Since I’ve been on a tear lately writing about how to save money (sudden poverty will do that to you), I thought I’d share some strategies for how to stretch your meat budget.
1. Remember eggs — nature’s most convenient protien. Cheap and easy to digest with a long shelf-life, eggs are incredibly versatile. They can be added to ground meats to stretch the budget (think meatloaf and meatballs). But don’t forget what the French have always known — quiches and omeletts are good for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a reheated snack.
Fritattas are wonderful and when cut into small pieces make an excellent appetizer. French toast made of stale bread soaked in eggs is full of protien and tastes great with maple syrup.
2. Make friends with hunters. Wild game — whether hoofed or winged — is more nutritious and lower in fat and calories than farm-raised. It’s also a great bargain. This year I paid $45 in processing fees and got about 75 pounds of venison, meanwhile my friend Lee got to guiltlessly shoot more deer than he could eat.
In just about every community, there are people who hunt deer, turkey, grouse, duck, elk, squirrel and rabbit and may be willing to share their bounty. If you own suitable land, they might trade you meat for hunting rights.
Or, consider taking up hunting and fishing yourself. You’ll be helping preserve traditional American foodways, while saving a lot of money on the most expensive part of your grocery bill. Some even argue that reducing consumption of farm-raised meat can can help curb global warming. While there’s an upfront cost in classes, licensing and equipment, a chest freezer full of game could save you hundreds.
3. Reconsider your portion size. Whether you buy the most expensive local and organic meats, or cheaper conventional, this tip more than any other will save you money.
As any dietician will tell you, the standard adult-size portion of protein is about three ounces, or the size of a deck of playing cards. This means that one good-sized ribeye steak or a half of a chicken breast will serve two, maybe even three, adults for dinner — with the added bonus of helping you maintain a healthier weight.
Keep in mind that three ounces is a standard meat entree. As a side dish, it will go even further.
4. Make meat a side dish. Grill a steak (again, we’ll say ribeye because it’s my favorite) or a piece of chicken, slice it thin and serve it over rice or pasta. Or, use it to top a nice Asian-inspired mix of romaine lettuce, red cabbage, shredded carrots, green onions and roasted pumpkin seeds drizzled with a simple sesame dressing.
Slice leftover roast beef thin and store in the freezer for a quick Thursday night fajita filling. Cube that roast beef to add to Friday’s vegetable soup.
When bacon is on two-for-one sale, buy it, cut each pound in half and freeze in individual Ziploc bags. When you feel like bacon, thaw slightly (it’s much easier to cut when it’s partially frozen) and then mince a half-pound to season a pot of beans, soup or stew. A half-pound of bacon will serve two people well for breakfast or BLTs (the world’s simplest and tastiest sandwich) — just thaw and fry as usual. Again, the reduction in calories is a bonus.
5. Buy cheaper cuts. Whether fried, grilled, broiled or steamed with vegetables, talapia is generally cheaper than flounder or halibut but, arguably just as good. Flash frozen shrimp is cheaper than scallops or lobster, but just as decadent. Stretch your shrimp or other shellfish by stirring smaller portions into rice dishes such as risotto, jambalaya, gumbo or paella.
Use backfin or “special” crab meat instead of lump in crab cakes, risotto or dip. Cheaper canned tunaand salmon make excellent mock crab cakes — and use up stale bread.
Boneless, skinless chicken thighs are inexpensive, impossible to overcook and delicious stewed all day in sauce in the crockpot. Shred the meat and stuff into pitas or tortillas with various fillings. Broiled with the skin on and sliced thin, thighs make a great chicken teryaki. Wings are cheap and can be marinated in various concotions, then broiled or grilled to become Mexican, Asian or down-home barbecue dinner. Kids love drumsticks, which are inexpensive and can be treated the same as wings.
Sausage is your best money-saving pork product. Sausage comes smoked, linked or bulk ground and flavored to be Italian, Cajun, polish or American breakfast. However it’s sold, it’s cheaper than chops or roasts. And it’s heavily seasoned and has enough fat to stay moist and juicy. Grill and serve in buns, of course. Cook with saurkraut, onions and apples and serve with mashed potatoes and cornbread. To stretch further, use it as a seasoning in rice or pasta.
It’s an ironic twist, but cheaper cuts of beef often have as much or more flavour than their high-dollar counterparts. Examples from the America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook are:
All these cuts scored higher than filet mignon in taste tastes, but cost significantly less. Season with a spicy dry rub; grill, sear or broil until medium; slice thin across the grain.
- Chuck shoulder steak, also labeled as London broil and chuck steak
- Top blade steak, also called flat-iron steak and chuck steak (scored as high on the flavor and tenderness scales as prime rib)
- Round bone steak, also called New York sirloin and shell sirloin steak
- Top sirloin steak, also called sirloin butt steak
Less costly roasts
All these cuts were rated more flavorful than beef tenderloin, and tasted nearly as good as prime rib. They are arranged cheapest to more expensive. All are usually half the price of prime rib.
- Bottom round rump roast, also labeled round roast, bottom round pot roast, bottom round oven roast
- Top round roast, also called top round first cut and top round steak roast
- Brisket (choose the “flat cut,” not the “point cut”)
- Top sirloin roast, also called top butt and center-cut roast
- Chuck-eye roast, also called boneless chuck roll or roast or boneless chuck filet (ATKFC’s favorite pot roast)
- Top blade roast, also called chuck roast, blade roast and top chuck roast
6. Buy a vacuum sealer. You find a huge sale on pork chops and can just picture yourself pulling them out of the freezer on a cold winter day to roast in the oven and serve with garlic mashed potatoes. Trouble is, they sometimes get freezer burn before you can use them. So, you pass up the bulk sale savings. Well, not anymore.
For $10 to $100, you can buy a vacuum sealing machine and take advantage of that bargain 12-pack. Simply portion out the food according to the number of servings you’ll need for an average meal, vacuum seal and freeze. The vacuum device removes the air space around the meat where ice crystals form and cause damage. Preserved this way, meat can last a year or more.