7 Ways to Save on Meat

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Summer is right around the corner. It’s time to fire up the grill for backyard barbecues and pack sandwiches for picnics.

Meat can be expensive, and in recent years prices have soared. However, there are ways to save. Here are seven ideas for keeping costs low as temperatures rise:

1. Track prices per pound

Start your meat savings by keeping an eye on the price per pound of your favorite cuts. Then, stock up whenever there’s a sale.

You’ll find the biggest bargains before holidays such as Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. Buy extra meat and throw it in the freezer for use later. Properly packaged meat can, depending on the cut, retain its quality up to a year in the freezer.

In addition to on-sale meat, look for marked-down packages nearing their expiration dates. So long as you cook or freeze it right away, it’s perfectly safe. And you can save a bundle.

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2. Watch for added liquid

While you’re checking the price per pound, look over the label for words such as “enhanced with,” “flavored with” or “flavor solution.”

Many meats are injected with a sodium solution, broth or flavor enhancer. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 90 percent of pork has a solution added, while the same happens to 30 percent of poultry and 15 percent of beef.

The additive supposedly makes your meat tastier and juicier, but we can’t help but think it’s a sneaky way to get you to pay a lot of money for salt water. In some cases, up to 20 percent or more of the meat’s weight can be added liquid. For a better value, steer clear of this pumped-up meat whenever possible.

3. Buy in bulk

Supermarkets often price family packs at a cheaper per-pound cost than smaller packages.

Even if you’re single or part of a couple, pick up the larger sizes whenever they’re cheaper. Then, divide the package at home and stick the extra meat in the freezer.

4. Go to the source

If you want to really buy in bulk, head straight to the ranch or farm.

Buying a half or quarter steer or hog is one way to bring your per-pound price down, particularly if you can help butcher and package the meat. Of course, you could end up with a couple hundred pounds of meat, so this strategy works best if you have a separate freezer to store all that protein.

It can also be pricey upfront, even though your overall cost will be lower than if you bought the meat at retail price. If your pockets aren’t that deep, ask family and friends if they would like to go in on the purchase with you.

5. Stick to cheaper cuts

Poultry remains your best bet for cheap meat.

However, if you feel you can’t live without a little pork or beef, try using cheaper cuts to keep your costs down. That means using sirloin steak rather than T-bones and spareribs instead of baby-back ribs.

You may have to adjust your cooking style a little, but even cheap cuts can be delicious.

6. Slice and dice yourself

The more prep work a producer does before packaging, the more expensive your meat will be.

Save money by buying whole pork loin and slicing it into pork chops yourself. Or skip the package of chicken parts in favor of a whole roaster you cut up at home.

If you don’t trust your knife skills, ask at the butcher counter instead. Upon request, some stores will do some complimentary cutting on your behalf. Then, you get the best of both worlds: the price of a larger cut with the convenience of trimmed and sliced meat.

7. Learn to love meatless meals

Finally, the best way to save money on meat is simply to avoid eating it.

If you can’t fathom the idea of a main dish without meat, it’s time to expand your horizons. There are plenty of delicious meals to be made with very little or no meat. Check out a vegetarian cookbook or look up some of our meatless Frugal Family Feasts for inspiration.

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Comments & discussion

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  • Donowonder

    I am a retired chef with lots of purchasing background. Only a few additions that you didn’t touch on. One of my most important saving secrets is go to the store in the morning to shop. Go straight to the meat department. Have an idea of how much money you have for the “extra future bulk purchase” and look for the marked down meat deals. Many packages will have stickers with $1 off to as much as $5 off. When you can find the sale items with these stickers you win twice. NO STORE CAN SELL MEAT AFTER IT IS PAST THE DATE OF “SELL BY.” Some stores will freeze these items before the date expires and you might look for those also. They will also have the extra off stickers on them. On the items you purchase with the $off YOU SHOULD USE ASAP OR FREEZE NOW. Remember, “sell by” dates mean you still have a few days to use them after that day. Don’t be worried if the meats don’t look bright red or pork white. A slight fading occurs under the lights in the cooler and some air discoloration will happen. Never throw out “fresh vegetables” that start looking old. Throw them in boiling water for a couple of minutes (2) drain them and freeze. These become great soup and stew additions.
    If you buy that whole chicken and cut it up yourself, save the backbone and any scraps and freeze them. That is a soup base or chicken stock waiting to happen. Happy saving.

