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Why Is Skirt Steak So Expensive? (Top 10 Reasons)

Grilled sliced skirt beef meat steak on a cutting board

 

One of the most flavorful cuts of beef, the skirt steak, is also one of the toughest.

That’s because skirt steak resides in the diaphragm area of the cow where a lot of connective tissue resides.

Despite its tough texture, the flavor is easily one of the beefiest when it comes to cow meat.

However, with prices ranging from $8 to $20 a pound, this type of meat isn’t cheap.

Here are 10 reasons skirt steak is expensive.

 

Why Is Skirt Steak So Expensive? (Top 10 Reasons)

 

1. One Area Of The Cow

Beef cuts chart

 

One of the reasons skirt steak is expensive is because it only comes from one area of the cow.

Unlike other cuts of beef, which can come from large areas on the cow on both sides, skirt steak only comes from a certain muscle.

The cut, in particular, is the beef plate primal cut.

This area includes the diaphragm muscle.

That area has two parts to it.

There’s the outside skirt and the inside skirt.

The particular skirt steak that you have can come from either of these sides of the muscle.

The problem with this cut is that isn’t that big.

This cut of meat measures out to be around 20 to 24 inches in length with three to four inches in thickness after trimming.

While that’s still a good amount of meat, it isn’t as plentiful as some of the other cuts.

It’s this reason that makes skirt steak as expensive as it is.

When you have a limited amount of meat that you can get from each cow, it creates a natural shortage.

Due to its flavor, skirt steak is often in high demand.

Since butchers can only get so much meat from each cow, they’re unable to meet that demand.

The result is high prices on a limited supply.

There’s also a chance that the butcher will have to shave down certain parts of the cut.

For example, if a cut has too much connective tissue in it, then it isn’t going to be a pleasant experience eating it.

The butcher might cut off those areas to make a more pleasant steak.

However, that also means there’s even less meat to go around.

 

2. Commercial Kitchens Get First Pick

Chefs in protective masks and gloves prepare food

 

If you’re trying to find skirt steak in a grocery store to cook later that night, you’ll find a limited number of options.

Almost all the steak you’ll find at the grocery store is an inside skirt and not an outside skirt.

That’s because commercial kitchens, such as those in restaurants, get the first pick of outside skirts.

They often end up paying the local butcher a bit more money to get the first pick on all kinds of meat.

This enables them to serve tender and succulent skirt steak in their restaurants.

Since skirt steak is already limited by nature, the grocery stores only get the leftovers.

The grocery stores don’t want to spend too much money on getting the best cuts since that might cut into their profits.

As a result, they let the restaurants take the first pick, and they choose from whatever is left.

You might be able to find a few inside skirt steaks at the grocery store, but because they’re going to have a very limited supply, you can also expect the price to be high on them.

The outside skirt will also be expensive.

Although it will be a bit cheaper than any inside skirt selections you find, an outside skirt cut is still going to be more expensive than other cuts since it is also, by nature, limited in supply.

 

3. Meat Preparation

Skirt Steak

 

Butchering skirt steak isn’t as simple as cutting the meat from the cow.

It actually has a membrane that covers it.

In particular, the outside skirt has this membrane completely covering it.

While some butchers will leave it on and let restaurants deal with it, those who sell to private customers or grocery stores will usually take the time to remove it.

The problem with the membrane is that it can be difficult to remove depending on how they, or the person who had the meat before them, aged it.

There are two ways to age skirt steak.

The first is dry-aging.

When skirt steak is dry-aged, the membrane becomes thin and almost like paper.

This is the easiest way to remove the membrane because the butcher can just peel it off.

However, if the meat was wet-aged, the membrane isn’t as easy to remove.

The membrane sort of sticks to the meat which means the butcher has to carefully cut it away.

In most cases, it’s hard not to cut away some of the meat in the process.

However, experienced butchers can remove this membrane without losing too much meat.

This is where skirt steak becomes expensive.

Dry-aging meat is a bit more expensive because it takes more time.

In commerce, any time something takes more time to make, it also becomes more expensive.

Those costs then get passed on to the consumer.

Wet-aging also brings its expenses, but its main expense is the butcher’s time.

Independent butchers spend a good amount of time carefully peeling or cutting the membrane from the meat.

They then can sell that meat at higher prices because they spent more time on it, prepared it for use, and kept as much meat on it as they could.

