are like me… you love a thick, juicy steak – but one that is not so big it cannot be consumed in one meal.   Leftover steak is never as good as it was the first time.   The average weight of live cattle at slaughter has been steadily increasing at about 8% every 10 years for the past 60 years.   Consequently, we either need to eat much bigger portions – or cut our steaks much thinner.   Thin steaks are nearly impossible to cook correctly.

The status quo beef industry thinks it has done great things.   In truth, however, its relentless selection for bigger and bigger beef animals has drastically reduced pounds and profit per acre for the cow-calf producer – as well as created meat cuts that are too big for the consumer.   When are we going to say, “Enough is enough!”?

One year ago, I started a three-week series with an article entitled Does the World Need What We Produce?.   Most cow-calf producers have been deceived into believing the world needs the beef they produce.   In reality, the world does NOT need the beef we produce.   Rather, the world wants the beef we produce.   There’s a big difference!

Beef eaters, for the most part, are among the world’s elite – and many of them live in the United States of America.   Most of the world’s population consider beef to be a luxury item.   Once we acknowledge and understand the fact that the world really does not need what we produce, we are able to take a completely different look at who our customers are.   I firmly believe this will eventually change the way we produce and market our product.   If beef is a luxury item, then we should stop marketing it as a necessity.

What do you think?

13 responses to “Thin Steaks

  1. The exact same thing has occurred in the swine and sheep industry. getting the product so large that to control portion size it needs to be sliced thinner and then it cooks and tastes awful. Larger is good for the packer/processor because it’s more efficient use of freezer/cooler space. It’s not consumer driven. Who’s your consumer?

    1. I’ve never heard anyone refer to enjoying a thin juicy steak. Making cuts larger ruins the eating experience for many.

  2. The article is “spot-on”. Some of the initiatives from 20 years ago (Future Beef, Ranchers Renaissance) attempted to address the carcass size issue but lost the argument when numbers tightened up and packers were desperate to keep plants running efficiently. Economics won out, as they always do over the long term. Since slaughter numbers are increasing we have to go back to discounting heavy carcasses. That is the only tool that works to change behavior.

  3. It has been an option for us to select bulls based on EPDs for rib-eye area which one might have assumed was a good idea. We use Limousin bulls for higher yield and finer fibre, crossed with Angus for marbling and thrift.
    I’m pretty sure yield is a significant factor in the overall beef supply. Also note carcass sizes are down a bit this year, but probably due more to market forces than anything.
    Thinner steaks is a stupid idea. I don’t really buy the argument about it being that much more work for the cutters though.

  4. I’ve seen cowboy-tomahawk steaks (the 2 to 3 inch ribeye) in meat stores. Maybe a problem for restaurants… but, the home cook is embracing this… of course, those who would be able to spend $30 to $35 for a steak.

    Cooked right… they can be treated more like a rib roast… and, are excellent when reheated.

    I’ve often wondered… in proportion… how much attention is given to the last step… the cooking of the product. Teach people how to cook meat easily with a consistent outcome… the demand may increase from the home cook. As the economy tightens, home cooks who are able to cook a $50 to $150 restaurant quality steak dinner for $15 to $30 at home may be more willing to pay the price for the cowboy steak.
    Tomahawk Ribeye (40oz.) $115.00

    The baby boomer generation… our largest… is at the age where they can’t eat a big steak… and, in many cases… have trouble digesting some meats.

    Lamb is easier to digest… the portions are smaller… the ethnic population that consumes it is increasing. If one can overcome flavor-taste issues… there’s seems to be a market.

  5. As the American family is smaller with fewer children per couple and the overall population ages. It makes sense to have smaller portions. That should mean that more smaller animals who produce more pounds of meat per acres makes the most profit. Livestock producers must be or become profitable or admit they are engaged in a hobby and not a profession. Help is as close as USDA’s NRCS or extension professional – not the financial assistance – ask for a grazing professional to give you the best advice.

  6. This is an intriguing article, and I agree with many of the statements. That said, I just can’t agree that the desires of the consumer will ever be much of a driver in the selection of cattle genetics. If the packing house rewards large carcasses, and the feedlot demands large frames, and the stocker-man selects for growth-type calves, I suspect most cow calf guys will select large cattle. There are plenty of great economic forces that should be pushing cow-calf producers to select smaller-frame cows, but (aside from a few herd-quitters) I don’t see them doing it much. I see the cow-calf sector bowing to the desires of the other segments. The consumer is left with the difficult results. Kind of an unfortunate truth.

  7. That’s one of the reasons that I like my Aberdeen Angus (formerly Lowline Angus). The portion sizes are perfect, steaks fit easily on a plate along with a potato and roasts can be eaten by a family in one meal. Also I can fit a 1/4 into a top freezer of a refrigerator or a 1/2 into a small freezer.

  8. With over 60 percent of beef EATEN as ground beef steaks are not the economic driver…behooves beef producers to face this reality …steaks are a minor segment of the overall beef market which calls into question the need to ‘finish ‘ cattle at EVER higher weights but as long as feed grains are government subsidized there will be a need to use the grain and beef are an inefficient outlet for it

  9. The walking weight on ready to harvest American Kobe (wagyu) is about 1300 lbs that’s at least 30 months on grass to get the prized marbling. Steaks cut at 1 1/4” are perfect for grilling. Average box weight is 125 pounds per quarter, steaks, roast, ground steak, and brisket.

  10. Hi Kit and fellow producers. Kit certainly gets people involved and I am great full he does The responses are also very thoughtful and provoking.

    No one was talking about dairy beef steers and cull cows of any type and how they affect the market and consumer. I am a retired dairy man and know little about how these animals cut and effect the market.

    It would be nice to hear from some of the grass fed and Wygu producers and those who kill for them to find out how all this affects them.

    May be some one could stir up the beef packers and the feed lots as many seem to think they are part of the problems and ask them to come to some solutions

  11. Good point, Lorne. I remember a study done awhile ago by the beef industry council , ( I think ) and the question to the consumer was this, When you buy a high dollar steak in the grocery store what percent of the time are you satisfied with the product ? the answer was 25% of the time. That would break the bank on most businesses ? I think mongrolism of the 80s and 90s for any animal with a black hide had a lot to do with it. Consistancy is important to the consumer both for cooking and eating . They put effort into the survey, but I don’t know about follow up and steps taken to improve that %.

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