How to Save Money on Meat
You can save big money, even on the higher quality meat, if you are intentional with your spending and are strategic with your timing.
This post is part of a series on How to Save Money on Real Food where we cover how to save money on meat, produce, grains, and dairy.
Meat can take up a bunch of your grocery budget if you’re not careful. There are ways to save money on meat, but it does get a bit tricky as we all have a standard of quality when it comes to meat.
There are many factors to consider when figuring out how to get the best deal on the quality of meat we desire that will effect how much we pay: how the animal is raised, what the animal ate, how it was treated, how far the meat had to travel, how it was butchered, etc. Depending on your particular standards, these tips may or may not work for you.
Here are some ways to save money buying meat:
Look for clearanced meat.
Most stores will mark down meat when the pull-date is approaching. Safeway will mark a package down first by 30% then move it to 50% off. You hit the jackpot when you find meat that is already on a loss-leader sale and marked down by 50%. Freeze it in meal-sized portions.
Use all the butcher’s services.
There’s an advantage to buying meat from the top-shelf grocery stores as their butchers are actually knowledgeable about meat and provide extra complimentary services for you. Albertsons will marinate your meat for you. Butchers can give you tips on how to best cook a certain cut, especially if you’re unfamiliar with it. Some will package the meat into meal sized portions for you so you don’t have to pay for the Ziploc bags yourself.
Buy cuts and varieties that you are confident that you can prepare.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve purchased a deeply discounted piece of meat that I was totally unfamiliar with. After months (or maybe a year) of looking at it in the freezer and feeling guilty that I hadn’t cooked it, I just threw it away. Even super-cheap meat is a waste of money if you don’t actually consume it.
Save up and buy a portion of a cow from a local farmer.
This is really the most economical way to purchase local, grass-fed (pastured) beef. You can find farmers on craigslist or Eat Wild.
Wait for grocery store loss-leader sales and stock up.
The best way to save on meat is to jump on a big grocery store sale and fill your freezer. Start by saving $30-$40 a month and put it in a “meat” envelope so you are prepared the next time the sale rolls around.
If you buy meat from conventional grocery stores, it is probably worth your time to keep track of the lowest prices on the cuts and varieties you most eat. If you know that you can regularly get ground beef for $2.99/lb, then you will know to get to the store when it goes on sale for less than that.
Replace meat with high-protein legumes or eggs.
This is one area in which I have absolutely no experience as beans make me wretch, but I do know that legumes are way cheaper than meat and probably more healthful than most meat options out there. Read through our big All About Beans page here.
Same with eggs. I can make a hearty egg dish for my family with a dozen or so eggs, which on sale is right around $1. I can’t get anywhere near $1 for a dinner’s worth of meat protein.
Challenge yourself to “go meatless” 1-2 nights a week. Find some delicious vegetarian recipes here.
Find more ways to saving money on real food here.
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Also be careful that some stores (like Walmart) inject their meat with a lot of water. If you want an example of this buy 4 lbs of chicken thighs and put them in a crockpot without adding water. Cook until meat is done and you will end up with a crockpot full of water, 1 lb meat (maybe) and the skin (I did this). Their beef is the same way, I never buy my meat there no matter the price.
How many of you have a nice Kitchen Made mixer that has the grinder attachment? I use mine to make my own lean ground beef by buying round steak when it’s on sale and grind my own. Simple, easy and I control the fat content for a lot cheaper than buying the “lean” from the grocery store.
I often use the Morningstar Farms meal starters “crumbles” in place of ground beef when making tacos, chili, and adding to spaghetti sauce. Its in the freezer section with gardenburgers, etc. and is often on sale or with coupon for $1.99 a bag. One bag is equivalent to about 1 lb of beef. Their chick patties are also good and my kids eat them on hamburger buns. Might be worth a try….they currently have a $1.00 off coupon on their website. Tip on the crumbles…don’t overcook, they tend to not stay too crumbly if you do!
My hubby and I find very lean ground beef for $1.79/lb at Winco once in awhile and buy all they have on the “shelf”. I come home re-wrap and seal a meal it in 1 1/2 lb pks and freeze it for later use. My daughter also keeps an eye on Thriftway ads since they run chicken deals as low a .99/lb for skinless, boneless breasts with no limit at either one of these stores.
