Why is Prime Rib So Expensive?

by Charlie
Prime rib roast

Have you ever picked up prime rib in a store and wondered what makes this cut so much more expensive than other kinds of meat? After all, it comes from the same cow, and yet it costs significantly more, no matter where you source it from. That might leave you wondering what drives the price up so much.

Why is prime rib so expensive? There are a few reasons that prime rib is so expensive, but a big one is simply the demand. More people want prime rib, because it is tender and delicious, but it only makes up a small percentage of the meat got from a cow, and therefore it costs more. There is also a common perception that the more expensive meats are automatically better, which further pushes the prices up.

What Makes Prime Rib Expensive?

Prime rib is expensive because it is a desirable piece of meat that people are prepared to pay more for. It’s also expensive because it only makes up a relatively small part of the cow, but many more people want this cut, and therefore the demand is higher. Both of these things increase the price.

Most of the expensive cuts of beef make up a very small percentage of the overall meat got from a cow. When a cow is butchered, a lot of waste is created in terms of the bones, the skin, and the other parts that are not eaten.

Of the parts that are eaten, the majority are the tougher cuts that make up things like stewing steak, ground beef, etc., and these are cheaper because they are more abundant. The superior cuts of meat will often only make up about eight percent of a carcass, and that eight percent is in much higher demand than the rest of the meat.

Obviously, this makes that meat more expensive, especially because many butchers rely upon the profits they make from it to help bring the overall value of meat up. Given how cheap other meat can be, and the fact that other meat is in much more plentiful supply, it makes sense to charge extra for this cut.

Anything that is in high demand and commands a high price can also drive its own prices up in a self-perpetuating cycle. Because prime rib is expensive, people expect it to be good, and in turn, they then expect to pay more for it. 

The more expensive it is, the better it is expected to be, so for stores, it makes sense to charge a lot and make the meat more desirable. In increasing the prices, they hint that the meat is exceptionally good, whereas lower prices could lead to people passing on the meat.

All of these factors combine to create a high price point, and the same is true of the other particularly desirable cuts, like tenderloin and ribeye.

Why are Other Cuts of Meat Cheaper?

Other cuts are cheaper because they simply aren’t as enjoyable to eat, and so people are not prepared to pay as much for them. This is because they tend to be tougher and less fatty, making them less tempting.

In order to sell this meat, stores and butchers have to offer it at lower prices, because otherwise people would not buy it. Other cuts may also be smaller and therefore less flexible in terms of cooking (you can’t create proper steaks from the small cuts), which further decreases their popularity.

Again, the general market perception plays into the price point too. We do not value other cuts as highly, and therefore stores need to price them lower, or people will simply choose other options. The price point is dictated (to some extent) by the price of the more expensive cuts, because the inferior meat must cost less than the superior options.

Is Prime Rib Better Meat?

Many people would say that prime rib is better meat, and it certainly has some significant advantages. Prime rib has marbled fat throughout it, creating a melt-in-the-mouth creamy texture that many people love. It is also tender, flavorful, and large enough to create steaks with.

Prime rib lacks cartilage or gristle, making it a particularly enjoyable meat, and because there is little connective tissue, it is soft, easy to cut, and very tempting. It does not dry out as easily as other meat cuts, and it has a superb flavor.

All of these things make it superior to some cuts of meat, but not all. To some degree, the popularity of prime rib is simply due to the common perception that it is among the best, and this means that people keep buying it for the best situations, and keep perpetuating the idea that it is superior to almost all the other cuts.

Why is Prime Rib So Tender?

Prime rib is tender because the muscles in this part of the cow get minimal exercise, and therefore remain soft. The other cuts, such as the chuck, bottom sirloin, and round get a lot more exercise as the cow moves about, and they therefore become tougher and chewier.

The fat in prime rib is a further appealing factor, because this gives it a velvet-like, melting texture and a much better flavor. Fat keeps the meat juicy and prevents it from drying out when it is cooked (although not if it is cooked too much).

There is also little connective tissue in the prime rib area, which again makes it more tender. It is not, however, the most tender of the cuts. Tenderloin, sometimes known as filet mignon, is famous for its softness and buttery texture, and is generally even more expensive than prime rib. 

Final Thoughts

Prime rib is mostly expensive because the demand is high and the supply is low, and this drives the prices up. It is also expensive because it is a relatively small part of the cow, and therefore suppliers depend upon the high profits they get from this to support the lower profits associated with the rest of the meat. 

Finally, the high price is a good way for suppliers to improve the public’s perception of the meat and ensure it remains a go-to for high quality food.

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