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Jan 1, 2012 12:34 PM

"Inexpensive" Cuts

For me, part of the beauty of cooking is being able to take inexpensive bits and pieces of an animal that are traditionally thought of as lesser parts and transform them into something delicious and refined. Additionally, I don't care to pay $20 a pound for tenderloin or something similar. I do believe in paying the price for local and humanely grown produce and only know of one butcher in my area sourcing meat in such a way.

Yesterday I wanted fresh ham hocks (pork shanks). I needed about 5 lbs. total to get about 1 lb. of meat and 0.5 lb. of skin for a terrine. The cost was $4.99 lb. for this cut. So the total comes to approximately $25 for 1.5 lbs. of end product. This just seemed like far too much.

Do I have unreasonable expectations?

Are "inexpensive cuts" getting more expensive due to the rising popularity of nose to tail cooking?

Do you have inexpensive cuts that you love to cook, and if so what are they?

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  1. Inexpensive cuts depends on where you are purchasing your meats. If at a butcher, I rarely find anything deemed inexpensive, but I realize you have to pay a premium for wither his expertise or quality.. With that said, not all butchers purchase hanging meat, but just what;s available from local distributors or sources. Whether shopping at a supermarket or butcher, consider purchasing what is on sale o any given week. that way you will take advantage of savings and expand your variety too.

    For the record, pork shanks are usually 1.69 at the local Asian market and comparable at the local large chain supermarket. Ham hocks are usually 1.29 or less.

    On a daily basis, I do not think you can find a better value than a whole picnic shoulder.. Lots of meat for stew, soup, ragu or roasting.......Neck bones make a great sauce for pasta or over rice.

    1. Wow! That's a steep price for ham hocks. Of course, I'm often told that many things cost less in the South.

      To get inexpensive meat for meals I do several things. !. Look for meat on sale, stock up, and freeze. 2. Get to know the meat guy, he will often let you know when there will be sales. 3. Stretch the meat you have by using every bit of it. Like your ham hock, boil the bone with veggies and herbs to make stock. Another stretcher is to add more of other inexpensive ingredients. I think that's why casseroles are so popular. A little meat, a few veggies, and lots of rice make a huge meal. 4. Not possible where you are, but we also raise our own pigs. If you raise one to keep and 2 to sell, you can break about even. 5. Buy in bulk. Every 6 to 8 months we buy half a cow from a local farm. Big outlay up front, but good meat at a reasonable price for months on end. Maybe you and some friends could split the half?

      As for meat prices going up. When I do buy meat from the store, it seems to be much higher than a year ago. My hubby says it's because the cost of corn is going up. Could also be the price of transportation. I know there are stats that imply that grocery costs are not up, but even allowing for that - paychecks are shrinking and many people are out of work. So the overall cost of food is taking a greater percentage of the paycheck.

      I'd suggest looking at Hillbilly Housewife's website. Lotos of ideas for inexpensive food prep.

      This is getting long, but let me share my proudest moment using cheap cuts. We had packs of neck bones from our last pig. I was stumped. How do you cook those and get the kids to eat 'em? I finally plunged in and boiled them in water with onions, celery leaves, bay leaves, and black pepper corns. After skimming the foam from the top, I strained and reserved the broth. I picked the bits of meat from the bones - not my favorite activity. I combined the meat, kidney beans, diced onion, chopped cabbage, canned tomatoes, and some garlic and salt. I simmered til all was tender and served the beans over rice. The kids loved it and didn't even ask which part of the pig it was!

      Good luck and I look forward to seeing what others have to post.

      3 Replies
      1. re: hippioflov

        I would love to buy a pig or half a cow! That would be so much fun, but I don't have the space. I can just imagine all the things I would do with the various cuts.

        1. re: schoenfelderp

          It's worth the initial cost of the freezer. We were lucky and inherited one from a sister-in-law when she moved. I'd check online sites like craig's list or local stores for scratch and dent sales. Plus you can split up the pig between several people. One time we had half a pig butchered into half sausage and half ground pork. Very easy to split between families that way and takes up less freezer space.

      2. Does offal count?

        If so, I'm currently loving making Pork Bung!

        2 Replies
        1. re: ipsedixit

          Offal definitely counts. What's pork bung?

        2. I find with pork, I'll buy a shoulder and slow cook instead of a cutlet or roast sometimes.

          With beef, I buy more hanger or flap than NY strip or Ribeye. With "flap" I usually buy a 4-5 lb piece and freeze it into a several servings. It's also called bavette. It has the advantage of keeping it in a roast size..or cutting into strips and marinating; grill as steak tips.

          I don't have space for another freezer but I highly recommend a vacuum freezer. I have a Kitchen Tilia for about $100. If you're buying a whole pig or calf or a hunter; you might want to step up and buy 1 of their higher end models..just faster..if you're freezing a lot.

          1. Wow are your expectations right up my alley.

            I find cuts like tenderloin or steaks in general boring. I would much rather take a tough gnarly piece of meat and transform it into the sublime. And yes the price for things like short ribs, oxtails and shanks are going up and the price of cuts like ribeye and strip steaks are going down. Often I'm buying lamb shanks at $5.99/lb and ribeye is selling for $8.99/lb.

            Where I live we don't have Asian markets that sell meats or butcher shops. It's big chain grocery stores that rule here.