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.
Using marinades and other meat tenderizing methods will help to break down connective tissues and protein fibers to turn even tougher cheap cuts of meat such as eye round steak, top round steak, skirt steak, or shoulder steak into great cuts of beef for broiling or grilling.
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 most importantly knowing how to cook it to become fork-tender.
Even the cheapest bargain cuts of leaner (and thus often tougher) "Select Beef" or ungraded beef can become as tasty as the most expensive marbled Prime or Choice cuts... IF ...it is cooked correctly, such as via marinading, braising, roasting or simmering in a crock pot until tender.
Likelihood of tenderness, flavor, and juiciness correlated to higher fat marbling and thus a better "eating experience" is a primary consideration in the USDA's grading of beef cuts. But with various wet cooking techniques you can easily get "Choice" tenderness and flavor, even though you may only be able to afford "Select" or lower grade cheaper cuts of beef.
Plus these tougher more economical cuts of meat, by virtue of the lower fat marbling that in part causes them to be graded lower and thus priced lower, are healthier sources of protein because of their lower content of saturated fat.
In contrast, beautifully marbled Wagyu Beef and Kobe Beef are outrageously fatty, scrumptiously tasty, disgustingly expensive...AND notoriously bad for hearts and food budgets!
The following guide will focus on helping you find the cheapest beef cuts for frugal meal planning around those good meat sales you'll often see around the holidays or when supply of beef is more plentiful.
To illustrate these various cuts of beef mentioned below, and where exactly on the side of beef they come from, refer to the following well-made video showing an adept professional butchering beef cuts from the major sections of a whole side of beef...
Video of Professional Butchering Beef Cuts, How To Butcher An Entire Cow: Every Cut Of Beef Explained
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) divides a cow into 8 main regions of beef, also known as the 8 Primal Cuts of Beef: Round, Rib, Loin, Chuck, Flank, Brisket, Short Plate, and Shank.
As illustrated in the above video, your butcher dissects these larger primal beef cuts into smaller "sub-primal cuts". Out of the sub-primal cuts, they will then slice the smaller individual retail "Portion cuts" you are probably familiar with buying at your local supermarket meat counter.
Examples of common retail portion cuts are: steaks, roasts, briskets, strips, kabobs, stew meat, cubed steak, and ribs.
Other cheaper delicacies of the cow that can make for excellent healthy frugal meals are:
cow tongue, cow heart, beef liver, and soup bones.
Here's an overview of the common portion cuts derived from each primal cut with a few indicators of cost ($ = typically least expensive, to $$$ = typically most expensive)...
- Top Round Roast - $$
- Bottom Round Roast - $
- Top Round Steak - $$
- Bottom Round Steak (a.k.a. Western Griller) - $
- Bottom Round Rump Roast
- Eye of Round Roast - $$
- Eye of Round Steak - $$
- Round Tip Roast - $$
- Round Tip Steak - $$
- Sirloin Tip Center Roast - $$$
- Sirloin Tip Center Steak - $$$
- Sirloin Tip Side Steak - $$
- Ribeye Steak (Boneless or Bone-in) - $$$
- Rib Roast (Boneless or Bone-in) - $$$
- Ribeye Cap Steak
- Ribeye Petite Roast
- Ribeye Filet
- Back Ribs - $
Loin (Short Loin and Sirloin)
- Porterhouse Steak - $$$
- T-bone Steak - $$$
- Top Loin Steak (Boneless $$$ or Bone-In $)
- New York Strip Steak (a.k.a. KC Strip, or hotel steak) - (Boneless $$$ or Bone-In $)
- Tenderloin Steak (a.k.a. Filet Mignon) - $$$
- Tenderloin Roast - $$$
- Strip Petite Roast
- Strip Filet
- Tri-Tip Roast - $$
- Tri-Tip Steak - $$
- Top Sirloin Steak (Boneless $)
- Top Sirloin Petite Roast
- Coulotte Roast
- Coulotte Steak
- Petite Sirloin Steak
- Sirloin Bavette Steak
- Arm Chuck Roast
- Arm Chuck Steak
- Blade Chuck Roast
- Blade Chuck Steak
- 7-Bone Chuck Roast - $
- Chuck Center Roast
- Denver Steak
- Chuck Eye Roast
- Chuck Eye Steak - $$
- Country-Style Ribs
- Cross Rib Chuck Roast
- Shoulder Roast
- Shoulder Steak
- Ranch Steak
- Shoulder Top Blade Steak (Flat Iron Steak) - $$
- Top Blade Steak - $$
- Shoulder Petite Tender - $$$
- Shoulder Petite Tender Medallions - $$$
- Short Ribs (Bone-In $ or Boneless $)
- Brisket Flat Cut - $$
- Brisket Point - $
- Skirt Steak - $$
- Short Ribs (Bone-In $)
- Shank Cross Cut (a.k.a. Osso Buco)- $
The above video showing how to butcher a side of beef into many of the above cuts of beef steaks, briskets, ribs and roasts, makes it very clear just how much know-how and skill is required.
