Save Money on Meat: Protein Penny-Pinching Tips

Shop and cook smart to eat high-quality protein. Learn how to save money on meat with these tips.

| January/February 2012

  • "Almost Meatless" by Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond
  • "The Flexitarian Table" by Peter Berley
  • "Good Meat" by Deborah Krasner
  • These days eating well is more complicated than in the past. Choosing quality meat over quantity is better for your wallet and your health.
  • "Rose Elliot's New Complete Vegetarian" by Rose Elliot
  • "The Vegetarian Slow Cooker" by Judith Finlayson

Meat is among the most expensive items on many grocery lists, especially if it’s healthy meat from animals that were treated with respect. But you can save money on meat without compromising the quality in your protein choices. The easiest strategies are to incorporate delicious, well-rounded meatless meals into your diet, reducing the quantity of meat so you can afford high-quality, healthy options; and to choose and use less-expensive cuts of meat without skimping on flavor or quality.

Shop Wisely

Cut Quantity, Not Quality. Reducing our consumption allows us to buy cuts from animals raised in ways that actually make their meat better for us. Grass-fed beef and eggs, for example, contain more heart-healthy fats and essential vitamins than their factory-grown counterparts. Sometimes opting for less-expensive, non-meat protein such as legumes, eggs and whole grains helps free our dietary budgets for high-quality meat. 

Cut Cost, Not Quality. Learn to turn less-expensive cuts of grass-fed meat (such as short ribs, butt and shoulders) into fabulous dishes. For example, slow-roasted pork butt can become shredded pork suitable for tacos, sandwiches, stir-fries and potstickers. Check out "Tips for Cooking Inexpensive Cuts of Pastured Meat"

Buy Whole. Retailers and manufacturers charge for the time they spend breaking down meat, so you can save money on meat by buying less broken-down portions. Buy whole chickens and cut them up yourself to end up with breasts to grill, thighs to braise, legs and wings to fry, livers to transform into pâté, and plenty of bits to cook down into stock. For a good online tutorial for breaking down a full chicken, visit Serious Eats and search “break down a chicken.”

Share The Wealth. For large animals, you can really save money on meat by purchasing a quarter or half animal, and often the butcher will cut it up for you. Many farmers sell large quantities directly, and at a deeply discounted price, and “meat shares” in community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs are increasingly common. Visit the Eatwild website to find grass-fed meat producers in your area and Local Harvest to find CSAs to join. Check with neighbors or coworkers, your local farmer’s market or on Craigslist to connect with folks who might want to split a large purchase with you.

Strategize Savings. If you invest in a small, energy-efficient chest freezer, you’ll be able to stockpile pricey meats when you spot a sale. Free-range chickens and lambs are usually most affordable in spring, while cuts of beef and pork often see their best price points in fall and winter. You may find other seasonal deals, too, such as post-Thanksgiving turkeys, post-Christmas ducks or post-Easter hams. 

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