For many home cooks, meat takes the biggest bite out of the food budget. There are plenty of cheap cuts, though. Some require a little extra care to tenderize them (or acceptance of the fact that their extra fat is what makes them delicious as well as affordable), but all will reward you with big flavor while saving you money. Here are five cheap cuts we love.
Lamb shoulder chops
Lamb’s wonderfully rich flavor is often matched by its price tag. Not these guys. Lamb shoulder chops (like the one pictured above) deliver as much or more lamby goodness as pricier (and tinier) lamb rib or loin chops. And their sometimes chewy texture can be tenderized quickly with a citrus marinade or dry brining. They also respond well to braising.
You know those amazingly juicy $15 hamburgers we all love? One reason we love them is that they’re full of fat. Probably more fat, in fact, than the 15 to 20 percent of fat in ground chuck, the cheapest ground beef at the supermarket. So (on occasion, anyway) skip the ground sirloin or bison or turkey and enjoy an honest, juice-down-your-chin, extra-cash-in-your-pocket burger. And cook it medium rare to medium, or why bother?
Is there anyone anywhere who doesn’t have fond memories of pot roast or beef stew? Chuck roast, the preferred meat for both these hearty meals, comes from the cow’s shoulder. These hardworking muscles contain long fibers and connective tissue, giving the meat the potential for toughness. Long, low-temperature cooking in braising juices tenderizes this inexpensive cut and enhances its satisfying, beefy flavor. And it may not always become fork tender, but when it tastes this good, do you really care? A favorite pot roast recipe of mine is the Provençal dish, Layered Pot Roast with Anchovies, Capers and Garlic.
Flank steak comes from the cow’s abdominal muscles and has long, hardworking fibers. Far more flavorful than more tender filet mignon or strip steaks, it is perfect for marinating and then quickly grilling. You can also pan sear it, but don’t overcook it. More than medium rare and you’ll toughen it up and dry it out. Slicing it thinly across the grain overcomes the stringy fiber problem. This Grilled Moroccan Flank Steak makes delicious use of this inexpensive cut.
The most economical cut of chicken is often no cut at all. Sometimes bone-in thighs or drumsticks may be a little less per pound, but a whole chicken can provide a number of meals – and more flexibility. Cutting up a chicken is really quite easy and yields various pieces for a few dishes. You can also roast an entire chicken and eat part of it as a meal, then use the leftover cold chicken for sandwiches, salads, or just out-of-the-fridge, eat-over-the-sink midnight snacks. And be sure to save the carcass to flavor a soup. If you’re not in the mood to cook, a store bought rotisserie chicken can provide the same multiple meals economically.
And some formerly cheap cuts that aren’t anymore. Oxtails, short ribs, and chicken wings are among the “leftover” cuts that used to be practically given away. They were often bought by thrifty home cooks to flavor soups or stretch food budgets. But between current nose-to-tail cooking trends and the elevation of chicken wings to bar food gold, they can be as pricey as steaks. The good news is that, whatever they cost, they’re still great to cook with.