Don’t let meat shortages and skyrocketing prices keep you from enjoying favorite recipes. Try these ways to make meat go farther or replace it altogether.
Have you seen the price of meat lately? Beef is at an all-time high, and pork isn’t far behind, due to processing plant closures throughout the country. With more people turning to chicken instead, even the price of poultry is going up, too.
If you aren’t interested in eliminating meat from your family meals, I’ve got good news: you can stretch the meat you buy to make it go farther, make cheap cuts of meat taste premium, and sometimes skip meat altogether with no one noticing at all.
How to Make Meat Go Farther
Bulk it Up
A quick and easy way to extend meat, so it goes farther, is by adding other ingredients to it. Try one of the following to bulk up ground beef or turkey:
- Rolled oats — Use old-fashioned dry oats, since steel-cut will be too chewy.
- Bread crumbs (fresh or dry) — Make your own by running bread or toast in your food processor.
- Cracker crumbs — Saltines work best, in my opinion. Ritz adds too much sweetness, while Triscuits add a lot of salt.
- Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) – Soak a cup in hot broth or water for a few minutes, then drain and stir it into your recipe.
- Brown rice — Even white rice works if you aren’t worried about your family noticing.
- Barley — Use an instant or quick version to cut down preparation time.
- Quinoa — This adds a nice boost of protein, too!
- Mashed beans — Even picky eaters won’t notice black or pinto beans since they look so similar.
- Cooked lentils — I like the red ones because they disappear in the meat better, but green ones work, too.
- Finely chopped mushrooms — Even my son, who doesn’t like mushrooms, can’t tell when I’ve added chopped mushrooms to ground beef.
- Grated vegetables — Grated potato or beets aren’t noticeable in ground beef. You can also try zucchini or carrots but may want to add oats or breadcrumbs to bind the mixture together.
Thin it Out
If you’re concerned that meat-loving family members will complain if they see less meat on their plate, remember that “people eat with their eyes first.” You can keep them from noticing smaller portions by serving what looks like a lot of meat but isn’t. This trick helps meat go farther because you can serve several people — or several meals — with less.
Make chicken go farther: Slice large chicken breasts in half horizontally. To do this, place a chicken breast down on a cutting board and then carefully slice through it with a sharp knife horizontally at the thickest point.
Stuff it: Look for recipes that roll the meat around other ingredients, because they’ll visually trick carnivores with big appetites. (Related: Round Steak Roulades Recipe)
Turn it into topping: When making a casserole, set aside a small amount of the meat you’re using. Double the recipe’s vegetables, beans, or noodles and then scatter the reserved meat on top of the dish to make it look like you’ve used a lot.
How to Use Less Meat in Cooking
You can make one package of meat go farther by to last for several meals by combining the above methods for bulking up meat with the practices below. Or skip it entirely — I did for a week, and my family never noticed.
Treat Meat as an Ingredient
Instead of making meat the main course, use it to flavor plant-based dishes or treat it as a side dish instead of the focus. Here are some ways to do just that:
Salads – Top leafy greens and other vegetables with slivers of meat like chicken breast, steak or chops. Add slices of boiled eggs or chickpeas to bump up the protein. (Related: Homemade Salad Dressing Recipes.)
Quiche, Frittatas, Scrambles, and Omelets – Whisk together several eggs, a splash of milk, cooked vegetables, and small bits of meat plus salt and pepper. Pour into a pie crust for quiche or a greased baking dish for frittata and bake at 400°F for 15-20 minutes or until done. Or cook it in a skillet for a loaded scrambled egg meal. (Related: Easy Oven Omelet Roll for a Crowd.)
Stuffed Potato Skins — Use cooked bacon, ham, or any other bits of leftover meat to top this loaded potato skins recipe and serve with a tossed salad for a filling, mostly meatless meal. You’ll make meat go farther but the added fiber and satisfaction from the potatoes and cheese will keep anyone from noticing.
Stir-fries – Slice a chicken breast thinly and add it to a vegetable stir fry to feed the whole family. Toss in cubes of pressed firm tofu if you want additional protein. (Related: Cauliflower Fried “Rice” Recipe.)
Soups: Hearty soups can fill bellies without using much (or any) meat. Try simmering your favorite vegetables in a stockpot with water or broth. Toss in a handful of barley, rice, or pasta and season to taste. Skip the meat altogether or add just enough cooked, leftover meat to fool the eye.
