When I first started graduate school for meat science, I had very little experience cutting meat. I had taken a few meat science courses in my undergrad, but they were focused on the science that goes into meat production. While pursuing my master’s, I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time in the meat lab and got plenty of cutting experience.
Now, every time I get to help on the fab floor, I can hear one of my professors telling me, “Every cut has a consequence.”
This phrase stuck out to me because it reminded me of opportunity cost, a concept I learned in economics that really made sense to me. Opportunity cost is basically what you give up by choosing to purchase something. For example, I could buy a new sweater, or I could buy 5 cheeseburgers from Culver’s. If I buy the sweater, my opportunity cost is the cheeseburgers. I am giving up my ability to purchase them. If I buy the cheeseburgers, I am giving up the sweater. As a poor college student, this concept was crystal clear. (I should add, I bought very few clothes in college because I always chose the cheeseburgers. Very rarely would I actually spend that much on burgers, so I saved myself a good chunk of cash and calories).
Opportunity cost relates to “every cut has a consequence” because every cut you choose to make when fabricating meat is a choice against another product. Let me break this down with an example.
Porterhouse and T-Bone steaks, vs. Filet Mignon (tenderloin) and NY Strip. These steaks seem to have a lot of differences, but in reality they are one in the same. A Porterhouse is made of the Psoas major (aka Filet Mignon or tenderloin) and the Longissimus dorsi (aka NY Strip), while a T-Bone is primarily the Longissimus dorsi and maybe a small portion of the Psoas major. The only difference is that the Porterhouse and T-Bone remain bone-in. The consequence of leaving the bone in and cutting Porterhouse and T-bone steaks is not being able to get Filets and NY Strips. Likewise, choosing to remove the bone and cut Filets and NY Strip steaks means that Porterhouses and T-Bones will not be kept. Every cut has a consequence.
There are benefits and drawbacks to both products. Porterhouses and T-Bones are difficult to cook correctly. The muscles have difference characteristics and are different sizes. Those things, plus the addition of the bone make it difficult to get a consistent cook. Additionally, if you are buying them at the grocery store, you are paying for the bone, an inedible product. On the plus side, they taste good. The filet is the most tender muscle on a beef animal and a NY strip is a very high-quality cut. You get the best of the best in one cut.
Now, on the flip side, cutting Filets and NY Strips instead of Porterhouses and T-Bones results in two steaks that are very consistent and therefore easier to cook. If you are cooking a grill full of Filets or NY Strips, it is much easier to get a good, consistent cook than trying to account for two totally different products at once. When you buy the product from the grocery store you are paying for meat. There may be small amounts of plate waste from fat or connective tissue, but you are not paying for bone that will be discarded later. Choosing to de-bone and have 2 cuts will also lessen the portion size (positive or negative depending on your appetite).
So whether you’re working with your local butcher on how you would like your beef cut or buy steaks at the grocery store, remember that every cut has a consequence. Luckily in this case, there are no bad consequences, only great tasting products!