25 Easy Ways to Make Cheap Cuts of Meat Taste Expensive

by Camilla Cheung on 24 February 2014 2 comments

As one of the big-ticket items on your grocery list, meat can eat up a big portion of your budget if you're not careful. While many of us would love to dine on filet mignon and prime rib regularly, reality requires us to be a little more frugal with our protein. Fortunately many less-expensive cuts of meat can taste deliciously gourmet if prepared in the right way. Read on to find out how to cook these wallet-friendly cuts. (See also: Cheap Ways to Add Big Flavor)

Beef Chuck

Beef chuck is an economical cut that comes from the shoulder of the steer. It can be cut into chunks for stew, ground into ground beef, or braised whole. Beef chuck is the perfect stew meat — it is full of connective tissue that softens and makes the meat tender and flavorful. The key with this tough cut is to cook it slowly.

1. Boeuf Bourguignon

One of my favorite "gourmet" ways to prepare beef chuck is to make Julia Child's famous Boeuf Bourguignon, a slowly cooked, hearty stew that is perfect for a company dinner.

2. Beef Stroganoff

Beef stroganoff is a Russian stew with sour cream and fresh herbs that make it creamy and a perfect topping for buttery egg noodles. Try switching the parsley in this recipe with fresh dill — it's addictive!

3. Beef Chuck Pot Roast

Pot roast is a traditional one-pot meal that works just as well for a family dinner as for a dinner party. And with the affordable prices of a beef chuck roast, you could potentially have one every Sunday. (See also: A Week of Lunches From One Pot Roast)

4. Shredded BBQ Beef

If you love smoked BBQ brisket, but don't want to bother with slow-smoking, try using beef chuck in a braise instead in this BBQ beef recipe. Braising means you can easily cook the beef on the stovetop. Just shred and serve on a soft bun.

Beef Shanks

Cross-cut beef shanks come from the leg of the steer. They are one of the most overlooked cuts of meat, and as a result tend to be very budget-friendly, even the grass-fed organic versions! The inclusion of bone and marrow makes for an intensely rich stew, as well as lots of healthy nutrients. (See also: You Need More of These Nutrients)

5. Osso Buco

Osso buco, an Italian stew, is typically made with veal shanks, which tend to be expensive. But you can make osso buco with inexpensive beef shanks for a fraction of the price — although the flavor of the beef won't be as delicate as the veal, your wallet will appreciate the difference!

6. Beef Shanks Braised in Red Wine

This budget-friendly recipe for beef shanks slowly braised in red wine ("Two-Buck Chuck" does the trick) makes meltingly tender chunks of flavorful beef, and it's easy to cook in the slow cooker. After the beef is cooked, the braising liquid is reduced to make a silky sauce. Serve it over polenta for a cultured company meal.

7. Beef Shanks and Cabbage Stew

This slow-cooker recipe for beef shanks with cabbage is one of my favorite easy one-pot meals. Hint: After you've finished eating the stew, save any leftover braising liquid and freeze it in an ice-cube tray. Throw the intensely flavorful stock cubes into stir-fries, chili, or anything that needs a shot of beefy flavor. (See also: Surprising Foods You Can Freeze)

Skirt Steak

Skirt steak is one of the more commonly found affordable steaks at the supermarket and is often sliced thinly for fajitas or stir-fries. You can of course use it as such (use high heat and don't overcook it), but blast it briefly on high heat on the grill, and you've got a flavorful steak that's much more affordable than rib-eye or filet.

8. Grilled Skirt Steak With Chimichurri

Because skirt steak is so thin, cook it for only a couple minutes on each side to avoid overcooking. This Argentine-style skirt steak is served with aromatic chimichurri sauce.

9. Soy Marinated Skirt Steak

Skirt steak also takes well to marinating in a soy-based sauce — let it sit for several hours to allow the flavors to penetrate. Then grill it over high heat.

Hanger Steak

Craving steak on a budget? Hanger steak is popular in French cuisine but is much more affordable than better-known steaks like tenderloin or ribeye. It's a large piece of steak that can be tough if overcooked and is best seared or broiled to medium-rare. Be sure to slice it thinly against the grain. Unfortunately, hanger steak can be hard to find — there are only two steaks per animal — so if you find a store that stocks it, grab it when you can.

10. Garlic and Herb-Marinated Hanger Steak

According to J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of Serious Eats, hanger steak's loose texture makes it perfect for marinating. Here, he marinates the steak for at least two hours in a flavorful mix of garlic and herbs before searing it on the grill. (See also: Cheap and Delicious Marinades)

11. Beer-Marinated Hanger Steak

I love the flavor of a beer-marinated steak, and with a full day of marinating, this hanger steak is sure to soak up the flavor.

Rump Roast

Rump roast (or its cousins top round, bottom round, and eye of round roasts) comes from the muscled hindquarters of the steer and is thus quite tough. However, it's perfect for braising and for roast beef where the slow cooking tenderizes this lean cut.

12. Roast Beef

This simple recipe for roast beef is perfect for serving a crowd relatively cheaply while still impressing your guests. It also makes a great family meal. It uses a tough cut — the rump roast — and cooks it slowly for 2 to 3 hours. Be sure to use a thermometer to keep an eye on the doneness.

13. Rump Roast Au Jus

An easy way to cook a rump roast low and slow is in the slow-cooker. Just put it in the slow cooker in the morning and a delicious roast is ready when you get home from work. (See also: Best Slow Cookers)

Pork Shoulder

Pork shoulder is one of the most budget-friendly meat options I've come across. A medium bone-in shoulder roast can feed a family of four for $10. It takes tremendously well to slow-cooking and shredding, making it a set-and-forget kind of meal.

