# Are cheap stew cuts really economical?

Offal Lover Jan 9, 2014 11:12 AM

So I appreciate the deliciousness of long cooked stews but is it really economical to cook oven or gas for six hours? I'm guessing not. Ribeyes for ten minutes or chuck cut for six hours? I love them both but propaganda out there is you can save money with chuck :)

1. Personally, I'd cook it in my pressure cooker using my induction cooker. Tough mutton is fall apart tender in 35 minutes and, given that I'm using an induction cooker, I'm not using a whole lot of electricity, either.

1. If you use a low flame, yes.

If you use a Slow cooker, yes

If you use the Low and Slow method of roasting, yes.

1. I question this too, apart from energy concerns. A steak is a steak. A stew includes aromatics, which might be purchased separately but are not free, and liquid, which can be quite expensive: Wine, for example. Or do you make your own stock/broth? Not cheap, especially a good beef broth.

4 Replies
1. re: mwhitmore

Someone who is pinching pennies is unlikely to use wine or expensive beef broth in their stew. These days inexpensive flavor enhancers (bouillon cubes, Maggi, soysauce) are used world wide, even in France.

Serving size can also be different. Steak, at least in our western tradition, is central to the meal; skimping on size is very noticeable. Stews are easily 'stretched' with vegetables.

Cultures with tight fuel supplies have favored cutting meat into small pieces so they cook faster. Contrast Chinese with American stews and braises. Even traditional Italian cooking was influenced by fuel considerations. But fuel availability also influences the fast/steak cooking. Contrast the skewers of Japan and SE Asia with American steaks.

Also cuisines have developed fuel efficient ways of cooking long and slow. Cholent and peposo used 'left over' heat from baker's or industrial ovens. Once up to heat, a covered earthenware pot will bubble away with the lowest gas flame (or charcoal fire in the case of Chinese sand pots).

1. re: mwhitmore

With the right cut of meat, you don't necessarily need added stock. I use beef shanks a lot, which give off a beautiful rich broth while cooking. For seasoning, a little goes a long way, particularly if you're buying spices economically (bulk, say). And stewed dishes are traditionally a way of stretching a small amount of meat - the amount of meat in the stew can vary a lot.

For other seasonings - canned tomatoes give a nice broth, and provides a vegetable serving to the meal. Meat and beans can be combined (and if you're using dried beans, you get broth from that too). A little bit of tomato paste or soy sauce pumps up a broth. Stews often use cheap vegetables too - carrots, celery, onions, etc.

For wine - if you're really tight, as paulj said, wine is probably not a big part of your cooking (as a student, I didn't use wine for cooking because it was too expensive). But if you buy a bottle of two buck chuck, $2 (or$2.50 now, i think), can give you six half-cups of wine, which goes a long way.

One of my favourite stews is Moroccan inspired. Cheap beef, dried chickpeas (soaked overnight), a can of tomatoes, onions, celery, and a variety of spices, some dried fruit. The amount of meat is the same as in two servings of steak, but I get six or eight servings of stew out of it, and the rest of the ingredients are significantly cheaper than the meat.

1. re: mwhitmore

liquid is tomato juice.
wine? unless it's boxed, drink it silly...

1. re: Chowrin

V8 is great in stews and soups. If I was really stuck and only had one ingredient, I would hope that was it.

2. Six hours? I cook my meat until it is falling apart (for french dip sandwiches) a max of four (most times, only three), and it is on such a low heat, that the gas is minimal.
The problem is that cuts like Flank are expensive for no reason what-so-ever - that cut of meat used to be thrown away before the Great Depression - the one during the 1930's not the one during 2008 :-) - now they sell it for $7 or$8 (WTH?)
That said, there is nothing like a good Ribeye steak - even if it is a bit more expensive (I buy a roast and cut it into steaks - better deal)

5 Replies
1. re: acssss

<<<The problem is that cuts like Flank are expensive for no reason what-so-ever >>>

Except that people will pay for it. The grocers will charge what the market can bare.

