6 Ways to Save on Beef
By: Text: Aliza Green
Harry Ochs, the third-generation owner of Harry Ochs' Prime Meats in Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market, specializes in prime dry-aged steaks. But his personal favorite beef dish is stew made from inexpensive chuck shoulder pot roast. "This cut has more flavor than any other piece of meat,” Ochs says. For stew, pull off any chunks of white fat and cut into 1-inch cubes. Or, look for lean beef stew meat in your grocer’s meat counter. These inexpensive pieces are already cut to size. Beef stew freezes beautifully, so it pays to make a big batch. In addition to saving money, doing so will also save time.
Try these budget-friendly beef stew recipes: Beef Stew, Basic Beef Stew with Carrots and Mushrooms, Slow Cooker Beef Stew, Wild Mushroom and Beef Stew, Curried Beef Stew, Red Wine-Marinated Beef Stew, Vegetable-Beef Stew.
Less expensive cuts, like tri-tip, Western Griller (bottom round), shoulder center, and coulotte (top sirloin cap) steaks, can be tougher than velvety-but-expensive cuts like tenderloin or fatty ones like ribeye. Tenderizing helps break down the collagen fibers that can cause meat to become tough or chewy. Derek Davis, of Main Line Prime Meats in Philadelphia, uses a Jaccard meat tenderizer ($20-$40). It’s a simple handheld tool that makes quick work of tenderizing by piercing meat with rows of small, needle-like blades.
Larger, tougher cuts with abundant connective tissue like brisket, chuck roasts, and bottom round work best with moist heat methods like braising or stewing. Braising, cooking in a small amount of liquid at a low temperature, helps moisten meat and soften collagen fibers. Stewing is similar, but uses smaller pieces of meat immersed in liquid and then slow-cooked. Smaller, moderately tough steaks like flank, coulotte, and hanger work well grilled, broiled, or quickly seared for as little time as you’re willing for juiciest results. When done, let the meat rest 10 minutes to reabsorb its juices and slice thinly across the grain to further tenderize.
Filet mignon steaks cut from the tenderest center section can cost $20 per pound or more at premium markets. Instead, buy PSMO tenderloin (Peeled, Skinned, side Muscle Off) at warehouse club stores for about $9 per pound. Don’t worry; purplish vacuum-packed tenderloin will brighten once exposed to oxygen and any odor will quickly disappear. Cut steak to suit and freeze the remainder or roast half or whole, because individual steaks shrink more. Another option: Buy cone-shaped tenderloin tips, (about $10 per pound), perfect for stir-fries and sautés.View Recipe: Thyme and Spice-Rubbed Roast Beef Tenderloin au Jus
Don't skimp when buying strip steaks, which can be dry and grainy if too lean. "Choose well marbled strip steaks (speckled with white bits of fat) for succulence and tenderness," Ochs says. Otherwise, you may be disappointed in the steak’s texture, regardless of how you cook it. Rounded steaks from the rib end will be tenderest; narrower steaks from the butt-end will be chewier. Avoid end-cut strip steaks, which have a curved section of gristle running through the meat. When in doubt, ask the butcher for assistance.
Philadelphians love steak sandwiches on torpedo-shaped Italian bread made from inexpensive, paper-thin sliced beef, usually lean round, sold as chip steak, sandwich steak, or wafer steak and often found in the freezer case. Harry Ochs shaves tender, lean, gristle-free beef round for his customers. Not in Philadelphia? No problem. You can approximate the technique. Simply freeze beef round until firm but not frozen (about 1 hour), then use the sharpest knife in your block (or a deli-style meat slicer) to shave off paper-thin slices, making sure to work across the grain.