Should I cut my own steaks or buy pre-cut portion control steaks?

Portion cut and steak ready tenderloin

Is it better to buy boxed beef and cut your own steaks, or to purchase pre-cut portion control steaks?  Like with most choices it depends on your needs but those who cut their own steaks from boxed beef may end up with higher overall food costs and miss out on the other benefits of portion control steaks.

Here’s the classic example scenario:  Why would I pay $22.50/lb for portion cut filets when I can buy the whole tenderloins for $9.70/lb and cut my own filets?

It’s all about the finished goods yield.  Here’s an example for one of the most popular steaks – the center cut, completely trimmed filet.

Cutting Your Steaks from a 6/lb. Tenderloin
You pay $9.70/lb. x 6 lbs. = $58.20 (your initial raw material out of pocket spend).
When you open the packer film there is an average weight loss of 2% from purge. You paid for 6 lbs. but you really only have 5.88 lbs. of usable meat (98% of the 6 lbs).
$58.20 ÷ 5.88/lb = $9.90/lb. This is what you really pay per edible lb.

Now you have 5.88 lbs of tenderloin to cut into center cut, completely trimmed filets.   The average yield for this trim specification is about 32%. In other words as you clean the tenderloin removing the surface fat, wedge fat, silver skin, back strap, head, tail, etc., 32% of the 5.88 lbs. ends up as center cut filets completely trimmed, or 1.88 lbs of finished goods. So what did these filets really cost you? 1.88lbs. x $9.90/lb. = $18.62

Now sitting on your cutting table you have 4 lbs. of the tenderloin parts left over that you have to do something with. Many people say, “I usually grind it up for burgers, feed the help, or use it for steak salad”. Let’s look at your true costs in doing that. Of that left over 4 lbs. about 2% is inedible wedge fat and skin that you throw away costing you $0.79, which leaves 3.92 lbs of tenderloin parts left over. Let’s say you use half of it to make ground beef, and half of it to make into tenderloin pieces for steak salad:
1.96 lbs x $9.90/lb = $19.40 cost for Ground beef
1.96 lbs x $9.90/lb = $19.40 cost for Tenderloin Tips/Tails

Now remember you had to pay an employee to do this fabrication for you. Let’s say this person is really good and can cut the steaks perfectly every time, grind the meat, make the tips/tails and pack up everything for you all in 20 minutes time and you pay a wage of $10.00/hr. Your cost for this work then is $3.33

Let’s add up all the costs:
$18.62 for your center cut complete trim filets
$19.40 for your ground beef
$19.40 for your tenderloin tips/tails
$00.79 for your waste
$03.33 for your labor
$61.54 Total Cost

Compare that total cost to purchasing portion control tenderloin filets at 22.50/lb,  to purchasing the ground beef and tenderloin tips/tails at market prices for the same amount of finished products:

$42.30 for 1.88 lbs of center cut completely trimmed filets at $22.50/lb.
$05.49 for 1.96 lbs of safety tested ground beef at market price of $2.80/lb.
$10.78 for 1.96 lbs of tenderloin tips/tails at market price of $5.50 lb.
$00.00 for waste
$00.00 for labor
$58.57 Total Cost

Portion cut filets can deliver a total savings of $2.97 per tenderloin.  As much as a 4.8% cost reduction to your operation.  Additionally, with portion control steaks you have these benefits:

  • Precise inventory control
  • No purge loss, No fabrication labor
  • 21 day shelf life because they are vacuumed sealed
  • Increased food safety, no risk of cross contamination during fabrication
  • Elimination of by-products & left overs, purchase by-product at lower market prices
  • Precise food costing, portion control eliminates variability in cutting with consistency
  • Steaks are already aged.  You avoid having to tie up your cash flow aging your beef, or serve less desirable un-aged beef to your guests.

Another option available to you from companies like Buedel Fine Meats are “steak ready” primal cuts. These cuts fall in between boxed beef and portion cut steaks. In short, using our tenderloin example, the meat company cleans the tenderloin for you and sends the piece vacuumed packed ready for you to cut into steaks. The beef is properly aged and the meat company deals with the waste and by-product. The price falls in between that of boxed beef and portion control steaks but this option gives you many of the same benefits of portion control with a lower overall costs to your operation.

While we used tenderloin filets for this example, this concept applies to any cut of beef, pork, veal or lamb. Only you can decide what’s best for your operation, but many people fail to realize the true costs to their operation of cutting their own steaks with the attraction of the lower price per pound for boxed meats.


From the desk of  John Cecala  Twitter @Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page



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What are the Benefits of Aged Beef?

Did you ever notice the difference in flavor and tenderness between steaks purchased at a grocery store from those ordered for dinner at a fine restaurant? Of course, a lot of the difference has to do with the preparation of the steaks by the chef, but the difference in taste also has much to do with how long the beef has been aged.

Finer restaurants typically purchase beef from purveyors that age their beef for approximately 21-30+ days from harvest in temperature controlled environments.  Grocery stores typically sell beef with less than 14 days age from harvest and turnover their inventory faster.

When beef has been properly aged before serving it has a deeper richer flavor and increased tenderness.  During the aging process the natural enzymes inside the meat breakdown the muscle tissue and make it more tender and flavorful.  There are two primary ways of properly aging beef: Wet Aging and Dry Aging.

Wet Aging

Wet aging is the most common way beef is aged.  At harvest, packing plants vacuum seal primal cuts in plastic film. This process seals the beef and protects it from exposure to open air. Beef left inside this vacuumed sealed package and stored at temperatures under 40 degrees keeps the beef wholesome and allows the natural enzymes to breakdown and enhance the meat. After two to three weeks, there is a noticeable difference in the taste and texture of the meat – that’s about the perfect time to cut into steaks or roasts. Too much age beyond that and the meat begins to spoil.  The best meat purveyors have strict time and temperature controls in place to ensure quality.

Dry Aged Short Loins

Dry Aging

Dry aging is the way all beef used to be aged up until the 1970’s when vacuum packaging was brought to the meat industry.

Dry aging is a time honored, old world tradition where primal beef cuts are aged for 28-50+ days in a controlled open air environment. During this process the external service of the meat becomes hard and envelops the meat with a crust. The beef inside the crust develops a fine rich concentrated flavor and tender texture as the natural moisture in the muscle is evaporated. When the beef has reached the desired age, the inedible outer crust is carefully removed and the meat can be cut into steaks that will have an incredible flavor.

To properly dry age beef you must have separated refrigerated space with precise temperature, relative humidity and air circulation controls along with specific UV lighting to control bacteria growth to create the perfect environment. Dry aged beef is more expensive than wet aged beef because you typically lose about 20% of the meat during the dry aging process. Dry aging is best for cuts of beef that have higher marbling such as Prime and Upper Choice grades. The most typical dry aged cuts are from the short loin (Porterhouses, T-Bone, Bone-In Strip) and the ribs (Bone-In Rib Eye Steaks).

Other factors which affect the taste and texture of beef are breed of cattle, feed and USDA grade. Proper aging of beef is always a beneficial enhancement.


From the desk of  John Cecala  Twitter @Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page



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