You’re already good about buying what’s on sale at the grocery store. Maybe you even clip coupons, too. But if you really want to reduce your grocery bill, learn how to save money on meat. It’s one of the priciest things at the store.
Here are six tips that help me spend less on it every shopping trip. And I need to, because my family seems to think it’s not a meal if there’s not meat involved. But, as I’ll explain in a minute, what my family doesn’t know won’t hurt them. Or our budget.
1. Don’t give it top billing.
Ever noticed on TV shoes like The Simpsons or Family Guy that dinner is always meat and two veg? They seem to rotate between meatloaf or chicken drumsticks, mashed potatoes, and peas. That’s fine if you’re a cartoon that doesn’t have to worry about grocery costs. But it’s hard to save money on meat eating like that.
When I started treating it as just one of several ingredients, instead of the star of the plate, it was game-changing. Sure, we still do an occasional whole chicken or pot roast dinner but, as you’ll discover below, those are part of my strategy now.
2. Skip the convenient stuff.
Have you ever baked boneless, skinless chicken breasts then turned around and cut them up for soups, salads, or maybe tacos? One day, when reaching to grab them at the store, I saw the price per pound on a whole chicken. The difference made my jaw drop.
Now, I spend half as much on chicken buying whole ones. Places like Sam’s sell 2-packs of whole chickens for even less money. Then I’ll roast one and boil the other, pull the meat off, and save it for those soups or salads. Hang on for what to do with those bones.
3. Choose the cheap cuts.
I used to go by price when grabbing a package of steaks or a roast. Then I noticed that stores put the pricier-per-pound USDA prime cuts closer to the front and the more affordable Choice grades further back.
The difference in grading means less marbling from fat, which is what makes a cut tender. But the same roast can cost twice as much when you go for Prime over Choice. To save money on meat, I opt for the cheaper version then use a marinade or meat tenderizer powder. (Which I keep on hand for a good reason.)
Marinating turns tough, cheap cuts of meat tender. Combine an acid (citrus juice, vinegar, or wine) plus an oil (olive, canola, vegetable) and herbs (your choice). Add sugar or honey to taste and soak your meat in it overnight.
4. Use moisture-based cooking methods.
On top of marinating to tenderize the protein fibers, it’s important to choose the right cooking method. The fat marbling in Prime cuts of meat keep them juicy during high-temperature cooking methods like roasting, baking or broiling. But when you’re saving money by choosing Choice cuts, you need to add that moisture yourself.
You can plump up cheap cuts of meat using an injector full of broth like a plastic surgeon working on a Kardashian’s lips. Or, tenderize them through cooking methods that add moisture, like your Crockpot, Instant Pot or a oven-braising.
5. Use bones to build flavor.
Now, about those bones from the whole chickens? Instead of tossing them out, reuse that kitchen scrap to make stock or bone broth. I use that broth in place of water to boil pasta, grains and beans. They pick up a meaty flavor so whatever I add them to tastes meatier, too. And that’s perfect, since it means I can use even less meat without anyone noticing.
6. Fake it.
Adding extender ingredients is the ultimate hack for saving money on meat since they let you use so much less of it. Beans, lentils, mushrooms—they’re all great extenders. I’ll make a pot, pulse them until they look like crumbles, and freeze half-pound portions to replace half the meat in recipes.
You can always throw a little extra cheese on top of the lasagna or burger if you’re worried your family will notice. But I’ve found it’s like implants on a starlet: no one pays attention, as long as it looks like the real thing and doesn’t stick out too much.
What are your favorite ways to spend less money on meat? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments!