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Consumer Preference for Size of Beef Cuts

Livestock Update, February 2006

Dr. Mark Wahlberg Extension Animal Scientist, VA Tech

A recent paper (Sweeter et al, 2005) provided results of research regarding preferred size of ribeye steaks by consumers. In the study, 50 carcasses were selected from a commercial packing plant, 10 in each of 5 different ribeye size categories. These carcasses had with similar backfat (0.45 to 0.55 inch) and marbling scores (Small + and Modest -). Obviously, carcass weight was greater with cattle possessing larger ribeyes. The statistics for the cattle were:

Table 1. Ribeye area and carcass weight for carcasses used in consumer preference work
Ribeye Category Ribeye Area Range, sq inch Ribeye Area Average, sq inch Average Carcass Weight
A 9.4 - 10.5 10.3 659
B 10.8 - 12.1 11.8 778
C 12.4 - 14.0 13.5 829
D 14.3 - 16.0 15.3 860
E 16.3 - 18.4 17.0 853

From these carcasses the ribeye roll was removed, vacuum packed, and aged at least 10 days. From these, ribeye steaks 1 inch-thick were cut (n = 14 steaks per ribeye roll), and trimmed of excess peripheral fat. Kernel fat (intermuscular fat located between the ribeye muscle and cap muscle) was trimmed if it exceeded 1/2 inch in width, and each steak was weighed, placed on a white styrofoam tray, and retail-wrapped.

The steaks were displayed in a retail food store in Brookings, SD, with a price tag of $6.99 per pound. Criteria evaluated were which steaks were selected by the retail customers, and how quickly they were purchased.

Ribeye size did not significantly affect how quickly a steak was chosen from the selection in the meat case. As the researchers stated, "Either ribeye size was not a factor for consumers when purchasing a ribeye steak or there was a consumer for every ribeye size."

There was a preference by the retail customer for steaks from the posterior portion (corresponding to ribs 8 through 12) of the ribeye, as opposed to the anterior portion (corresponding to ribs 6 and 7).

Willingness to pay was also evaluated. Steaks with larger ribeye areas (16.3 to 18.4 square inches) were compared to those of average size (12.4 to 14.0 square inches), as were the larger ones cut in half. Consumers were willing to pay $3.30 per pound more for the larger ribeye size steaks, and would buy the large steaks cut in half only if price were reduced by $2.23 per pound.

In contrast to this work, Dunn et al (2000) identified a preferred ribeye size for steaks which are prepared in the food service industry. These steaks are cut to the same weight, regardless of resulting thickness. For example, in this study strip steaks were cut to either 0.5, 0.63, or 0.75 pounds each. They were cooked to the same degree of doneness.

Steaks from smaller ribeyes were thinner. They cooked more quickly. They were also less juicy and flavorful. The best outcome regarding tenderness and palatability was from steaks from carcasses with between 12.0 and 15.0 square inches of ribeye area.

In conclusion, consistency of size is very important to the food service industry. Ribeye size of from 12 to 15 square inches allows steak cutters and chefs to prepare product the same way, with a predictable outcome. In contrast, retail customers preferred steaks with larger ribeyes, up to 18 square inches. In either setting, carcasses resulting in ribeye area of less than 12 square inches were not preferred.


Dunn, J.L., S.E. Williams, J.D. Tatum, J.K. Bertrand, and T.D. Pringle. 2000. Identification of optimal ranges in ribeye area for portion cutting of beef steaks. J. Anim. Sci. 78:966975.

Sweeter, K.K., D.M. Wulf and R.J. Maddock. 2005. Determining the optimum beef longissimus muscle size for retail consumers. J. Anim. Sci. 83:2598-2604.

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