STILLWATER, Okla. — The price of beef has skyrocketed since 2020, and consumers are looking for ways to trim their grocery budget without sacrificing flavor.
“From the beginning of the pandemic to the fourth quarter of 2021, choice box beef, which is equivalent to a carcass level price, is up 28.5%,” said Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist. “Even when you compare prices from the initial pandemic shutdown when meat packing plants closed and there were massive supply chain disruptions, our most expensive cuts of meat, such as the tenderloin and ribeye, were higher in 2021.”
As restaurants and food service industry companies come back online, demand for middle meat cuts, including ribeye, T-bone, porterhouse and fillet steaks will remain strong, Peel said.
“We set an all-time record level of beef production in 2021, and yet, we had record prices,” he said. “We’re going to see production fall a little bit, and supply is going to get tighter. Prices are going to stay high with no change in the high consumer demand.”
When a fancy ribeye at the butcher counter is too costly, said Joel Jackson, pilot plant manager at the OSU Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center, consumers can still find cuts of beef fit for the dinner table.
“The chuckeye steak, also known as the Delmonico, is located right in front of the ribeye and has decent marbling,” Jackson said. “It’s not an uncommon cut and is a fraction of the cost versus a ribeye from the same animal.”
Flat iron steak
Another option that has gained popularity in the past two decades is the flat iron steak, a cut that originates from the top of the front shoulder blade.
“The beef industry has done a good job of promoting the product, which has added to its value,” Jackson said. “It’s still a less expensive option than what you would pay for a middle meat cut.”
Jackson said the tri-tip craze started over 10 years ago on the west coast and has slowly spread across the U.S. Featured recipes inspire consumers to experiment with the cut and increase its demand.
“We get requests for it quite often now, and it’s surprisingly good, considering it’s typically ignored or incorporated into ground meat,” Jackson said.
In other instances, the most cost-effective manner when shopping for beef is to purchase a familiar cut but alter cooking techniques to create a more flavorful and tender meal.
“Crockpots are lifesavers. You can take a pretty inexpensive roast, cook it all day and make a great meal out of it,” Jackson said.
From a nutrition standpoint, bison meat is often considered a healthier, leaner option to beef, but that doesn’t mean it’s cheaper. More comparable to grass-fed cuts, bison meat is marketed at a premium in specialty grocery stores.
“Bison require working pens that are built stronger and taller,” Jackson said. “The streamlining and efficiency of grain-fed beef cattle production and processing is a science, but bison, like grass-fed beef, requires nearly double the amount of time before slaughter. This results in consumers paying more for these specialty or niche products.”
Oklahoma State University