If you’ve been browsing at the butcher counter recently, you might be wondering—just why is skirt steak so expensive when compared to similar cuts? As is so often the case, there are many factors at play here. In our guide, we’ll explore them all.
Why Is Skirt Steak So Expensive?
Since a single cow yields a relatively small amount of skirt steak, the cut is one of the most difficult to find. Butchers tend to sell skirt steak to restaurants rather than supermarkets, which compounds the issue. Grain and water shortages, as well as issues in the workforce, have all driven up the prices also.
About Skirt Steak
Though skirt steak, which is cut from the diaphragm of the cow, is one of the toughest cuts of beef, it’s also exceptionally flavorful.
There’s a lot of connective tissue in this area, which contributes to the tough texture. But if you’re willing to forgo that drawback, the steak is teeming with beef flavor.
How Do You Prepare Skirt Steak?
Since skirt steak has such a wonderful flavor on its own, it doesn’t need a complex marinade in order to shine. Just pat the meat dry with paper towels and season it with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Let the steak come to room temperature for about 15 minutes before you start to cook. Most steaks should sit out for 30 minutes, but this one is so thin, it should warm up enough in half the time.
For optimum results, grill or sear the skirt steak over medium-high heat until it’s nicely browned on the outside, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. At this point, it should have cooked to a perfect medium rare.
Let the meat rest for 5 to 10 minutes before carving it into thin slices across the grain. Serve hot.
Why Is Skirt Steak So Expensive?
Skirt steak costs about $12 to $15 per pound—even more in some places. This comes as a surprise to consumers who expect to pay top dollar for tenderloin, but don’t understand why a tough cut like this would fetch such a high price.
In this section, we’ll go over the main reasons why the cost of skirt steak hovers in the double-digit range.
The skirt, though, is cut from the plate primal, and there’s only one per cow. Though it can be divided into subsections—the inside and outside skirt—it isn’t all that big. After trimming, the skirt measures about 2 feet long and 3 to 4 inches thick.
That’s a decent amount of meat, but it’s not as hefty as some other cuts. That means there’s a natural shortage of skirt steak when compared to steaks such as ribeye and sirloin. Further, butchers have to trim the cut down if there’s too much connective tissue involved.
As we pointed out earlier, skirt steak is prized for its intensely beefy flavor. Consumers who’ve tried this cut are usually willing to pay more just to experience that taste sensation again—and to share it with others, if possible.
The low supply, coupled with this high demand, is sufficient to keep skirt steak prices high. It’s still not as pricey as the tenderloin, but the prices will keep rising as more people discover its delights.
The Commercial Kitchen Factor
Commercial kitchens—restaurants, for example—often get first dibs on skirt steaks, particularly the outside skirts. Therefore, not many of them make it to the supermarket shelf. When they do, the store will charge top dollar due to the limited supply.
Skirt steak has a membrane that essentially covers the entire outside portion. Butchers have to decide whether to remove this part, or let the restaurant (or other buyer) deal with it.
It’s not easy to take the membrane off, especially if the steak is wet-aged. That translates into more prep work, which means higher prices.
You probably already know that the USDA keeps a grading system in place for determining the quality of beef. The better the quality, the pricier the cut will be.
As you can imagine, there’s more of a demand for high-quality beef products than for meat that’s graded low on the scale. This is especially true for restaurants, as the proprietors want to offer their guests the finest possible dining experience.
The people who raise cattle for commercial sale will go to great lengths to ensure that their cows yield high-quality beef. In order to raise healthy cattle, they’ll need to provide a varied diet and provide exceptional veterinary care. This drives up the eventual price of the product.
Whenever there’s a grain shortage, the price of beef is affected. This makes sense when you consider the fact that most cattle farmers rely on grain as a primary food source for their animals.
On a global level, the supply of grain has gone way down. That’s partly due to wildfires, which can affect the crops even if they take place many miles away. The smoke can travel long distances, blocking out the sun that the crops need to survive.
Water shortages are another factor. When farmers need to import the water they need for their crops, the additional cost eats into their profits. The cows themselves drink a lot of water too, and if the farmer loses a cow to dehydration, there will be less steak as a result.
All of this leads to higher prices for skirt steak, of which there’s a limited supply to begin with. Since these problems are too far-reaching and complex to be solved easily, they’re bound to pose an issue for some time to come.
Lack of Cows
Grain and water aren’t the only commodities that are facing a shortage. There are actually fewer beef cattle than there were a few years ago, too.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, there was less demand for meat. The restaurant industry was greatly affected in particular, as most places were forced to shutter for weeks or even months.
As we’ve established, restaurants represent the bulk of the market for skirt steaks. They purchase many other premium cuts as well. With those businesses closed, ranchers ended up with a surplus of meat, but very few customers.
This unexpected surplus, coupled with the general uncertainty created by the pandemic, caused many farmers to cull their herds. If they hadn’t, they might have gone bankrupt raising cattle that would yield no profit.
As the demand for meat returns to pre-pandemic levels, there’s still a shortage of cattle. It will take time to replenish the culled herds. In the meantime, fewer cows means fewer skirt steaks—and higher prices.
Fewer people are working on cattle ranches and at meat processing plants. Many workers were let go due to the pandemic. When the ranchers and managers were ready to start hiring again, it wasn’t as simple as bringing the same people back on board.
It could be that the former employees found work elsewhere because they felt spurned, or perhaps they took advantage of the opportunity to switch careers. Or maybe they wanted more pay and better benefits before coming back to work at the same place they’d left.
Whatever the reason, labor shortages have led to an increase in meat prices. Since fewer skirt steaks are being produced while the demand remains high, they’re going to be pricier as a result.
The Bottom Line
Why is skirt steak so expensive? For the most part, it all comes down to supply and demand.
Skirt steak is both delicious and hard to come by. This combination is sure to result in high prices. As more people become familiar with this cut, the cost may go up even further.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!