Meat is expensive and usually takes up the biggest percentage of our grocery budget. So it makes good sense to figure out how to save money on meat.
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We’re not vegans.
We try to fill our plates with veggies and healthy whole grain sides, but meat is the main dish or the featured ingredient in our dinners most of the time.
Unfortunately, meat isn’t cheap.
What about you?
Does most of your grocery budget go toward meat?
Is meat the most expensive ingredient in your favorite recipes?
The answer to both questions is a definite yes for our family. So I’m always looking for ways to save money on meat.
I’ve made some very expensive mistakes along the way.
I used to buy pre-cubed stew meat and frozen fish sticks for convenience.
I’ve paid nearly twice as much for pork chops as I should have because I didn’t bother to shop around.
I once let freezer burn ruin some tasty cuts I got at a bargain price.
My grandmother would be super upset with me for wasting food and for wasting money, but it’s not all bad. I’ve learned some things the hard way and put together a little playbook for spending less on meat that I’m sure my nana would appreciate.
Here’s how you can save money on meat for yourself and your family:
This tip applies to saving money on groceries in general, but since meat makes up such a large percentage of our food budgets it’s especially important to put into practice when buying meat.
It seems pretty obvious that if you want to save money on meat, you should do what’s best for your bank balance and avoid buying meat that isn’t on sale. But that’s not how most people shop.
If the meat a recipe calls for is not available at a discounted price, most people buy it anyway. Cravings and impulses often win out over sensible shopping.
But wouldn’t it make more sense to go with a different recipe? Perhaps one that uses meat that’s available for a lower than normal price? You’d trim your grocery spending that way.
To start saving money on meat right away, check out your local grocery store flyers and plan your meat dishes based on what’s on sale. If your meal plan is centered around your favorite cuts of meat, some new recipes you want to try, or whatever it is you feel like eating in the moment, you’re probably going to pay full price for most if not all of what’s on your shopping list.
Paying full price is not in your best interests when you’re trying to save money on meat. And it’s entirely possible to make delicious, healthy meals without paying top dollar.
Do you know a good deal on chicken breasts or ground beef when you see one? If not, start keeping a price book at least until you get familiar with meat prices in your area. You can save a lot of money just by being aware of how much meat usually costs in your area.
Keep a grocery price book and start logging the price per pound on the meat you buy most often. Record where you got it and when you bought it. Ask meat department employees at your local supermarkets about sales and prices then write down what you find out in your price book.
Log prices consistently and soon you’ll be able to spot pricing trends, anticipate sales, and set target prices. Before long, you’ll know when and where to buy, when a seemingly good price can be beat, and when to stock up all without looking at your price book.
You won’t find coupons or rebates for meat very often, but they do exist. The meat coupons and rebate offers you do find are usually for bacon, sausage, and processed or prepared meats, but you’ll find some gems particularly around the holidays.
Check the usual sources like the coupon inserts that come with the Sunday paper. Supermarket flyers often contain coupons as well.
Some companies offer printable coupons right on their website. Others might email or snail mail them to you if you sign up for their newsletter or contact them through their site. Butterball and Jennie-O post coupons on their sites. For more, check out my list of companies to contact for free coupons.
Grocery rebate apps like Ibotta and Checkout 51 will have a cash back offer or two going on meat just about every week. If you’re not using these apps to save money on groceries, you should give them a try. You just download the app to your smartphone, purchase certain products, and scan your receipts to get cash back.
The major holidays are the best time to load up your freezer with turkey and ham. You’ll find the lowest prices leading up to and just after Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.
If you can wait until the week after the holidays, you can take advantage of additional markdowns on leftovers. Availability and selection can be limited post holidays, but check anyway. After holiday prices on excess inventory might make stocking up worthwhile if you don’t mind eating turkey and ham outside of the holiday season or you want to get next year’s main course super cheap and you have the freezer space.
You can store a frozen turkey for up to 2 years according to Butterball. I’ve never personally gone past 1, but stockpiling at the lowest possible price is a smart way to save money on meat.
Buying lunchmeat at the deli counter is an expensive proposition. You can easily spend in the neighborhood of $8 to $11 per pound for store brand sliced ham or turkey.
