We all have our go-to meats — ground beef, pork chops, chicken breasts — repeat. The key to saving at the butcher counter, though, is flexibility. Seeing what’s on sale, what the best deal is, and adapting your meal to take advantage of those savings. It’s also about befriending your butcher and asking for a little help when you need it. Here are eight things your butcher wishes you knew.
Tip #1: You can make substitutions
Don’t feel obligated to always buy the meat your recipe calls for. Your butcher can recommend substitutions. If pork chops aren’t on sale this week, your butcher might direct you to the pork loin for around $2 less per pound. A pork loin can be cut into pork chops and your butcher may even do it for you, for free. Which leads us to our second butcher secret…
Tip #2: Don’t be shy, request custom butchering
Often a larger, whole piece of meat will cost less than the same amount already cut into smaller pieces. Take a budget-friendly roast off the shelf and ask your butcher to cut it into steaks for you. Many will happily do it for free. You get to take advantage of the cheaper prices on the whole piece of meat but still get the convenience of going home with individual steaks.
Tip #3: Fat is good, in moderation
Think twice before reaching for the more expensive, very lean ground beef. Juicy burgers typically require a little fat. You can also choose a piece of meat like a sirloin and ask the butcher to grind it for you. Hit a good sale and you’ll pay less for higher quality burger meat.
Tip #4: USDA grade is the true quality indicator
Brand names use buzzwords that make you feel like you’re getting a superior piece of meat (“Butcher’s Cut” or “Reserve”), but what you should really be looking at is the USDA grade. Prime is considered the best, then choice, select, and standard. Even “Angus” is technically an indicator of cattle breed, not quality, though many people do find it superior for its marbling.
Tip #5: Skip the expensive beef if you’re cooking it well
Most butchers like their beef on the rare side. If you prefer well done, go for it, but you can probably skip the most expensive steaks. Some fancy steakhouses even carry disclaimers on their menus that say they don’t recommend ordering steaks well done and don’t take responsibility for the quality if you do.
Tip #6: It’s okay to shop the meat markdowns
Many people think of meat markdowns as meat that’s already going bad. No store wants to intentionally sell you a product that could do harm. In most cases, if you buy the meat and cook it within 24 hours or freeze it you’ll be just fine and save as much as 50 percent.
Tip #7: Check the pack date
However, if you’re paying full price, you might as well get the freshest meat on the shelves. Like the rest of the store, butchers use stock rotation and constantly rotate the oldest product to the front of the shelf. Reach in the back to the bottom of the stack to find the most recent pack dates.
Tip #8: Know a good deal when you see one
Meat freezes really well and if you play your cards right, you’ll never have to pay full price. Start monitoring sale prices and determine what the rock bottom price is for your favorite cuts of meat — such as $1.99 per pound on chicken breasts or 79 cents per pound on a whole chicken. Whenever you see those prices in the ad, you’ll know it’s time to stock up.
Ready to sink your teeth into a juicy steak or tender chicken breast? Take a peek at 7 affordable meats perfect for grilling, 9 healthy crockpot chicken dinners, and an irresistible recipe for Bacon-Wrapped Honey Sriracha Chicken!