Has the rising price of meat given you sticker shock as you survey the options at your local market or butcher shop? Us, too! And we’re not imagining it.
The Washington Post reports some of the sharpest increases in meat prices in nearly 50 years were recorded during the past seven months. Yikes!
What’s an intrepid griller and smoker like yourself to do? We have some practical suggestions, and you don’t have to cash in your 401K to feed your family and friends well this summer.
Chicken: Americans love their boneless, skinless chicken breasts, as well as wings, which has driven the price of these cuts up. In the meantime, the more flavorful parts of the bird—thighs, legs, and quarters (which are attached thighs and legs) go begging or are sent to overseas markets where their value is more appreciated.
By keeping an eye on local grocery store flyers (a good habit to get into), I scored 10 pounds of chicken leg quarters last week for a mere $4.99. This was an extraordinary deal, but you will nearly always find them a good bargain. And there’s so much you can do with them. Barbecue them the old-fashioned way—indirect grill at medium heat (350 to 375 degrees), adding your favorite barbecue sauce during the last 15 minutes. Or give them the Jamaican jerk treatment using Steven’s recipe for an authentic island marinade.
Separating the legs and thighs is another option; you can treat them differently. Bone the thighs and make Bacon Ham and Cheese Chicken Thighs, a dish that always impresses. Or Maple Sriracha-Glazed Chicken Legs—you likely have all of the ingredients in your pantry now.
As for the afore-mentioned wings, you’ll save money if you buy whole wings. It’s easy to separate them into drumettes and flats with a sharp knife. Just slice through the two obvious joints. Save the wing tips for chicken stock. (You can freeze them for up to six months.)
Turkey: Thanksgiving in July? Why not? Turkey, which is harvested in late fall in the Northern Hemisphere, is often a bargain during the summer months. Look for legs, breasts, and thighs. We love these county fair-style, ham-like cured turkey legs. Not saying, of course, that you can’t smoke-roast a whole turkey on your summer grill!
Other: Online purveyors of game birds—like turkeys, often harvested in the fall months—are sometimes eager to clean out their freezers. In addition to local sales on poultry, be attuned to well-respected companies like D’Artagnan. Locally, you can almost always find frozen Cornish hens, which usually cost less than $5.00 per serving. And make you look like a million bucks
For many years, pork has been one of the best bargains at the meat counter. While we love pork shoulder, the foundation of pulled pork, pork loin and/or pork tenderloin can be amazing, too. Both have almost zero waste—remove any silverskin the butcher hasn’t taken care of by using long strokes of a sharp knife—and are stupidly easy to slice into individual portions. Know, though, that these cuts have different cooking temperatures. Pork shoulder requires the low and slow treatment, while pork loin and tenderloin are best when cooked with indirect heat until the internal temperature is at least 145 degree F.
If you can find them, pork steaks (which are cut crosswise from the shoulder) are amazing. Ask anyone from St. Louis. Or Monroe County, Kentucky. Whiskey Brined Pork Shoulder will draw friends and family to your house like bees to honey.
But one of my favorite treatments of pork is Tacos al Pastor, aka “Shepherd’s Tacos.” These are the tacos I dream about at night. ‘Nuff said.
You know how the price of gas always seems to go up just before your summer vacay? Seems like the cost of beef rises as soon as grilling season gets underway. That’s not to say you need to cross beef off your summer grilling menu. The first nod goes to flat iron steak, a super-flavorful cut from the top of the chuck. It takes to marinades beautifully, and needs only a few minutes to grill, making it perfect for a weekday night. Tex-Mex flat irons with beer are da bomb. Grill two, and you’ll have leftovers for Cambodian Steak with Salads and Condiments.
Supplementing meats with salads or other side dishes is another great way to save money. And if you find some inexpensive steaks on sale (sometimes, flank steak or round steak qualify), make these substantial sandwiches from Uruguay; they’re called Chivitos. The proteins are stretched by the addition of fried eggs.
Yes, ground meats have always been a “go-to” for frugal people. But if we’re going to embrace the “nose to tail” mentality, we have to acknowledge the importance of trim. (No one will forget these Onion Bombs!) The price of ground beef is on the rise, but it’s still relatively cheap. Use it to make awesome grilled burgers, meatballs, meatloaf, or other dishes. Substitute ground pork, turkey, or chicken. Add chopped mushrooms to drier meats to add umami flavor and moisture.