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When Cheapo is Better than Pricey?

For kitchen equipment, ingredients, whatever, what are your favorite examples of things that don't improve much as the price goes up, or your favorite cheap things that are actually better than the more expensive versions?

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    1. Yellow American Mustard. The less it costs the better it tastes.

      1. I'd be here all day if I listed everything I could think of - and that's good news, because the fact is the old marketing fallacy "you get what you pay for" is just that: a fallacy created by merchants. This fallacy has worked so well through the years that we began created a new definition for the word "cheap" to be, not just low in price, but also low in quality. This fallacy has made many companies and individuals a lot of money based not on actual value, but rather perceived value.

        To see this fallacy debunked, check out the reviews of what you're looking for at Cook's Illustrated, Consumer Reports, and Amazon.

        I'm not saying that one or the other (cheap or expensive) is an absolute with regards to quality. Quite the opposite actually. Unlike merchants who would love (and you have loved for centuries) for us to believe that as the price goes up, so goes quality.

        1 Reply
        1. re: 1POINT21GW

          Those are pretty much the last places I'd trust for food related reviews, though I'd consider them for equipment.

        2. Store brands, regional brands, and "second-tier" brands.

          1. I think flour, sugar, eggs, baking soda/powder, stuff like that, to me, it's all the same.

            51 Replies
            1. re: mariars

              I thought the same thing until about 10 years ago.

              King Arthur flour really is different, and really does give better results. (they are also quite a lot more expensive, so there's a balance there) I tried the same recipe with (don't remember) Gold Medal or Pillsbury, and about a week later with KA...and it matters.

              Baking powder -- I've yet to find a generic brand that behaves as well as Clabber Girl or Calumet. Those two, I'll switch between depending on which one's on sale, but I learned my lesson not to buy off-brand baking powder.

              1. re: sunshine842

                Sunshine, a friend found my King Arthur Flour catalog and ordered from it, she swears that the KA flour makes a difference and I believe her- she's an exacting cook and knows what she's doing when she's baking, too.

                1. re: EWSflash

                  King Arthur flours are noticeably better, for my uses, than ordinary flours. In part, this is because they are intentionally higher in protein. For example, here's a blurb from Wiki regarding one of them:

                  "There is at least one flour labeled "unbleached cake flour blend" (marketed by King Arthur) that is not bleached, but the protein content is much higher than typical cake flour at about 9.4% protein (cake flour is usually around 6% to 8%). According to King Arthur, this flour is a blend of a more finely milled unbleached wheat flour and cornstarch, which makes a better end result than unbleached wheat flour alone (cornstarch is a common additive for part of the flour used in cake where actual cake flour is called for but you only have all purpose on hand). However you will still get a denser end result than real cake flour that has been more finely milled, chlorinated, and has a lower protein content in the "cake flour" range of around 6% or so."

              2. re: mariars

                My parents live in a rather poor area of the country. Did you know that you can buy sugar that is not 100% cane? Found this out the hard way. Nasty, nasty stuff.

                I also disagree about the flour, eggs, and baking powder.

                1. re: smtucker

                  A large percentage of sugar is beet and not cane sugar.
                  In what way is beet sugar nasty? I know some that bake and say it behaves differently but most would not be able to tell them apart.

                  1. re: scubadoo97

                    It's years since I did much candy making and complex cake decorating, but beet sugar behaves very differently in some applications than cane sugar, and as a result you rarely find recipes in these fields that call for beet sugar. It's considereed a "no no" by many.

                    1. re: Caroline1

                      I am not arguing beet sugar behaves differently, as I really do not know enough to have an opinion on the subject. But, I've been wondering *how* it behaves differently? Example?

                      As an aside, I don't recall having much choice in sugar brand where I live, unless one goes to the organic. Perhaps it's a regional issue.

                      1. re: CanadaGirl

                        Sometimes demanding answers on Chowhound isn't nearly as effective as asking Google. Here is an article from the San Francisco Chronicle with some of the more critical answers you seek.

                          1. re: CanadaGirl

                            You're welcome! My first experience with beet sugar was during WWII, when I was a kid and beet sugar was more readily available than cane sugar because of the war. Plus, ALL sugar was rationed! My mother used beet sugar to make fudge. I should say try to make fudge. It crystallized into a mess! And very shortly thereafter, she began doing much of our grocery shopping in Mexico, which was only three miles away. And NOTHING was rationed there, and cane sugar was super cheap. I always avoid beet sugar simply because I never know when the urge to make something that demands cane sugar will strike. Why take chances? '-)

                            1. re: CanadaGirl

                              I'm adding this as a separate post so no one will miss an edit. There are a lot of different kinds of sugars and sweeteners, and none of them behave exactly alike, no matter what those TV ads say. You know, the ad that says your body can't tell the difference between high fructose corn syrup and sugar? Well, mine can! I'm allergic to high fructose corn syrup and so are a lot of other people. Karo? Not so much. Among the natural sugars, I've recently begun using coconut palm sugar on my cereal. It's a very different sugar from cane or beet because it is a "slow carb" as opposed to "fast carb", and therefore is also recommended for diabetics. It's still a bit pricey, and I haven't tried making fudge with it, so I have no idea whether it behaves more line cane or beet sugar. Honey is another unique sweetener. I love making a peanut butter and honey sandwich, then letting it sit for ten or fifteen minutes while the chemical reaction between the two sets up crunchy crystallization. There's nothing like a crunchy peanut butter and jelly sandwich that does not use crunchy peanut butter! Sugars and sweeteners are a fascinating taste journey to explore!

                        1. re: Caroline1

                          Still for general non specialty baking can one tell the difference on the tongue and would make it be "nasty"?

                    2. re: mariars

                      The ground wheat in flour is not the same. There are differences in wheat type, moisture content, ash content, proteins, etc. Lower-grade flour is usually in the cheap bags.

