Keeping beef affordable for your family
Buying Beef for Less
by Dollar Stretcher Contributors
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How to Buy Beef
The people in my family are big beef eaters. I slip in as much pork, chicken, and fish as I can, but it seems like all of their favorite recipes begin with beef. As a result, my grocery bill has been a real fight. Are there some secrets to buying that I don't know about? Is there something that I should be asking for at the meat counter or butcher shop? Should I be shopping at a different store or different time of day? We're a family of six, so I need to find some answers!
Visit a Local Butcher
I grew up on a farm and know the best beef is not sold in a supermarket. Cattle go to auction and restaurant reps bid for the better beef. The next level is butchers (who generally buy from the middle man who sells to them and bids at auction). Whatever is left goes to supermarkets at a big discount. Then supermarkets set their own prices to the customers.
Visit a real butcher and buy good meat in bulk. You don't need a huge freezer. I picked up a flyer this weekend at our local meat locker for a $95 special for 30 pounds of meat, various cuts. They will package it any way you ask, but remember that it will come in white paper, not cellophane, and they need 24 hours notice to package it all. You get a huge cardboard box of meat. They had three other bulk packages available. The price per pound is less and the quality is better. Plus you are supporting local economy, as many butchers are small businesses.
Become Friends with the Meat Department
I always ask the guys in the meat department what is good per pound. They want to sell meat and are happy to assist. Sometimes they mention that they have some stuff in back that they will give me at a discount as it is left over from a previous sale, or the warehouse sent too much of something and it isn't moving. Also, I stock up when stuff is on sale.
Also, I check the reduced for quick sale bins. I can generally find all types of meat for 25% to 75% off regular prices. The best time to do this is early mornings on Mondays and Wednesdays.
I serve the portions myself and leave the meat on the stove or counter. Also, I buy pot roasts and other less tender pieces and use my slow cooker.
Shredded meat stretches farther than sliced meat. I have dumped salsa verde on chunks of beef or pork, and it is wonderful with tortillas or to use later in a casserole. Pot roast isn't just for potatoes any more.
Grind Your Own Beef
Since the "pink slime" and "meat glue" scare, I've been grinding my own beef. Chuck/pot roast can be found for $2.49/pound on sale. Just trim off the majority of the fat and cut it into chunks a little larger than a baby's fist. Put in a food processor and "pulse" about 22-25 times. You can grind turkey/chicken the same way and I know for a fact that using up to half ground turkey/chicken in a recipe like meatloaf or chili mac doesn't affect the flavor/texture at all. Your family will never notice!
When I find a sale on meat to grind, I might buy several roasts at a time, grind it all, and brown it in batches in a skillet. When cool, I drain it and proportion it out into one- to two-pound bundles and freeze. Then half the work of cooking a casserole is already done!
I also inspect the clearance meat section first. I use it that day, cook it and freeze it for later, or wrap it well and freeze it raw. I never let it sit in my fridge!
If you have a large freezer, you might investigate buying a quarter/half cow from an independent meat market. Per pound this is the most economical way to get beef. Maybe there's another family that would go in with you and split the cost/meat up.
Go for Less Expensive Cuts
If you have flexibility in the type of beef, going for the less expensive cuts can help. At our local store, the big family packs of meat generally sell for less per pound than the half or full pound packages. Also, if you haven't already, ask the butcher when meat gets marked down. This is a great way to buy meat for less. Either use the meat soon or freeze it when you get home.
Buy in Bulk
Our family purchases all or part of a side of beef annually from a local farm. Being in Colorado, this may be easier than other states, but try searching online for bulk beef buying or something similar. Perhaps you could go in with a friend or other family members to split the purchase. Not only will you save money, but also the beef you receive will likely be raised on better feed and be leaner. Our ground beef seldom has to be drained of grease, and even the "stew meat" we get is more tender than some of the better roasts we've bought from the local grocery chains.
Jennifer in Colorado
Make the Meat Stretch
If you are making casseroles, soups, spaghetti sauce, etc. you can cut back on the meat in the dish and add a handful of extra veggies and pasta/rice to the dish to bulk it up, replacing the quarter to half pound of meat that you left out. Sometimes it is the "beef" flavor that you might be missing so when cooking rice/soup or a sauce, add some beef broth to the dish.
When you make "meat" the main focus of the meal, you are going to eat more of it, but by having a grain, starch, and two veggies with a piece of fruit for dessert, you won't have a large space for meat on the plate. Also serving slices of meat (cut thin) fanned out, the meat will look like more on the plate than a whole hunk of meat. If they eat what is on their plate, they can always go back for more.
We're also big beef eaters. Several members of our family are allergic to pork, several of us are allergic to shellfish, and many of us need to eat gluten-free due to Celiac, so much meat (including virtually all processed meat) is off the menu. I also have a child with a chronic medical condition and a husband with high cholesterol, and eating organic meat is important to us.
We actually buy all of our beef from a local family farm through a CSA program. We pay about $4 per pound when we purchase half an animal (in Canada, our food prices are generally higher than in the US), but that's for grass-fed and grass-finished, hormone- and antibiotic-free organic beef. This beef is lower in saturated fat and high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids compared to conventionally-produced beef commonly available in grocery stores and butchers. That $4 a pound may seem like a lot initially, but consider that you're paying that price for all types of cuts, including ground beef, T-bone steaks, roasts, and filet mignon. I also get to tell the butcher how to cut my beef and what ratios of what types of cuts. My meat is delivered cut, wrapped, and frozen. I just toss it in the deep freeze, and we're set for the year.
While it seems like we put out a lot of money up front (we pay $1500 for beef and a year's supply of pasture-raised organic chickens and turkeys), eggs, and veggies for the year, when I priced it out, we would be paying about $2000 or more for the same amount of non-organic groceries at the grocery store. Plus, we're getting organic, and we're supporting a local family farm that we've come to know and trust.
If eating organic isn't important to you, I've seen ads in the newspaper around here for sides of beef starting at around $1.20 a pound, cut and wrapped. Ask around and you'll likely find something in your area, or check your classified ads.
Reviewed June 2017
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