1. re: jpc8015

We buy beef buy the half and the local processor shakes his head at me every year when I tell him not to do the flank into ground, He is old enough to remember a time when flank wasn't desirable. I love flank and wish my half yielded more of it.

My close friends mother was raised in a butchering family and she can't get over some of the cuts that are popular now.

1. re: jpc8015

I remember talking to meat purveyor in the mid eighties about why flank steaks were getting so expensive. He said Japanese and Mexican restaurants were driving the demand.

1. re: jpc8015

Resturants are largely responsible for the increase in price of formerly less desirable cuts. If, by being creative, a chef can turn a former throwaway cut into a pricey dinner, profits increase.
Among those cuts now desirable are short ribs, ribs, plate and flank meat, shanks, all formerly ground.

2. re: acssss

Throwing flank away does not sound any more reasonable than selling it for $7. There's no objective reason why one one part of a cow should cost more, or less, than another. Supply and demand controls the price of ribeye just as much as it does the price of flank or heart. Or may be I just say, 'demand controls it'. Supply is fixed - there is only so much of each cut per animal. In one of my web searches I came across the report of a USA beef marketing mission to Peru. They were pleasantly surprised to learn that heart and tripe were particularly popular there, and that they might have a new market for parts that don't sell particularly well in the USA. 3. Use cheap chuck roast that you cut up yourself (precut packaged stew meat is expensive) and use a crock pot if you are worried about energy costs. 1 Reply 1. re: Kelli2006 Even if the price of 'stew meat' looks good, it may be too lean to be good stew. Often it seems to be cut from rump. 2. So how much are you using and how much are you paying for each cut? Locally, boneless ribeyes run anywhere from$7-$14/lb and chuck$2.75-$6. My monthly gas bill runs around$20. So, I am guessing that I could let that meat sit in the oven for a very long time for what it costs to move from chuck to ribeyes. (the gas bill covers, stove, hot water heater, and clothes dryer)

1. I'm with Zackly on the slow-cooker preference. And I found this interesting comparison of energy/fuel usage for gas vs electric, oven/stovetop/slowcooker:

The original source material for the above PDF:
http://mindofthemother.blogspot.com/2...

1. Put it in a pressure cooker and cook it for only an hour or so if you are worried about energy.

17 Replies
1. re: jpc8015

But then they may have to go out and purchase a pressure cooker.

How many meals do they need to pressure cook to make THAT economical?

LoL

1. re: JayL

100 meals at a dollar a meal. 1000 meals if you want 10 cents a meal.

1. re: Chowrin

You are not considering the cost of gas to drive to the store to get the pressure cooker and get it home.