                      Granulated white sugar is processed from either sugar cane or beets. There is a difference in the mineral profile and the way the two are processed. Beat sugar is cheaper to produce and reacts differently during cooking, especially in baked goods, than cane sugar. The cheap brands use beet sugar.

                      Brown sugar is a combination of sugar and molasses, both inherent in the sugarcane plant, and is produced naturally as part of the process of refining white cane sugar by the traditional method, crystallization. However, brown sugar made from beets is made by refining the sugar all the way to the final white granular stage, stripping off all the molasses because beet molasses is unfit for human consumption (it's recycled as cattle feed). Then cane molasses is added back into the sugar through a process called "painting." Painting coats the granules but does not necessarily penetrate them -- the molasses can sometimes be rubbed right off.

                      Have you ever tasted a farm-fresh egg from a pastured chicken? The taste and texture are completely different from from a factory-farmed chicken raised on a diet of dried feed and antibiotics. Also, in the general grocery stores, eggs are now available pasteurized and fortified.

                      There are two types of baking powder: with or without aluminum. Studies concerning aluminum's connection to Alzheimers are still being conducted.

                      1. re: Vidute

                        Walmart's house-brand sugar says it's 100% cane sugar on the bag (or it did the last time I was there which was many months ago). It's definitely competitive with other "cheap" brands of sugar in price.

                        I had eggs pulled straight from the coop in the back yard of a relative's relative in Europe, and to be quite honest, they didn't taste much different to me. I was disappointed. Maybe I have a crappy sense of taste. I do spend a bit more to buy a particular local brand of eggs. The company vaccinates their flock against salmonella and also runs washed eggs under a UV light to kill any remaining potential nasties on the shell.

                        1. re: Jen76

                          You know... I saw an ad from a local farmer selling eggs directly to the public. They were supposed to be organic and and all that. I wanted to try them because farm raised chickens certainly should produce better eggs. I was expecting thicker, more yellow yolks and a better taste. I paid 3 times what I pay for eggs at the grocery store.

                          They tasted just like my store bought eggs. The yolks were no different. The eggs were various sizes and colors. I thought the light green ones were interesting.

                          Unfortunately, I didn't consider it worth the price so I didn't buy any more.

                          1. re: Hank Hanover

                            Buying from a farm doesn't guarantee you quality. You have to know how the farm operates and cares for and feeds the chickens. Diet and living conditions can be less than ideal on a family farm, too.

                            1. re: mcf

                              Another major thing about eggs is how fresh they are. I have found that out of necessity, I suppose, to sell all product produced, that many eggs bought at a farmers market are old as the yolks can be very flat. In fresh eggs, the yolk stands up round and the whites hold together more. Feed is also crucial to taste. My grandmother had a lady that brought eggs and things she grew in her garden yo her. Everything she brought was from that morning including the eggs. The chickens scratched around outside and ate bugs. The eggs were the best eggs ever. There was a definite difference in taste.

                              1. re: mcf

                                I think those chickens had a better life than the dog, personally. I agree with you, and that was mainly my point, that being free range, organic, etc. doesn't guarantee "quality" or better taste. And again, maybe my sense of taste isn't very discerning, since I've had farmer's market eggs from various farms, eggs grown by relatives, and supermarket eggs, and they all just taste the same to me, hence, it's not part of my personal "value equation" to pay $5-6 per dozen (seemingly the going rate around here) for local, small farmer, free range, organic eggs.

                                1. re: mcf

                                  It really depends a lot on what those chickens are eating. I've had farm fresh eggs that were sublime. A more delicate texture and nearly a custard-like quality to the yolks. Cooking of course has much to do with it as well.

                                  We're lucky in that we've got Halo Farms nearby so we get very fresh eggs at insane prices - often only $1.25 per dozen large. They aren't quite like the eggs that my buddy had from his chickens but they are very good and the price is unbeatable. We buy them like 6-8 dozen at a time and mostly just eat the whites for the protein.

                                  1. re: PepinRocks

                                    what a shame --- isn't there someone you can give the yolks to? Pasta? Custard?

                                    1. re: PepinRocks

                                      Too bad, those yolks are nutrition powerhouses, and the fats are really good for you.

                                        1. re: mcf

                                          and most people don't know that the yolks also contain about 40% of the protein

                                    2. re: Hank Hanover

                                      I grew up in a tiny town, and my Mom used to buy her eggs from a lady down the street. In my head, they were way better than when we had to have 'store-bought' eggs.

                                      However, I developed an egg allergy, so I guess I'll never know the truth. At least its a good memory...

                                      1. re: Hank Hanover

                                        Same experience here. It's the cheapest eggs I can find for me.

                                        1. re: Hank Hanover

                                          the color of the yolks is determined by what the chicken was eating at the time, rather than by whether or not it's free-range.

                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                            I have heard of people feeding their chickens yellow food coloring (mixing it in with their feed) to get that darker color.

                                            1. re: Hank Hanover

                                              Frank Perdue feeds his chickens marigolds...

                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                    His kid Jim still swears they feed them marigolds...

                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                  Absolutely true that a chicken's diet effects not only the color and flavor of their eggs, but also the flavor of their meat. When I was a kid, we raised chickens for eggs and meat, as well as rabbits for the table during WWII, when store-bought meat was strictly rationed.