Glad I have a freezer for this extra when it is reasonably priced.
This is a great post. I love to eat meat but no nothing about buying it or cooking it. I know nothing about the various cuts and what they should be priced at. Thank you for this post.
If you are interested in learning how to cook dried beans, this website is really great. http://www.cookforgood.com
We started doing this about a year ago, mainly to save money. I almost can’t bring myself to buy meat because black beans go on sale for $0.78 a pound and I stock up.
Thank you for posting this. It looks like a great website! Now how to get my husband to eat beans??? I’ve cut way back on meat and used a lot more Tillamook cheese that I stocked up on for 3.99/ 2lbs a few weeks ago, and more eggs from our chickens. But haven’t tried giving him beans yet.
And just to clarify, I’m not saying I’m picky about only buying “free range”, but there is a definite cost difference, and I was just hoping to compare apples to apples.
I accidentally posted this on your New Season’s Anniversary post…here it is again:
I have a question…is the chicken(at New Seasons) “free range”? Because, I went to Gartner’s Meat Market last week for the first time and was pleasantly surprised at the prices on some things.
Their boneless skinless chicken breast is $3.99 a pound. I asked the guy where they came from and he said that they are from a local farm, fed a vegetarian diet and such. The only thing is that they aren’t “free range”.
The really great deal was ground white chicken meat for $1.50 a pound. WOW!!
I’m just starting to try to buy more naturally and all that jazz, so I was stoked to find this.
I read somewhere that the term “free range” only means that the animals have access to an outside area for an un-specified time every day. The way the article made it sound was as if they could literally roam around outside for maybe 5 minutes a day and be classified as “free range.” I think with meats the most important factor is that they have no added hormones or antibiotics.
I heard the same thing from a farmer’s website. He says that in order to call the chickens free range they have to have access to the outside world. In other words, they are in a henhouse shoulder to shoulder with other birds and all the farmer has to do is open the pen door offering them access to the outside and whether or not they take it is up to the chickens which they most often don’t.
Organic beef has a similar story. Cows have to be allowed 1 day in 3 of their lives outside. Which means when they are born they can inside for 8 months with their mothers and 4 months on a feedlot outside and the rules have been met.
How crazy is this they get their 1 in 3 days all at once, come on talk about cheating and people pay extra for organic:(
I just wanted to say, great post/series! We stocked up on chicken at the New Seasons sale a couple months back. We don’t eat much red meat, but are buying a lamb from a farmer this year. My husband is a die hard fisherman, so we are pretty much stocked year round on seafood from that. He actually has his commercial lisense and sells the extra during fishing season.
I just put 1/2 a pig in my freezer this weekend. I have another 1/2 coming in July and about 20 meat chickens as well. We don’t eat alot of red meat so I buy what we do consume of that on sale. We’re fortunate enough to live in a rural area so our friends raise the pigs and chickens. We know we’re getting healthy, fresh meats because they serve them up to their own families. I always suggest finding someone local that raises them for their own table as well.
Next year I’m yearning to add a couple of goats to my own “farm”. Who knows, maybe goat cheese or yogurt is in my future!
Tilla Ham says
i wish i could be a 100% veggie girl, but i crave the beef. recently i was so excited at safeway to get 4 large t bones, 2 packages of thin sliced steaks for stir fries or sandwhiches, and a 3 pound package of 7% ground beef for 14 dollars after sales and coupons. our main meat source is the 10 pound bags of foster farms chicken breasts for 19.99 at costco
I just need to put this out there — if you haven’t watch Food Inc., you probably should. I think once you do, you’ll realize that the QUALITY of your meat is much more important than the price of it because you can’t put a price tag on your health and the health of your children. As a single mother of two (very rapidly growing boys), I only shop at Coscto, Trader Joes or local butcher for meat. Coscto has good value and known to be one of the cleanest butchers in the country and our local butcher because it’s all organic and Trader Joes for the same reasons plus utterly deliciously marinaded meats that taste like heaven on the grill. Both are very important to me. So, how my family saves money is we aren’t wasteful…we only make what we know we will eat and DO eat our leftovers (because they taste so fabulous, how could we not). And, we substitute meat with beans at times… to help off set some of the costs. Overall, we eat healthier, feel healthy and are treating our bodies (and animals) with the respect they deserve.