Since it’s a bit more processed, it costs a bit more.

 

4. Flavor

Skirt steak, grill and barbeque

 

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons why skirt steak is expensive is because of its flavor.

When it comes to steak, the juiciest and most flavorful cuts are usually the ones that are the most desirable.

Although skirt steak isn’t the juiciest or most flavorful, it easily comes in high on the list.

However, the fact that it’s not first place also adds to its expense.

Not a lot of people can afford to eat the juiciest and most flavorful type of steak.

However, a bit more can eat a slightly less juicy and flavorful type of steak.

Since it’s a little less expensive than the most flavorful cut, it means there’s more demand.

Unfortunately, that also means that the demand is driving up the price.

While skirt steak won’t be as expensive as filet mignon or a similar cut, it’s still quite expensive.

The reason skirt steak is as flavorful as it is has to do with its location and fat content.

Skirt steak is the muscle that moves the diaphragm of the cow.

In fact, the membrane that the butcher has to remove from the outside skirt is actually from the diaphragm, itself.

Because of its location, this cut of meat sees a good amount of fat on it.

The fat is what gives the beef its unique flavor.

Although the butcher will trim some of this fat down, its presence is what makes skirt steak as juicy and flavorful as it is.

 

5. Quality

skirt steak close up

 

Another big factor that adds to the price of skirt steak is its quality.

Like other types of food, meat has different grades.

The USDA has a system for grading meat.

Essentially, the better the meat is, the more expensive it’s going to be.

That’s because there’s more demand for high-quality meat.

Restaurants, in particular, want to get their hands on high-quality meat.

They need to make excellent dishes to sell to their diners.

In particular, it’s restaurants that sell to wealthier diners that depend on high-quality meat.

Certain butchers also sell high-quality meat to private consumers.

For example, a celebrity, executive, or just someone with enough money to burn on expensive meat can go to their butcher and get the best cuts.

Skirt steak is no different when it comes to grades.

Some cows just give better meat than others.

The driving force behind the high price of high-quality meat, besides demand, is cost.

Cows that give high-quality meat are naturally healthier.

Ranchers take care of them and ensure that they grow large and fat.

However, they can’t become too fat because that can impact their health which then affects the quality of their meat.

This means that ranchers have to give their cows a varied diet.

That adds to their operating costs.

They also have to have regular veterinary checkups to ensure their cows are maintaining their health.

Vet visits can become quite expensive.

There are also several costs that come after the slaughtering of the cow.

Ranchers have to ensure that their high-quality meat is carefully preserved.

The last thing they want is their meat to spoil or become infected with something from another, bad, selection of meat.

Some may even invest in premium packaging to make their skirt steak look the best.

All these costs mean that they have to sell at a higher price to cover those costs.

As a result, the consumer pays a higher price.

Skirt steak is expensive when it’s high quality.

 

6. Exports To Japan

Cooked Skirt Steak with Chimichurri

 

Another reason skirt steak is expensive is that ranchers have been exporting a lot of their meat to Japan.

For some time, Japan had placed a limit on the number of imports of beef.

It was an attempt to get its beef industry going and have its own supply.

However, skirt steak didn’t classify as beef to the Japanese.

Instead, it had the classification of offal.

That’s because they considered skirt steak as the diaphragm rather than the muscle moving the diaphragm.

Since it didn’t technically qualify as muscle meat, the Japanese were able to import it at a high rate.

It was a loophole that allowed its people and restaurants to get American beef.

However, this meant that American ranchers now had to major countries to sell their skirt steak to.

They had domestic consumers and export opportunities.

Since skirt steak is already small in number, since it requires a lot of cows to meet domestic demand, it’s stretched supply even thinner.

Essentially, with ranchers exporting skirt steak to Japan, there’s more demand than ever for skirt steak.

Throw in some problems with supply, and the increased demand makes the price skyrocket.

 

7. Grain Shortages

Farmer holding dry food in granules in hands

 

Any cost that impacts cows and ranchers also impacts consumers.

As such, the fact that many ranchers are experiencing grain shortages means that meat prices are on the rise.

Since skirt steak is already expensive, grain shortages are driving up the price even more.

There are a few reasons behind the grain shortage.

The global supply of grain has become limited.

Domestically, there are several factors influencing the lack of grain.

