Top 10 Best Inexpensive Cuts of Meat
I use all these inexpensive cuts of meat very frequently. They are some of the best budget-friendly dishes I have ever made. Not only that, meat keeps getting more expensive, and I understand the value of a buck. What are the cheap meats to smoke? Which ones are the best ones? Let's find out.
1. Picnic Ham
This may be the king of cheap meat cuts. Picnic ham is also called country ham or bone in Boston butt, depending on where you live.
What do they deliver? Pulled pork, and lots of it. Picnic hams are huge, 10-12 lbs. Usually buying a half one is an option, but it's slightly more expensive and since the cooking is time consuming, it's not as great a deal. I generally buy a whole one and if I'm not having a large party pull all the pork after the first meal and refrigerate or freeze it in dinner size portions.
There is no need, or point, to salting or seasoning the ham. Some recipes call for scoring the fat cap on the top of the ham, but I stopped doing this, and found the pulled pork even softer and juicier.
They are also incredibly easy to cook. You will need:
- A pot large enough to hold the ham, with a lid or some foil to cover it
- A picnic ham. These come with a complete cap of fat and skin, which is not to be removed until serving, when it will pop right off.
- 12 ounces of some type of liquid. The first recipe I tried advised using a beer, but I quickly found that this is a waste of beer. I now put some onion halves, heads of garlic, and carrots in the pot with water
- About 5 hours to hang around and wait
The first thing to do is to sear the top of the ham. If you are using my method, add the veggies, place the ham on top of them, and add the liquid after searing. Whatever liquid you choose you can add it before or after the sear but if you add it before, add an ounce extra to make up for evaporation.
I sear the ham in the pot in which it will cook. The ham never needs to be turned. You cook it fat side up. Put the pot in the oven. Don't worry, you can move it to the grill after if you want. Heat the oven to 450 degrees for long enough to turn the cap golden brown, about 20 minutes.
By the way, you will probably need to remove an oven rack to fit the ham. Try to remember to do this before you heat the oven.
Now cover the pot and drastically lower the heat. If you want to put it on your grill, pot and all of course, now is the time. Lots of wood smoke adds a nice touch, but don't uncover the pot.
Cook at about 300 degrees for around 4 hours. Give yourself 5, just in case. To test for doneness, use a fork and test the big side to see if the meat literally falls off the bone.
When you are ready to serve it, you can mix in some barbecue sauce if you want to. Cooled, the remaining liquid becomes aspic, which makes the best pork gravy ever. Oh, and the vegetables make a great side dish.
Delicious brisket is a wonderful bargain when it comes to choosing your cut of meat as well as a great grilling meat. If you grill frequently, you probably have your own recipe. If you not there are vast numbers of recipes on the internet.
Most butchers will halve a brisket for you, adding a few cents per pound. But remember that leftover brisket will make tasty meals at no further cost. Most people don't eat much more than ¼ pound of meat at one sitting, which is good to remember when buying a large cut. Cooked brisket freezes quite well. You want to portion it before storing, of course.
3. Bone in pork chops
If you want a nice, thick, satisfying piece of meat, bone in pork chops are your cut. Much less expensive than good steak, they come at about a quarter of the price.
A meat thermometer is helpful when cooking pork chops. You season them, slap on a medium grill, and cook. If that is too boring, there are many recipes online, all involving the seasoning part. But you knew that.
4. Chicken thighs and leg quarters, skin on, bone in
Unless you really don't like dark meat, these are versatile cheap cuts. It's cheaper than turkey breast and you can grill it, or you can pull off the skin and bone it for other dishes. The boning is easier if the chicken is slightly frozen. The skin slides off the meat. It's a very easy process but do make sure to be very clean when you do it, as chicken may carry salmonella.
5. Chuck Steak, top round or bottom round
When buying these cuts, look for a big thick one. The end game here is to make a pot roast. Your chuck eye steak doesn't have to be perfectly roast shaped for this. A few inches thick will do.
There are thousands of good recipes for pot roast online that don't require you to buy a ribeye, but the fundamentals aren't dissimilar to the picnic ham recipe above. The roast will cook for 2 to 3 hours, and should be turned once during the sear period. The meat should be seasoned before the sear.
I like to add halved potatoes to the veg mix. It's a meal in a pan. You can accomplish all of this on your grill.
6. London broil
London broil is one of the best cuts of beef when you have a hankering for a good piece of meat. It needs to be marinated for at least 4 hours before grilling. The only real variations in recipes is what you use for the marinade. If you don't have your own favorite mix, you can look online, or simply use bottled vinaigrette dressing. If you go that route, you don't have to buy an expensive dressing but do buy one you think you'll like. If you buy or make a plain dressing adding some garlic goes a long way.
