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How to Save Money When Buying and Using Meat

Holle is a retired English and creative writing teacher who writes on a variety of topics.

By buying cheaper cuts, saving leftovers, and making use of your freezer, you can get more out of your meat—and your budget.

By buying cheaper cuts, saving leftovers, and making use of your freezer, you can get more out of your meat—and your budget.

I'm sure you've noticed that meat isn't cheap. No matter the cause, there's no denying that meat is getting more and more expensive. Just last week at our local Walmart, for example, beef ribeye was $18.95 per pound. That's at Walmart! At another local store, cubed steak was almost $7 a pound.

The price increase isn't just seen with beef, either. Chicken and pork prices have risen, also. This is really hurting my grocery budget, as hubby and I love meat. If you and your family enjoy eating meat, read on for some ideas about how to save money on your grocery bill—especially where meat is concerned.

Chili is a great way to useleftover  ground beef!

Chili is a great way to useleftover ground beef!

What Are the Cheapest Cuts of Beef?

To start with, beef is graded according to marbling, which increases juiciness, tenderness, and flavor. The best grade is prime. The next is choice, which is widely available in grocery stores. Also in most stores is the next grade down, select. In some stores, you might see standard grade with store-brand beef.

Overall, the higher the grade, the more expensive the beef. For example, in our local stores, choice T-bones are around $15 per pound, while we can find select grade T-bones on sale for $4 per pound. Of course, the cheaper steaks are often tougher and not as flavorful. To help remedy this, I rub cheap steaks with a meat tenderizer and soak them overnight in pineapple juice. The next day, I rub them with more tenderizer and oil and let them air-dry, uncovered, in the fridge for a day.

As far as cuts go, the cheapest cuts of beef usually come from the shoulder, or chuck, and the shank. Specific cuts include chuck roast, shoulder roast, chuck steak, chuckeye steak, blade steak, 7-bone steak, flat iron steak, petite tender, and stew beef. In my opinion, the best way to cook larger pieces of these cuts is to slow cook them, like in a crockpot. For thinner pieces, try frying, braising, or slow baking in the oven with a sauce or other liquid.

Of course, there's always good ol' ground beef, which is often the cheapest form of beef available. That's because it's made with scraps from other cuts. Generally speaking, the higher the fat content, the cheaper the price. Keep in mind, however, that “leaner” doesn't always mean “better.” Fat adds flavor and moisture.

Pork loin roasts are delicious.

Pork loin roasts are delicious.

What Are the Cheapest Cuts of Pork?

While the most expensive cuts of beef come from the loin, the opposite is true for pork. One of the cheapest cuts of pork in my area is a pork loin roast. This cut is available with bones and boneless, and it is delicious! These roasts can be baked in the oven, but our favorite method is to slow cook them on a smoker over pecan wood. You can also purchase a pork loin roast and have it sliced into steaks.

Another relatively inexpensive piece of pork is the shoulder. The top part is often referred to as “Boston butt,” and it's the best choice for making pulled-pork barbecue. The shoulder can also be sliced into steaks.

Another pretty cheap form of pork is ground pork, which can be used in just about any recipe that calls for ground beef. And don't forget about sausage! Sausage prices have a large range. Be sure to read labels to find out how much meat and how much filler the sausage contains.

Thighs are usually much cheaper than breasts.

Thighs are usually much cheaper than breasts.

What Are the Cheapest Cuts of Chicken?

Other than necks and backs, which provide little meat, the cheapest cuts of chicken I've found are leg quarters. In case you don't know, a leg quarter is made up of the thigh and the leg. You can leave them in one large piece (as they come), or you can separate them into thighs and drumsticks. If you plan on fried chicken, I strongly suggest separating the leg quarters. Feel free to leave them whole for baked chicken.

If you only like boneless, skinless breasts, they're usually much cheaper frozen. We like the big bags of breasts, where the breasts are individually frozen. That makes it easy to grab only what we need for a meal.

6 Tips on Getting the Most Out of Your Meat

In addition to simply buying cheaper cuts of the meats you enjoy, there are things you can do to avoid waste and make your meat last. Here are five tips that have helped me save money and cut waste.