Right now at my closest supermarket deli, the store brand honey ham is selling for $8.79 a pound. The premium brand is $10.99 per pound. That’s just way too much for lunchmeat as far as I’m concerned.
Avoiding the deli is a good way to save money on meat, but what if you need something quick and convenient for sandwiches?
The good news is that I can stroll over to the meat department and get a big hunk or “chub” of ready to eat honey ham for far cheaper, on sale for $2.49 a pound. It really doesn’t make sense to pay so much more for sandwich meat from the deli.
Some stores will even slice the meat for you free of charge, but it’s probably going to be hit or miss. In my area, most grocery stores won’t do it. If the right person is working at the store I frequent most often and it’s not busy, I can get it sliced for me.
Make sure they don’t throw out the ends if you do manage to get the chub sliced for you. You can chop up the ends to use in soups, salads, omelets, and other recipes.
I’ve gotten a strange look or two from the folks behind the deli counter and from other customers when asking to get my chub sliced. I’ve also had cashiers asking me what happened to my meat at checkout time.
It’s something they don’t see every day so you might have some explaining to do. You’re not pulling some sort of scam so don’t feel weird.
Slicing it at home yourself is always an option as well. Getting uniform deli thin slices with a kitchen knife is going to be a challenge, though.
If you currently buy a lot of lunch meat at the deli counter, you’ll save a good bit of money buying chubs of ham, turkey breast, and other meats. The money you save can go toward a home food slicer.
You can pick up a good quality food slicer at Amazon for under $100. Just don’t buy one unless you’re sure you’ll be using it often. We use ours for homemade bread and cheese as well as meat.
Look for markdowns. Packages of meat often get their prices slashed as the sell by date nears.
If you’re able to cook it the day you buy it or by the date on the package, you can save a few bucks. Getting it home and freezing it right away is also an option. Just don’t let it sit in your fridge very long.
You also need to look at more than just the price tag. Before you put that heavily marked down package in your shopping cart, check for signs of spoilage like discoloration, foul smells, slime, or an excessive amount of blood or liquid that could harbor bacteria. Trust your eyes and your nose.
Stick to less expensive cuts instead of the popular premium cuts. It seems obvious that to save money on meat you should pass on the sexier cuts like Porterhouse, rib eye, center cut pork chops, and boneless, skinless chicken breast.
You might think that cheap cuts result in bad meals, but it’s just not true. You can tenderize, marinate, roast, braise, or slow cook cheaper cuts to create tender, flavorful meat. There’s no need to spend a fortune to get a great meal.
You don’t have to be a professional chef either. I’m not very creative in the kitchen and my skills are average at best. Until fairly recently, I had no idea what braising was.
But I can follow a recipe. I’m also willing to step outside my comfort zone every now and then. That’s just about all it takes to save money on meat with cheaper cuts or cuts you’ve never tried.
This goes hand in hand with buying cheaper cuts, but look to the leaner meats first as well. Sure the tastiest cuts are usually the ones with more fat on them, but they’re also usually the most expensive. You can find delicious recipes for meats like London broil and pork shoulder so you don’t have to sacrifice taste to save money on meat.
Sometimes, leaner cuts don’t have the cheapest sticker price, but they can be a better value. Fattier cuts cook down more. Depending on the type of meat and the cut, you might be looking at a cooked yield 15-40 percent less than the raw weight.
So that cheaper 70% lean ground beef might cost a little less than the 93% up front, but you could end up with less meat after cooking. The leaner stuff will often net you more for your money.
You might not have the need or the freezer space to buy meat from a farmer or a wholesale distributor. That doesn’t mean you can’t buy in bulk to save money on meat, however. You can buy meat in larger quantities at good prices from warehouse clubs or supermarkets just on a smaller scale.
Warehouse clubs can be a great source of meat bargains. My local warehouse club sometimes has the best price around on chicken thighs and lean ground beef. Their price hovers around or below local supermarket sale prices and their quality is pretty high. I have to buy 8 or 10 pounds at a time at the warehouse club, but as long as the price per pound is right and I have enough freezer space available I’ll get meats there on occasion.
