Beef: It’s Not What’s for Dinner

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If your idea of a delicious dinner is a slab of red meat with some sides, get ready for sticker shock. Beef prices are hitting record highs, and it could be years before they come down.

Don’t despair. You can have your beef and eat it too. Here are six ways to either save on beef or free up some money in your grocery budget so you can occasionally splurge for steaks on the grill this summer.

1. Buy the cheap cuts

Sure, we’d all like to have filet mignon and rib roast every night, but you’re on a budget, right? That means you need to swap out those expensive cuts for something cheaper.

Take a stab at cooking these less expensive cuts of beef:

  • Sirloin steak.
  • Chuck steak or roast.
  • Round steak.
  • Eye of round.
  • Ground beef.

Of course, you may need to try marinating or slow cooking tougher cuts but with the right technique, they can still be delicious.

2. Fill your freezer with bulk beef

If you can’t bear the thought of giving up prime cuts completely, try to get them a little cheaper by buying a side or quarter of beef.

Buying bulk meat will require two things: a lot of freezer space and a lot of money upfront. If you have both, you could save beaucoup bucks on the overall cost of your beef.

However, you have to know how to calculate your true cost or you may end up spending more than you think. You see, most beef sides are sold by hanging weight, which is the cow after it’s been slaughtered but before it’s been cut, trimmed and wrapped.

Once all that processing takes place, you lose an average of 25 percent (or more) of the cow. The 300 pounds of hanging beef you paid for turns into 225 pounds in your freezer.

The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service has published this informative bulletin with more details about how to buy a side of beef.

3. Go cowpooling

Can’t fathom having 225 pounds of meat in your freezer at one time? Then it is time to set up a cowpool.

Unlike the cowpools that involve sharing milk from a single cow, beef cowpools are simply many people splitting a single animal. Some involve one person rounding up friends to share a steer, while other farms allow individuals to register and be matched to an existing pool.

Whether you are splitting the beef or buying your own side, you may want to check out this section on Cooking Light’s website regarding cowpooling.

4. Minimize the meat per meal

There is no reason to serve each family member their own hunk of beef each night. Do their hearts and your wallet a favor by spreading a smaller portion of meat across the whole family.

Mark Bittman said it best in his column in The New York Times. The food writer who went from telling us “How to Cook Everything,” his bestselling cookbook in 1998, to explaining “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian” in 2007 has been on the front lines of trying to convince Americans to reduce their meat consumption. That doesn’t mean passing on beef completely but rather making a little go a long way.

See this plantain ground beef torte as an example of a dish in which the beef takes a supporting, not starring, role.

5. Learn to love other proteins

For many people, beef is their go-to protein choice, but it most certainly isn’t the only option available. Pork and chicken are cheaper meat substitutes which, while not beef, aren’t bad.

The USDA weekly report on retail pork prices finds that stores nationwide are selling pork for far below the average beef price. Bone-in loin was running an average of $2.67 per pound the week of March 7. Meanwhile, fresh pork tenderloin was $4.14 per pound, assorted bone-in pork chops were $2.16 a pound, and bone-in pork sirloin end roast was bargain priced at $1.58 per pound.

As for chicken, it’s not as cheap as it used to be, but it’s still a frugal shopper’s best friend. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, whole chickens were averaging about $1.53 per pound in January.

Of course, you can get your protein without eating meat. For the ultimate cheap dinnertime dish, look for meals centered on these protein sources:

  • Eggs.
  • Beans.
  • Canned tuna.
  • Quinoa.

6. Make meatless Mondays a tradition

While we’re on the subject of alternate protein sources, how about you drop meat from the menu altogether a couple of days a week?

The Catholics in the crowd are probably already doing meatless Fridays, but don’t stop there. Have a meatless Monday – or Tuesday or Wednesday – too.

With the money you save from those meatless meals, you’ll be able to buy the good stuff when it comes time to fire up the grill.

Have high beef prices changed how you shop and menu plan? Share your tips with other readers in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

And if you need some inspiration for budget meals, we have plenty of Frugal Family Feasts posted right here on Money Talks News.

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  • Phil Wilson

    I grew up with Depression era parents and they used to talk about their own version of “cowpooling” called a beef club. A group of farmers would agree to gather once a month and they would take turns bringing a beef calf. The group would butcher the animal, spilt up the meat and take it home for fresh cooking or preservation.