1. Buy in Bulk

I check sale papers every week. When I find a bargain on meat, I buy a lot of it. I bring it home and divide it into meal-size portions and freeze the portions in individual bags. It's best to vacuum-seal the packages in order to prevent freezer burn. If you don't have a sealer, place a straw in the bag and suck out as much air as you can. Label and date each bag using a permanent marker.

For some serious bulk buying, if you have enough freezer space, you might want to consider buying an entire side of beef or a whole pig from a local farmer. If you don't want that much meat, you can always split it with a friend.

Leftover chicken can turn into chicken and dumplings.

Leftover chicken can turn into chicken and dumplings.

2. Repurpose Leftover Meat

We don't waste food—especially meat. If I don't serve it as leftovers, I re-purpose it into a different dish. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Hamburgers: Serve with gravy and mashed potatoes; chop and add to vegetable beef soup, chili, or spaghetti; crumble for sloppy joes; make tacos or burritos.
  • Beef roast or steak: Cube for beef stew; cut into strips and stir-fry with veggies, use in stroganoff; add to pasta dishes; dice for beef hash; make shish kabobs; add to peppers and onions for fajitas.
  • Pork chops, steaks, or roasts: slice into strips for teriyaki pork; shred for Brunswick stew, pulled pork sandwiches, and soups; use for fajitas.
  • Chicken: chop for chicken salad, chicken soup, or chicken croquettes; add larger pieces to chicken and rice, chicken and dressing, or chicken and dumplings; dice for stir fry or casseroles; shred and mix with BBQ sauce for sandwiches; add to quesadillas or tacos.
There's nothing like a big pot of homemade  soup on a cold night!

There's nothing like a big pot of homemade soup on a cold night!

3. Keep a Soup Bag

At all times, I have a one-gallon zippered freezer bag I use for leftovers I collect for homemade soup. When I have a small amount of leftover meat that's not enough to repurpose, it goes in the soup bag. I also save leftover veggies, corn, rice, pasta, tomatoes, sauces, and gravy.

When the bag starts getting full, I make a big pot of homemade soup. Not only is this a great way to avoid wasting food, but it also makes for a quick and easy meal. I add water or a can of beef or chicken broth, and if I don't think there are enough veggies in the bag, I add a can of mixed vegetables. The soup gets done much faster if you leave the bag in the fridge overnight to thaw.

4. Incorporate Eggs

I'm sure you've seen the commercials touting “incredible edible eggs.” Well, they really are pretty amazing when you dig deeper. Eggs are inexpensive, very versatile, and packed with nutrition. They're a good source of quality protein and provide vitamins A, B, and D, along with important minerals.

It's easy to build a meal around eggs. Add some veggies for an omelet or a frittata. Turn boiled eggs into egg salad. Serve scrambled eggs with oatmeal for a cozy winter supper. Add chopped boiled eggs to chicken salad to stretch the chicken further.

If you have eggs you're not going to use soon, freeze them! Just whisk together the white and yolk and pour into a small freezer bag. Expel as much air as possible, seal the bag, and toss it into the freezer.

5. Have Some "Meatless" Meals

About once a week, we have a "meatless" meal. I cook a big pot of dried lima beans or pinto beans and season it with garlic salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and either chicken bouillon or powdered ham flavoring.

If I have any leftover ham in the freezer, I add a couple of chunks to the beans. Once the beans are nice and soft, I serve them with rice and cornbread. This is actually one of my husband's favorite meals! It's cheap, filling, tasty, and nutritious.

Another night, we might have tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. We still get good protein from the cheese and from the milk I add to the soup.

This is a slice of a pork loin roast, an inexpensive yet wonderful choice!

This is a slice of a pork loin roast, an inexpensive yet wonderful choice!

6. Shop Mindfully

Don't make a trip to the grocery store to buy meat without a plan. Think ahead about what meals you'll cook in the coming week. Can you turn Monday's spaghetti meat sauce into Tuesday's chili? Can Wednesday's baked chicken be used for chicken soup on Thursday?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.