Sneak in Meat Substitutes
If you haven’t checked out the protein alternatives at the grocery store lately, you’re missing out on affordable, plant-based protein that protects your budget and your health. Swap these for meat entirely, or make meat go farther by substituting one of the options below for half of what your recipe calls for.
Plant-based burgers: Both Boca and Morningstar Farms’ frozen meatless burger patties have been available for years, and both taste best when grilled. (Related: Black Bean Burgers Recipe.)
Ground beef substitutes: Frozen, pre-cooked “vegetable crumbles” from Morningstar, Gardein, and Quorn stand in for cooked ground beef in spaghetti, stroganoff, or tacos. Or try “plant-based grinds” from Beyond Meat, Impossible Burger, or store brands like Krogers — they look and taste like raw ground beef. (They worked wonderfully in Everyone’s Favorite Meatloaf Recipe — my family didn’t notice the difference.)
Chicken or turkey substitutes: Swap cubed, pan-seared firm tofu for diced chicken in casseroles. Or look for Gardein’s chicken substitutes in the frozen section — they even look like strips of grilled chicken breast.
Pork substitutes: Jackfruit is a good substitute for pulled pork in casseroles, stir-fries, or curries — anything with a sauce. You can find cans of it in the vegan section. Some vegetarians swear by seitan as a bacon substitute, but I found Morningstar Farms’ plant-based bacon strips taste more like the real thing.
Or just eat more fish. Both flaked, canned tuna or salmon make great burgers when you mix them with egg, seasonings, minced onion, and bread or cracker crumbs. Shape and fry them like you would a regular burger patty. You can also replace meat with firm-fleshed white fish or even shrimp in a variety of recipes and cut your cooking time, too.
How to Make Tough, Cheap Meat Tender
One final way to spend less on meat when feeding your family is by using the cheapest cuts, which are often more easy to find at the store since many people think they’re too chewy. (That’s because they don’t know how to cook them the right way!)
The reason these cuts of meat are tough is because they contain more connective tissue. So, a cooking method that softens that tissue and surrounding muscle fibers is the way to go. Using tenderizers and marinades also helps make cheap cuts of meat taste like expensive ones. For best results, combine the proper cooking method and a form of tenderizing.
Cooking Methods for Tough Meat
Oven-braising, slow-cooking, and pressure cooking are all excellent ways to make cheap cuts of meat taste delicious. If you want to use your oven, you’ll need an enamel-coated cast-iron Dutch oven to do it right. (I use this one.)
With a crockpot, you can start dinner first thing in the morning, so you don’t have to mess with it after a long day. If your mornings are already hectic, a pressure cooker also works, plus you can start with frozen meat if you forgot to defrost something.
Some less expensive cuts of meat that turn tender when cooked low and slow include:
- Chuck steak
- Skirt steak
- Stew Beef
- Shins, shoulders or shanks
- Short Ribs
Use a Meat Tenderizer or a Substitute
You can also transform a cheap, tough cut of meat by tenderizing it. Most of these methods also shorten cooking time, too, so keep an eye on the internal temperature.
Powdered meat tenderizer is an easy option. Both McCormick’s and Adolf’s are available in most stores. It’s just a mixture of sugar, salt, and bromeliad (pineapple) or papain (papaya).
Salt it heavily in advance. Instead of salting meat just before cooking, heavily coat it with Kosher or sea salt (not table salt) about an hour in advance. During this time, the salt breaks down protein fibers and draws moisture into the meat, making it more tender and juicy. Rinse then pat dry before cooking — you’ll only need to add pepper and other seasonings.
Use an acidic marinade. Remember what I said about powdered tenderizer relying on pineapple or papaya to do the trick? You can accomplish the same thing with a marinade that includes lemon juice or vinegar. Plain yogurt or buttermilk also works thanks to their lactic acid content.
Physically tenderize it. Hammer-style mallets thin the meat while softening the fibers, and thinner meat is a great way to disguise a smaller portion. A needle-style tenderizer works by slicing through tough tissues. Be sure you choose a dishwasher-safe option.
To protect your grocery budget against the rising cost and scarcity of meat while serving your family’s favorite meals:
- Extend meat by adding certain ingredients to bulk it up.
- Serve thinner portions that still look generous while using less meat.
- Try ways of using meat as an ingredient or side dish rather than the focus of the meal.
- Replace meat altogether in recipes using the substitutes I mentioned.
- Or buy cheap cuts and use these methods to make them tender and juicy, so they taste like premium meat.
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