                                                  Our chickens nested and roosted inside one corner of the barn that had a small chicken-sized door that could be closed to keep them inside during bad weather, and that opened onto their large enclosed yard. It was my job to feed them and collect the eggs before school. Their diet consisted of "chicken feed" that was composed of whole grains such as millet, wheat, dried field corn (my favorite preschool snack in the fourth grade) and other whole grains, which was "served" in long concrete feeding troughs. They were also fed a course milled type of feed called "scratch." Both types of feed came in gunny sacks that held 100 pounds. We kept a bowl in the scratch, and part of my job was to take a bowl of scratch into the chicken yard and strew it on the ground, which encouraged them to scratch the ground while eating, and that would unfailingly unearth worms, which they ate with great relish! Their yolks were brilliant orange, except during spells of stormy weather when they weren't much interested in going out in the rain, which meant no scratch. When that happened, the yolks would lighten to yellow and taste a bit different. Diet absolutely determines the color and flavor of eggs. BIG time!!!

                                                  Oh, and just so everyone knows, there is no better way to start a cold and stormy winter day than slipping your icy hands under a warm brooding chicken to take her fresh eggs and leave the glass ones for her to sit on. Chickens are so toasty!!! I wish I could buy such eggs today... <sigh> And for the record, worms work as well as marigolds or food coloring. Maybe even better! '-)

                                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                                    whether they taste different or not is up for discussion, but I'd put up a fight at having to give up my sunny-orange eggs. Last time we visited my Mom it was weird to see pale-yellow eggs.

                                                    (eggs in Europe have orange yolks)

                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                      So do the ones I get in New Jersey.

                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                        When my second husband and I first arrived in Greece, we stayed in an all-inclusive resort while looking for a permanent home. Breakfast was a glorious anything-you-want and anything-you-can-think-of affair with nearly as many food laden waiters filling the expansive patio as guests. About our third morning I noticed he was avoiding eggs, a favorite of his at home. I asked why. "Don't ask me why I'm not eating them! Why are you eating those things with the wierd orange yolks! What is wrong with them?" And now you know he was a typical American city boy. He finally did try them a few days later, but it was like trying to get a phobic eater to try snails for the first time.

                                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                                          I would like a do-over of my youth years when my mother was trying to get my siblings and me to eat our ducks' eggs.

                                                          1. re: Veggo

                                                            There's a large natural creek here in Plano that includes a couple of good sized islands and "sand bars" that are heavily populated with live "ornamental" ducks you can look down on from Spring Creek Parkway's bridge that crosses the area. I cannot see those ducks without wondering who gets the eggs? I suspect there are interesting perks for the grounds keepers! I also suspect I'd be arrested for helping myself... <sigh>

                                                            1. re: Caroline1

                                                              No, but next time I saw the groundskeepers doing their thing, I might be tempted to wander by and start a conversation....

                                                            2. re: Veggo

                                                              Such a Duck Mulligan is totally acceptable.

                                                              Its just one of them Shoulda's.

                                                        2. re: Caroline1

                                                          Caroline1, here's a link to pastured chicken, beef, pork, lamb, etc. in TX. Hopefully, one of these farms is close enough to you.


                                                          1. re: Vidute

                                                            Thank you! There are several in my area. Many of them shut down their offerings during the drought, but things appear to be getting back to normal for beef. For poultry, I seem to have turned away from chicken in favor of quail, duck and goose, and it turns out that that's no hardship at all! I can't bring myself to to pay over ten bucks for a smallish kitchen! I seem to suffer from frequent sticker shock these days. <sigh>

                                                            1. re: Caroline1

                                                              I can empathise with the sticker shock. One thing I've become very aware of is that my farmer has not raised prices, except by maybe 25 cents. The price differences between pastured/organic meats and dairy, are quickly closing. For example, Eggland's Best in the grocery store are $4.99 a dozen whereas the pastured, organic, soy-free jumbo eggs from my farmer are $5.00 a dozen. Pastured, organic porterhouse steaks are $11.99/lb. Pastured, organic, ground sirloin is $5.99/lb. Organic, heirloom tomatoes are $2.99/lb. Pastured, organic, milk, poultry, pork, etc., in my opinion, is more filling and flavorful than that which is sold in the grocery, and now, with the grocery store prices rising, there isn't that much of a price difference, and sometimes, the pastured, organic product is cheaper! (pastured, organic, soy-free chicken wings are only $2.50/lb.)

                                                              1. re: Caroline1


                                                                Is your husband hunting them? Because Goose is $6/pound and most of the time so is duck. I have seen duck as low as $3/pound which is 3 times the price of store bought chicken.

                                                                I just don't see how I can justify paying $50 for a goose. For a special occasion, I guess I could bring myself to pay $12 for a duck...I guess.

                                                                1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                  When I have a hard time justifying the cost of a food item I remember that is still cheaper than eating out in most instances

                                                                  1. re: scubadoo97

                                                                    Yeah... so do I .... and sometimes I look at the ducks and geese at the local park with a predators eye.

                                                                    1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                      We have quite a few Canadian expats (geese) in my neighborhood. You're welcome to come and introduce them to your kitchen. :)

                                                                      1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                        Come here little ducky I got some bread.....

                                                                        1. re: scubadoo97

                                                                          I would but I have that laziness issue to deal with. It just seems like it would be sooo much work. What do you mean?... pluck em and gut em and you want all the pin feathers out too? I know... I can find someone needier than me and give them 2 geese. In gratitude, he can give me 1 back all cleaned. yeah that sounds good.

                                                    2. re: mariars

                                                      Funny thing is I think ALL of those things are much better with specific brands. KA is much better than supermarket and all cane sugar is better than the cheaper beet stuff and I like Rumford or the 365 non-aluminum baking powder and eggs and butter, boy do good eggs and butter make a difference.

                                                      Hum. That leaves baking soda. I guess it doesn't matter

                                                      1. re: JudiAU

                                                        You forgot the vanilla. When can I expect my cake? ;)

                                                    3. I love Fresh and Easy's store brand crushed tomatoes with basil for making pizzas in our wood-fired oven. I special order the fancy caputo 00 flour (it really makes a difference), I buy fresh mozzarella from a local pizzeria that makes its own, but the $.99 can of Fresh and Easy tomatoes is just as good as the San Marzanos I have to drive 30 miles and pay $7 for. Store brand isn't always better, but when it's at least as good, I'm all for it!

