How to Buy High-Quality Meats on a Budget (and Why It’s Good for Your Health)

Free-range animal proteins are often leaner and have a greater amount of nutrients than confined or caged meats.

Free-range animal proteins are often leaner and have a greater amount of nutrients than confined or caged meats.

How to Buy High-Quality Meats on a Budget (and Why It’s Good for Your Health)

I love to eat high-quality meat. Free-range and grass-fed animals yield leaner cuts of meat that are higher in omega-3 fatty acids, beta-carotene, as well as vitamins B and E. A study by Clemson University in South Carolina found that grass-fed beef is far healthier than cattle that is raised on grain. Other research shows eggs from pasture-raised chickens have six times more vitamin D than eggs produced in confinement. The health benefits of consuming free-range meats are clear, but it's expensive for someone on a budget.

While I’ve read plenty of articles about how to save money buying organic produce, I’ve read very little when it comes to sourcing free-range organic meat on a limited income. It took a few years of trial and error, and several shopping mishaps, but I've finally learned the ins and outs of eating the best meat possible without spending my last dollar.

1. Source Local

Build a relationship with your local producers of grass-fed, pasture-raised, organic meats to find the best product possible, as well as deep discounts. Recently I visited a heritage-pig ranch where I literally got to meet my meat. The experience was intense, but meaningful. The animals are well taken care of, and the meat is much tastier. If you didn’t already know, a great resource for finding local meat farms is Eat Wild. There you can input your address and find the farms closest to you. Farmer’s markets are another great resource. Don’t be shy, ask around. Many farmers know where the best food is located.

2. Buy Primal Cuts

You might have noticed that the more work a butcher has to do to a piece of meat, the more it’s going to cost you. I have found that buying entire roasts, instead of individual cuts, saves me a lot of money. For instance, my husband and I love filet mignon, but can’t afford to eat it regularly on our meager budget. I learned that the steak is cut from a tenderloin roast and on average, yields between 10-12 individual steaks. I found that buying the entire roast, cleaning it and portioning it myself, saved me upwards of $30. The initial cost may seem like a lot, since a tenderloin roast, depending on size, starts at around $60, but in reality, you are saving more money overtime. These cuts can be wrapped and stored in your freezer for up to a year. The same goes for other large cuts. Talk to your butcher or local producer about buying larger cuts, such as a shoulder or a leg. Once you segment and freeze the meat at home, you’ll have a full fridge and money left to spare.

3. Eat Every Part of the Animal

OK, maybe not every part, but, I highly encourage meat eaters to try new parts of the animal that often get neglected. Oxtails, which indeed are the tail of a cow, yield amazing stew meat and bones for broth. Tongue, which may sound scary, is widely known as exceptionally tender, beefy meat that is just pennies per pound. Do you like bacon? Why not make it yourself by purchasing your own pork belly. The rich, fatty meat can be cubed and cooked like pancetta in a number of tasty dishes. Chicken livers are delicious when sautéed, and are extremely inexpensive. Chicken necks and backbones offer great soup and stock options and are dirt-cheap. Ask the butcher or look online for recipes for items you don’t know how to cook. For a more typical cut of meat, check out my recipe for delicious pork-shoulder carnitas with mango salsa.

4. Debone at Home

If you don’t want to buy a primal (large) cut of meat, you can also cut costs by opting for bone-in and skin-on selections. At stores like Whole Foods, you can find chicken breasts that are $4 less per pound, simply because they’re unprepared. Sure, you will have to learn the fine art of peeling skin and cutting-out bones, but it takes just minutes and saves an incredible amount of money. This method works for nearly all cuts of meat.

5. Portion Control

You can stretch your dollar even further by being diligent about your serving sizes. According to the USDA, the range for protein consumption for adults is only between five and six and a half ounces per day. In my family, one pound of meat yields four servings, which is approximately four ounces per person. Since other foods I always have on hand, like beans and nuts, also have protein, I know my family is getting their daily amount. If you divide your meat up by portions, it will be easier to cook with, and to save money.

Buying good quality meat doesn’t mean you have to go broke. Shop smart, and you can eat well too.