1. re: jpc8015

That's cause I didn't drive ;-)
And smartpost is $5 no limit. Plus, I got mine on sale. And on the other side, I'm not considering the saved gas from the stove. 1. re: jpc8015 That cost would be relatively high if the pressure cooker is used only a few times. Used over time, there will be a break even point where the gasoline will be covered by the cooking fuel savings. After that, you could consider the cost of gas to drive to the store as a negative value every time you use the pressure cooker! 1. re: jpc8015 then forage through the neighbor's garbage cans and make sure you eat whatever you find at ambient temperature. Eating has a cost associated. Not eating has a very low short-term cost, but the long-term cost will kill you. 1. re: sunshine842 In some locals there are fines associated with digging through your neighbors garbage. You would have to take the cost of that fine into consideration. 1. re: jpc8015 I rest my case. 1. re: jpc8015 If repeat offenders were to be jailed (or because of non-payment of fines), food costs would go to zero... 1. re: porker ...except for the tax payers! 1. re: coll my dad is known to say that two people can live as cheaply as one, provided one goes naked and doesn't eat.... 2. re: porker Except now there is an opportunity cost because you have lost your ability to maintain employment. I would say that once all things are considered, you are better off just buying a big chunk of beef chuck and braising it slowly. 1. re: jpc8015 Reminds me of the satelite TV commercial "When the cable company puts you on hold, you feel trapped. When you feel trapped you need to feel free. When you need to feel free you try hang gliding. When you try hang gliding you crash into things...." When you want to save money cooking cheap cuts of meat, you'll go looking in neighbor's trash for a pressure cooker. When you dumpster dive, you will get arrested. When you get arrested, you will go to jail. When you go to jail, you will lose your ability to maintain employment. Don't go to jail and lose your ability to maintain employment: cook cheap cuts of meat. 1. re: porker I had an economics professor who taught me how to connect everything to the price of tea in China. It really does matter. 2. re: JayL My pressure cooker gets used at least once a day, sometimes two or three times. I cook my rice in it (which the husband eats every day as he's a rice & curry kinda guy) - it's the fluffiest rice we've ever had. 1. re: LMAshton How do you do the PC rice? In my limited experience the PC extracts starch, better for risotto than fluffy rice. 1. re: paulj Pot in pot. Into the pressure cooker, I put an inch of water. Then I put a small pot with the rice, salt, ghee, and water on top of a steamer rack that raises this smaller pot off the bottom of the pressure cooker. My rice cooks perfectly every single time, and certainly much better than rice cooked in a rice cooker, which is what I used to use. 2. http://www.bestbuy.com/site/hamilton-... I use this crock pot for stews & braises. I like being able to leave the house and not worry about fire. Slow cookers are much more energy effiient and in the winter they have the added benefit of giving off heat. 1. The cost of cheaper cuts should more than justify longer cook time. Here's an example Stove with 20,000 BTU burner 6 hours of cook time - assume burner is firing at least half the time (which I think is a high side estimate) to maintain low temperature so 20,000 x 6 x .5 = 60,000 BTU of gas used. Current spot price of gas is$4.14 per million BTU so you would spend $0.25 worth of gas to cook the meat. Even if the burner was going the full 6 hours, it would only be$0.50.

2 Replies
1. re: Bkeats

Yes, half the maximum heat is kind of on the high side. I bet it won't even require 1/8th of the maximum heat level.

If needed, one can use a pressure cooker to cut the time.

1. re: Chemicalkinetics

I have an electric pressure cooker and love it for making short ribs.

2. Cheap cuts of beef are no longer cheap! Look @ the prices for chuck ($4.99 today for a roast), flank steak, brisket, short ribs. I'm 63 y/o and I remember being able to buy these cuts on sale for under one dollar in the seventies and eighties. Chef's, ambitious home cooks and BBQ aficionados have created huge demand for these items. 18 Replies 1. re: zackly I don't mean to be snarky, but I've been told that in the '70s you could also buy a house for$25k. So what does that tell you? Inflation exists.

1. re: Bkeats

$25K house? Not in my neighborhood, maybe in the 1950's. Inflation plays a part h\to be sure but what inflated the price so much is demand. There has always been demand & high prices for premium cuts of steak beef like strips, filet and prime ribs but back then the only people buying "cheaper" cuts were chefs, "ethnics" & poor people. Now that all of America is cooking they've discovered the joys of slow cooked meats. 1. re: zackly My parents built a house in 2000. In that house they spent more on cabinets ($40,000) than they did for the entire house that I grew up in. I think they bought that house in the early 70s.

1. re: zackly

I worked with a woman whose parents had bought a brownstone in Brooklyn Heights for around $25k in the '70s. That same house is probably worth at least$3 million today.

1. re: zackly

Anyone remember the Beef Boycott of 1973? As I recall, my mom participated.

1. re: LorenzoGA

At the timne of the beef boycott in the summer of 1973 I remember my mother complaining that in the worst day of WWII, paying black market prices in Washington DC she sould buit steak for 47 cents a pound.

