18 Tips to Save on Meat:
Efficient Frugal Grocery Shopping for Cheap Beef, Pork, Poultry, and Fish
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Knowing how to save on meat costs is a frugal grocery shopping priority for my family because beef, pork, poultry, and fish accounts for up to 15% of our food expenses, and likely closer to 20% for most less thrifty people. And prices continue to skyrocket.
The ravenous appetite of China alone is enough catalyst to assure food price inflation will likely continue steadily upwards for many years to come.
China's future food imports aside, store-bought meat is usually some of the most expensive foods you can buy because beef, pork, and poultry prices are closely tied to the rising cost of crude oil.
As the global population explosion continues, so too will the demand for oil, even as crude reserves dwindle. That means crude will go up and so too will all agricultural commodity costs, packaging costs, and transport costs.
Also affecting the price of food is corn diversions into ethanol production which constrains corn supplies and raises feed costs further which also translates into higher meat prices.
Now is the time to take action and become more food independent, especially where protein is concerned.
Here are our 18 time-tested tips for saving money on meat with efficient frugal grocery shopping strategies for cheap and healthy beef, pork, poultry, and fish dishes year round.
- To Save on Meat Buy When Demand is Low and Supply is High - Summer primetime grilling season is NOT the best time to buy steaks, hamburger, or ribs. And just before Thanksgiving and Christmas is not the best time to buy Chicken, Turkey, or Ham. The best bulk meat buys are often in January.
- Find Cheaper Alternative Cuts - For most expensive cuts there are usually cheaper more flavorful, though possibly tougher cuts from nearly the same part of the animal. Most butchers can "cut you to the quick" on the best value cuts from parts such as the plate, round, flank, or chuck for beef. And butchers often know how to cook alternate cuts to minimize any inherent toughness.
- Match Cooking Methods to Cut of Meat - With proper cooking techniques like braising, slow cooking, marinades, and pressure cooking, even cheaper meat cuts like Flatiron steak can become juicy, fork tender, and very tasty. Generally the lower the fat content, the more likely that marinating or moist cooking methods such as slow cooking will be needed.
- Be Your Own Butcher - With pricier pre-cut meats you are paying for the labor involved in cutting it up. We hardly ever buy pre-cut meat unless it is marked down meat. Most of the time We try to buy larger whole sections of meat like boneless roasts and cut up our own steaks or smaller roasts. So as an example, check how much you might save by buying a whole "Full Strip Loin" or "Top Loin" to cut up into your own New York Strip Steaks.
Poultry is also usually much cheaper when purchased whole. Cutting up a chicken does not have to be Rocket Science. Just cut it in half, cut it in quarter, then cut off the wings. You can also ask your butcher nicely and he or she will often help you out with the cutting and wrapping for free.
Many families also go in together to share a whole cow or side of beef. Savings is not always spectacular when buying sides of beef, but the quality of local organic grass-fed beef often makes buying a side of beef well worth it due to flavor and chemical-free meat.
66% of all meat consumed at home in the U.S.A. is classified as "ground beef" and most of it is full of waste scraps from sick, lame, and old animals. This is one area where low quality can really cost you a lot more than money.
For your health and a flavorful epiphany, consider my
30 tips for how to make ground beef the frugal and delicious way.
- Same Meat...Different Name and Price - Often two different cuts are really the same exact meat, but are marketed and priced very differently. For example, we have noticed "Blade-end Pork Chops" are much cheaper per pound than "Country-style Ribs", but they really are the same meat just cut in a different way. This is common in the meat industry.
- Popularity Raises the Price - Flank Steak was once a cheaper lesser known option. But with increased demand has come increased price. Look for alternative cuts unpopular with the herd, such as "Hanger Steaks" for beef or legs, wings, and thighs of chicken.
- Turkey is Cheap and Healthy - Turkey legs can be bought for less than $1/lb. and are very low in fat. Replace beef or pork with Turkey leg meat.
- Consider the Price Per Serving - Bone and fat weight are included in the price per pound, so consider cuts and proper cooking techniques that will give you more actual edible serving weight for your money.
- Cheapest Cuts of Pork - The cheapest cuts of pork are usually the boneless center cut pork loin or whole loin of pork when on sale. Pork Sirloin is also much better and much cheaper than Pork Tenderloin.
