Saturday, September 17, 2016

another myth... busted

I'll very likely be making spaghetti with homemade sausage tomorrow. The day I bought ground pork for the sausage, I noticed something strange: one package of ground pork was smaller, but more expensive, than a seemingly identical package sitting right next to it. I asked my butcher (yes, I now think of the guy as "my butcher") what the price difference was all about. "Oh," he said, "the more expensive one has less fat."

This startled me, as I had always been under the impression that Koreans, like most of the rest of the world that isn't America, associated fat with quality. In Europe, this is definitely true: higher-fat meats are considered to be of higher quality, and are therefore more expensive. I had thought Korea functioned the same way, but according to the butcher, the reason for the greater expense is that there's more labor involved in trimming away the fat.

That seemed plausible. I scratched my head, nodded, and walked away, taking the butcher's explanation at face value. Out of curiosity more than anything else, I bought myself a package of each kind of ground pork, still unable to see the difference between the two meats. Then I looked more closely at the price tags and saw that, unlike in the States, no fat percentage was listed. In the States, when you buy ground beef, you'll normally see a fraction that represents the respective percentages of meat and fat: an 80/20 ratio is normally considered ideal for hamburgers. At the local Food Lion in Front Royal, Virginia, a "log" of 70/30 ground beef would be cheaper, per pound, than a package of 80/20. Fattier—and some might argue tastier. (See this chart to understand US pricing. Scroll down to the "Ground Beef and Trim" section and note the prices for beef varying from 73% meat to 93% meat.)

Wavering between asking the guy about ratios and just heading to the register, I paused for a second, then I shrugged and headed over to the register. A mystery to resolve another day, perhaps. Meanwhile, it seems a myth has been busted, and I've been wrong this entire time about meat prices in Korea. I'm now curious to see what other Korean butchers say.


Bratfink said...

Holy carp, Kev! I've known for years that [here in the States] I will be paying more for lower fatted items. I think even Sheldon knows that, and THAT is saying a lot about him!

Of course, I never extrapolate any of this info to The Wider World because I'm not a World Traveler like you. I think you're amazing.

Kevin Kim said...


The things you learn when you put in the miles, eh?

No joke—I was under the impression that Korea was like Europe in terms of meat pricing: fattier = higher quality = more expensive.

If you watch The Food Network, you get the distinct impression that most American chefs think like Europeans do. "Fat is flavor!" is a common mantra on that channel; many chefs look down on cuts like beef tenderloin (filet mignon) because they're nothing but meat, with no fat marbled through the flesh. (When you cook low-fat meat, it can dry out quickly, and it's definitely blander.) But for whatever reason, meat pricing in America is set up such that fattier = cheaper. Go figure.

As for the Korean situation—I need to do some research. Even though what my butcher said sounded plausible, I need to go around and see for myself how Koreans actually price their meat. My butcher might turn out to be an outlier.

Charles said...

I think it depends on what kind/cut of meat you are buying. For ground beef/pork, the meat would indeed have to be trimmed of the fat to produce a leaner end product, so your butcher's explanation makes sense (never really compared prices on ground meat, to be honest). However, when it comes to whole cuts of meat, fattier cuts--particularly cuts with heavy marbling in the case of beef--tend to be more expensive.

Fattiness is only part of it, of course. In general, cuts are priced based on three things: rarity of the cut (a tenderloin is going to be more expensive in general because there is less of it per cow), provenance (as you know, 한우 tends to be obscenely expensive), and grade. Grade becomes the primary factor given identical cuts and provenance, though. Up until earlier this year, in the case of beef, grade was determined primarily by the quantity of marbling, although now the quality of the fat is also considered. (source: At any rate, the fat content is still the primary concern, with more being seen as better.