                                                      1. I will take some heat over this but enameled cast iron dutch ovens have a huge variance in pricing.
                                                        You can get a 6.5 quart Lodge or Tramontina for $50. The same size Le Creuset is $200. There are disputes as to whether there is any difference but there is, surely, no more than a 20% difference in quality.

                                                        Organic food is easily twice the cost of the standard grocery store product. Often, it is more like 3 times. I can get a dozen eggs for $1.29. The farmer down the road sells organic free range eggs for $3/dozen. I can get whole chicken for 89 cents a pound. Organic free range chicken is $2.99 a pound.

                                                        Pre-packaged rice, beans and grains are often 20 - 50% more than buying in the bulk section of the same store and many times the bulk stuff is better and fresher.

                                                        Let's not forget the heavily advertised national brands of almost anything is at least 20% higher than the equivalent generic brand. Sometimes they are better... sometimes not.

                                                        All this being said. In most products the best quality product is often only 20% better but cost 100% more. If it is better, the consumer must make the choice of whether he/she wants to pay the premium for the best quality. Consequences have to be taken into account too. I think I would pay the extra 100% on things like mountain climbing equipment, missiles, and spacecraft.

                                                        Oh... Let's not forget the difference in price and quality between fresh and packaged. Most times the fresh is cheaper and better.

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                          Hank, the OP asked for "better" not cheaper. There are a lot of ways that the organic and free range or non factory farmed items you mentioned are better, health wise, environmentally and in terms of taste.

                                                          I don't think any of us needs help understanding that a lower price is cheaper than a higher one.

                                                          1. re: mcf

                                                            He asked for things that don't improve much as price goes up. My comments qualify.

                                                            1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                              I guess we see it differently. It really comes down to what each one values as quality.

                                                        2. I have a Borner V-slicer that I bought at the fair 20 years ago. Still sharp and functional. Can't remember what I paid for it, but had to be less than $30. Was gifted (twice) an Oxo mandoline ($100?). Both went to the thrift store within a week. Not as sharp, not as easy to use as the Borner. I still lust after one of the restaurant grade French mandolines, though. Can't bring myself to pay the price. Or be disappointed if it isn't any better than the Borner.

                                                          Food items, in general, I usually just buy what I know is good, regardless of price. Fresh produce in season is almost always better and cheaper than out of season, so I only buy in season. Meat I try to only from a source where I wouldn't be sickened by the way the animals are raised/slaughtered. This is a hugely more expensive, but my other choice is to become a vegetarian, and I am a confirmed omnivore. I don't buy a lot of canned/frozen food (I can at home and have a big garden), so I just buy the brands I know I have been happy with in the past. It is such a small percentage of my food budget that I won't take the time to shop around for the lowest cost/best value. Butter, eggs, and milk I buy from a local dairy that (to me) has better quality than national brands. I couldn't honestly tell you what the price difference is, once again, it doesn't affect the bottom line that much.

                                                          I figure I am money ahead just to be cooking at home, rather than eating out! With my small family, even big price differences (King Arthur flour rather than Gold Medal) are only rounding errors in my entire food budget.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: dkenworthy

                                                            I have a Borner v-slicer I picked up at a thrift shop for $5. I love it!

                                                            I had been given a brand new one (can't remember the brand) and it was awful.

                                                            And that's one of the key things for me - thrift shops. I can go and get baking pans, or cast aluminum, that were made 50 years ago (or more!) and are as heavy as todays all-clad - for about $4.

                                                            New is not necessarily better.

                                                          2. Thanks for all the awesome tips everyone! I just thought it would be a fun thread, It's interesting to see what people like and how it correlates to price. I personally will definitely splurge when I think something's worth it, but am trying to keep my budget fairly low.

                                                            It's like how some produce like tomatoes, corn or strawberries taste markedly different from a farmer's market or garden than from the supermarket, but others don't have a huge difference in taste. It gets even more interesting when you get to things like canned tomatoes or whatever and the method of getting the food to you is the same, and in some cases you can really tell the difference and in others the store brand is totally ok.

                                                            I also love hearing about equimpent, I had a suspicion that the cheaper coated dutch ovens might work ok, but I was definitely wavering over the price. Now I feel like although the Le Crueset dutch ovens are probably better, the Lodge ones might work for what I need for now.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: starburn

                                                              Only if it's Burger King. McD's is fried and flavorless in comparison. Their fries rock, however.

                                                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                  Depends on what you consider fast food. I enjoy my burgers from the Burger Joint and there is a great difference between their product and Mickey D's.

                                                                2. Cube steak, top or bottom round. It has become my new favorite . I have cooked plenty of top cuts. But cube steak, go figure.

                                                                  1. Interesting discussion.

                                                                    I thought hard and actually could not come up with much, especially now that I do not eat as much as I used to (sadly) and quality counts more than ever. Water is one of the few examples I agree with.

                                                                    As much as I like to believe otherwise, I think the pressure to maximize corporate profit has driven prices to closely represent quality. Where there are fluctuations, demand and supply would tend to quickly drive the price back to where it "should be". This is true as long as your perception of quality and value is in line with a large enough population of consumers.

                                                                    The only things I can think of are "expired" gourmet/imported pasta and cookies, as well as fancy steaks and imported cheeses are that are beyond their best by date. Some of these are so ridiculously expensive that the store eventually has to slash the prices to get rid of them. They are so much cheaper than the regular priced non-specialty items but they are pretty good!

                                                                    Looking forward to reading more examples from everyone.

