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Save in the Meat Department

Save in the Meat Department

Meat, poultry and fish are without a doubt the most expensive foods in the shopping cart. Indeed, they represent nearly a quarter of our food spending. To save money, you need to know prices, keep an eye out for deals and take advantage of them.

You can also eat less meat in favour of more legumes and tofu and, why not, start a meatless Monday trend. But, beyond this, are there other ways we can save money on meat? Here are some tips to start saving.

1/ Think about yield

The price per kilogram varies greatly from one meat to the next and depending on the cut. In the quest to save money, our first instinct is to choose less expensive cuts. The price per kilo of fish, for example, may discourage many, especially compared with cheaper meats, such as chicken or pork. At first glance, if you rely solely on the price per kilo paid at the grocery store, a whole chicken seems to be a much better buy. But, is it really?

Whole raw chicken

  • Purchase price: $7.80/kg
  • Yield after trimming and cooking: 40%
  • Actual cost*:$19.50/kg

Raw salmon trout fillet 

  • Purchase price: $16.50/kg
  • Yield after trimming and cooking: 80%
  • Actual cost*: $20.62/kg

GOOD TO KNOW  *The actual cost takes yield into account and is calculated as follows: price per kilo/yield x 100.

Chicken contains a lot of bone and other parts that are not normally eaten, such as the offal bag and skin, not to mention losses that occur during cooking (water loss and melting fat). These losses, which we pay for at the cash, count for more than half the chicken’s weight, so its net yield ends up being around 40%. For their part, fish fillets have a yield that is two times greater, around 80% after cooking. This means that you would have to buy twice as much chicken as fish to get the same amount of cooked meat.

By calculating the actual cost per kilo, you can see that the real price of chicken is only slightly less expensive than fish fillets. Of course, prices do vary and sales can make a difference, and you can make your purchase more profitable by saving the chicken bones to make homemade broth.

Large chickens (more than 2 kg) and turkeys have a better yield than smaller chickens and are often less expensive per kilo.

Tip to remember

Are you wavering between a fish fillet on sale, but more expensive and a whole chicken? You only have to divide the price per kilo of fish by two. If the result is equal to or lower than the price of the chicken, the fish is a better deal.

2/ Sirloin tip roast, cooked three ways

You can save more by better control of the cooking technique. Here’s the proof.

COOKING TECHNIQUES*

  • Bake at 135 °C/ 275 °F until an internal temperature of 63 °C / 145 °F (rare): 20% loss
  • Bake at 135 °C / 275 °F until an internal temperature of 70 °C / 160 °F (medium rare): 27% loss
  • Bake at 180 °C / 350 °F until an internal temperature of 77 °C / 170 °F (well done): 35% loss

*Average result obtained on a 1- to 1.5-kg sirloin tip roast.

In this experiment, three sirloin tip roasts were cooked at 135 °C/275 °F (a technique called low-temperature cooking) or at 180 °C/350 °F, until cooked rare, medium rare or well done. Each roast was weighed before and after cooking.

The results were surprising: the percentage of weight loss varied from 20 to 35%. Why? The meat lost more weight the longer it was cooked. Heat causes meat to become firmer as its proteins coagulate. The meat shrinks as water is expelled. The bottom line is less meat for your money.

In concrete terms, a 2-kg roast cooked at low temperature (135 °C/275 °F) until rare weighed 1.6 kg (20% loss) while the same roast cooked at 180 °C/350 °F until well done weighed 1.3 kg (35% loss). That represents a difference of two generous 150-gram portions. As an added bonus, roasts cooked at a lower temperature were more tender and juicy.

3/ Be your own butcher

To save time, the meat department offers meat already deboned, in ready-to-use cutlets, strips or cubes. Without getting into the science of deboning chicken breasts, the art of cutting is something that everyone can do and is a way to save money. Here’s an example.

Raw boneless chicken

  • Breasts: $17/kg
  • Fillets: $21/kg
  • Cutlets: $25/kg

Boneless chicken breasts can easily be cut into strips. This essentially gives you the same result as fillets, and at a much lower cost (the chicken fillet is the long and triangular small muscle located under the breast). For successful strips, simply cut against the grain to obtain the desired length.

Cutlets are more or less boneless breasts that are cut horizontally. The technique is a bit trickier, but completely doable at home. Simply press the palm of your hand flat on the breast, then cut through the flesh horizontally using a chef’s knife. You can normally get two or three cutlets per breast. It’s worth the effort to save $8 a kilo! You can also save if you cut your own chicken thighs and drumsticks: it’s cheaper than buying separately.

Cut your roasts

There are other ways to save money too. Make your own stewing cubes using boneless veined roast beef, such as blade roast or shoulder roast, or make beef fondue cubes using a French roast. You can do the same with pork, lamb or veal. Take advantage of sales to stock up.

Is it possible to eat less meat to save money? Yes, if you follow this practical advice.

  • Cut your red meat consumption (eat it only 1 to 3 times a week).
  • Limit portions to 85 g (3 oz), about the size of a computer mouse.
  • Accompany meat with generous portions of vegetables.
Christina Blais

Christina Blais

For Christina Blais, explaining food chemistry to the masses is as simple as making a good omelet. Holding a Bachelor and Master degree in Nutrition, she has been a part-time lecturer for nearly 20 years in the Department of Nutrition at the Université de Montréal, where she teaches food science courses. She has been sharing the fruits of her experience with Ricardo since 2001, during his daily show broadcast on ICI Radio-Canada Télé. And diehards can also read her column, Chimie alimentaire (Food Chemistry), in each issue of Ricardo magazine.

Comments

  1. Love this article, very useful indeed!

  2. Great article with lots of useful information that you don't always consider!

  3. Would love to see more articles like this. Very informative. Gives encouragement to start easily learning good basic saving and healthy eating tips.

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