I didn’t know Costco was one of the cleanest butchers in the country, good to know, thanks!
Do you know where you read that? Thanks.
I buy whole chickens at QFC for about .79/lbs. This is the Draper Valley brand which is pretty good. I’ve noticed that it goes on sale about every other month.
And a recommendation for fresh fish/salmon, consider spending a weekend at on the oregon coast and go salmon fishing, you buy your license which is under $50 and can catch lots of salmon. (I don’t remember exacly how many per person/per day but I think it was 6 last year) My inlaws went to Newport last year and brought back plenty of salmon for themselves, us and others… we still have a few fillets vaccum packed in our freezer.
I too buy my beef local, central oregon, 1/2 a beef a year, price can be steep all at once but comes to about 3.80/ lb, I highly highly recommend it! It’s local, grass fed, leaner and you know what you’re getting. Plus you can pick and choose your cuts. It is so nice to step into your garage freezer and have oodles of beef to choose from last minute. I just cooked up 9 lbs of ground beef this weekend to prepare some meals in advance, what a convenience.
Where do you live and when would you want it by?
Anyone have suggestions for other reasonable local-ish cow/poultry farmers? And (more importantly) anyone want to consider going into buying an animal together since we can’t afford a whole one??
Maybe call the local feed store in your area for ideas. Or local FFA or 4-H chapters in the area. My kids are raising chickens right now, and would be happy to sell them. We will probably do a beef next year as well, and we have orders for 3 pigs this year. However, I have found that the meat is so much more expensive when you raise it yourself because the cost of the feed has increased. (pigs and chickens which can ‘t live on pasture alone) I’ll pay about $1.50 for a chick and then have to feed it, but on sale, I can find a clean and packaged bird for 99 cents a pound or even less. I have a hard time buying meat at the store, I have really been used to just grabbing a package of meat from the freezer, and making dinner with it. I’m lost if I have to go pick something out from the shelf at the store?
Twin Mom says
If anyone in your family has the interest, hunting is a great way to save on meat. We eat venison or elk most of the time for the price of a tag + gas to the hunt location.
To save on fish, consider buying whole tuna (or other fish of your choice) from a fisherman. You have to like tuna. 🙂 You can either freeze or can it.
For hamburger from a single cow (not mixed), consider calling your local small butcher shop. Ours sells local, mostly grass fed ground beef for $3/lb.
Using less meat is another way to save on meat (and maybe healthy?). Cut 1/2 lb of pork, chicken or beef in thin strips, stir fry with lots of veggies. Season with soy sauce and a bit of sugar. Sesame seed oil gives it a nice flavor and don’t forget minced ginger, garlic and hot sauce if you like spicy. Instead of soy sauce, you can use miso seasoning–combine miso (soy bean paste), some dry white wine (or sake) and sugar.
I sometimes buy higher priced protein–sea scallops, rib eye, etc. To balance it out in both money and nutrition wise, I make tofu steak the next day. Slice tofu (hard type would be easier to handle) half-inch thick, flour and gently saute in olive oil. To make sauce, saute chopped garlic (don’t burn them!) in melted butter and add soy sauce. I highly recommend Ota tofu (you can find it at New Seasons).
I wonder if there is a way to save on fresh fish. Keeping an eye on the store ads is the only way?
Or catch your own? Though fishing is a terribly boring way to spend a day (at least in my book!).
Tilla Ham says
fred meyer had half or whole halibut for 4.99 a pound last week, that seems like a great price to me
We run over 300 mama cows if anyone is interested. I can sell the calves straight off the cow, which will be around October, or you can buy what we refer to as “dinks” (ones that were too small to sell in October because of a late calving date) in the following June. You are looking at $1.10 a pound, before slaughter and whatever the butcher charges. They are grass fat, and right now the “dinks” average over 900 lbs. The october bunch will probably weigh in around 600-750 lbs. We do vaccinate, we are not an organic operation. We do not creep, but we do, however, wean on clover irrigated pasture. Any questions, contact me at email@example.com. I also sell commerical and maine-anjou club calves for 4h and FFA prospects that come halter broke and started on feed.