  • Senya

    You can use a whole lot less meat, and you can use the much cheaper, more flavorful cuts, when you focus on soups, stews and stir fries. Soups, stews and stir fries tend to use a lot more vegetables, too. People in the US eat too much protein and too few vegetables anyway. If everyone made a few really slight changes in their eating habits, giving up those old style dinner plates that consist of a slab of meat, a pile of potatoes or rice, and a few shreds of salad, we’d all be healthier and spend less money.

  • Norma H.

    Another way to save is to join a food coop like oneharvest.com. They have several different boxes with meats, fish, and frozen vegetables. Anyone can buy. We ordered our first boxes last month and were very pleased with what we received. Also check around your area for a fresh fruit and vegetable coop. I found one and for $20 you get $50 worth of fruits and vegetables. I pick up my first basket tomorrow and I’m excited to see what I get. They also have all organic baskets.

  • Sally Bennett

    The best way to save on meat is to STOP eating it altogether! For the planet, for the animals, for our health, for our wallets. Meat is not necessary at all. EVER. If we can live without harming another living being, shouldn’t that be exactly what we do?

    • DaAlski78520

      You’re not serious, right? How exactly do you think you came to exist? We are at the top of the food chain for a reason. You do realize that we live in a world that has jungles that contain animals which eat other animals (‘living things’). You may want to view ‘The Lion King’ for a better understanding of the real world – just as a starting point xD

      • http://ecofrugality.blogspot.com/ Amy Livingston

        And you may want to consider the point that lions are carnivores and humans aren’t. Lions can’t live without eating meat; humans can and do. So, as humans, we do have a choice about what we want to eat or not eat. Some folks, like Sally Bennett, choose a meatless diet; some, like Nancy (and me), choose to eat meat only if it’s humanely raised; others, like you, choose to eat meat regardless of where it comes from. Your choices are up to you; just don’t berate me for choosing differently.

  • Nancy

    After hearing an interview with journalist Barry Estabrook, author of “Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat,” I won’t be eating pork again, unless it’s humanely raised. I already have reduced beef to almost zero. We still poultry and fish in smallish amounts. I live in California where we are in a multi-year drought. Raising beef and pork take a lot of water. So I’m cutting way back because of that, not just to save money.

    • DaAlski78520

      I think you posted on the wrong article. This article is not about the quest to becoming a vegan. It’s an article about how a person can SAVE MONEY ON MEAT. Push that agenda somewhere else.

      • Nancy

        Sorry, I’m not a vegan and don’t intend to become one. No agenda except wanting not to eat meat raised in conditions unhealthy to both man and beast. That makes cost of meat higher, not lower, unfortunately. Therefore, to reduce cost of meat in my budget, I reduce the amount significantly, especially of the most expensive forms (beef and pork) and stretch it much further. That’s the only surefire means I know of reducing, not the price per pound certainly, but the share of my food budget. If that’s not an appropriate comment in your eyes, so be it.

  • DaAlski78520

    I have been a subscriber to this community for a while (years). Did you really have to include ‘7. Learn to love meatless meals’???

    I’m sure there others that would agree it was a stupid way to provide an addition to your list. Keep it up and I’m going to unsubscribe. You should be ashamed of yourself. It’s a pathetic attempt and quite vexing- to say the least.

  • Chuk The Skunkman

    This was lame, sorry. Compare prices? Duh. Eat less meat? Seriously? Go to a ranch and buy a cow?

  • Nancy

    One tip not covered in the article: instead of merely tracking price per pound, consider price per serving as well. There are online calculators that help with this. This will probably get a “duh” response but those who are newer to the art of grocery shopping and meal planning may find it useful.

  • Kent

    Learn to make vadai from lentils. Best and cheapest veggie burger you’ll have have and you’ll live a lot longer and healthier.

  • JKH

    The easy way is go to your local Sam’s or Costco on Tuesday early morning, The weekends cuts that did not get sold are marked down up to 30%