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"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.

            1. " 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."

              Like you said, local and organic products are going to be expensive.

              As for me, I buy whole chicken and it is cheaper that way. As for pork, I find prk butt (pork shoulder) to be a very interesting and useful cut. I basically can eat all kind of cuts to be honest. Pig intensity, pig blood.... whatever, you name it.

              1. "Inexpensive cuts" are quickly disappearing IMO. Things like skirt, flank, and flap are rivaling "premium" cuts now. Even chuck is quickly approaching 4 bucks a lb, tail and short rib are close to 5. Even shank is over 3 bucks now. And I'm talking mega-mart prices.

                When it comes to pork, baby back ribs are pretty much a rip off now, and even belly is starting to get up there in price.

                The only truly inexpensive proteins left are pork shoulder and whole chickens and turkeys.

                3 Replies
                1. re: joonjoon

                  I just paid $4.99/lb for short ribs! The oxtail was also listed at the same price! It's crazy.

                  1. re: schoenfelderp

                    That's expensive? What's considered "inexpensive"?

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      I would say between 3 and 4/lb, but its true that now you're getting close to chicken prices so maybe I am being a little unreasonable.

                2. How far did the terrine go? It might have been worth $25 if you got enough servings out of it.
                  The great thing about having so many meats to chose from is that if the demand starts to flag on one, they will lower their prices. When skirt steak was cheap, chicken breasts were expensive. Now it's the opposite. A decent sirloin can be had for not too much if you look around. Of course offal is always cheap.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: gilintx

                    I have about a 1.4 lb. terrine in the fridge right now. As an appetizer I might get a solid 8 or 9 servings out of it, but as a meal I'm thinking 3. Overpriced in my book.

                    I would love it if skirt, flank, and hanger all started coming down in price but I have a feeling they will only continue to rise.

                    1. re: schoenfelderp

                      Skirt is forever now associated with fajitas, and so it isn't likely coming down any time soon. Hanger steaks are on the tail end of their hipness explosion, but since a cow only has one of them, they're likely to stay expensive. If you're interested in something similar, you might look around for flap meat steak, which is a cut off the sirloin. I only recently discovered it, but it's nicely priced and pretty tasty.

                  2. You know--I was just thinking about the price of "inexpensive" meats this past weekend when I made a Pot au Feu. My Frenchman balked at first when I told him I was making it because he scoffed it as peasant food he ate when he was a kid.--hey, I'm STILL a peasant! Anyway, the recipes that I referenced (I ended up making a variation of Bourdain's recipe)--most of them referred to using inexpensive cuts of meat. I could not even find oxtails in my area. The short ribs suggested were ridiculously expensive too...the shoulder roast of the beef was the least amount of money. It also brought back memories of when my mother would feed five of us kids lamb shanks. She cooked them long and slow and they were delicious. She always said lamb shanks were cheap and underrated. Well....lamb shanks are no longer cheap at all.
                    I'm singing now.."Where have all the peasants gone? Gone to grave yards one-by-one...."

                    1. Pig cheeks. They need slow cooking but they taste good. But not all butchers will do them I was surprised a few days ago I went into a butcher I sometimes use. I asked him about them and he said he just chucks them away. So will not use him again.

                      The inexpensive cuts do move up in price with popularity. But not sure if the trendy cuts which have fallen out of favor then come down.

                      I am much more careful what cuts I buy these days due to the cost of meat.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: dryrain

                        I agree, trends are a big influence on prices. Trends trigger greater demand which creates smaller supply which drives up cost. And yeah, once the price goes up, it won't come down, regardless of consequent supply or demand,
                        Two classic cases: the chicken wing, and veal shank. When I was a kid (early 70s), our local butcher would GIVE this stuff away and snicker at the people accepting these "trash" cuts. Buffalo wings and osso buco sure changed that. More recently, pork belly seems to be all the rage at hip restaurants, driving up the price.

                        Even offal like liver (chicken/beef/pork) and heart seem to be expensive. Pork tongue at $2 each?! Sheesh.
                        I agree with others, try to shop at ethnic groceries (Asian, Caribbean, Italian come to mind) where lesser cuts are more readily availabe and usually cheaper. If none are around, then wait for a sale at mega. In my neck of the woods, pork hocks will be $3-$5/lb, but they go to $.99-$1.49/lb on sale.

                        I like to cook hocks/feet (boiled dinner or pickled or gelatina), pork tongue (pickled), blade roast (pot au feu or a la short rib), brisket (corned beef or Montreal smoked meat, but brisket is getting expensive too), Pigs head (headcheese), cured pig tails (boiled dinner), liver (chicken or pork for very easy pate). Sometimes goat is very cheap and makes for a great stew or curry.

                      2. My main local supermarket does charge oddly high prices for some things, like beef short ribs, oxtail cuts, and beef shanks (all usually $4-$5 per pound). It's hard to know what to make of that when they also routinely sell boneless top sirloin at that price and put strip loin or boneless rib steaks on sale for $6-$7 per pound. When I want things like shanks, I go to a Latin market or grab the supermarket stuff on clearance sales. Asian markets are great for pork.

                        One cut that the supermarket does offer good deals on is the chuck eye steak--that's as tender as rib steak but has a bit of gristle in the middle, just due to the muscular structures as the rib meat goes into the shoulder/chuck. I see chuck eye steaks at $4 per pound rather often. (Note, these are NOT the same as any other kind of chuck steak.)