Cheap Cuts: How to Get the Most from Meat

Expensive cuts of meat tend to be the ones that are tender and can be cooked quickly and easily, but this doesn’t mean you can’t create a great meal with a varieties that cost less. Barbecue and grilling are the ideal methods for cooking these less costly cuts so they stay tender and juicy when done; slow cooking allows the connective tissue to break down and actually tenderize the meat, while the fat has time to melt over it and add flavor. From ribs to brisket, these 10 affordable cuts of meat are especially great for a warm-weather cookout.

Whole Chicken: Chicken is a great choice for any cookout. It’s inexpensive, versatile, and easy to prepare. The secret to saving yourself money when buying chicken is to avoid the pre-cut pieces, like prepared, skinless, boneless chicken. Instead, with a little practice, you can easily cut up a whole chicken yourself and save some money. Take those pieces and throw them on the grill over a medium fire, brush on some barbecue sauce, and you have a great meal that all of your guests will love—especially the kids.

Beef and Pork Ribs: Whether beef or pork, ribs are an inexpensive addition to an outdoor barbecue. The secret to any rib is to cook it low and slow so you get tender meat and great flavor; you can do this in a smoker or on a gas or charcoal grill. When shopping for ribs, look for ones that have plenty of meat and a small amount of fat. The fat will keep the meat moist while it cooks, but you don’t want to pay for excessive amounts of it. At least half the weight of a ​rack of ribs is bone so try to choose a rack with fewer bones and more meat for the price if you can find it.

Hamburgers: Hamburgers are the most popular food sizzling on the grill and for a very good reason—almost everyone enjoys them. Whether you have the standard burger patty or like to add a cheesy surprise, most guests are excited to enjoy a good, juicy burger. It doesn’t hurt that they won’t break the bank, either.

Nowadays, people seem to be coming up with hundreds of ways of making a better burger. Any way that you slice it, though, it is best to make your burger with fresh ground beef, handle it as little as possible, and avoid forming your burger patties too thick. It may sound like a good idea to create thick burgers, but those also require a longer cooking time, meaning a dryer burger in the end. In addition, you can stretch your ground meat farther by making a patty that is small enough to fit the bun, instead of one that is impressive to look at.

Flat Steaks: These three steaks—the flank, skirt, and hanger—used to be so cheap that butchers used them for ground beef. Over the years, they’ve become popular for many dishes and the price has gone up, making them not as economical as they once were. However, they’re still thought of as a good deal, considering what you can do with them. Since these are tougher cuts of meat, your best bet is to marinate, grill, and thinly slice, then serve the meat on rice or pasta, as fajitas or tacos, or on top of a salad. This stretches the meat, making a meal for many out of a smaller cut.

Brisket: Untrimmed beef brisket is still one of the least expensive cuts of beef you can buy. Of course, once cooked low and slow, it loses about half its weight in meat, but few things are better than barbecue brisket. For this, you will definitely need a smoker and a lot of time to smoke it right. When selecting a good beef brisket, look for one with a decent layer of fat, but not too thick; the fat is vital to good smoked brisket, but an excessive amount is a waste of money. Examine the brisket carefully so you get the one you want—frequently stores will only put a few briskets out front at a time, so talk to the butcher and ask to see what he has in the back if you can’t find a brisket ​that meets your needs.

Turkey: Outside of the holidays, turkey is largely overlooked. This is unfortunate since turkey is an economical way to feed a lot of people and there are so many ways you can prepare it, such as brining the turkey before cooking. As with chicken, you get a better deal buying a whole turkey and cutting it up (if that’s how you want it). Turkey breast tends to be pretty expensive relatively, but other cuts like thighs can be much more reasonable. Look for fresh turkey, not those packed with chemicals.

Lamb Breast and Ribs: Lamb is a wonderful meat for the grill. Unfortunately, good lamb can be hard to find and expensive. Lamb breast is cut from the rib section of the lamb and, while it doesn’t contain the much-desired rack of lamb, it has good meat that’s very flavorful. Typically, you can get the lamb ribs (sometimes called Denver ribs) or lamb riblets. These can be tough cuts. Start with a strong marinade, putting in lemon juice as the acid—this will tenderize the meat and cut the sometimes-strong flavor of lamb. Let the lamb sit in this marinade for several hours before cooking. If you are working with a relatively thin piece, cook it hot and fast, without overcooking; if you have a thicker cut, go slow and grill indirectly.

Chuck Eye Steak: Chuck steaks are a great alternative to more expensive steaks (like ribeye, porterhouse, and New York strip). It’s also the best of this primal cut—just make sure you talk to your butcher so you’re sure of what you are getting. Chuck steaks are not as tender as their more expensive cousins so it will benefit from a good marinade; this will make the meat juicier when cooked, resulting in an end product that is equally as good as a pricey piece of prime. It is important, though, to avoid overcooking chuck steaks—they are perfect ​at medium rare, but tough at well done no matter how you prepare before it hits the grill.

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