Buying Meat Without Breaking the Bank

25 Oct

MeatI love meat. I look at vegetarians around me (including half of my own family) and laugh about how they are missing out on one of the greatest things that will ever touch their tongues.

And yet, I am a poor college student.

Well not exactly poor I guess. In fact I’m way more financially stable than 99% of my friends. But that doesn’t mean that I can afford to eat filet mignon every night, even when I am cooking it myself. And even if I could, there is no reason to. In order to satisfy my carnivore style cravings and also manage my money wisely at the grocery store, I have tuned my ability to fill my stomach without simultaneously emptying my wallet. Here are some of my best tips and tricks:

Cost Effective Meats and Cuts

It’s no secret that different types of meat carry different price tags. But which ones are worth paying for? What kinds of delicious animal protein are the best bang for your buck? Let’s take a look.

  • Ground meat: Odds are that you probably eat a lot of ground meat. It tastes good and is extremely versatile. One alternative to ground beef that works really well for most recipes is ground turkey. In my area it can be had for nearly a dollar cheaper per pound than beef. However, it doesn’t taste quite the same. When I buy beef I always get it as lean as possible. I, for one, don’t like paying for fat. I also avoid the pre formed burger stacks. They tend to be way more processed and contain lower quality meat than buying it fresh in the meat department. If you eat a lot of ground meat like I do, then consider buying a grinder, which I discuss towards the bottom of this article.
  • Steak: I absolutely love steak. However, it tends to be very expensive. I buy mostly sirloin for a variety of reasons. It is cheap, and one of the leanest cuts. I also grind sirloin to make burger with on occasion. On the rare occasion I want a higher quality cut and don’t have any venison, I go for the New York strip steak, which is the loin of the animal. This cut tends to also be lower in fat, and tastes excellent. One thing I never do is buy rib eye. Some people are completely in love with rib eye steak, which makes no sense to me. For starters, it tends to be extremely fatty. According to this site, a rib eye gets well more than half its calories from fat, and has more fat per pound than you are supposed to eat in an entire day. Also, they have a bone normally. So half the money you are spending is just for disgusting fat and a bone that you definitely don’t want to eat.
  • Chicken: I eat mostly boneless, skinless breasts when it comes to chicken. Some people look into other parts of the chicken, like the thighs or drumsticks, see the lower price tag and think they are cheaper. However, just like above, you are paying for a lot of fat and bone in there. Some of it will obviously come down to taste preferences as well. Below I also talk about buying whole chickens, which is the best way to go in my opinion.
  • Pork: I love certain cuts of pork, and hate others. Pork loin and tenderloin are excellent, and much lower in fat than other kinds of pork. However, any kind of pork is going to have a MUCH higher fat content than any other meat. In fact, pork has about 600 more calories per pound than beef, most of it in fat. Pork is an inexpensive meat though, so I cook some at least once per week. Not to mention the fact that it tastes good. Avoid the cheaper pork cuts when possible. They are that cheap for a reason, and the reason is high fat content and low demand. Pork loin is still cheaper than the cheapest steak. Now a word on bacon: I absolutely love bacon on occasion, despite the fact it is horribly unhealthy. The best way to go is to get the bigger, fresher slabs of bacon that are unseasoned. It never ceases to amaze me how stores can throw some pepper on a stack of bacon and charge a dollar more per pound for it.

Buy In Bulk

One of the best ways to buy meat cost effectively is unsurprisingly to buy it in bulk. And when I say bulk, I mean it. Costco, for instance, sells steak in enormous quantities that offer significant cost savings. For instance, you can buy New York strip steak (or loin meat) in steak packages pre cut for around 8 bucks per pound. At the same store, you can buy a ten pound slab of that same meat for less than $6 per pound. All you have to do is cut it yourself and freeze what you don’t eat right away. Cutting meat is easy, and you can learn how to do it properly by watching a few youtube videos. Then just wrap what you don’t eat immediately in a couple of layers of cling wrap and some freezer paper. It will last as long as a year in the freezer, and it’ll be perfect once thawed. This little bit of work will save you more than two dollars per pound, and can be shown through all cuts and kinds of meat. That may not sound like much, but think about how much meat you eat in a year. Plus it’s always fun to show your vegetarian friends a freezer full of meat and watch them squirm.

Better Yet, Buy Whole Animals

If buying meat in large quantities is more cost effective than small quantities, than buying whole animals is even better. This may sound odd, but you can in fact buy whole animals of almost all varieties. Take for example chicken. You can buy a whole chicken for less than a dollar per pound typically, whereas buying individual pieces of meat would be more than twice that. And while some of what you are buying is bones and other scrap, you still get a much better deal when you buy a whole chicken. They take a bit longer to cook in the oven, but they taste better as well.

This same savings can also be transferred to larger animals, and is even more effective there. For instance, you can typically buy a whole cow and have it butchered for just over $2 per pound. This means you’ll get hundreds of pounds of meat, including all of the best cuts, for a bargain price. You’ll need somewhere to store all of that meat, but if you’ve eliminated all kinds of frozen and processed food, you’ll be surprised at how much more room you have in your freezer. You can also buy a chest freezer for your garage pretty cheap used off of Craigslist. If you really can’t do that, you can often times buy only half or a quarter of a cow. That way you still get the savings benefit but don’t have to deal with storing so much meat. If you are a pork fan, you can also easily buy whole pigs very cheap in the fall. Imagine how much bacon you can have!

