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Nov 20, 2009 12:19 PM

Cheap yet good cuts of meat

A post in another thread got me thinking. It basically said that they were served cheap cuts of chicken meaning dark meat. So while this would be true in the USA it would not be true in many other parts of the world. The price of the cut is not always indicative of superior quality it merely reflects the popularity of the cut and the demand for it. This works out for me quite well as I prefer dark meat to white.

So my question is this, what other cuts do people like that are relatively cheap compared with other parts of the animal yet provide maximum flavour. For example liver is always cheap but it makes for a good meal if cooked properly. Skirt steak used to be cheap before the fajita craze hit in the mid 1980s. Short ribs done right blow a filet mignon out of the water taste wise and are a fraction of the cost.

I don't want to limit this to just cuts of the animal but animals themselves. For example sometimes medium sized shrimp have a better texture and taste compared to their larger cousins yet are cheaper per pound.

While there are some things that I feel are really good and justify the cost there are other times where the cheaper alternative may be better. What out there am I missing?

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  1. Hanger Steak, Top Blade , Top Butt Sirloin, Tri-Tip and Flap Meats are all excellent options for beef cuts. For fish, I would recommend whiting and mackeral which are both readily available in the Northeast.....but the king of value for seafood has to be squid.

    Day in and day out though, pork cuts, in my opinion, are always the most flavorful value protein for my money.

    13 Replies
    1. re: fourunder

      Hanger steak and flap meat are tasty and cheap, but only available to restaurants at least where I live.

      Bone-in dark chicken meat is really cheap. I like blade steak for stir fries.

      Flank steak and chicken wings used to be cheap, but they've since been "discovered". Since we're pretty much restricted to chain grocery stores in the Detroit-area, that doesn't leave us with much.

      1. re: cholderby


        Do you have any friends who are in food business of any kind? If so, you can easily gain access to the Restaurant Depot.

        Hanger was $1.99, Top Blade/Flat Iron was $2.39 and Flap was $2.99 last week at my local RD.

        1. re: fourunder

          I got hanger steak at Whole Foods once, but of course it was a lot more than $1.99. Flat Iron I find at my regular grocery quite often, but at $4.99. Sometimes cryovaced in 4z portions, and sometimes they cut it to order for me.

      2. re: fourunder

        Mmm, I love mackerel!.I also love blue fish, a sentiment that luckily no one else seems to share, since it's still relatively inexpensive where I am. I love the unabashed flavor, the meaty, assertive texture, the pristine freshness at the market, since it's caught locally. Also, the oils cause the skin to crisp up so nicely when you grill it.

        Re: meat cuts, everything honestly seems expensive nowadays in NYC. (I caught the tail end of the era when marrow bones, ox tails and chicken wings were actually affordable.) I've really, really been trying to cut back on meat consumption because of prices and for principled reasons. The same rationale has fueled my obsession with eating, or trying to eat, offal. Chicken hearts / gizzards / livers, grilled yakitori style or braised in soy sauce, five spice, ginger and sugar are lovely, especially served over fresh, hot rice, and very inexpensive. I like pig's feet when other people make it. I'm going to attempt my friend's mom's Cantonese braised beef tongue recipe this weekend.

        1. re: cimui

          Where have you found cheap beef tongue? I do love tongue, but haven't found it affordable in a very long time.

          1. re: JungMann

            It appears that I couldn't find inexpensive beef tongue, either. So I used pork tongue from Hong Kong Supermarket, instead. Still tasty.

            Is pork tongue what the taco trucks use in lengua tacos, do you know?

            1. re: cimui

              I am pretty sure they use beef tongue, but I can't be certain. I don't know that I've ever had pork tongue before.

            2. re: cimui

              People don't like bluefish because its never quite fresh enough in the market, or its been caught in the wrong place. I have converted many people to bluefish by making them fresh caught fish...a fresh caught bluefish is delicious, even the very largest (in fact, I like those best). However, they are dependent on what they are eating and where they are caught. Most of my bluefish are caught on the North Fork of LI...and even 12 pounders are mild and tasty. Once I caught a bunch of small blues from Jamaica Bay...and as fresh as they were, they tasted like cat food.

              1. re: EricMM

                People don't like bluefish fresh, either, IME, due to the oiliness, especially if they get a taste of the dark bits, whether it's fresh or not. Hey, just more for you and me, right? :-)

                Another taste issue is pollutants which can really mess with taste, but I haven't had this problem with blues from Montauk.