                                                                    1. Kraft Diner, I find the original much better than the pricier deluxe version

                                                                      6 Replies
                                                                      1. re: westaust

                                                                        Yes! Although I do approve of the one with cauliflower. Tastes the same to me :)

                                                                          1. re: MGZ

                                                                            Kraft macaroni and cheese in the blue box. It's called "Kraft DInner" in Canada. That's not a colloquialism, it's what's on the box :)

                                                                            1. re: CanadaGirl

                                                                              +1, but I recently found the cheese powder on Amazon, and bought a bunch. Trying to perfect the recipe now.

                                                                            2. re: westaust

                                                                              I was about to say that myself, but I'll go further and say the Generic versions are sometimes even better than Kraft!

                                                                            3. Mattresses! Oh wait, sorry, that's not food related (had big debate about this recently).

                                                                              Pretty sure my cheap non-stick pan from Costco works as well as an expensive All-Clad version. Also don't see the need to spend the AC price for a slow cooker. I like my Costco rice cooker too ($35).

                                                                              I tend to like spices that come in packets or I buy them in bulk rather inexpensively instead of those horrible, expensive little bottles that have been sitting on the top shelf for who-knows-how-long.

                                                                              1. A $3 bahn mi is usually better than a $10 bahn mi.

                                                                                There are many cheaper cuts of beef that I enjoy more than filet mignon.

                                                                                I'd rather have a $30 Forschner chefs knife than a $100 Wusthof, though my own preferred Japanese knives are more expensive than either.

                                                                                It's not that expensive pans are bad products, but there are seriously diminishing returns once you get past the utilitarian aluminum/stainless pans found in restaurant supply stores and the like.

                                                                                I've never found expensive wines to be worth the huge price bump for me. IMO, we live in a golden age of drinkable, consistent, and widely available dirt cheap wines, but many people still look down their noses at anything that came from a box, even if it tastes remarkably similar to what you can spend 10 times as much on. Coffee, on the other hand - i will go out of my way to search out the good stuff, though happily the price bump isn't nearly so extreme.

                                                                                Chicken liver kicks ass and they practically give the stuff away. Foie gras is a perfectly nice ingredient, but you can make a chicken liver terrine that's just as good, and it doesn't cost $50+ per pound.

                                                                                San Marzano tomatoes are nice, but overrated, and often far more expensive than cheaper canned tomatoes that can be just as good when put to the same use.

                                                                                Cheap Americanized sushi, enjoyed for its own merits, can be a marvelous thing. Better than a more expensive and authentic Japanese sushi/sashimi dinner? No. But different and worthwhile in its own right.

                                                                                16 Replies
                                                                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                  "It's not that expensive pans are bad products, but there are seriously diminishing returns once you get past the utilitarian aluminum/stainless pans found in restaurant supply stores and the like. "

                                                                                  Perfectly said.

                                                                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                    "There are many cheaper cuts of beef that I enjoy more than filet mignon. "

                                                                                    Beautifully put, cowboyardee. Give me a grilled ribeye, or even a flank steak or skirt steak, done properly and sliced thin (not the ribeye, though!), grilled, please, and you can have that bland little filet.

                                                                                      1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                        I completely agree with wine. While there are more expensive wines that I think are great, it's not across the board (automatically a $50 bottle of wine will not uniformly be better than a $20 bottle, etc). I don't necessarily have specific brands in mind - but I think the notion of it costs more, it must be better does not hold true.

                                                                                        Also, in the Middle East - while not always tied to price - olive oil that you buy in washed out Coke bottles or plastic jugs typically sold for gasoline - if not the best, is usually really really amazing.

                                                                                        1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                          To an extent, I completely agree about "drinking" wines. In fact the NY Times recently pointed out the "sweet spot" for wine was twenty bucks:


                                                                                          They revisited the concept with a list of American wines, which, in general, tend to have been launched with a bit more of a profit motive concept than traditional, Old World offerings:


                                                                                          Nonetheless, the finite nature of any given variety and vintage often drives price more than the taste of what's in the bottle. For example, when Marcel Lapierre passed away, the 2009 Morgon skyrocketed in price because everyone knew that great vintage was going to be the last from such a talent and there was only so much left. I seem to recall bottles going from fifteen to thirty dollars a pop in a matter of a few months.


                                                                                          1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                            I'm with you on the restaurant supply stores. Not just aluminum pans, but a lot of the other basic cookware like spatulas, stirring spoons, tongs, pizza peels, roasting pans, and to some extent cooking knives are both better AND cheaper at restaurant supply stores. They may not look pretty or have a nice logo stamped into em but they are made to stand up to the industrial kitchen and as such they are seriously hard wear out in the home.

                                                                                            1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                              I agree with all of this except for San Marzano, I swear by them - I find they are consistant, where other brands are very hit and miss, and can ruin a great sauce, I ALWAYS use SM now.

                                                                                              1. re: NellyNel

                                                                                                I'm not saying San Marzano tomatoes are bad. Just that there are other consistently good brands of canned tomatoes out there that don't cost so much. For example, I make sauce for Neapolitan margherita pizza out of Giant Eagle store brand (for those not in my area, that's not an especially great supermarket chain) no-sodium added tomatoes. Costs under $1 per can. With a pinch of added sugar, the taste is all but identical. I'll agree, however, that some of the big name brands like Hunts are pretty bad.

                                                                                                To be fair though, if I go all out on a pasta sauce, I typically start with fresh tomatoes.

                                                                                              2. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                The biggest problem with cheaper cuts of meat is that they ain't! Have you priced oxtails lately? Makes me cry while I buyy them.

                                                                                                1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                  But they are SOO purdy, a half dozen thick slices, under that Saran wrap. Gets your eye.

                                                                                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                    I know! I did a double take not long ago, on seeing that they were priced at $22 at a Korean store.

                                                                                                    The best I can find is at $9, directly from the farmers. Oxtail is rising in status from peasant food to gourmet.

