What's the difference between cheap steak and expensive steak?

Posted on: 4 December 2015

If you are heading out to a classy steak restaurant for dinner, you might be wondering what the difference is between the expensive steaks and the cheaper ones you can get at the local pub. Here are some things that contribute to the price difference.

The cut of meat

A gristly cut of meat with nerves and sinew sells for a lower price than a prime cut where you can easily eat all of the steak. Cheaper cuts of meat often need to be tenderised with a hammer or in a tenderising solution of brine or vinegars to artificially soften the meat. Using a naturally longer and less worked muscle in the body, such as the muscles that run down the spine, results in a naturally tender steak that can be eaten without extra tenderising work (as well as a lower price tag).

The background of the meat

Many tasty cuts of meat are bred from unique strains and herds of beef and come from small batch producers. The meat may be fed a special diet, such as organic feed or being allowed to fully graze on grass. A relaxed lifestyle and generous feed allowance allows the beef to develop a marble texture and higher fat content, which is more expensive. This creates a more interesting and pure taste compared to using chemically batched feedstock, albeit at a higher cost.

After butchering, the meat can be aged in different ways, and being allowed to dry age (rather than being shrink wrapped in plastic) allows meat enzymes to breakdown and tenderise the meat further. Cheaper meat tends to be shrink wrapped, while more expensive meat is kept to dry age, which increases storage costs and the unit cost of the meat.

The experience of the chef

Finally, the experience of the chef also adds an element to the taste of the steak. An expert chef can cook and rest each steak perfectly to maximise the taste while maintaining a tender and pure texture to the meat. More experienced chefs demand a higher salary, which gets passed on via each meal in the restaurant.

The higher price of expensive steaks is derived from the cut of meat, the background of the butchered animal and the experience of the chef that cooks the steak. The combination of these factors helps to create a unique taste and texture for each steak that you eat, making a visit to the local steak house worth every penny.