- Save Bones for Great Frugal Soup Recipes - From fish to poultry, there is a lot of flavor that can be extract from bones. We buy freshly rotisserie roasted chickens at Sam's Club for about $5. Then once picked clean of most of the chicken meat, we boil the carcass to make a wonderful base for frugal chicken soup, adding carrots, celery, spices, and noodles.
Our frugal chicken soup is very healthy, tasty, and we stretch that $5 chicken into no less than 6 hearty cheap meals. The same goes for Ham bones and crockpot beans. You can also get cheap beef bones at the butcher (have them cut them so the marrow will be exposed during cooking).
- Consider Quality, Not Just Price - Top grade beef has fine fat marbling through the meat. If fat is not white, the quality may not be so good. Also be aware solid red beef with no white fat will tend to cook up tougher. With frozen poultry and other frozen meats, if there is excess ice chunks or crystals inside the package, the meat was probably thawed and re-frozen at some point, which will affect taste. For fresh fish check to make sure there is no unpleasant odors, the flesh is firm but elastic, and gills are bright red and eyes are not cloudy or sunk in.
I highly recommend staying totally away from cheap highly processed meats like Bologna, SPAM, Deviled Ham, hotdogs, and other preserved meats high in carcinogenic Sodium Nitrites, saturated fats, and Cholesterol. Many processed meats very popular in the American diet are proven to increase the risk of Colorectal Cancer. Also consider that the lowest USDA grade of meat often gets sent to canners so canned meat products are often full of the meat industry's waste meats.
- Consider Discount Clubs to Save on Meat - We often buy meat in bulk at Sam's Club and Costco. The packages are sometimes huge, but we re-package smaller portions and freeze up to 6 months worth.
- Cook More and Store - Meat can be kind of a pain to deal with, so when we cook meat we cook extra and prepare extra meals for the next day or so. For example, we pre-cook a big batch of ground chuck with diced onions, garlic, celery, and peppers and freeze extra in half pound portions for up to 3 months worth of future use for spaghetti sauce, chili, burritos, soups, and stews. We don't do this with poultry though because once cooked we have found the flavor really suffers in the freezer.
- Frugal Crockpot Recipes - The most frugal meals often involve cooking with a Crockpot because you can combine all the ingredients together in your slow cooker in the morning, set it and forget it, and everything will be cooked by dinner time, with often just the one pot to clean. You can't beat a Crock-pot for efficient frugal meal planning. We love our Pressure Cooker and Meat Smoker too.
- Marked Down Meats - Check the "sell by" dates on meats. You can often find meats near their expiration dates for half off or better. Check the meat section before lunch on weekdays to find marked down meat deals. Ask the manager for a deal if you don't want to pay full price for meat that is near expiration but not yet marked down. It never hurts to ask for a bargain. Most frugal shoppers learn early on that boldness, creativity, and efficiency eventually equals total financial independence.
- Plan Around and Bulk Up on Markdown Meats - To save money on meat and for the most frugal menu planning try to plan your meals and menu around what meats are on sale, rather than letting your menu dictate your spending. Flexibility is key. But if you have a freezer, you can buy markdown meats and sales in bulk and have an inventory to choose from without having to worry so much about shopping for deals to meet your food budget every week.
- Eat Less Meat By Dilution or Substitution - we use meats such as 95% lean ground beef more as a seasoning for meals, rather than as the main focus of the dish. This means making dishes heavy on veggies, rather than animal protein. We also eat a totally vegetarian meal about half the time (I actually prefer many dishes like homemade pizzas with no meat). Yes, veggies can be expensive too, but not as expensive and unhealthy as most meats. There are many cheap, healthy high protein foods that can replace meat in any diet. This saves a lot of money yearly.
- Keep a Price Book to Save on Meat - Frugal Grocery Shopping means knowing exactly where you spend your dollars on food and what advertised sales are actually real bargains. Keeping a grocery price book, especially for meat prices, is a powerful way to add knowledge and discipline to your buying routine. A price book with store, item, unit price, and payment details will allow you to quickly compare current prices to what they have been so you can spot the best deals on meat.
The NeatDesk Receipt Scanner and Organizer is one of my favorite little efficiency tools for simultaneously tracking expenses AND making price history and a lot of other receipt data quickly searchable while reducing paper clutter.
Do you have any frugal shopping tips or recipes that may help others save on meat? If so, please share with the world by leaving a comment below.
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