Is there any better marriage than that of “Meat and Grill?” This most holy of unions is practically essential during the summer grilling months. Even the most ardent of vegans has to admit there’s something wonderful about the sizzle of meat on the grill and the savory aromas wafting through the air. Truly, grilling a nice piece of meat on a picturesque afternoon is the stuff of legend.
It can also be expensive, as anyone who’s taken a trip to a meat market can tell you. There are all kinds of choices and terms being thrown around by the butcher, and it can be tough to know what to look for. After all, we all want to get the most bang for our grilling buck. In order to avoid spending a fortune at the butcher, there are a few things you’ll need to learn. The following is a list of tips, tricks, and strategies that will help you save money at the butcher’s shop.
1. Know The Difference In Meat Grades. This refers mostly to beef, although pork will fall into this category as well. Apart from the USDA label, meat is graded according to its quality. You’ve got “Prime” grade, which is the pinnacle. Below that is “Choice,” then “select,” and finally “standard.” Typically, if you’re looking for something like steak or a nice roast, you’re going to choose between prime and choice. The difference usually comes down to the amount of “marbling” that the meat has, which refers to the distribution of fat in the meat. More fat means more flavor, so well-marbled pieces get the prime label. By looking closely at each piece of meat, you can find choice-grade pieces of meat that still have nice marbling but don’t carry the prime price tag. Also, check the tenderness of the meat by picking it up. If it feels relaxed and pliable, it’s going to cook up tenderer. You can get delicious meat for a lower price by doing a little investigating!
2. Buy Whole Pieces, and Cut Them Yourself. If you want to cook pork chops, but the chops are too expensive, you’re not sunk yet. Check out the price on a whole pork roast, or a center cut loin roast. Whole pieces of meat tend to be cheaper per pound, so you can simply buy the whole roast and then cut it into chops yourself. You can do this with almost any kind of meat, from beef brisket to whole chickens. And if your butcher is nice, he’ll cut the roast up for you, saving you that bit of work.
“Watch for daily or weekly specials. Ask the butcher for a fresh cut and try not to purchase pre-wrapped meats, especially chop meat. A steak on the bone is always a better value. It will be juicier because of the bone—the closer to the bone, the sweeter the meat.”
– Butcher Nic Ottomanelli, Ottomanelli Brothers, New York
3. Buy The Right Meat for Each Dish. All meat is not equal. Different types of beef work best for each dish, and the same goes for pork. Chuck steak isn’t going to be ideal for grilling unless you like the texture and flavor of a grilled boot, and filet mignon isn’t ideal for grinding your own meat since it has almost no fat. Figure out what kinds of meat would work best for the meal you want, and then narrow your search. You can shop around and compare prices much easier this way, getting the best deal in the process.
4. Check The Price Per Pound. It’s tempting to see the big “family pack” or “bulk buy” packages and think that you’re getting a good deal. But take a closer look before you throw down your cash on that meat, because you may not be getting the deal you hoped for. It’s likely that the same kind of meat is available in smaller packs, so take a look at each package’s price per pound. There’s no reason to buy one package at $4.99 per pound when the same meat is available in smaller packs for $3.99, right? Always check this stuff, because grocers can be tricky with their pricing.
5. Try Out Substitutions. Your favorite cut of meat won’t always be on sale every time you go to the butcher. Instead of digging deeper into your pockets and paying through the nose, branch out a little bit. You may love rib eye steak, but if porterhouse is on sale, pick it up. Porterhouse is a delicious cut of steak with both a large strip portion and a tenderloin portion as well. Likewise, if you want a crown pork rib roast but Boston Butt shoulder roast is on sale, try getting the shoulder roast and cooking it long and slow. You’ll still end up with a delicious, tender, flavorful cut of meat. Don’t be afraid to break out your comfort zone, and you’ll end up saving yourself a bundle!