There are two ways to approach budget-minded cooking: as a burden or as a challenge. The latter is a lot more fun. Burdens weigh on your shoulders, squish you down. Challenges are hurdles to hop over, riddles to solve, accomplishments to feel proud about, even shout from the rooftops.
When it comes to cooking with meat—often the most costly ingredient in a meal—a few tricks can go a long way. Say, supplement the meat with less expensive ingredients, from grains to veggies. Buy in bulk. And know which cuts get you the most bang for your buck.
Below are our favorite cost-effective cuts for chicken, pork, and beef—and our favorite ways to show ’em off. Prices were based on USDA national retail reports.
A chicken is so small, you can buy the animal whole and break it down yourself. (Not as hard as you’d think!) General rule of thumb: The more the butcher does for you, the more you pay. For example, boneless, skinless breasts average at $2.39 per pound, while split, bone-in breasts hover around $1.64.
Average price: $1.01/pound.
Average price: $1.08/pound.
Bacon may reign over breakfast land, but we adore (yes, adore!) pork for dinner. Chops and belly get a lot of credit—and don’t get us wrong, love chops, love belly—but the rest of the animal deserves attention, too. By cooking large-format cuts, you can serve a crowd or, even better, have all the leftovers.
Average price: $0.99/pound
Average price: $1.66/pound.
Beef is the priciest of the bunch. Which is why I eat it least frequently and, when I do, I find ways to cushion the cost. Meatballs want to help: Breadcrumbs, veggies, and eggs lower the price point, and improve flavor and texture. If you’re making a big roast, serve it with something hearty and filling, like polenta or pasta.
Average price: $3.75/pound.
Ground Beef (80–89% Lean)
Average price: $3.18/pound.
GROUND BEEF + THIS = HEAVEN
What’s your favorite way to use one of these cuts? Tell us about it in the comments!