                I love bluefish, which my mom always soaked in milk prior to cooking; this really cuts the oiliness due to lactic acid in the milk. I don't always soak it, but I do tend to cook it with lemon, tomato, acid type stuff to cut down on the oiliness.

                1. re: mcf

                  I've heard about the milk thing...haven't tried it yet. I like to take a big fillet, leave the scales on, and just slap it directly on the grill with a light coating of mayo/dijon mustard/cracked pepper. Its done in a few minutes. The white meat lifts right off, leaving the skin and dark meat behind. When I cook bluefish indoors, I always skin it....usually do a breadcrumb "oreganata" type topping with garlic and capers.

                  1. re: EricMM

                    A former Montauk boat captain told me he made bluefish parmesan with filets.
                    The milk thing really does sweeten it up. My aunt used to steam it with white wine, too. Anything to cut the oiliness. If it's fresh and unpolluted, I like it just fine with some lemon, butter s and p. I've also wrapped in foil or parchment with sliced lemon, tomato, garlic, herbs, s and p.

            3. re: fourunder

              Squid used to be $1.49/# back around 1980 - once it became "calamari" it pretty quickly doubled in price.

              In the Boston area, top round was on sale for $1.99 last week. These days most people use it for roast beef but I made a very slowly cooked pot roast with it and because there is so little fat, there was hardly any shrinkage and the meat did become fork tender.

            4. I love to make stew or a pot roast (or oven-braise) a big old clod of chuck "roast." Chuck, if there's sufficient marbling present, cooks up very, very tasty.

              I'm at a loss for a suggestion for a cut of meat that's best prepared "medium rare," however.

              Fresh hams and other pork roasts, as noted above, give a lot of meaty bang for the buck.

              Chicken thighs, if the skin's seasoned and their cooked properly, can be a gourmet treat whether roasted or pan-roasted. I bone, skin and cut thighs into 1" cubes and cook the cubes in a recipe for escargot butter I have. They're absolutely delicious!

              5 Replies
              1. re: shaogo


                Take any of the beef cuts I mentioned above including the chuck roast........ and slow roast them on a wire rack @ 225* for 2-2.5 hours, depending on the size/thickness of the meat(longer naturally for thicker cuts). It will be medium rare temperature and tender. Last week my local supermarket had the chuck roast for $1.79/lb. It was a great piece of meat for less than $3. Try may be pleasantly surprised.


                btw, I slow roast my Prime Ribs as well @ 225*....actually, I slow roast almost all my meats except chicken.

                1. re: fourunder

                  Besides slow low roasting the meat, remember to pre-salt the meat 24 hours or more before cooking -- this helps to break down enzymes in the meat and will tenderize it. America's Test Kitchen recently did a show that featured slow roasting an Eye of Round Roast.

                  1. re: Norm Man

                    I made this last Sunday using that recipe which was featured in Cook's Illustrated magazine a couple years ago. It was absolutely delicious. My husband couldn't stop raving about it. We had the leftovers for sandwiches the next night, too. Best of all, I got the roast on sale for $2.99 a pound!

                    1. re: Kiyah

                      This is the most wonderful technique I've found in ages. The article said that the original was slow-roasted at about 170 or so (have I got that right?), but that took 5 - 18 hours. I used the CI recipe, but did lower the heat considerably, until the internal temp. was perfect. I will never buy beef tenderloin again.

                2. re: shaogo

                  >I'm at a loss for a suggestion for a cut of meat that's best prepared "medium rare," however.

                  Eye of Round - I can usually get it in the 4-6 lb. range, in a cryopack, from my local grocer for under $3/lb. Using Cook's Illustrated's slow cook roast recipe, prepares to a perfect, tender and flavorful medium rare roast!

                3. Bavette is my ultimate fav. You can get a huge piece for $9 and it feeds about 3-4 people. i marinate it in olive oil, balsamic, garlic and rosemary than cut into cubes and feed onto rosemary branches before grilling. if you can get dried figs, put them on the skewer as well! great way to make meat stretch and feed a crowd without breaking the bank.

                  Duck breasts are another great option because for $5 you can get a breast large enough to feed 2 people. not to mention that serving seared duck is oooh-so good. i did it last night for a friend and they were completely surprised!

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: thehotplate


                    Your idea of it Flank Steak or Flap Meat?

