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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.
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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