How Big A Deal Was Roast Beef In the 50s

I was watching “Father Knows Best” a few days ago and Bud asks his friend over to dinner, he clinches the deal by saying “My mother is fixing roast beef,” which seems to impress his friend, a girl.

Today I noticed on “Leave It To Beaver,” Wally did a similar thing when he asked a girl to supper. He emphasized “We’re having roast beef?”

I also seem to recall Lucy of “I Love Lucy,” also got Ethel to stay to dinner by saying something along the lines of not letting herself being did out of a roast beef dinner.

So my question is, how big of a deal was it to serve roast beef in the 50s?

Or was it just something that was easy for the sake of the plot?

I always thought roast beef = wealth. You’d only have it for something special or to impress company. Note: I’m in my 30’s and I’m only basing this on past conversations with my mother (born in the 50’s) and my mother-in-law (born in the 30’s)

What JerseyFrank said. Especially at our house. My stepdad worked at a hatchery and chicken and turkey had the same status as baloney. A ham was special, and a beef roast was very special. It wasn’t a rib roast either – just a plain old arm/chuck pot roast.

Another factor in its popularity is that it’s hard to screw up a roast. The worst cook can make a decent roast – just don’t overcook it.

Back then roast beef was more of a luxury than it is now, and to most adults it would have been thought of the same way you’d think of a very expensive steak dinner today.

Wealth in America (or Canada, as my case goes) rose after the Second World War to previously unthinkable levels, and was rising very fast up until the 1970s. Along with that came much greater variety and opportunity in diet. Americans in, say, the 1910s did not eat nearly as well as they do today. Until the late 40’s or early 50’s, the most commonly eaten meat by Americans was pork - because it was and is cheaper than beef. And many Americans - I don’t just mean a poor underclass, but a LOT - could remember when their families couldn’t afford to eat meat every day.

By the time those episodes of “Father Knows Best” most of your middle class folk could afford a roast, but it still would have been stereotypically regarded as a mark of affluence.

Old baseball commercial had Humphrey Bogart saying, “A hot dog at the ballpark tastes as good as roast beef at the Ritz.”

Another data point in the argument that roast beef was the standard great meal upon which all other meals could be measured.

I grew up in the 50s, in a blue collar neighborhood in the Bronx. Roast beef was a pretty special meal. You might get it on Sunday; it probably wouldn’t be served as a regular weekday meal.

My father’s family was very well off. For Thanksgiving this year, he bought a full prime rib for us, and told us how when he was growing up, Sunday Dinner was a prime rib, every single week. Not just a roast, a prime rib. Yikes!

All the above is true, but remember that chicken also was considered something special. People would make “city chicken” out of pork and veal because they couldn’t afford chicken. Herbert Hoover promised a “chicken in every pot,” which was the epitome of Depression-era optimism.

Also, roast beef takes a while to make. You don’t just whip it up. It’s a special-occasion meal not just because it’s perceived to be luxurious, but also because of the planning involved.

When I was a kid in the 1960’s we had Roast Beast, but only at Christmas.

Roast beef was practically unheard of in my family when I was young. When we had meat at all (we went through a mostly vegetarian phase) it was usually pork chops, sausages or ground half/half. Roasting a whole bunch of beef was a complicated extravagance, something you’d maybe do at christmas and the like. A whole roasted chicken was only slightly less common. My mom still thinks a vegetarian christmas dinner is a good idea - I haven’t the heart to disagree with her.

This was the late 70s early 80s - the Netherlands. Some of my friends’ families weren’t nearly as uptight about meat; I remember some amazingl beef stews. Still, over here, roasting beef or anything except a chicken isn’t something people do regularly as far as I can see. I think I’ve never had a home-roasted ham until I made one myself 2 years ago. It seems that we Dutch are pretty stingy with meat - especially compared to our neighbours the Germans, Belgians and English (the English can roast anything with legs to perfection, and they do it frequently, in my experience).

Wow, I never knew that.

Back in maybe the late 80s a Chinese woman told me that pork was the cheapest meat in China and chicken was considered a luxury. A couple of years ago I brought that up to my Chinese office mate, and she had never heard of such a thing.

It was a pretty big deal in the 60’s too. The prices of beef must be way different now because often I can get some sort of roast beef on sale for close to the same price as ground beef and we lived on ground beef back then.

Also SPAM. We had SPAM all the time but now it’s ridiculously expensive.

When I was growing up in the 1950s, our standard dinners included meatloaf, chicken, spaghetti, pork chops and some sort of non-meat on Fridays. Roast beef was a Sunday-only thing. Also, like Sigmagirl said, it could take a couple of hours to make.

Here’s a chart that shows per capita meat consumption in the U.S.. In the 1950s, beef consumption was less than 50 lbs./person – less than a pound a week – while pork consumption was more than 60 lbs. But the more important statistic is that total meat consumption was 144 lbs./person in 1950, compared with 222 lbs. in 2007.

I was invited over to my sisters house a few months ago. I wasn’t going to go but then she said she was making roast beef, so I went. It didn’t only happen in the 50’s. Roast beef is still uncommonly served, and still good!

He was plagiarising Henry IV of France.

My parents grew up on a lot of sausage in the 50s. But not huge portions of meat generally speaking - meat servings were smaller and the majority of the meal was potatoes or bread or other starch.

Yes, chicken used to be a Sunday dinner sort of meat. I took a class on the economics and sociology of rural America in college, and we read a really interesting piece about how chicken used to be raised and how it went from that to the current situation. Basically, back in the day chickens lived on what they scrounged off the land and scraps, so they didn’t grow as fast or lay as prolifically as birds fed a specific poultry diet. It was quite an edifying article.

Roast beef also takes a long time to cook right. Several hours and all that.

It’s not just that they’re having roast beef. It’s also that they’re NOT having salmon loaf.


But I like salmon loaf!