                                                                                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                      Yep...once the word gets out on things, they go way up. Unfortunately, a lot of these things taste good but aren't worth the extra cost.

                                                                                                      I don't buy oxtails, short ribs, veal shanks or chicken feet anymore.

                                                                                                    2. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                      It's not that expensive pans are bad products, but there are seriously diminishing returns once you get past the utilitarian aluminum/stainless pans found in restaurant supply stores and the like.
                                                                                                      Well yes, but really inexpensive pans are usually not worth buying. My philosophy is to buy mid level on almost everything, not including food. But its fun to find a really great thing at the Goodwill or in a discount store.

                                                                                                      One of my favorite (pretty) cheap pans are enameled roasters. I've owned quite a few, but I only have 3 or 4 currently. At least one was bought in a local cheap store, one was obtained at Target decades ago, and I think one was bought at a junky antique store. I prefer these for roasting chicken or turkey; they work well, and they were cheaply obtained. I am always amazed when people write in here to ask which expensive roaster is best. The enameled steel roasters work very well for much less money.

                                                                                                      1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                        I agree with the San Marzano tomatoes, I don't understand paying that much for what is to me just an above average tomato variety. I think San Marzanos are highly overrated in general.

                                                                                                        1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                          Amen on wine. At one new year's party there was a whole gamut of champagnes on hand. We organized a blind tasting contest. I do remember that the clear winner cost about $10. I wish I could remember what it was.

                                                                                                          Beer too. The best beer is one or two notches up the price scale from the bottom. I can do without all the fawning over fussy overdone beers.

                                                                                                          And Pizza! You can go out for a $100 pizza dinner around here but my favorite pizza ever is sold all over NYC for $3.00 or less a slice.

                                                                                                          1. re: atheorist

                                                                                                            "the clear winner cost about $10. I wish I could remember what it was."
                                                                                                            Such is the plight and the tragedy of us cheap wine aficionados.

                                                                                                        2. With the caveat that I don't buy ridiculously expensive food that only wealthy folks can buy and eat at a regular basis, I have never found a reason to buy dried pasta that isn't at the cheapest sale prices. We're talking stuff that might normally be $2/pound on sale for around $1/pound.

                                                                                                          1. Still calculating, but I wanted to say I love this subject

                                                                                                            1. Vegetables peelers. People spend $10-$30 for fancy shiny peelers that don't work at all. A $5 Swissmar or Kuhn Rikon peeler will work far better and last longer.

                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                              1. re: TeRReT

                                                                                                                My Oxo Goodgrips peeler is nearly double-digits in age, but still going strong, with no end in site. It was about $10 when I bought it, and is still about the same price, and if and as this one dies, I'll buy another one.

                                                                                                              2. I have a Thai ginger/carrot grater that I bought for less than 70¢ - that is still my go to grater. Fab for carrot and ginger, sure, but also great for cheese, chocolate, you name it. After I discovered how good it was I went back to the Thai Market, bought multiples, and gave them as gifts : )

                                                                                                                Zukarmex sugar, from mexico with trace happy minerals still in, is just as good as evaporated cane juice sugar from whole foods - at at LEAST half the price. Sometimes a third.

                                                                                                                1. Woks. The $100+ options I see on wedding registries are utter rubbish for stir frying.

                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                  1. re: JungMann

                                                                                                                    First thing I thought of. I'd always rather have the 10 quid wok from my local Chinese store than any brand name version from a store a multiple of the cost.

                                                                                                                  2. Lamb shoulder chops are WAY cheaper than those tiny loin chops and have just about the same lamb flavor

                                                                                                                    1. Sometimes I'm indifferent between a $4/lb. cheddar and a $22/lb. St. Agur blue.

                                                                                                                      1. I am picky about a lot of raw ingredients but once you have good quality meat, I can eat well from any part of it. I am probably happier with hanger steak than filet mignon anyway. But animal shares really transformed how I cook and my respect for an animal as a whole. Lamb neck is wonderful, wonderful stuff whatever the price.And I'd rather have good quality lamb neck than CAFO anything at the same price.

                                                                                                                        Oh, and though I always buy decent quality pasta I've never truly appreciated very expensive imports. And I've never really preferred super expensive san marzano to muir glen. Like the TJs organic too.

                                                                                                                        We buy mostly organic and rarely buy anything from a regular super market. The only thing I prefer from the megomart is some canned fruit for when I need it. Private label/low sugar/organic is always weird with off flavors.

                                                                                                                        1. There is a recipe from (bon apetit or gourmet I forget) that I have saved for a coffee cheesecake with chocolate ganache and chocolate wafer crumb crust

                                                                                                                          When I found it, I was “poor”. and was asked to make it for a function and was too embarrassed to admit that I didn’t really have the money for the ingredients

                                                                                                                          I went to Aldi and bought their store brand of butter, cream cheese, sour cream, eggs, etc…

                                                                                                                          It turned out TERRIBLE, it was watery and it didn’t set right and the ganache didn’t taste right… I wound up throwing the whole thing away (because I’d rather show up with a store bought cheesecake than with that monstrosity) and wasted the precious little money I had

                                                                                                                          It was a life lesson for me

                                                                                                                          My buying habits have changed drastically since then, (I buy from local farmers whenver possible and my pantry staples and paper products are pretty much all I get from the grocery store) but it taught me that there are some things that are not worth it, no matter how cheap they are.

                                                                                                                          5 Replies
                                                                                                                          1. re: cgarner

                                                                                                                            On occasion, I'll prepare a batch of cho chip cookies and take them to work. I always get a request for the recipe. When I tell them that it's from the back of Nestles chips, they say that that's the recipe that they use and that their cookies don't taste as good as mine. They keep insisting that I'm adding some secret ingredient. Real, quality ingredients do make a difference.

