Meat forms a staple part of most people’s diet. It’s where we get most of our protein from, and a hefty amount of certain nutrients that are only found in animal products, like creatine, Vitamin D3, and Vitamin B12. The problem is, meat can be really expensive, and when you’re trying to cut costs on your grocery bills, it’s one of the first things to get cut down.
Well, there is a way to eat meat on a fairly regular basis and still drastically cut down your grocery costs. How? Well, all you have to do is settle for cheaper cuts.
Cheaper cuts of meat are cheaper for a lot of reasons. Sometimes, they really are inferior cuts of meat. But, most of the time they’re probably just less popular because of their taste or texture, or because they’re not popular in your local cuisine, so the demand for them is lower. Take advantage of this by learning how to work with cheaper cuts of meat. With a little more effort, you can still reap the tasty rewards and not burn a hole in your wallet.
Here’s a few tips for cooking cheaper cuts:
- Tenderize them. Many cheaper cuts of meat are simply much more tough. This can be remedied quite easily by marinating your meat and cooking it longer than you would other cuts. If you have a slow-cooker, it’s your best friend, here.
- Slice Thinly. Cheaper cuts are usually a little more tough, but if you don’t have the time to spend on cooking them down or marinating them in your fridge, then sharpen your knife and slice them thinly.
- Season, Season, Season! When you’re working with cheaper cuts of meat that might have a less desirable flavor, then your seasoning is your friend. Salt and pepper are always reliable ways to amp up your cooking, but don’t be afraid to add flavors like hot sauce, citrus, and various herbs to your cooking. Something acidic usually always helps, since the acid in, say, lemon, lime, or vinegar will help tenderize your cut of meat.
Chicken is already pretty inexpensive compared to higher-demand meats like beef and pork, but that doesn’t mean you can save even more money on it. While chicken breasts are, arguably, the most popular cut, they’re nowhere near the least expensive cut simply because you’re paying the butcher or factory to do the most work. To save money on chicken, choose bone-in chicken legs, thighs, or, if you’re feeling ambitious, a whole chicken. The more work you have to do to prepare it, the less money you’ll spend up front.
If You’re Brave: Chicken hearts are a fabulous substitution for chicken in various dishes. A package of chicken hearts will be under $4 at most grocery stores, and the hearts substitute well in soups, curries, and stews. They’ll be a little bit more chewy than you expect chicken to be, but chicken hearts are packed with nutrients and protein. To prepare, wash the hearts and then cut them in half if you’re squeamish about the shape, like me! Then, slow-cook them in a soup, stew, or curry to soften the tough meat and give them tons of flavor.
Beef has cuts on both ends of the pricing scale, so once you know what you’re looking for, it’s easy to find cuts that you can turn into tasty dishes. Try buying brisket. A huge cut of brisket won’t cost you very much, and it makes a killer pot roast. Chuck cuts, from the shoulder of the cow, are generally pretty tough, but they work great when they’re cubed up and slow-cooked in a soup of stew. If you’re looking to make an Asian stir-fry, or some tacos or fajitas, skirt steak is the way to go. Don’t overcook it, though, as it has a tendency to become extremely chewy when cooked too much.
If You’re Brave: Beef heart can be cooked just like a roast. In fact, if you’re going to start eating organ meats, it’s one of the easiest organ meats to get started on. To roast it, first remove any vessels from the cut, then slice it open (most hearts will already be cut open, as per USDA instructions), so the meat will lie flat. Coat the inside with some spices (garlic, salt, pepper, or rosemary work well, here!), truss it like a roast, throw it in a pan and sear it on all sides, and then put it in a pan with some broth and vegetables and roast it – 20-25 minutes per pound of meat.
Buying cheap pork is kind of a win-win situation, because not only are you saving money, but you’re making it easier on yourself to cook, since expensive cuts of pork like tenderloin dry out quickly if not cooked extremely carefully. Instead, try buying spare ribs or pork belly. Spare ribs are used a lot in Chinese cooking. You can roast them in a rack, or split them apart and roast them individually.
Pork belly comes from, well, the underside of the pig, and it’s a wonderfully soft cut of meat. Try cubing it and using it in soups and stews for a really tender bite, or leave it whole, score the skin, and roast it.
If You’re Brave: Buy a raw, unsmoked hock. It’s the part of the pig in between where a cut of ham would be, and the feet. Hocks might not look like much, and they’re really cheap, but they make the best pork broth imaginable. Or, you can slow roast them until the meat can easily be removed from the bone.