Ruth’s Chris’ Loss is Your Gain

Via Tom Smith, I see WSJ is reporting a steep drop in the prices in USDA Prime beef at supermarkets, owing to an increase in available supply because high end steak restaurants aren’t doing so well in this economy.

The piece is an excellent primer on buying and cooking steaks, although I strongly disagree with this:

Given a choice between cuts of USDA prime beef, Mr. Raichlen says he would choose a New York strip or a T-bone in order to take advantage of the firm meat, which tastes lush and juicy when well-marbled. But take a page from top steak houses and don’t bother buying prime tenderloin, or filet mignon. This cut is only slightly marbled, so buying prime barely changes the eating experience.

Nonsense.  A nice cut of Prime tenderloin is spectacularly better than an ordinary Choice tenderloin.  It ain’t even close.

Believe me, I’ve tried — and tried and tried — because the former can be double the price or more.  But you’re better off with half the steak. While Prime filet is not particularly marbled, it’s also highly unlikely to have chunks of the inedible, hard fat or the disgusting veins that one routinely finds in the Choice variety at the local supermarket.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. PD Shaw says:

    James: While I don’t find this post to be immoral or intentionally deceptive, I do think it would be useful if you informed the reader the calorie counts for both prime and choice cuts. Obesity is a growing epidemic . . .

  2. Jeffrey W. Baker says:

    It would be fairly difficult, and expensive, to get fat eating beef. Americans are fat because of excessive consumption of carbohydrates, primarily simple sugars, and a striking lack of physical activity.

  3. rodney dill says:

    I prefer rib-eye over New York strip or T-bone.

  4. Drew says:

    James –

    I simply could not agree more.

    And Jeffrey –

    Your point is little understood. Skip the baked potato and order some aparagus or spinach.

  5. PD Shaw says:

    My comment was intended as a joke, primarily at Ezra Klein’s expense, but I looked it up:

    prime — 292 cals
    choice — 281 cals
    select — 269 cals

    per 3 oz. tenderloin cooked and trimmed with 1/8″ fat

    Saving the world, one comment post at a time.

  6. You’re right: no comparison between prime and lesser tenderloins.

  7. Dave Schuler says:

    I see WSJ is reporting a steep drop in the prices in USDA Prime beef at supermarkets

    Where in the world did they find prime beef in supermarkets? Around here supermarkets haven’t carried prime beef for decades.

    The little local market that I patronize does but it isn’t a supermarket by any stretch of the imagination.

  8. Ben says:

    I prefer rib-eye over New York strip or T-bone.

    Ditto Rodney. I generally find filet (even a $40 aged one from a nice steakhouse) to be one of the least flavorful cuts of meat, and I just generally don’t get what the big screaming deal is. Strip is much more flavorful, and ribeye is that much again more flavorful than strip.

  9. odograph says:

    Places to look for prime beef: Costco, Whole Foods, Bristol Farms.

  10. Look for prime cuts in smaller specialty stores with butchers rather than supermarkets. Supermarkets are catering to the mass market and the mass market isn’t looking for prime cuts of beef.

    I love filets myself, with ribeyes closely behind. Is “flavor” being used above as a synonym for fat content? I like a nice bernaise or reduced wine sauce with my filets but not my ribeyes. Does that make sense? Oh, and I switched from potatos to spinach years ago, rationalizing that the green vegetables and red wine offset the fat content. 🙂

  11. Dave Schuler says:

    Neither the Costco near me nor the Whole Foods two blocks from my home carries prime beef. Our Whole Food has some nice looking choice; no prime.

  12. odograph says:

    I let my Costco lapse (Trader Joes plus Smart & Final works pretty good for me). A buddy and I did go to Costco to get a couple tri-tips a week or two ago, and they cooked up on the Big Green Egg really well. My Whole Foods closed, and the nearest now is out of the way.

    Bristal Farms says they have it:

    I might check them out (or Whole Foods).

  13. John Burgess says:

    I don’t find Prime in my markets, either.

    But I vehemently disagree with your taste (and we are only discussing a matter of taste). I’ll take a strip steak, hell, I’ll take a flank steak, before I’d eat tenderloin. I like meat with texture that suggests it came from a muscled animal, not a vat. But food, for me, is at least 50% about texture, anyway.

  14. Alex Knapp says:

    You can easily tenderize choice to prime quality. Take the meat out about 1/2 before cooking. Apply salt. Lots of salt. After 1/2 hour, wipe of the excess salt and cook it.

  15. Jeffrey W. Baker says:

    But wait, that’s how I cook a prime strip. Roll it in coarse salt, cracked peppercorns, and garlic, wait a half hour, dry it off, then cook it.

  16. UlyssesUnbound says:


    I agree with the flank steak comment. I find that flank steak gets a bad rap primarily due to poor preparation. While it isn’t nearly as tender, it has seers incredibly well and soaks up the flavor of any rub better than any steak I’ve had. The trick is to cut it into strips at a 30 degree angle. This removes almost any toughness.

  17. Rick Almeida says:

    I prefer rib-eye over New York strip or T-bone.


  18. Ruth’s Chris’ Loss is Your Gain

    There, fixed that for you. The restaurant name is Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.

  19. James Joyner says:

    Neither the Costco near me nor the Whole Foods two blocks from my home carries prime beef.

    Very odd. Both WF and Costco have it here, although the latter only sporadically. WF has both wet aged and dry aged prime in the DC area.

  20. RM says:

    The Costco I visit here in Portland OR has some prime cuts. Don’t know about Whole Foods.

  21. James Joyner says:

    The restaurant name is Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.

    True. Fixed the title. But, man, that’s an odd name for a restaurant. What’s a Chris? And why does Ruth have one?

    I looked it up on Wikipedia and found this:

    The chain was founded by the late Ruth Fertel, a single mother of two, in 1965, after she bought the existing Chris Steak House in New Orleans. In buying the restaurant, Fertel had to agree that the restaurant keep the “Chris” name for a specified period of time. After the original location sustained a kitchen fire, she relocated the restaurant about one-half mile (0.9 km) to the west on Broad Street and renamed the rebuilt establishment “Ruth’s Chris.” Under the purchase agreement, the name “Chris Steak House” could not be used at any other location, and she did not want to lose customers already familiar with the Chris name.[5] Fertel started to franchise the restaurant in the 1970s to locations throughout the United States and throughout the world.

  22. anjin-san says:

    A few words from Albert Einstein:

    “Although I have been prevented by outward circumstances from observing a strictly vegetarian diet, I have long been an adherent to the cause in principle. Besides agreeing with the aims of vegetarianism for aesthetic and moral reasons, it is my view that a vegetarian manner of living by its purely physical effect on the human temperament would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind.” Translation of letter to Hermann Huth, December 27, 1930

  23. James Joyner says:

    Well, I’ve passed the point where a Nobel Prize in physics is a likely outcome. I might as well enjoy me some steak.

  24. Clovis says:

    As a huge fan of dry-aging to increase (concentrate) beef flavor, I’ve never found this particular technique helpful with the tenderloin. Bard and lard works fairly well, but the pan sauce makes all the difference.

    Frankly, if I’m going to cook a tenderloin, I’m going to Wellington it. Spring for a little foie to go with the duxelles. A foie pate works pretty well. Side of asparagus with hollandaise, braised pears or figs, a seared lobe of deveined foie and a nice cheese.

    Conventional wisdom calls for a red as a companion, but a fruity, acidic white is also perfectly fitting. Perhaps a little of both.

    Thanks, Doc. When I have to explain my overblown food budget for the week, I’ll just lay the blame off on you.