The first is wildfires.

As temperatures become hotter and with a lack of rain, wildfires are growing more common.

While some farms have their grain supplies destroyed by the fire, others are having problems with the residual after-effects of a fire.

Smoke, in particular, has been giving farmers real trouble.

The problem with smoke is that it can travel over long distances and linger for a long time.

Smoke blocks out the sun and makes it impossible for the grain to get its UV rays.

As a result, the grain withers and dies.

This means there’s less for farmers to harvest and sell.

Water shortages have also impacted farmers.

As wells and irrigation systems dry up, farmers have to import the water needed to keep their crops hydrated.

This adds substantial cost to their operations since water isn’t cheap, and they need it in bulk.

The price of grain affects cows because ranchers rely on grain to feed them.

While some allow their cows to graze, the lack of grass in some areas means that ranchers need to feed their cows grain.

Otherwise, they’ll starve which means no profit for the rancher.

Until the problems affecting grain prices have a solution, they’ll continue to affect meat prices.

Skirt steak is expensive because of the cost of grain.

 

8. Water Shortages

Faucet and water drops

 

Although water shortages are affecting crops, they’re also affecting cows.

Cows drink a lot of water every day.

They need it to survive.

Without water, they become ill or even die.

Any time a rancher loses a cow from dehydration, that’s less profit for them and less skirt steak in the world.

The problem with water shortages is that it’s a complex problem to fix.

This issue can’t be fixed overnight.

The main problem influencing water shortages is climate change.

As temperatures become hotter due to climate change, it results in more evaporation.

However, when it doesn’t rain, those water sources don’t become replenished.

While some researchers are looking to remove salt from the oceans to get more access to water, that doesn’t solve the problem at its heart.

If anything, it just means humans and their productions will consume the ocean’s water until it’s dry, too.

Water shortages also mean that grass is drying up and dying.

Cows have less food to eat.

This forces ranchers to import both water and grain for their cows.

Both of those add to their cost of operations which means they have to sell their products at higher prices.

 

9. Cow Shortages

Brown dairy cow

 

One of the big reasons skirt steak is expensive has to do with the lack of cows.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for meat went down drastically.

Restaurants were no longer able to serve customers.

Only takeout restaurants were still functional and grocery stores were open.

As a result, ranchers found themselves with a lot of meat and no one to sell to.

At the beginning of the pandemic, no one was sure how long the lockdowns were going to last.

Ranchers, in particular, had a concern that they’d have more cows than they could afford to keep since no one was buying meat.

As a result, to keep costs low, they culled most of their herds.

This enabled them to survive the pandemic with minimal costs.

However, the lockdowns ended faster than most expected, and restaurants opened back up.

At first, restaurants could only open outdoor eating areas.

Gradually, however, they started opening up the inside of their restaurants, too.

Demand for meat was back in full force.

The problem was that the ranchers had already culled their cows.

It takes some time to replenish herd numbers.

Cows take a while to grow.

They also need to reach ideal weights for slaughter.

With demand immediately back to what it was before, if not higher, ranchers found themselves unable to get their herd numbers back up.

This created a serious problem with supply.

This problem continues today, in 2022.

With high demand for skirt steak and few cows to produce it, the price for it has gone up considerably.

 

10. Labor Shortages

Farmer Feeding His Baby Cows from a Blue Bucket

 

A final reason skirt steak is expensive is the lack of workers on both ranches and in meat processing plants.

During the pandemic, both ranches and factories had to let workers go.

It was an attempt to save on costs.

As both ranches and factories opened up for business once more, they found themselves unable to get new hires.

Some former employees felt spurned by the company and decided to work elsewhere.

Others wanted to find higher-paying jobs in different industries or at different companies.

Some wanted better benefits before returning.

Labor shortages have caused meat prices to rise because fewer people are working on ranches and in factories.

As a result, production isn’t as efficient as it could be.

This means fewer skirt steaks are leaving the factory or ranch to get to consumers.

Since it impacts supply, and with demand remaining high, the price for skirt steak has increased.

 

Conclusion

Skirt steak is a delicious cut of meat that comes from the diaphragm of a cow.

Due to its juicy flavor and versatility, it’s more in demand than ever at restaurants and for private consumers.

However, several environmental factors and the preparation of the meat have increased its price.


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