Even Better, Raise those Animals Yourself

For those of you out there who have some space on your property, raising your own animals is a very good option. Now, I’m not saying you should tie a cow up in your suburban backyard, but you’d be surprised what you can do with just the limited space the average person has. Rabbits are by far the best example. With just a couple of rabbits, you can produce literally hundreds of pounds of meat per year. Their meat is the lowest in fat and cholesterol of any meat eaten by humans. Rabbits can easily be raised and butchered in your backyard in a few wire cages. Obviously, this isn’t for the faint of heart. If you are the kind of person that gets easily attached to animals or, as the saying goes, won’t hurt a fly, then raising and killing your own animals isn’t for you. But for those of us with stronger stomachs, this is a simple way to get meat for pennies on the dollar. You can find all of the information you need on this subject with just a simple Google search.

You can also raise other kinds of meat animals on small properties as well. Chickens can easily be raised in the backyard of almost any home. You can breed them for meat, or more commonly for their eggs. As long as you aren’t within the limits of a city that restricts this, you can also look into pigs. They are easy to raise, and eat the scraps that no other human or animal will. Goats are even doable with enough experience and land, and they produce milk as well.

And Best of All, Let Nature Raise Them For You

Meat Filled Freezer

My freezer. No processed foods, mostly raw meat and some jars of salsa. After hunting season it will (hopefully) have meat stacks three packages tall.

So what could possibly be cheaper than raising and killing your own food? After all, by doing so you cut out literally every middle man. However there is one option that tops all others as far as obtaining inexpensive meat goes. It is by far my favorite option, and will yield you the highest quality, most natural meat available. Hunting.

Hunting isn’t for everyone, admittedly. If you are weak of the stomach or the body, I would not recommend it. But if you are in good physical shape, don’t have any ethical dilemmas with killing wild animals, and can find a mentor, it is a skill well worth learning for more reasons than one. The benefits go far beyond that of filling your freezer with excellent meat. Let me tell you, you haven’t experienced exercise truly until you’ve been hunting for 17 hours, during which you walked more than 10 miles and climbed in the range of 6000 vertical feet. There is no better activity than hunting when it comes to overall physical fitness. Don’t believe me? Just put fifty pounds on your back and start climbing the tallest mountains you can find. Also, hunting is a survival skill that one day may save your life. And lets face facts, who doesn’t love being outside?

Consider Getting a Meat Grinder

If you are the kind of person that eats a lot of ground meat, like I do, then you might want to consider getting a meat grinder. I recently bought one for about a hundred bucks at Costco. That might sound expensive, but when you consider the savings I will see by grinding my own meat with it for years to come, there really is no alternative. I’m able to grind up any combination of meat I want, and I’m going to be able to process the deer I hopefully shoot this weekend without paying a butcher. I can make my own sausages, decide exactly how much fat is going to go into my meat, and save myself money in the long run. Buying a meat grinder is going to be well worth it for me. If you eat lots of burger, it may be for you as well.

Wrap Up

Well there you have it, nearly two thousand words on how to save money on meat. You certainly don’t need to apply all of the tips above to your own life, just utilizing a few of them can save you huge money in the long run.

7 Responses to “Buying Meat Without Breaking the Bank”

  1. Sean @ One Smart Dollar October 25, 2012 at 8:17 am #

    I am one of the people who likes Rib eyes :-) The fat is where the flavor is at. Don’t get me wrong I don’t eat them all the time, but on occasion. I have thought about getting a grinder. They have attachments that go on the end of the KitchenAid Stand Mixers.

    • James October 25, 2012 at 10:34 am #

      Yeah the attachments tend to work really well for a lower price than a full grinder, but I would only recommend it if you only grind a small amount of meat.

  2. Jason @ WSL October 25, 2012 at 8:24 am #

    That certainly sounds like a lot of work to raise animals yourself. I’m not sure my 1/3 acre will support any cattle. lol. My wife and I are mostly vegetarian, but if we eat out then we generally buy meat in some fashion. If we cook at home though, we try to eat as healthy and inexpensive as possible.

    • James October 25, 2012 at 10:35 am #

      Yeah a third acre definitely won’t do cattle, but its certainly big enough for rabbits or chickens!

  3. Edward Antrobus October 25, 2012 at 11:56 am #

    When we get our own land, I want to raise hens for eggs (layers are good for stew meat after they stop being productive).
    We’ve recently switched most of our ground meat from beef to turkey. It’s pretty similar in cost and we actually prefer the taste. Our other major meat purchase is chicken breast and we generally buy the family size packages and separate them before freezing.

  4. thestarvingartistcanada October 25, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    Cooking fatty meat on the bone gives the best flavour. That’s why the rib-eye is one of the tastiest of them all.

    If you can’t tell the difference, than enjoy your cheap meat!

    Unfortunately for my finances, I’ve been cursed with a sophisticated palette.

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