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Frugal Cooking – Substitutions with the Best Cheap Cuts of Meat

Jun 18, 2024 | Meal Planning | 0 comments

Best Cheap Cuts of Meat

Learn how to substitute the best cheap cuts of meat into your favorite recipes for frugal cooking at its best.

I'm a big believer that you can make delicious, healthy food without spending tons of money on groceries. It just takes a bit of creativity and, even more so, a bit of practice.

One of the best ways to cut the costs of your favorite recipes is to substitute similar, but less expensive ingredients. For example, you may swap pecans or walnuts for pine nuts to make pesto. Or swap whatever fruit is on sale at your local grocery store for the one listed on your meal plan. Don't feel constrained to the recipe!

To get the most bang for your buck, try swapping cuts of meat for a less expensive option. As meat is often one of the pricier options on the grocery list, getting familiar with the best cheap cuts of meat can go a long way in shrinking your grocery budget. And cheap cuts of meat are not necessarily lower quality! Some of them, in fact, have more flavor than their more expensive counterparts.

As with all changes to your meal planning, I recommend starting small. Choose one of the cuts below that you're not familiar with and add it to your grocery list this week.

10 Substitutions with the Best Cheap Cuts of Meat

1. Swap Chicken Thighs for Chicken Breasts

Most recipes you find for chicken breasts are delicious with chicken thighs as well. This is good news because chicken thighs are a lot less expensive than chicken breasts! They're also quite versatile. You can simply roast bone-in chicken thighs while boneless thighs are great for using in soups or for making shredded chicken.

Many people actually find that they prefer chicken thighs once they try them. They're rich and full of flavor.

Want to try it? Check out my Curry Sheet Pan Chicken Thighs.

2. Swap Chicken Drumsticks for Chicken Breasts

Drumsticks are also an excellent choice when you're looking for the best cheap cuts of meat. They're obviously not the easiest substitute for something like chicken soup, but anytime you're simply roasting a chicken breast, drumsticks are a solid budget friendly substitute.

Try it out with this Parsley Chicken recipe! Roast the drumsticks at 400F for about 35-45 minutes, until they reach an internal temperature of 165F.

3. Roast a Whole Chicken instead of Parts

Buying a whole chicken instead of simply chicken breasts is one of the best ways to save money on meat.

The best part? If you buy a whole chicken (or really, any bone-in cut), you can use the bones and scraps to make homemade bone broth! This is something I pretty much always make homemade because it's SO much less expensive than buying a quality, store-bought bone broth. It's also completely delicious.

Never roasted a chicken? Check out this guide from The Kitchn!

4. Swap Ground Turkey for Ground Beef or Bison

Swapping ground turkey, or ground chicken, for ground beef or bison is one of the easiest substitutions on this list. This works so well in recipes like my Slow Cooker Lasagna Soup, Beef Burritos, and my Healthy Shepherd's Pie.

One caveat – if you simply do a one-for-one swap of ground turkey for ground beef in burgers, you may wind up with a dry burger. Check out my tips for amazing turkey burgers here.

5. Swap Chuck Roast for Short Ribs

Short ribs are tender and delicious but they can also be quite pricey. If you have a favorite recipe for short ribs, try swapping chuck roast for a more budget friendly dinner. This swap works really well in the slow cooker or Instant Pot.

Want to try it? Try my recipe for 5-Spice Slow Cooker Short Ribs, swapping out chuck roast for short ribs.

6. Swap Pork Chops for Lamb Chops or Steak

Pork chops are such an underrated protein! Many recipes for lamb chops or even steak are just as tasty with pork chops.

Try swapping pork chops for steak in this Southwestern Steak Salad or this Steak Salad with Blackberries and Almonds.

You can grill the pork chops on direct heat for 3-5 minutes per side until they reach an internal temperature of 145F. Alternatively, try roasting bone-in pork chops in the oven.

7. Swap Tilapia for Halibut or Sea Bass

Fish is quite versatile. If you see a delicious looking seafood recipe you want to try but it calls for an expensive fish like halibut or sea bass, don't let that hold you back! Try swapping tilapia, or a different mild fish that's on sale that week. Just make sure to adjust the cooking time if your fish is on the thinner side.

Want a delicious tilapia recipe? Try these Paleo Fish Taco Bowls.

8. Swap Cod for Salmon

Cod is another delicious seafood option that's often more budget friendly. You can swap it for salmon, or for halibut or sea bass. Try swapping cod in this Mustard Dill Salmon recipe.

9. Try Local Fish Instead

This is probably my #1 tip for saving money on seafood! I encourage you to get to know the people behind the seafood counter at your local grocery store. Tell them the kind of recipe you want to make and ask them for a local fish that would work. This is a great way to get high quality seafood for less money.

Obviously this only works if you live near water. Even if you can't get local fish though, ask your market's seafood experts for a budget friendly swap for whatever recipe you've got your eye on. They're generally happy to help!

10. Swap Skirt Steak for More Expensive Cuts

Do not feel constrained by the cut of steak called for in a recipe. You can always sub skirt steak or a different cut that's on sale that week. If you do choose a lower cost cut of steak, you may need to marinate it overnight for tender steak. If you do that, it can be quite delicious! Try using skirt steak or sirloin.

Want some delicious steak recipes to try this out? Try my Lemon Pepper & Garlic Steak Kabobs. You may also want to consider buying a whole cow (or 1/2 or 1/4 cow) to save money on beef.

Bonus: Swap a Vegetarian Protein!

While I'm a big fan of learning to sub the best cheap cuts of meat to make recipes more accessible, swapping a vegetarian protein from time to time is a great strategy as well.

One easy way to do this is swapping beans for ground meat. For example, try pinto beans in place of chorizo here or black beans instead of ground turkey here.

More Frugal Cooking Resources

I'm passionate about helping families have delicious, healthy, homemade meals, even on a budget. Here are a few of my favorite resources to help you cut that grocery budget:

Healthy Budget Dinners

20 Healthy Budget Dinners ($8-$25 for 4 Servings)

I've rounded up 20 of my favorite budget friendly dinners for ya! I'm talking things like chicken verde, black bean chili mac, and shepherd's pie. So many delicious choices that are also good for your wallet!

How to Stretch Meals Further

9 Ways to Stretch Meals Further

Get tips and strategies on how to make the most of your grocery dollars and avoid food waste. Try strategies like adding beans to your chicken soup or creatively repurposing leftovers into a whole new meal.

Frugal Meal Planning

10 Tips for Frugal Meal Planning

Use these ten tips to help you craft a meal plan that is just as delicious as it is budget friendly.

FAQ – Everything You Want to Know about the Best Cheap Cuts of Meat

What is a good cheap cut of meat?

Chicken thighs, drumsticks, ground turkey, pork chops, sirloin steak and chuck roast are all excellent cheap cuts of meat.

What is an inexpensive type of fish?

Tilapia is a good budget seafood option. Cod is often budget friendly as well. Talk to the person at your seafood counter and don't be afraid to try some lesser known, local types of fish as well!

Can I sub ground turkey for ground beef?

Yes, you can sub ground turkey for ground beef. In dishes like tacos, you can simply do a one for one sub. In items like burgers, you'll need to add something extra to account for the lower fat content of ground turkey.

Beginner Menu Guide


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