Then you grill the London broil to your taste, rare or medium well as you like, and serve. The rarer you like it, the hotter the grill should be. You can also cook London broil in the oven, wrapped in foil, if it's not grilling season.
7. Ground pork
Ground pork is incrementally cheaper than ground beef, and you can do most of the same things with it. It makes great meatloaf and meatballs with no recipe adjustment needed.
Ground pork burgers require a little adjustment as they must be cooked to well done, and can be a little dry if you use a traditional burger recipe. I like smothering them with grilled onion, when used on a bun, or serving them on a plate with gravy. If you are grilling them don't make them too thick, as they may dry while the center cooks. If you make them a little thicker, a meat thermometer is useful.
8. Swai (it's a fish)
Believe it or not, I am about to introduce you to the iridescent shark fish. Now that you are done laughing, I had never heard of swai before I bought some for a fish fry, noting its low price and resemblance to catfish. I had to look it up on Wikipedia.
Swai, the iridescent shark's marketing name, is actually a type of catfish, not shark. Much less expensive than catfish, it is just a little meatier, which is nice, and can be fried or grilled using any catfish recipe you like. Like good catfish, swai is bland in flavor and better with a sauce, such as tartar, or steamed with flavorful vegetables.
I like wrapping swai in parchment with pieces of tomato, bell pepper, and onion on top with a pat of butter and a little lemon, salt and pepper and grilling it. I love frying it southern style.
9. Shell on shrimp
It is very simple to defrost and shell shrimp, rather than pay the grocer to do it for you. Shrimp sounds like a luxury item, but a little can go a long way. There are a million recipes online for grilled or fried shrimp as well as dishes that include shrimp as an ingredient.
The trick to making shrimp truly inexpensive is to use it as a sort of side dish or garnish. You can add it to skewers that also have chicken and veggies on them, or use them to top another dish, such as swai, below, or make a surf and turf. For two people, ¼ to ½ a pound is plenty for this. Any variation of this makes an excellent budget meal for a special occasion.
10. On sale
A low cost list of meats isn't complete without mentioning sales. Almost every grocery store has sales on meat every week. Some sales are inexpensive cuts marked down even further and a few discounts on pricier cuts will be worked in, as 'loss leaders'. You don't need to start reading those annoying mailers if you don't want to do so, but it is wise to eye the sale notices whenever you visit the grocery.
Most sales change weekly and seasonally. Even if you are shopping for a different cut, if you see a fantastic sale, pick some up and freeze it for later.
There are what you could call 'reverse sales' too. When grilling season arrives, there will be a few good deals on steaks and hamburger, but by and large, the price of red meat will rise. This is a good time to have a stash in the freezer. When freezing raw cuts of red meat, wrap it tightly, so it does not lose moisture.
Try to remember the price of the cuts you like so you can tell good sales from phony ones. Sometimes an item marked 'on sale' on the shelf is actually more expensive than it was the week before. The groceries know that some shoppers will be lulled by that 's' word and not pay attention to price.
We hope you liked this article, and that it is handy no matter what your budget is. Let us know what you think and send in some of your own tips and tricks!
Frequently Asked Questions
What Kind of Meat Do You Use to Make Pulled Pork?
In a restaurant setting, whole pork shoulders are used to make pulled pork. These cuts of pork are very inexpensive and become pull-apart tender when cooked low and slow. In the home setting, you can find inexpensive picnic roasts or Boston butt roasts, which are the two parts of the pork shoulder. They are typically less expensive when purchased bone-in.
How Do You Cook a Brisket of Beef?
Beef brisket is a very popular barbecue item, especially in Texas. The whole brisket can be smoked, low and slow, for 5 or more hours until it is very tender and has reached an internal temperature of 200 degrees F. If you buy a flat cut of brisket, there will be much less fat and marbling. This cut can be turned into lean pastrami or corned beef, or you can braise it inside in the oven for about 3 hours.
Are Chicken Thighs or Chicken Breasts Healthier?
Chicken thighs are the dark meat of the chicken, while the breasts are the white meat. The thighs contain slightly more calories than the chicken breasts, but it is the fat content where they mostly differ. A chicken thigh has three times more fat and saturated fat than the breast meat. This makes them juicier and taste better, but they are slightly less healthy.
What Are the Cheapest Cuts of Steak?
The chuck steak makes a very affordable, flavorful steak. It has a nice rich flavor and a good fat content, making it perfect for grilling. Flat iron steaks, flank steak, and London broil are great steaks if you have the time to marinate them, as they are are a little bit tougher.
How Do You Peel and Devein Shrimp?
Peeling and deveining shrimp is easy to do at home. Start by peeling the shrimp. Grab their legs and twist them around the body to remove the shell. Some people leave the tails on the shrimp for presentation purposes. Once the shell is removed, make a small cut down the middle of the shrimp using a paring knife. Remove the black vein with the point of your paring knife and discard.