At the supermarket, family size packages almost always cost less per pound than smaller packages. The difference usually works out to somewhere between 50 and 75 cents per pound when you buy 3 pounds or more where I live. You can always get it home and divide it into smaller portions for cooking or freezing.
If you check current prices against your price book and you spot a price at the low point, stock up if you can. If you don’t have the space available for stockpiling, at least opt for the heavier package. Buy the 5-pound pack instead of the 4 pounder. The savings on an extra pound or two won’t be that much, but they add up.
Meat wholesalers sell primarily to grocery stores and restaurants. Most will sell to the public as well. You can get quality meats guaranteed to be priced lower than your supermarket since there’s no retail markup involved.
My husband used to play softball on Saturdays with Jeff the Butcher. He co-owned a wholesale meat distribution business.
We could buy enough meat from him to last a few months for around $200. Those were friend prices, but your money goes a lot further at a wholesaler than it does at a grocery store.
To find a wholesaler near you, click on your state here: Directory of Wholesale Meat Suppliers.
Call and ask about selling direct to consumers, prices, purchase minimums if any, and business hours. Since these places mainly serve other businesses that have to load up before their first customer arrives, they’re usually only open from early in the morning until mid afternoon or so.
If you go, bring a jacket. These places are built for meat storage, not for a comfortable shopping experience. You’ll basically be walking into a giant meat locker. You want to have a cooler in your car for the ride home as well.
The ultimate bulk meat purchase would be to buy a whole cow or pig. The amount of meat you get depends on the weight of the animal so how much meat you get varies.
For a whole cow, you’re looking at around 400 pounds of beef give or take after butchering. For a whole pig, you’ll get about 125 to 150 pounds of pork.
But is it cheaper to buy a whole cow or pig? With a whole cow, you’ll save money on your ribs, roasts, and steaks. Ground beef probably not so much with the wide availability of sale priced ground beef at grocery stores.
The meat you get directly from a farm is usually much higher quality than the shrink-wrapped kind you get at big box supermarkets, though. Plus, you get to support your local farmers.
Up front cost is the biggest downside. A whole cow will cost you around $2,000 to $2,500, including butchering, packaging, and other fees. You can lower that by cow pooling, or splitting the cost and the meat with a few other families. If you ask around, you may find a farmer willing to sell you a side of beef (half a cow) or less.
Freezer space is also an issue. The freezer compartment of your refrigerator obviously isn’t going to cut it. You’re going to need a dedicated freezer.
There are plenty of chest freezers available at all different price points and sizes. If you don’t have one, you’re probably looking at an additional $300 or so for one big enough to store that much meat. Check the prices on chest freezers at Amazon and compare against local places like Lowe’s or Home Depot.
Once in a while, a great deal comes along. It’s such a bargain that it makes sense to load up. But it’s no bargain if your meat spoils, gets freezer burnt, or otherwise goes to waste.
If you’re buying meat in bulk, whether it’s from a farmer, distributor, warehouse club, or supermarket, repacking and freezing is probably in your future.
The goal is the same whether you buy a whole pig from a farmer or a heavily discounted family pack of chops from a grocery store. You want your meat to be as good on the day you take it out of the freezer as it was on the day you bought it.
Depending on how the meat is delivered, you also might need to repackage and label it yourself for longer term storage. You might get your meat wrapped only in butcher paper. You don’t want to end up with 100 pounds or more of freezer burned meat.
The key to packaging meat for the freezer and protecting against freezer burn is to prevent your meat from being exposed to air. If you have a vacuum sealer, it’s the best way to go. You can pick up an entry level model at Amazon for short money or something sturdier like the FoodSaver v4440 if you know you’ll use it a lot.
Pro tip: make sure you use high quality bags with your vacuum sealer. Having to double seal cheapo bags is a waste of your time. Having packages pop open in the freezer is even worse.
Try to keep the meat as flat as possible in the bag as well. Flat packages are easier to store and they thaw quicker.
If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, you can use a combination of plastic wrap, freezer paper, and zip top freezer bags. Before I got my FoodSaver, I would wrap meat tightly with plastic wrap then toss it a freezer bag, removing as much air as possible from the bag before zipping.
