journal, thrift kitchen

Thrift Kitchen: Classing up Cheap Meat

Each Thursday I post about ways to be thrifty in the kitchen. To me, it isn’t just about being cheap, it’s about living creatively!
*This is a pretty meat filled post, if you a vegetarian/vegan, skip to the bottom to get a great marinade recipe I use for everything from steak to tofu.*


Meat is expensive stuff. The difference in my grocery bill from when I was a strict vegetarian to now is huge. But I have to admit, I do love  meat. And part of that love is my lack of interest in eating crappy meat. I don’t eat a steak that often, but when I do, I want it to taste AMAZING!

A quick tangent here: I was vegetarian for a long time and went back to eating like an omnivore because I just straight up missed it, even after years without meat. Now I’m happily keeping it in side dish status while keeping my meals focused on all the other food groups. Recently, I’ve been taken with the idea of eating clean. Okay, tangent done.

The best hunk of meat for the best price

Almost Expired

If you have room in your freezer, this is one of the best ways to get really good meat for really cheap. Just toss it in the freezer as soon as you get home and eat it the day you thaw it and you will be a-okay. Sometimes they are marked down as much as 50%.

Hot Deals

At our local grocery store, Hy-Vee, they have “hot deals” in the weekly ads (they come out on Wednesday). Usually they mark one type of meat down super cheap to draw customers in. Like pork tenderloin for 99 cents a pound or a whole roasting chicken for just $3.Usually they have these deals on their website too, so check that out while mapping out your meal plan and pick recipes around it.

Whole vs. Boneless Skinless

While boneless/skinless chicken breast are quick, easy, and low fat, buying the whole chicken and quartering it yourself can save you a bit of cash. I often find the quality is a little nicer too. And then you have the back, giblets, and bones to make a nice homemade broth (I freeze them until I need them).

I recently fell back in love with the Frugal Gourmet. He was all about shaving every penny off meal costs while making sure to keep it delicious and classy. I watched his whole segment on chicken on YouTube. In part one, he shows you how you can save loads per pound. {he mentions a 13 cent saving per pound, but now it’s more around 90 cents per pound in savings}

Buy the farm–or the cow

If you have a deep freeze, buying a quarter cow can save you a load of cash over the course of a year. We have friends who do this and next year we are looking forward to getting a 1/4 cow of our own. You can usually select how much you want ground or cut into steaks.  It’s usually a lot higher quality, and in our case, we actually get to meet the cow that we will be eating if we want–I like that. It’s like getting to thank them for giving me a year of meals.

Strain it

Ground beef in the 85% lean range is most often on sale. If you are like me and don’t want that extra fat, no worries. Simply cook it like usual, pour off the fat, transfer to a towel lined plate and pat off the remaining grease. Toss back into the pan and do whatever you were going to do.

If you want to make burgers with it, cook it on a grill or a griddle pan so the meat is raised and the grease drips off.


{image from wikicommons}

Dice it up

Cheap cuts of meat can often be “saved” by chopping up and adding to a sauce dish or stew (the term “stew meat” usually refers to crap meat chopped up). The long low temp cook time helps soften it up and make it more tasty and tender while infusing it with delicious flavors.

Tenderizing Tough Pieces

A lot of affordable cuts are pretty tough and chewy. There is nothing worse than tough meat. There is the little shaker of tenderizer you can get.

But my preferred tenderizing method is to:

A) Beat the crap out of it with a rolling pin Martha Stewart style.

B) Marinade it for hours.

C) Both!

I like option A for thick cuts of beef and pork and chicken breasts in general–especially if I want to make a grilled sandwich with the chicken breasts. This is what I do:

  1. Put it in a plastic bag.

  2. Beat it.

  3. Cut into “serving” sizes. It’s like beating it actually made it more servings. When you think about it though, chicken is good in about 3 ounce portions and chicken breasts are around 6-8oz each.

Marinade is a great way to infuse flavor and tenderize a stiff cut. The longer you let it soak the better. I’ll often pull out my meat from the freezer the night before and whip up the marinade in the morning and let it soak until dinner. Then I use the remaining marinade to make a tasty sauce–just make sure to bring it to a boil to kill any raw meat bacteria buddies.

My favorite super easy marinade for pretty much everything



  • Olive Oil

  • Apple Cider Vinegar

  • Liquid Smoke

  • Paprika

  • Chili Powder

  • Salt and Pepper

  • Garlic Powder

  • Onion Powder


  1. Put your meat in a cake pan and drizzle the olive oil over the meat.

  2. Add a few shakes of Apple Cider Vinegar.

  3. Add 3 drops of Liquid Smoke to each piece of meat and rub it around a bit with a brush.

  4. Shake, shake, shake on the remaining dry ingredients.

  5. Flip over and add a few shakes of each dry ingredient to the other side — the vinegar and oil will have slopped around to the back side.

  6. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to cook. Whether on the grill, sauteed, baked, all are delicious.


Serve with a salad of fresh greens, some of my favorite homestyle bread, or the lastest veggies from the farmers market (roasted is delicious!).

If you want a little sauce, pour the marinade into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and whisk in a 1/2 Tablespoon of flour to thicken it up. If you don’t have a whole lot of marinade, add a 1/2 cup water to the mix to keep if from scorching.

What’s your favorite way to class up cheap meat? Or how do save money when picking out favorite cuts for your carnivorous craving?

Happy cooking and thrifting in the kitchen!
Kristin Roach