                    1. re: fourunder

                      ooh sorry it's flank, but generally cut a bit thicker (haha just too used to quebec)

                      1. re: thehotplate

                        We can get bavette here in the East SF Bay, and it's still cheaper than most other steaks. The trouble is that the only place I've found that carries it is a very expensive meat market (although fabulous) attached to Cafe Rouge on 4th Street (the tourist upscale shopping district in Berkeley). I haven't been for a while, but it used to be affordable.

                        Flank steak is way higher than it used to be as is skirt steak/flap meat. Sometimes I fall for flank steak at COSTCO, though.

                        I've been buying what Berkeley Bowl calls "butcher steak". It has to be carefully sliced in the manner of flank and skirt, but it's quite delicious.

                        The butcher told me that it'll never catch on here because "Americans are too stupid to know how to cut it and how good it is. In France it costs more than rib eye.) We had it for dinner tonight. Great along with the Zuni panade and a big salad.

                        1. re: oakjoan

                          "Butcher steak" is Hangar steak...

                          I buy it at BB as well. However if the butcher told you that "Onglet" (Hangar) costs more than "Cote de Bouef (rib eye) he is full of it.

                          Lets just hope that the rest of the US stays ignorant. In the 70's tri tip was cheaper than hamburger. We don't want the price of Hangar to go through the roof.

                    2. re: thehotplate

                      Duck Legs...the Asian markets near me sell them for about $2.39/lb....I fake "Peking Duck" by glazing them with soy sauce/sugar/5 spice, roasting them, then shredding them and eating it rolled up in pancakes with scallion, cukes, and hoi-sin....

                      1. re: EricMM

                        WOW Eric! That sounds great. I'm going to have to get some from my local Chinese poultry seller! Thanks for the tip....not tri-tip. ;+)

                        1. re: EricMM

                          I use duck legs in this Bittman recipe for stovetop Chinese "roast" duck (I cut the brown sugar, though, or it gets too sticky). It's a great source for rendered duck fat, too, as a bargain bonus.


                      2. Oxtail is often a good (cheaper) substitute for short ribs.

                        10 Replies
                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          I agree, but I'm still amazed at how expensive oxtail is these days as well.

                          1. re: MMRuth

                            Oxtails and Short Ribs are two of my favorite things to eat.......thankfully, I'm able to purchase them at wholesale prices. When I see them in the typical supermarkets in Northern New Jersey, they are rarely less than $4.99 per pound......but usually average around $5.99 per pound.

                            1. re: MMRuth

                              Those cuts manage to still be cheap at ethnic markets. I love oxtail, great cut.
                              I have seen cross cut(flanken) for as cheap as $1.99 at some asian markets. Good for grilling.

                              Mackerel, sardines and other oily fish are some of my top choices as well. As far as gizzards and what not go they are some of my favourite pieces of the animal as well but since it is not the healthiest to eat a half pound of it I usually wait to get it at yakitori joints.

                              I know some people in the restaurant biz, will have to give RD a shot.

                              1. re: MVNYC

                                At both the supermarket and ethnic places around here, I've seen it only for more than $10/lb when not on super-sale.

                                1. re: MVNYC

                                  To get the restaurant price (inc Rest Depot), you may have to buy 40 lbs or more.

                                  1. re: coll

                                    At the Restaurant Depot I shop at, any purchase less than a case(unit), is priced 10-20 cents higher than the case price......still less than any retail outlet.

                                2. re: MMRuth

                                  I too get a little crazed over the price of oxtail. When we were in Rio recently, I could buy it at the weekly farmers market for a fraction of what we pay here. And it's not just the difference in location. Other meats could be quite expensive. But I do love the little darlin's.

                                  1. re: MMRuth

                                    MMR - I agree about oxtail and short ribs...they're even more expensive because there's so much heavy bone per lb. Same with lamb and veal shanks. Where did this big surge of buyers for "alternative" meats that used to be cheap come from?

                                  2. re: ipsedixit

                                    That's good to know - short ribs are not commonly sold in the UK. In fact I've only seen them at one butchers, which is a super-expensive one in Selfridges Food Hall (swanky dept store in London). Oxtail on the other hand is easy to find in my area, as it's used a lot in Caribbean cooking as well as English cooking.

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      Where do I find oxtail that is cheaper than short ribs?

                                      At the local asian store, I get short ribs for $2.49/lb on sale. oxtail is at the cheapest $3.99/lb which is very rare (usually $4.99/lb).

                                    2. Pork shoulder/butt is tasty and very tender when treated to slow and moist cooking methods. It's often the least expensive cut of pork around in my neck of the woods.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: stilton

                                        That's the cut I use for grinding for sausage.