1. re: LorenzoGA

Yes! My aunt made us ice cream sundaes for dinner. We were in heaven.

2. re: zackly

In the early 1960s my parents bought their first house in Levittown NY for $7,000 (mortgage around$70 a month). In the late '70s we bought our first house for $40,000 after looking at some real dumps in the$30,000 range. So now I'm telling you too! ;-) Depends on where you are really.

3. re: Bkeats

I know you could buy a new Ford Galaxie 4-door sedan in 1970 for less than 3K.

In the 60s you could buy a Corvette for $3,000! Or a Honda motorcycle for$300. Guess I'm older than you...

2. re: Bkeats

In 1980 I bought my first multi family house in New Haven, 3 family for 26K. From 1980 to 1987 I bought more than 20 of these and never paid more than 10K per apartment.

Gasoline was $1 gallon, supermarket whole chicken regularly 29 cents-39 cents per pound, promoted at 5lbs for$1, stew meat was 69 cents per pound.

Inflation exists, but not everything has risen at the same rates.

Gas>>>3.79 gallon
Chicken 1.29 lb whole
Stew meat 3.99 lb
those same houses 300K

The 2 br apartment I lived in in 1978 rented for $260 month including heat and hot water. Today, it rents for$1250, but I own the building and collect the rents (no, I don't live there, and if I hadn't bought it in 1990, market rents would be $1500). The cost of housing has risen far greater than the cost of food in our area, 3. re: zackly You're right, beef is not cheap as it once was, but you could say that for just about anything (I remember getting free beef bones and chicken wings from the butcher, and I grew up in the '70s). But there are still *cheaper* cuts of beef and the OP question remains relevant. I'm just sayin. 1. re: porker What matters is the current cost of braising cuts relative to steaks. Meaningful comparison to past prices requires factoring in inflation. 1. re: paulj We used to eat shrimp and scallop a lot growing up, even though the money was tight. When I asked Mom about it, she said it used to be the cheapest thing you could buy. 1. re: coll Supposedly servants and prisoners in colonial New England and NY complained about too much lobster and oysters and salmon. 1. re: paulj OMG I'm not THAT old ;-) 1. re: paulj Absolutely true. And in Victorian England, household servants had stipulations in their contracts limiting the number of days their employers could serve them lobster. 1. re: carolinadawg I was speaking to a guy from the canadian maritimes the other day. He talked about his grandfather who ground up fresh lobsters for garden fertilizer. It was about the best use for such a trash animal at the time. 2. You'd have to have extraordinarily high gas or electric rates to make a few hours of cooking wipe out a difference of several dollars per pound. Virtually impossible. 1. My oven is fifty cents an hour. And beef stew takes two hours, tops. (at least the way I make it). I don't run my oven much because it is expensive. Gas is pretty cheap right now, so the range gets used instead. At fifty cents extra per pound, I think the$2.69/lb CHOICE stew beef is a way better deal than a PRIME ribeye at $8/lb (or so, I never buy 'em). 5 Replies 1. re: Chowrin Wow, meat is really inexpensive by you, chuck is$6.99 in NYC and ribeye $14.99 1. re: Pookipichu Okay, so maybe it's$3.69... I buy from costco, and yes, beef is cheap around here. you're in NYC, fer krissakes!
You probably get paid double what I do, as well.

1. re: Chowrin

I'm just jealous! :)

1. re: Pookipichu

oh, see, our vegetables are expensive around here.
I'm jealous of the cali folks who get 'em cheap!

1. re: Chowrin

You wouldn't be jealous of the Cali folks once you saw their overall cost of living.

2. How much of your monthly gas or electric bill is attributable to your stove use?

1. But you are cooking at a lower heat and also larger quantity. You can easily cook a pot of chuck beef in one sitting, and eat for more than a week.

1. If you cook more than you need then reheating the leftovers will take far less time than the original cooking and so reduce the cost overall. You could also cook something else at the same time.