Nevertheless, out of necessity and a growing focus on the local sustainable food movement, many self-reliant folks are learning to be their own butchers of farm-fresh beef.
There is a growing number of frugal omnivores who raise their own beef cattle, or pool resources with friends and family (termed "Cow-pooling") to purchase quarter, half, or whole sides of beef, and butcher it themselves or hire a local meat processor.
Directly sourcing local meat is a great way to save a lot of money on beef, and to better know the quality of meat you are getting, while also supporting your local farmers and sustainable agriculture.
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:
- Center-cut Chuck Steak - center cut is more tender than further back on the chuck.
- Chuck Steak (bone in and from the under-cut of the Chuck) - makes for a great cheap Pot Roast.
- Boneless Chuck - submerge in marinade for a day or two, then grill to medium rare for a tender and tasty frugal beef steak.
- Shoulder Clod - this is the cow's shoulder blade and a source of many cheaper steak and roast cuts.
These are the most tender of the Chuck or Shoulder Cuts of Beef:
- Triangle Roast
- Chuck Roast First Cut
- Lifter Roast
- Blade Roast
- Top Chuck Roast
- Top Blade Roast
- Flatiron Roast
- Top Blade Steaks are great cheap cuts of meat with a lot of flavor. May also go by these names:
- Top Boneless Chuck Steak
- Petite Tender Steak
- Butler Steak
- Flat-iron Steak
- Ranch Steak
- Lifter Steak
- Book Steak
Other cheap cuts of beef from this area of the cow (the "Cross Rib" section of the Shoulder Clod) may be referred to as:
- Bread and Butter Cut
- Cross-rib Roast
- English Cut
- Boston Cut
- Shoulder Clod Roast
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"
The Short Loin of the cow, or the small of the cow's back, is where the most premium priced and well-known cuts of beef for grilling are located.
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 Hanger 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 or give you some tips on how to marinate Hanger Steak.
I hope the "Butcher's Cut" do 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:
- Top Sirloin Butt Roast or Boneless Top Sirloin Steak - cuts from the "Top Butt" are usually slightly premium cuts compared to cuts from the "Bottom Butt".
- Bottom Butt Steak or Bottom Sirloin Butt
- Top Sirloin Steak
- Tri-Tip or Triangle Tip - a tasty and cheap cut of meat with good fat marbling, great for grilling.
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.
- Sirloin Tri-tip Roast
- Top Chuck Roast
- First Cut Chuck Roast
- Top Blade Roast
- Bottom round roast
- Round-eye Pot Roast or Eye-round roast
- Chuck shoulder roast
- Bottom round rump roast
- Chuck Roast or Center Cut Roast
- Top Round Roast
- Center Cut or Top Sirloin Roast
- Boneless Chuck Steak
- 7 Bone Roast or Center Cut Pot Roast
- Arm Roast
- Boneless Shoulder Roast
- Fresh Ham or Leg of Pork is a cheap and tasty alternative to Beef Roasts
Do you have any tips about buying or cooking cheap beef cuts? Share your budget beef advice below.
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