Monday, July 12, 2010

Cheap Bastid Buys Meat Cheap

Over the last year or so, Cheap Bastid has shared a number of recipes and cooking ideas that do two things—reduce your grocery expenses and help you make tasty, nutritious meals. And, you know what? Once you get into the “Cheap Bastid Way”, it becomes almost like a sport.

Many is the time when Cheap Bastid has written about cuts of meat, and what I try to keep stocked in the freezer. I’m always looking for the best deal, waiting for meats to come on sale and then stocking up. It’s a rare occasion indeed when Cheap Bastid will pay more than $2 a pound for meat. Now sometimes that limits me a bit but 90% of the time it’s easy and with but a tiny bit of creativity you can feed a family really, really well.

Cheap Bastid's freezer. And yes, it's organized. Kinda.

This isn’t anything new. Shows like Top Chef have conditioned us to shop at places like “Whole Foods” with almost unlimited “foodie” budgets. But that’s not the case with most of us. We have to follow Gunny Highway’s mantra of “improvise, adapt, overcome”. And there’s one really easy way to do it. Do just a little bit of planning for what you stock up on and what you’re going to cook. Heading home after work with no idea of what you’re going to have for dinner is the surest way to kill your food and family budget. Spending a few minutes a day or per week planning some meals means that you spend less and eat better.

We have to look at the weekly specials closely and sometimes take a pass on an item until it’s at a cheaper price. And that’s getting tougher because this year, prices have been going up. Our favorite bacon at Stater Brothers has gone from $1.99 a pound to $2.99 a pound (all the other bacons have gone up to $3.49-$3.99). That means that we’re eating less bacon—and that’s a “sacrifice” because we love bacon.

So today, let me just show you how I go about shopping for just a few meat items. Maybe you’ll pick up an idea and maybe you can give me an idea or two or maybe you’ll think I’m full of crap. That’s OK, you’re still reading aren’t you?

Let’s start with pork. We love pork loin chops. But, their price has increased this year too. Now, the least I can find them is $2.89 a pound and that’s stretching the limit even though they’re pure meat and leaner than most beef. Plus grilled to a perfect well—cooked through and juicy—I’d just as soon eat one of these as a steak. So, recently pork loin roast was on special at the grocery store—it was $2.49/lb. So I bought 2. One to cook as a roast and the other to slice into chops. At the time, pork loin chops were $3.29/lb.

Like anything, it’s pretty simple as long as you’re willing to spend just a few minutes when you get home repackaging. I took one of the roasts out of its shrink wrap, got out my meat cutting board and a sharp knife and it took me all of 1 minute to slice the roast into nice 1 ¼ to 1 ½ inch thick chops. Then I put them into smaller freezer bags and popped them in the freezer.

And that’s kind of my theme throughout this piece—spend just a few minutes when you get home prepping the meat you’ve bought into family sized servings. Plus we also like to individually wrap a couple of chops in plastic wrap because sometimes there’s 3 of us for dinner and we can just take out an extra or sometimes we want to do something like pork fried rice and one chop is more than enough to make fried rice for 4.

Cheap Bastid loves beef. But I can’t afford my favorite cuts anymore—cuts like New York strip and flank steak. They’ve gotten just too expensive for my wallet. I love tri-tip and wait for it to come on special, then buy a couple of them. Otherwise, I buy a lot of bottom round (sometimes called London Broil) and sirloin when it’s on special for $1.99/lb.

Ground Beef. Now, my grocery store will grind meat for free. So when bottom round or boneless chuck or sirloin is on special I’ll buy a package and have it ground up. That accomplishes a couple of things. One, is that I spend a lot less even on ground beef. Bottom round is about 95% lean. I buy it for $1.99/lb. Ground 95% lean beef is usually about $4/lb. Ground chuck is about 85% lean and is the tastiest but I spend $1.99 rather than $2.99 or more already ground up.

When I get home I repackage it into meal size bags. Now here’s another trick that I pull on myself. I make 4 packages out of 3 pounds of ground beef. That means that each package is about 12 ounces. So we trick ourselves into using ¾ pound rather than 1 lb. We eat less and spend less and get the same benefit. Besides, a 6 ounce hamburger patty is enough. You don’t need a half pound patty.

Last Friday, I bought 2 London Broils. I had one ground and the other left whole. I’ll use the whole one to make 3 totally different meals for my wife and me. That’s 3 dinners for 2 for a total of $6 for meat.

As for steak—you can do all kinds of good things with sirloin. I’ll buy a 3 or 4 lb. package and divide it into 2 major meals on the grill or use it in any number of different ways and have lots of left over meat that I can use for hash or put into fried rice or slice thin for sandwiches. It’s not going to go to waste. Right now I have a grilled half pound left-over chunk in the freezer which will soon be turned into either “Grish” or fried rice.

So there’s no recipe today. Just a little “practicum” on how Cheap Bastid tries to stretch the food budget. But there’s lots of recipes and there’s also your creativity. The economy still sucks and it’s going to be a while before things start to get better. Lots of people are unemployed. And that’s why Cheap Bastid pounds the food pulpit.

You can eat good. You can eat frugally. You can do both with just a bit of planning, and a bit of common sense. And then you can also do what we do, put your feet up on the coffee table, balance your plate with shredded BBQ beef or pork sandwiches and homemade oven fries that you cooked yourself for about $3 for 2 people and watch the “action” on “Top Chef” or “Next FoodTV Star”. And feel smug because you’re smart, thrifty and eating good.

Because, that’s the Cheap Bastid Way:

Eat Good. Eat Cheap. Be Grateful

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