We eat meat because it's delicious and can be prepared in many more ways than other sources of protein. Buying meat can be expensive, however.
In addition to price, however, it's important to consider nutritional value, convenience and quality. It doesn't help to buy meat on sale when half of it is fat that will drain off in cooking. Consider the following tips when you shop the meat counter.
1. Nutritional Value
In addition to protein, meat provides many of our nutritional needs, including vitamins B6 and B12, niacin, iron, zinc and phosphorus. Naturally, cholesterol also is present, but the amount depends on the type of meat, the cut, and the marbling of fat. Read the "Nutrition Facts" panel found on meat packaging to determine the healthy aspects of each particular cut.
2. Store Properly
When properly wrapped and stored at temperatures below zero, meat will maintain its quality for many months. The storage wrap, however, must contain no air and be freezer approved. Beef roasts and steaks can be stored for 6-12 months; lamb for 6-9 months; pork for 4-6 months; hamburger for 3-4 months; and pork sausage for 1-2 months.
3. Know Your Beef Grades
The USDA established beef-quality grades for each type of cut. These include USDA Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter and Canner. The first four originate with younger animals. While the higher grades are usually found at restaurants, you'll easily find Select cuts at the grocery store. USDA Choice is the most commonly found grade. The three lowest grades are rarely sold at retail outlets and should be avoided, if found.
4. Filler Up
Fillers, such as breadcrumbs, oatmeal, corn meal, etc., can stretch your meat purchase. This limits how you prepare it, but the additions can create something entirely different. Meatloaf is the most common use for a modified meat, including turkey and hamburger.
5. Shop Late
Shop your butcher section late in the day and talk to the department manager about off-loading leftover meat. They may be willing to mark down near-expiration items, rather than toss them away. You can freeze these products for use at a later time. Just make sure you cook it the same day it's thawed.
6. Grind it At Home
Meat grinders come in electric and hand-crank styles. Both work equally well, although the latter takes a bit more elbow grease. Buy a lower grade of meat, remove the fat, and make your own hamburger or turkey burger. This proceess also tenderizes the meat and makes it useful in many recipes.
7. Buy Lean
The meats with more fat may cost less than the leaner choice, but once both are cooked, the fat will have melted away, leaving you with less meat than the leaner choice.
8. Buy In Bulk
You'll usually have to shop the frozen-foods section for bulk purchases, but you'll find surprisingly good quality in this area. A dozen frozen chicekn breasts cost a lot less than fresh ones and they'll store longer.
9. Buy Bones
Dogs aren't the only ones who appreciate a good bone. They make for excellent soups, particularly those made with beans. When you buy poultry, you might also consider buying the whole bird so you can use the bones to make soup.
10. Buy Local
More small producers are selling their wares directly on the ranch or through farmers' markets and community supported agriculture plans. You'll cut out the middle man and get a much higher quality product.
11. The Other White Meat
Pork is an undervalued meat and one that's particularly versatile. It's also often cheaper than beef, with less of the health-related issues. You can even self-grind pork for patties or "porkloaf." Because of its rich flavor, thin-cut pork chops make an excellent substitute for steaks.
12. Go Meatless
The easiest way to save on meat is by not buying any. Protein comes in many forms, including beans, kale, tofu, etc. Get your family used to meatless meals by starting them off slowly with one per week. Then work your way up and see if they actually even notice the difference.
Additional source: USDA "How to Buy Meat."
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