                                                                                                                            1. re: cgarner

                                                                                                                              You're experience with Aldi is interesting because I buy all my butter, cream cheese, sour cream, eggs, milk, half and half, and heavy cream from Aldi and I have found either the same or better results from their store brand. I love Aldi.

                                                                                                                              1. re: 1POINT21GW

                                                                                                                                and Aldi usually carries European chocolate...

                                                                                                                                1. re: 1POINT21GW

                                                                                                                                  I believe (have no proof because i haven't shopped there since) that the butter, sour cream and cream cheese probably have a higher water content than the brands I normally use, plus they only sell one size of egg, which is considerably smaller than extra large eggs that you get at the grocery store

                                                                                                                                  1. re: cgarner

                                                                                                                                    You might want to actually have a look at the labels

                                                                                                                                    I realize I'm in a different distribution area...but I buy dairy products at Lidl and Aldi BECAUSE they are richer and taste better than the national brands.

                                                                                                                              2. Cutting boards. The pricey ones look nicer but if you are cooking a lot that doesn't last long. I really like my cheapo bamboo board because it doesn't damage knife edges and it sheds fluids well. The few times it has started to slightly warp or become uneven I just sanded it smooth again by hand. I'd never do that to an expensive end grain board.

                                                                                                                                Cheap cast iron pots and pans are great. There's no layering, alloying or advanced manufacturing techniques that go into these; they're just elemental iron poured into a mold. Pretty hard to screw that up.

                                                                                                                                5 Replies
                                                                                                                                1. re: RealMenJulienne

                                                                                                                                  Cutting boards is a good one, whether wood or not. I actually like the cheapo white plastic ones best for most applications, as they have more give than the more expensive Epicurean-brand style (though I do love the latter for carving poultry/meats).

                                                                                                                                  Years ago I bought an expensive metal strainer for pasta and such. Huge pain to clean, potential for scrapes on sharp edges and it weighed a ton. Love my white plastic $2 strainer. Ditto for pancake flippers and box graters -- the more you spend the less I like. My SO thinks I'm nuts to hang onto the old, beatup ones I've got but if it ain't broke...

                                                                                                                                  Best frozen peas I've tried are the Safeway generic petits pois. Much tastier and more tender than any of the name brands, and very consistent too.

                                                                                                                                  I use an inexpensive brand of 100% canola oil called Sunfrie that works and tastes just fine and saves me a third to a half. I do splurge on olive oil because I am uber picky about the flavour and so I buy it from a place that allows me to taste it first.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: RealMenJulienne

                                                                                                                                    I have a very nice wood cutting board but for the most part it stays in my pantry. It is just easier to get out 1 or more of the flexible ones. They wash easily or I can throw them in the dishwasher plus I can use them to pour the veggies or meat into the pan.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                                                                                      Good call on the flexible cutting boards!

                                                                                                                                      I have a beautiful huge butcher block board, which I DO use, but it's the flexible ones that get taken out the most. Light, easy, they are an instant clean surface and let me transport things to a bowl or another location so easily.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: happybaker

                                                                                                                                        Me, too -- I have three really nice boards that came as a promo with my Kitchenaid mixer -- so they're solid wood, with the Kitchenaid label and everything.

                                                                                                                                        But I use the plastic Ikea mats all the time. I cut one in half to put in my picnic bag, I have several that get used all the time...and the nice part is that when the corners break (and they will) my kitchen shears just crop them down a little and they keep right on going.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                          The Ikea ones are a great deal!

                                                                                                                                          A dollar store near us had nice thick ones for, yup, a dollar each so I bought a few and the next trip to my mom's house - I threw out all her old curled ones and replaced with new. I breathed sigh of relief and they get used tons. They are also easier for her to wash - she has arthritis and lifting heavy boards - not good. But the flexible ones? Easy peasy!

                                                                                                                                  2. "You pay for what you get" is not true all the time. Cheaper can be better in the food world. Plus sometimes stuff that is a lot cheaper is 85% as good as the best. At this rate why buy the best?

                                                                                                                                    1. Nothing works any better than a plain steel, $10 (US) French crêpe pan.

                                                                                                                                      1. I've read some great responses and ideas here. When I read the subject title, I couldn't think of any. Now that I have read through, I can think of only one.

                                                                                                                                        I consistently purchase store brand cream cheese and it is just as good as Philadelphia.

                                                                                                                                        4 Replies
                                                                                                                                        1. re: laliz

                                                                                                                                          I wish that was true of my store brand cream cheese. Not even close :(

                                                                                                                                          1. re: CanadaGirl

                                                                                                                                            Maybe not your cream cheese, but in many cases, private label foods and other items are produced by name-brand competitors, and are the identical product, sold at a lower price because of good negotiating by the private label retailer.

                                                                                                                                          2. re: laliz

                                                                                                                                            Cream cheese is one of the few thing I INSIST on buying brand name. To me the store brands that i've tried have never measured up.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: kubasd

                                                                                                                                              I like Trader Joe's cream cheese.

                                                                                                                                          3. This thread has grown and I don't recall if this has been mentioned before, but nearly all ethnic markets can be a great source for all sorts of quality items at bargain prices. One of my favorite Asian markets is 99 Ranch here in Plano, Tx, where I can get all sorts of exotic -- often organic -- fresh mushrooms at prices equal to or less than plain old "garden variety" button mushrooms at a standard chain market. They have an amazing array of all sorts of fresh fruits and vegetables I've never seen in a raw take-it-home-and-cook-it state before. Who knew lychees natural state is not in a can in syrup?

                                                                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                                                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                                                This is what I was thinking, especially when it comes to spices. Spices are absurdly expensive at regular grocery stores, which I'm guessing is because Americans don't use them all that much. They're usually about 2-5x cheaper, and often whole and better quality, at the ethnic markets. 1.5 oz of ground cumin is ~$3 at regular grocery stores, 8 ounces of whole cumin seeds is the same price at the Indian grocery store.