That might sound like a bit much, but I think that’s the best and easiest way without vacuum sealing. You could go with plastic wrap and freezer paper, or freezer paper and freezer bags. You really need tape when you use freezer paper, which takes too long for my liking.
Look for sales on boneless chuck roast and grind the meat yourself instead of purchasing ground beef. You’ll get fresh ground beef at a much reduced price.
To grind it yourself, you can use a meat grinder, a stand mixer with a grinder attachment, a food processor, or a sharp chef’s knife and a lot of patience.
If you don’t have a food grinder, it might be worth the investment. You can use it for cheese, nuts, and other stuff in addition to meat. If you’re on a tight budget, you can go with a hand crank model like this top rated one or if you have a bit more to spend you can get a highly rated value priced electric model like this one.
Jerry, who is the CEO of chili and hamburgers in our house, swears up and down that beef freshly ground at home is a million times better than anything you get at the supermarket. I mostly like it because it’s cheap and it gives Jerry a sense of purpose in the kitchen.
You can stretch your ground beef and your dollars by mixing cheap filler ingredients like bread crumbs, oats, rice, chopped mushrooms, or beans with the meat before you cook it. A half cup to a full cup of filler per pound is enough to make your ground beef go further. You can use less if you’re worried about your family protesting or altering the taste and texture of the finished dish too much.
Try it with hamburger patties, meatballs, meatloaf, or taco meat. You’ll increase the nutrient and fiber content of your meals, cut down on fat, and get more servings per pound.
You can always simply use less meat than a recipe calls for as well. If a recipe calls for a pound of ground beef, try cutting it down to three quarters or half a pound. Instead of 4 chicken breasts, use 3 or try 2 cut in half.
I’ve done this plenty of times with meatballs and meatloaf without getting any complaints from my family. I’m pretty sure they didn’t even notice. Give it a try and if no one says anything, stick with the revised, less meaty version.
Any time you buy marinated, stuffed, or portioned meats, you’re probably overpaying for what you’re getting. Premade hamburger patties are very convenient, but convenience comes at a steep price. It’s just not worth it if you’re on a budget.
A box of plain hamburger patties would cost me anywhere between 15 and 30 percent more per pound than fresh ground beef where I live.
Those “portion control” bags of individually packaged chicken breasts cost about 2 dollars a pound more than the Styrofoam trays of boneless, skinless chicken breasts sitting right next to them. Jim Perdue is not the boss of you. Don’t let him tell you how much chicken to eat.
You can exercise portion control on your own for free. And there’s nothing stopping you from cooking one chicken breast at a time if it pleases you. Skip the wildly unnecessary packaging and the higher cost per pound that goes with it.
During grilling season, I often see packages of “ready for the grill” prefabricated kabobs. These kits usually consist of a couple of wooden skewers with 2 or 3 little chunks of raw meat, cherry tomatoes, bite size onion slices, and small green pepper pieces for each kabob. You pay premium meat prices plus a convenience fee for sticks with mostly vegetables and not much meat.
Pick up a family pack of sirloin instead. Buy some veggies on sale and grab some skewers if you don’t have any. Kabob all you want for much less.
Cutting a whole roast into steaks is cheaper than buying steaks pre-cut. If you can wait for a sale on rib roast, sirloin tip roast, chuck roast, or tenderloin roast, you can get some nice steaks out of it for a much nicer price than the pre-cut steaks. You can use any leftover trimmings for stir fries or stews.
The same is true of boneless, skinless, or thin sliced chicken parts. A whole chicken or parts with the skin and bones intact will be cheaper since the work isn’t done for you.
Butchering at home isn’t for everyone, though. I hate touching raw meat, especially chicken. I have horrible visions of squirting salmonella laced chicken juice all over my kitchen. But I hate overspending on meat way more.
So I learned a few things about cutting and carving through a combination of the book Whole Beast Butchery and YouTube videos like this one on spatchcocking a chicken. I also ask my local butcher a lot of questions.
I’m not ready to switch careers or anything, but I feel reasonably confident in my meat trimming and deboning abilities. I also get bones and scraps for broth, stock, and other recipes when I cut up large roasts and whole chickens myself.
Venture in to smaller international grocery stores and discount stores like Aldi or Save-A-Lot to check their prices on meat. You might be surprised at what you find.
