The Butcher Speaks On Christmas Meats

by John Smith

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Christmas meats can't be beat until you get the bill. It's an awful shame that we spend so much money for our Christmas holiday meal. We all want to present a nice spread for our friends and family but I for one am in favor of cutting corners, even at Christmas. Now I know there are many people out there that would sniff at the thought of trying to save a buck at Christmas but I am not writing this article for them. This one's for you, baby! You know who you are. You're just like me, you want good stuff and you want it now and you want it cheap. It can be done.

My favorite dinner entree is Prime Rib. There is nothing like a nice juicy prime rib and there is nothing quite like the price tag either. Prime rib can cost you as much as $15.99 a pound and there really is nothing that can replace it in terms of tenderness, flavor and juiciness. The only alternative is to watch for an ad and thank goodness there are many for prime rib this time of year. If you are lucky you can find a prime rib on sale for as low as $6.99 a pound. The alternative is to get a cut that will still eat very well and will cost you a lot less. A top round roast is very nice and can be found for about $3.49 a pound in most places. Now that doesn't sound so special but there is a way to get that nice big top round roast for less. Look for a full cut round steak ad. You should be able to find round steaks anywhere from a low of $2.99 a pound and up. Once you have found an ad to your liking call the butcher and ask for an 8 to 10 inch full cut round steak. Then ask him to seam it out for you. He will separate the top from the eye and the eye from the bottom. You now have 3 really nice roasts. The top round will weigh in the neighborhood of 6 to 8 pounds making a very nice oven roast. Roast this baby in the oven at 325 degrees until it reaches the desired temperature and you have a delectable entree at a very good price.

Fresh leg of pork is another popular Christmas roast. The pork leg makes a nice oven roast and it will retail for somewhere around $2.99 a pound with a bone and a little more without. It is a pretty good value if a pork roast is what you want. There are no alternatives to a fresh leg of pork unless you can find a boneless pork loin on sale for the same or less. Sometimes you can, and since the boneless pork loin is of a higher quality go with the boneless loin if the price is similar.

Ham is always a favorite at Christmas and there are hundreds to choose from. The whole bone in hams are outstanding and can be found at good prices if you are careful. Stay away from the fancy wrapped and netted hams. These will bring a premium and they really are not any better than the plain Janes. When choosing a whole ham look to see if they are well trimmed. If they have excessive fat stay away. Also be careful of the cheap boneless hams. Read the label and see how much water is added. Some of them have as much as 35 percent water added. These hams may be lean and look nice but they eat like bologna.

Another thing to watch out for is the 'Buy a Ham and Get a Turkey Free ad'. You can usually buy a turkey and a ham on sale separately for less than what you will spend when you buy a ham and get turkey free. Remember nothing is free. If you purchase your Christmas Turkey at Thanksgiving you can take advantage of the terrific prices and do even better. Another thing, if you need some ham or sliced deli meats for a meat tray or something, it is cheaper to go to the meat department and purchase the little hams and turkey breast portions. Have the butcher slice them rather than getting it from the deli.

Roasting Chickens for a small family instead of a large turkey at Christmas is really a nice way to go if you can get one for the right price. The trick in choosing the right roaster is to not fall into the most overworked trap in the meat counter. Do not pay more money for a roasting chicken than what the fryers are selling for. The reason is simple. The roasting chickens are the exact same chicken as the fryer. Everyday we take 5 or 6 of the largest fryers, take them out of their bag they come in and place them in a meat tray, rewrap and price them at 10 to 30 cents more a pound. Every store I have ever worked in has done it the same way. It's an institution. It doesn't sound honest but the label does say fryer for roasting so we haven't lied we just take advantage of you.

Updated November 2013

John Smith has been a butcher/meat cutter for 30+ years. 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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