We also buy a portion of a cow. It took us a couple years to save up the initial investment, but it was really worth it!! Now, we save the money throughout the year and purchase 1/4 every year. We pay $3-4/# for everything from roasts to hamburger to T-Bones. Most things were never in our budget before and it is WAY better tasting than the store!
how do you choose who to buy from?
We also purchase a portion of a cow from an Oregon farmer. An added bonus is my husband gets to hunt on their land. We are picky about the meat we eat most, chicken and beef, and generally purchase organic or all-natural, but only when the price is good. I shop the sales at New Seasons and Market of Choice and stock up when the price is good. I am not so picky about meat we only eat occasionally, like bacon or summer sausage.
Don’t forget Market of Choice! They have great meat sales on all-natural chicken, beef, and pork. It is worth the drive to West Linn on occasion, especially if you are stocking up.
I just looked at the Market of Choice website and impressed with the sale prices this week on meat. So, is it really good quality meat? It has to be really good to be worth my drive… 😉
Their main supplier of beef is Painted Hills. I have been happy with the quality and I am picky. The porketta roasts that go on sale occasionally are great for pulled pork sandwiches.
What is a good price for the porketta roasts?
Thanks for the info
The butcher at my albertsons told me he discounts the price of ground beef after 6pm. I have been able to get ground beef for $1 off the list price when he is working after 6pm. It’s worth asking your butcher if they do this.
Ocassionally FFA kids who raise livestock for the fair have animals who don’t make weight. If you gutsey and arn’t afraid of butchering or wraping your own meat it can be a way to save some cash.
Oregon does not allow you to butcher your own beef. You can butcher your own deer, elk, bear, but not beef.
Kristin H says
I pretty much only buy meat at Safeway. I have determined my “I-won’t-spend-more-than-this” price on meat (and most other things for that matter), and I have a “this-is-my-stock-up-time” price.
I buy frozen boneless skinless chicken at Safeway when it is $6.96 (ish) per 4-lb. bag. I buy 2-4 bags depending on my need and supply to get me through to the next sale. I need to start keeping track of how far it is in between these sales.
I also only buy ground beef for $1.99/lb as the top price. At $1.69 I will stock up.
I buy roasts (pork or beef) when they are $1.99 or less.
I buy pork chops only at $1.79 or less. These go on sale once in a while for $.99/lb or $1.29/lb. You have to buy a big packages, but I freeze them in groups of 3 (because my boys split one).
Using the $10 off $50 during a meat sale is awesome at Safeway, too!
I love whole chickens. You can get them at Safeway regularly for $.69/lb. Costco always has them for $.99/lb which isn’t horrible. I also love turkey, so I try to do a deal or 2 during Thanksgiving when you can spend a certain amount and get them for $.19/lb or whatever ridiculously cheap price the store is offering. I don’t typically do the turkey for the actual dinner, so I save them for March or June…when I have a hankerin’!
Thanks for posting your stock-up prices, Kristen! This will be so helpful for those just starting out!
Yes, thank you! Totally helps!!! 🙂
One tip for substituting beans for meat…they need to be paired with a whole grain (corn, brown rice, etc.) to create a complete protein. An easy way to do this is cornbread, or my husband and I make this corn/black bean/diced tomato skillet dish and change the seasonings and additions up based on our mood (also a good way to stretch meat if you put a little sausage or leftover chicken in).
Oooo. Thanks for mentioning this, Sara.
there are also those “random” coupons connected with seasonings, pasta sauce, marinades… buy certain product, get $1.50 off meat, or more!! just another way of saving!
Which grocery stores will package your meat in meal portions for you?
I know for sure New Seasons does. I called my huge chicken order in ahead of time and the 1.5 lb portions were wrapped and ready to go when I went to the store the next day.
I imagine that any store that has an actual butcher counter can do this for you — Albertsons does, not sure about Fred Meyer. Safeway does not, but their butchers are great about knowing how to cook cuts of meat.