                                                                                                                                                My favorite example of the ridiculous prices is the dried chile de arbol pods from McCormick that cost $8 for a half an ounce (seriously, it's like 4-5 pods in a tiny jar). If you do the math that comes out to $256 per pound. At the Mexican store here you can buy a lb of them for $8. The internet is another good way to buy spices. I completely ignore the spice section at regular grocery stores unless I need to grab something very basic like garlic powder or sea salt. Especially ridiculous is the super high priced line of spices they sell in fancy jars that are even more overpriced than the regular ones. I'm not paying $20 for a small handful of green cardamom pods.

                                                                                                                                                A bag of ~10 medium sized limes at the Mexican store is ~$2-3 and they're dense, flavorful, and full of juice. At the regular grocery store they sell giant, bright green, perfect looking Persian limes that contain hardly any juice and not much flavor for 50 cents each. The smaller limes have about 2-3x more juice and cost about half as much.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                                                  I'm an ethnic store shopper when I can find them. Wish we had something akin to a 99 Ranch. Not even close.

                                                                                                                                                2. +1 on non-stick pans, my $20 t-fal works beautifully for what I need it for-cooking eggs

                                                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                  1. re: AdamD

                                                                                                                                                    The more expensive a non-stick pan is, the worse it is for eggs. For years, my go-to, never-fail egg pans have been one I've picked up from Ikea. They cost $5.99. For two pans. And they cook better over easy eggs than some $200 pans I've owned.

                                                                                                                                                    It's hilarious to listen to people shriek about these pans when I talk about them. I particularly love the folks who melodramatically warn me about how high heat causes inexpensive Teflon pans to become evil little death traps. To which I point out that this pan never sees a heat level higher than four and is never pre-heated empty, so that's not really a concern.

                                                                                                                                                  2. Off the top of my head...

                                                                                                                                                    Dried beans - Little to no difference between cheap and pricer brands
                                                                                                                                                    Spices - ethnic markets are the best place to get fresh, cheap versions of spices that are as good as or better than supermarket or specialty store versions.
                                                                                                                                                    Nuts - discount and ethnic grocers offer a better value and common ones like almonds, pistachios, walnuts taste the same everywhere
                                                                                                                                                    Cast iron skillet - my $11 Ikea 9" cast iron skillet is the most versatile piece of cookware in the house. works great for sauteeing, searing meat, crepes/pancakes, fajitas, tortillas, parathas, you name it.
                                                                                                                                                    Sugar - store brand powdered and granulated sugar works just the same in baking
                                                                                                                                                    Pasta - regular dried pasta doesn't vary much between brands

                                                                                                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Chi_Guy

                                                                                                                                                      I won't argue on dried beans, spices, nuts, skillets, and sugar (once I realized that you were saying to substitute store-brand powdered sugar for national brand powdered sugar, not for granulated sugar!)... but you're going to have a hard time convincing me that pasta is all the same...I've tried a lot of brands, and there's a pretty significant difference IME. (I use Barilla as a result of a lot of boxes of pasta going out in the trash for a lot of different reasons)

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                        Barilla may be better than other brands, but I'd count it as a cheap brand which is not significantly inferior to dried pastas that are two or three times the price.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: FoodPopulist

                                                                                                                                                          Rummo ride pasta tends to be found for $1 a pound (or under!) and I adore it.

                                                                                                                                                          It used to sell for $4 a pound in Los Angeles, before they found a better way to import it...

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: FoodPopulist

                                                                                                                                                            I'm with you -- I have yet to have it fail me in any dish, ever. (not counting when I got sidetracked and let it cook to mush...that wasn't the pasta's fault!)

                                                                                                                                                            I figured the "#1 in Italy" tag was schtick until the first time I went to Italy and saw a 30-foot aisle of blue boxes. I figure if anybody knows pasta -- it's those folks, and if Barilla is good for them, I'll just run with that.

                                                                                                                                                      2. Lowes Foods (I'm in NC) their dairy products are just as good as any "name brand". Their canned tuna--not so much. I've been very happy with the majority of Lowes Foods store brands that I've bought--from the frozen bread to the cookies.

                                                                                                                                                        Also, Target brand aluminum foil is just as good as Reynolds, but cheaper.

                                                                                                                                                        I've really started looking at the difference between the store brand prices and the brand name prices.

                                                                                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                        1. re: luvcubs

                                                                                                                                                          Target brand "Glad ware" containers work just as well as the real Glad ware, and they have a size that fits my lunch bag perfectly.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: iluvcookies

                                                                                                                                                            Thanks for the info.... I haven't branched out a lot in Target, but I'm heading in that direction!

                                                                                                                                                        2. I buy the Target store brand paper towels that let you tear off half-sheets. They're every bit as good as Bounty and they cost several dollars less for the large package.

                                                                                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                          1. re: CindyJ

                                                                                                                                                            Ah, but nothing beats VIVA paper towels!
                                                                                                                                                            I swear by them...
                                                                                                                                                            and Glide dental floos while we're at it!

                                                                                                                                                          2. Target canned black beans are the best I've tried. When the weather cools I'll make my own (from bulk beans which are freshest and cheapest) but until then I really like Target's black beans. 1/3 cheaper, they have a low sodium choice and they don't taste 'tinny.'

                                                                                                                                                            1. Grey Goose vodka is a total sham. It's nothing more than marketing, the vodka is nothing special at all. Several of my friends and I have all noted that we prefer Sobieski, which not only tastes better but is a fraction of the price.

                                                                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Atomic76

                                                                                                                                                                several taste test have been published about the sham of Grey Goose. Even Smirnoff has ranked higher in blind tastings.