Cheap and Delicious Hamburger

by John Smith

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I guess my favorite "cut" of meat has to be hamburger. Just think of all the things you can do with it. Besides making the All-American "Cheese Burger," which is hard to beat, there are approximately 3452.5 known dishes using hamburger and all of them delicious. Well, most of them are pretty good, except maybe Mom's "Saturday Night Hamburger Delight." Actually that's not really fair. Mom's Saturday Night Delight was quite good at times. It just depended on what was in the fridge.

Mom used to make a special casserole, using hamburger as the base ingredient. Every Saturday she would brown off a pound of hamburger in her large black cast iron frying pan and add all the leftovers from the fridge from the past week. Then she would add some shredded or cubed potatoes, chopped onions, green bell peppers, seasonings, mushroom soup and top it all off with shredded cheddar cheese, crushed crackers or potato chips if there was an open bag, and bake it for about 45 minutes. There you have it, a Saturday night wonder.

Now mom had the right idea. I always admired the way she could make a dollar stretch. That's what's great about hamburger. There are so many creative ways to prepare hamburger to help out the budget. I like to brown some hamburger, onions, and green bell peppers and put them to one side. Then brown off some nice cubed potatoes in a little oil until tender. Mix in the hamburger mixture and serve with ketchup or add some cream of mushroom soup and cheese. It's simple and delicious. Or take the hamburger mixture and add tomato sauce and chili powder. Cook up a couple of those cheap macaroni and cheese boxes that you can get five for a dollar if you shop around and add that to the hamburger and that to the sauce mixture. You now have cheap and easy chili mac. There is literally no end to what you can do with a little imagination and a pound of hamburger. My rule has always been, when it comes to cooking, if it sounds good do it.

Not only are there many ways to save money using hamburger, but also there are several good ways to save money when purchasing hamburger.

These are my rules for purchasing hamburger. Never buy the pre-ground stuff in the store. Even if the regular hamburger is $1.99 a pound you are not saving all that much money. Approximately 30 percent of the regular hamburger is fat. That means you are paying two dollars for two thirds of a pound of meat. Now you take the number 70, which is the percent that is left over after extracting the fat, do some fancy math, which I am not able to share with you at this time since I am limited to 10,000 words or less, and presto, you are paying way too much money for the fat. Numbers don't lie.

My next rule is to never buy the pre-made hamburger in the store. Whoa, I think I'm having an attack of deja vu. Either that or I've done all this before. Maybe I was a butcher in another life. Whether you live in this century and or the one before, the advice is still good. Next time you want some nice hamburger cheap, look over the ads and find the cheapest cut of beef available. Give the butcher a call and ask him if he would be so kind as to grind up a mess of whatever it is that's on sale and then go to the store and just pick it up without waiting or anything. Boneless chucks or rounds are often on sale cheap and make outstanding lean hamburger.

Actually my favorite cheap meat for outstanding hamburger is pork butts, which can be as low as 99 cents a pound and can be used in any recipe calling for ground beef. Talking about saving money! Ground pork butts add a whole new thrifty dimension to your Saturday night wonders. Mom would be so proud.

Updated October 2013

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John Smith has been a butcher/meat cutter for 30+ years. He's written the book Confessions of a Butcher - eat steak on a hamburger budget and save$$$. You can check some of his archived articles at or post any meat related question and get it answered usually within 24 hours. John, his wife Vickie and their 8 kids live in eastern Idaho in the shadow of the Tetons.

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