14. Pulled Pork

Roast a Boston butt low and slow in the oven with plenty of seasonings for delicious pulled pork. Warning: You will need to leave your oven on for several hours (13 hours for the 8-pound roast in the recipe), so plan to do it on a rainy weekend when you'll be around.

15. Cilantro Shredded Pork

One of my favorite ways to cook a pork shoulder is to dump it in a slow cooker with onions, a cup of salsa verde, a handful of chopped cilantro, a generous sprinkle of cumin and garlic powder, and salt and pepper. Set it on low for 8 hours or on high for 6. A few hours later you've got deliciously tender pork that can be shredded for tacos, eaten on top of a bowl of rice and beans, or added to a salad. I love using this pork for a taco bar where guests can assemble tacos themselves.

16. Carnitas

Mexican pork carnitas might seem like a restaurant meal, but they're surprisingly easy and affordable to cook at home. Cook the pork in a slow cooker all day and when you're ready for dinner, fry the shredded pork until it develops a savory crust.

Pork Shank

In general, Americans seem to prefer boneless meat (ribs and wings are the exception to the rule). I've found that bone-in cuts tend to be much cheaper. Pork shanks are one example of an unpopular cut that can be flavorful and tender in a long braise.

17. Braised Pork Shanks

This recipe for braised pork shanks, cooked low and slow, makes for meltingly tender pork and a flavorful pork gravy. Don't let the liquid boil or it will toughen the meat.

Top Loin

Top loin makes a good roast and is cheaper than tenderloin. Using a meat thermometer is key to getting tender, juicy meat. Cook the loin too long and it'll end up tough and chewy.

18. Rosemary Roasted Pork Loin

This simple recipe for roasted pork loin makes a flavorful roast that can serve six or more people. Make a gravy with the sauce and serve it with risotto or fingerling potatoes for an elegant meal. Again, using a meat thermometer is essential.

Pork Chops

Pork chops are an affordable and lean meat that are sometimes known as "the other white meat" (in comparison to chicken breast). Unfortunately they can often be tough and dry. Cut from the lean loin, pork chops can overcook quickly. For a tender and flavorful pork chop, sear the outside of the meat briefly before turning the heat down and cooking it gently the rest of the way.

19. Tender and Juicy Pork Chops

This oven-roasted pork chop recipe isn't so much a recipe as it is a method for cooking tender and juicy pork chops every time. You'll never go back!

20. Pork Chops With Mushroom Gravy

My neighbor swears by this recipe for pork chops with mushroom gravy — the pork chops end up tender while the rich, sherry-laced mushroom sauce makes this dish extra special.

Chicken Legs and Thighs

Chicken is in general one of the more affordable meats. Unfortunately the high demand for skinless, boneless, chicken breast has driven up the price. My personal opinion is that while the breast may be meaty, it lacks flavor and tends to be dry. Thankfully, the thighs, legs, and wings, are much more affordable, easier to cook well, and are much more flavorful!

I've already covered chicken legs and thighs in depth in a previous article — 15 Chicken Leg and Thigh Recipes From Around the World — but here are a few of my favorite go-to recipes.

21. Cracklin' Chicken

Use skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs to make this crispy, cracklin' chicken recipe with just a few readily-available ingredients. The skin crisps up into a delicious crust while the thigh meat stays juicy and tender.

22. Thai Basil Chicken Stir-Fry

I make this easy Thai basil chicken stir-fry for a quick weeknight dinner quite often. While this recipe calls for breast meat, I find that boneless, skinless, chicken thighs work even better, as you can't overcook them.

Whole Chicken

Pound-for-pound, a whole chicken is cheaper than cut-up parts like breasts or thighs. In addition, you can use the leftover bones to make chicken broth or stock. Don't be intimidated by cooking a whole chicken — it's easy to do with these foolproof methods. (See also: One Week of Dinners From One Chicken)

23. Slow-Cooker Chicken and Gravy

Put a whole chicken breast-side down into a slow cooker with herbs and aromatics. Six hours later, you've got a perfectly tender whole chicken ready to eat. Simply puree the remaining vegetables and juices to make a savory gravy to eat with the chicken.

24. Hainanese Chicken

With this method for cooking Hainanese chicken, you slowly simmer a chicken in a large pot of water with aromatics like ginger and scallions. The poached chicken meat turns out meltingly tender, and you then use the broth to cook rice to go along with it. Way to use the whole bird!

25. Simple Roast Chicken

You can't get much more gourmet than a recipe by famous chef Thomas Keller. Yet this recipe for roast chicken is simple enough for anyone to master.

What is your favorite budget cut of meat? How do you prepare it?

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FrugalCat

I buy the six packs of small (5.5 oz) cans of pineapple juice. I marinate a cheap cut of meat in a ziploc bag with one can of juice and various flavors (soy sauce, garlic, ginger, etc) overnight. The pineapple juice really tenderizes tough beef.

Andrea Karim's picture

In addition to pineapple juice, green papaya does an amazing job tenderizing tough meat. We buy a green papaya at our local Vietnamese store (although our ordinary grocer has started carrying them as well), grate it up, and freeze it in an ice cube trays, then store in the freezer in baggies.

A little bit added to marinades or mixed into meat loaf can tenderize the toughest meat.