I live in a diverse area. The Asian chain H-Mart has a couple of locations near me and there are smaller, mom and pop ethnic markets that have great prices on meat, produce, and items you won’t see in conventional grocery stores. Don’t be afraid to look around and compare.
Aldi and Sprouts usually have the lowest regular prices on meat near me. Sprouts is a little farther away than I’d like, but I do go once in a while. I like to use their prices and sometimes Aldi’s as a starting point for comparing deals at other stores.
Supermarket meat departments have been killing corner butcher shops for years, but good butcher shops are still out there. An experienced butcher is a great ally to have when you’re looking to save money on meat.
A good butcher can recommend cheaper cuts to try, advise you on meat swaps for recipes, and explain cooking techniques. Your butcher might also be able to help you with wholesale options or put you directly in touch with a rancher.
I have a small family run butcher shop pretty close to me. The shop has thrived for over 30 years despite being hard to find, having limited parking, and being located a stone’s throw away from a Walmart Supercenter, an Aldi, and a couple of big chain supermarkets. Sure their prices are good and the quality of their products is exceptional, but what really makes them successful is the extremely knowledgeable and helpful people behind the counter.
I’ve gone to my butcher with recipes in hand and asked for help replacing pricey meat ingredients with cheaper ones. I learned about the awesomeness that is the Jaccard Supertendermatic 48-Blade Tenderizer, which does an amazing job of making less expensive cuts more tender. I’ve also discovered less costly, flavorful cuts like the Merlot steak, flap meat, and Chuck Eye I probably never would have tried if I stuck exclusively to supermarket meat departments.
I can buy a chuck roast at the butcher shop for a good price and have them trim it into steaks for me. They also sell a few different “family packs” consisting of a few pounds of various meats at per pound prices that are usually lower than nearby grocery stores.
I can’t say exactly how much money I’ve saved on meat by visiting my local butcher. Between cheaper steaks, swapping expensive cuts for cheaper cuts in recipes, and buying in bulk during grilling season, I’m quite sure my savings would add up to several hundred dollars since I’ve been going there.
Need a ham bone for soup, stew, or our New Year’s Day favorite here in the south, Hoppin’ John? You don’t have to buy a whole ham if you don’t want to.
HoneyBaked Ham stores will sell you a ham bone pretty cheap. Their ham bones usually have so much ham on them you can make a sandwich or two or use the extra meat in a recipe. Find a store near you here.
HoneyBaked Ham has 42 stores in Georgia where I live, but if you don’t have one near you, call your local full service grocery store and ask to be connected with the meat department. Check if they have any ham bones available for purchase.
Eating less of it is a surefire way to save money on meat. You can eat less meat without making radical lifestyle changes or depriving yourself of the foods you enjoy. The savings add up with just a few small tweaks.
The USDA recommends no more than 6oz of meat per day for the sedentary middle aged male (Hi Honey!). Say what you will about the wisdom of USDA recommendations, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say we tend to overdo it with our meat consumption. I often see recipes or recommendations for feeding guests that have you buying between 8 and 12 ounces of meat per person for a single dish or meal.
Portion control is the simplest way to eat less meat. Try keeping portions between 3 and 6 ounces. Fill up the rest of your plate with veggies or other delicious sides and you really won’t miss it.
Avoid cuts like thick chops or T-bones which are usually over sized and intended to be 1 serving. Split them into multiple portions or opt for roasts, flank steaks, or other cuts where you can easily control the portion size.
If you want to go the extra mile toward cutting down your meat consumption, consider having one or two meatless dinners per week. There are plenty of great vegetarian and vegan recipes for main dishes and sides available online. I’m sure you can find a few that suit you without too much effort.
You could also participate in Meatless Monday. Meatless Monday is a global movement that encourages people to reduce their meat consumption one day a week. Doing so could result in a healthier you, a healthier environment, and a healthier bank account. You can learn more about Meatless Mondays and find support, inspiration, and recipes here.
Saving money on meat can significantly lower your grocery spending. You don’t have to give up meat entirely or abandon all your favorite recipes. By being just a little bit more aware than the average shopper and slightly more adventurous than the average home cook, you can easily save money on meat.