Best Cheap Beef Cuts for Frugal Meals and Thrifty Cooking on a Beef Budget
Home » Frugal Cooking Tips » Cheap Beef Cuts
The best cheap beef cuts often come from the shank, flank, round, plate, or chuck of the cow. Though tougher, these budget beef cuts can easily be turned into tender, juicy, and tasty beef dishes with proper cooking techniques.
Cheap beef cuts from the chuck or round, such as chuck roast and round steak, will generally require moist cooking techniques and will become fork tender with a slow cooker, pressure cooker, or with braising.
Many people consider the best cuts of beef to be those that come from the loin section such as New York Strip, Porterhouse, and Filet Mignon Steaks. But these are NOT the best cuts if you are on a beef budget, as we are.
So the loin section of the cow is off limits to us most of the time. We find the cheaper cuts of beef to often be much more flavorful anyway. Extra connective tissues makes them tougher, but it also contributes more beefy flavor and the right cooking breaks connective tissues completely down.
But no beef is off limits if the price is right. No matter the cut, a large part of finding the cheapest beef cuts has to do with finding the really good sales, buying in bulk, storing beef properly, and knowing how to cook it to tenderness.
The following guide will focus on helping you find the cheapest beef cuts for frugal meal planning around those good meat sales.
Cheap Cuts of Beef from the "Shoulder" or "Chuck"
When it comes to cheap all-purpose beef cuts, "Chuck" is the word I often look for in the sales circulars.
The shoulder of the cow, or Chuck, provides some tougher, but cheaper cuts. Chuck cuts are usually healthier too, because the fat content is lower.
Boneless Chuck Roast, for example, can be ground up to make extra lean ground beef.
Instead of getting the usual 30% loss to fat drippings, you will get a healthier alternative with less than half the fat of regular hamburger.
And with a little marinating, slow cooking, or pressure cooking the tougher whole Chuck cuts become tender, juicy, and delicious.
For the best cheap beef cuts from the Chuck or Shoulder look for:
These are the most tender of the Chuck or Shoulder Cuts of Beef:
Other cheap cuts of beef from this area of the cow (the "Cross Rib" section of the Shoulder Clod) may be referred to as:
Cheap Beef Cuts from the "Arm"
As the name implies, the Arm is the part of the cow's upper front leg, above what is known as the Shank.
Arm Roast often goes on sale for half the cost per pound of Ground Round and because it comes from the actively used front leg muscle, it is very tasty, but lower in fat and tougher.
Your Meat Grinder, Crockpot, or Pressure Cooker will take care of the toughness. It's a great lean frugal cut of beef.
Arm Roast may also be advertised as Swiss Steak, Arm Steak, Arm Chuck Roast, Arm Pot Roast, or Round Bone Pot Roast.
Butcher's Secret in the "Short Loin"
Besides the below exception, we generally avoid buying cuts from this part of the cow because of the high per pound cost.
To me the following loin cuts are synonyms for "expensive": Top Loin, Tenderloin, Filet Mignon, Chateaubriand, Porterhouse Steak, T-bone Steak, New York Strip Steak, Delmonico Steak.
These cuts are premium because they are usually the most tender cuts for grilling because of the desirable quality of good fat marbling and less dense muscle. Prime cuts of beef are graded "Prime" by the USDA based on this ideal fat marbling in the meat.
Compared to a well exercised muscle like the cow's Shank (or fore-leg), the Loin muscles are not used as much and so have less connective tissue and a higher fat content.
But despite the very high price, cuts from the Short Loin may also have less flavor than those better used, but tougher cuts.
This is another reason I would rather buy tougher cheaper cuts for use in frugal crockpot recipes, pressure cooker recipes, or for marinading grilling steaks so we get more flavor at a better price.
But there is one exceptionally frugal cut to be had from near the Loin and it is still little known.
Hanger Steak, also called "Butcher's Cut", is part of the internal diaphram muscle beside the cow's kidneys and "hanging" near the cow's stomach. In France they call this hanging delicacy the "Onglet".
It is not visible on most beef cut charts, but butchers know it well and most love it. As the name "Butcher's Cut" implies, butchers are said to have often kept this cheap beef cut for themselves because customers are unwilling to pay what butchers think it is worth.
Unlike the rising popularity and price of "Flank Steak" and "Flap Meat", which has become sought after for meat strips used in Chinese and Mexican dishes, the Hanger Steak is still a hidden gem of frugal beef that can be had for a decent price, though it can be hard to find in many grocery stores.
Hanger Steak is usually tougher, but it is flavorful. The connective tissues is where a lot of the flavor comes from.
To break down and tenderize the steak marinate it a few days and broil or grill it to no more than medium rare.
Hanger Steaks are also great additions to any Slow Cooker or Pressure Cooker recipe.
Ask your local butcher about Hanger Steaks, Butcher's Steaks, Hanging Tenders, or Bistro Steaks.
They might be so impressed with your beef knowledge that they will share with you their secret Hanger Steak marinade recipe.
I hope the "Butcher's Cut" doen not become popular like the once obscurely delicious Skirt and Flank steaks have.
Skirt steaks are usually tougher but become tender and flavorful in the pressure cooker or with marinade. The fajita craze has driven up the price of Skirt steak and Flank steak substantially over the last several years. If you ever find it on sale give it a try as well.
Full Strip Loin or Top Loin Cheap Beef Cuts?
There is an alternative to paying top dollar for individual premium cut steaks found in the Short Loin area. You can buy the bulk section and save a lot of money.
The section New York Strips are cut from is called the Full Strip Loin or Top Loin and it usually produces about 12 New York Strip steaks when cut up.
You can buy the entire 10+ lb. Full Strip Loin and cut your own steaks as thick as you want. Or have your butcher do it for you.
Cheap Beef Cuts from the Sirloin
The Sirloin of the cow is behind the premium cuts loin region and is thus closer to the more frequently used muscles found in the hind legs/hips, or "Round", of the animal.
As a result Sirloin steak tends to have less fat marbling and can be a bit tough, but it often has more flavor than high priced cuts from the short loin area.
The lower prices of Sirloin cuts, compared to the oft outrageously priced tenderloin cuts, makes Sirloin a good frugal beef bet when you buy it on sale.
Cheaper and fairly tender cuts to look for from the Sirloin section of the cow are:
These cuts of steak are best if marinated for a day or two to help break down the connective tissues and denser muscle fibers. Then once tenderized, grilled to medium rare with Kosher salt and pepper.
Cheap Beef Cuts for Frugal Roasts
Many frugal meals can be had from a roast made from cheap cuts of beef. In fact, just about any cuts of beef can be turned into fork tender, juicy, and delicious roasts with a crock pot or pressure cooker. Here are some ideas for cheap cuts of meat for making your thrifty pot roasts.
Do you have any tips about buying or cooking cheap beef cuts? Share your budget beef advice below.
Pages Related to Cheap Cuts of Beef or Meat: