When you’re trying to grocery shop on a budget, cutting out meat often seems like an obvious first step. With prime cuts costing upwards of $12 per pound, it’s easy to feel tempted to fill your cart with Top Ramen.
Not so fast.
With a little bit of simple technique (and I mean simple), it’s easy to turn super- cheap cuts of meat into the gourmet centerpiece of your meal. Read on for 5 often overlooked cuts of meat that are both easy on your wallet and pleasing to your belly.
Bone-in Chicken Thighs
About $1.50 per pound
I’ve pretty much had it with boneless, skinless chicken breast. Sure, it’s lean, but how likely are you to stick to a healthy diet if your chicken is as boring as the 4th of July in Canada? Rather, I go for bone-in chicken thighs, or what’s sometimes called the “whole leg”. It’s incredibly cheap, and unlike its boneless, skinless brethren, it’s loaded with flavor and just enough fat to keep it moist. It’s fabulous grilled with barbecue sauce, but I also love to roast it slathered with garlic, olive oil, herbs, lemon zest, salt and pepper. I throw in a couple of quartered onions and 2 scrubbed, cubed potatoes, and roast the whole thing at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes or so. The result is super-tender chicken with a delightfully crisp skin, and the most flavorful potatoes ever. It’s a one-dish wonder for the ages.
About $6 per pound
This cut of beef is my pick for making steak at home. Since a one-pound steak can easily be split between two people, it’s a pretty sweet deal. Top sirloin is fabulously tender, and it needs little more than some liberal seasoning with salt and pepper, a quick sear and then a little visit to a 375 degree oven to finish cooking to your desired doneness. I also love to throw a seasoned steak on the grill for 4-5 minutes per side (for medium-rare doneness), and top it with just a touch of garlic-herb butter (just mix softened butter with finely chopped garlic and fresh herbs of your choice).
About $2.50 per pound
Ground pork is the secret to amazing meatballs. Add a bit of it to ground lamb, beef or turkey for the moistest balls ever (hmm…not sure I loved that sentence). It’s also fabulous on its own in meatball form. I like to add chopped rosemary, garlic, egg, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper and then bake in an oven at 375 for about 12 minutes. I serve the meatballs with salad and rice or potatoes, sit back, relax, and feel proud of myself. This same combination also makes a great meatloaf.
Bone-in Pork Chops
About $4 per pound
A major rule of buying cheap cuts of meat is that if there’s a bone in it, it’s likely to cost less. This definitely applies here, and frankly, when it comes to whole cuts of pork, I prefer it. This cut of meat’s bone lends so much flavor to a fairly lean piece of meat, that making it taste good barely requires much seasoning at all. I like to gild the lily and crust the chops with cracked black pepper, kosher salt and sometimes a bit of chili powder, then sear, and then serve with applesauce or fruit compote.
About $4.50 per pound
Jewish grandmas (and Texan barbecue masters) have been making brisket sing for generations. This super tough cut of meat melts into tender, falling-off-the-bone deliciousness when cooked low and slow in a flavorful sauce. I like to slather it in a tomato-based barbecue sauce and cook it, covered, n an oven heated to 325 degrees F, for 3 to 3 ½ hours. Once the brisket is cooked, slice it against the grain and serve as is, with sauce spooned over it, or layer it into a sandwich with coleslaw and pickles.
Gabi Moskowitz is the editor-in-chief of the nationally-acclaimed blog BrokeAss Gourmet and author of The BrokeAss Gourmet Cookbook (May 2012) and Pizza Dough: 100 Delicious, Unexpected Recipes (November 2013). Most recently, she developed “Young and Hungry”, an ABC Family sitcom based on her life and writing. It premiers this summer (2014).