Shopping sales, clipping coupons, and using sites like iBotta can all save you money at the grocery store, but none has as consistently significant an impact as knowing how to save money on meat.
For most families, including my own, meat is one of the most expensive items on the weekly shopping trip, whether we’re buying chicken breasts or cold cuts. There are ways of reducing this cost, however, if you know the six secrets to saving money on meat.
How To Save Money On Meat
1. Think of meat as just one of several ingredients.
So often we make meat the main focus of our dinner plate, serving a large steak or chicken breast alongside a spoonful of vegetables and a smattering of whole grains. Rather than making meat the star, try thinking of it as simply one ingredient among many. Cube that chicken breast and add it to a vegetable stir-fry and you can feed two people with it. Slice that steak thinly against the grain and top four salads with it.
If you’re worried about your family getting adequate protein, remember you can get it by adding less expensive, non-meat sources like beans, eggs, quinoa, or even tofu. (Marinate the tofu in soy sauce with a little garlic and chili flakes and no one will know it’s tofu.)
2. Learn to make hearty meatless meals.
Meatless Mondays isn’t just about better health, it’s about better budgeting, too. If your family is like mine, you may worry they’ll turn their noses up at the very idea of leaving out meat. Don’t tell them!
Coarsely chopped mushrooms stirred into spaghetti sauce will fool all but the pickiest eaters (or those allergic to them). Black bean burgers deliver the same juicy, filling flavor of a beef burger but for a fraction of the cost. And, really, is anyone going to notice there’s no meat in the lasagna if you add extra cheese? Of course not, but your budget will be happy.
3. Don’t pay for convenience.
A whole chicken costs far less per pound than one the butcher has cut up into a “fryer chicken” for you. Rather eat boneless, skinless chicken breasts? Pull off the skin and debone them yourself and you’ll save money. Want chicken cutlets? Slice the boneless, skinless breasts horizontally and you’ll save over $0.50 per pound. Cut your own stew meat from a chuck roast, or slice it for fajitas instead of buying the more expensive pre-sliced cut from the butcher.
4. Buy less-expensive cuts.
When using meat as one ingredient among many, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you should then buy the best you can afford. Ignore the celebrity chefs who slice USDA Prime Ribeye for stew meat or grind it for burgers — they have massive budgets, and you don’t. If the beef you’re buying is going to be one ingredient among many, go for the least-expensive USDA Select grade and tenderize it before cooking.
On the other hand, if meat is going to be the star of the plate look for higher grade versions of less-expensive cuts. Think chops and chuck, not t-bones and tenderloins, and you’ll get great flavor without going broke.
5. Cook low and slow.
When using inexpensive cuts of meat, your slow cooker can work miracles because it essentially braises the food as it cooks. You can accomplish the same thing in your oven, or even on the stove. Look for recipes that feature braising, simmering, and steaming, or jump on the latest trend and learn how to cook using the sous vide method.
Got your heart set on grilling that inexpensive cut of meat? Give it a long marinade in a combination of an acid (citrus juice, vinegar, or wine) plus an oil (olive, grapeseed, canola, vegetable, etc.) and herbs or aromatics (your choice). Overnight marinating can turn tough cuts tender and imparts amazing flavor, too.
6. Learn to love the bones.
Since you’re skipping the convenience of having the butcher cut up the chicken or debone the pork roast, you’ll wind up with plenty of bones. Don’t throw them away!
Turn those bones into broth by simmering them on low with some chopped celery, onions, carrots, and flavorings (garlic, peppercorns, bay leaves, parsley, etc.). Remove the bones from the liquid, let them cool, and pull off any remaining meat. Use this in quesadillas or casseroles, or add it back into the strained broth and throw in some vegetables to make soup. Boom, you got two meals out of the same cut of meat.
Looking for other ways to save money in the kitchen? Check these out: