Five Affordable Cuts of Meat Every Cook Should Use
These economical options are also full of flavor.
Being smart with your grocery budget doesn't mean being stuck with meat that is hard to cook or requires hours in the oven. In this guide to some of our favorite inexpensive cuts you'll find that more affordable protein options, like the brisket shown above, are actually as easy to prepare as pricier cuts. Even better, they're all so flavorful.
Chicken Leg Quarters
For years, boneless skinless chicken thighs were one of the best kept secrets in the meat case. They were a whole lot cheaper than boneless skinless chicken breasts and also more flavorful and forgiving if overcooked. But alas, the word is out, and the price per pound has steadily creeped up to almost match their white meat counterpart (approximately $1.96 versus $2.46 per pound, respectively). While we still champion chicken in any of its formats, at just $0.88 per pound, leg quarters are now the way to go if you're on a budget. Sure, they may not cook quite as quickly as the pricier boneless options, but leg quarters have a low-maintenance appeal and a fantastic flavor. They're an especially good choice for low-fuss one-pan recipes like our Mediterranean-inspired chicken bake. And once painted with a bright maple-mustard sauce, they'll also become the star in our quick and easy sheet pan dinner.
The ability of ground meat to stretch a dollar is well known, but what's been interesting as of late is that ground beef no longer corners the market for the cheapest buy. On average, ground turkey matches the price of ground beef at an average of $3 per pound. Coupled with being lower in just about everything else—fat, cholesterol, and environmental impact—it all adds up to make it a winning protein for a weeknight dinner.
Tempted to incorporate ground turkey into your weeknight rotation, but a little weary of its cardboard-like reputation? Don't believe the naysayers! The key to success starts in the store: Look for turkey that blends white and dark meat together. It may be tempting to go for the leanest possible option, but a blend is a great middle ground nutritionally speaking, and it's much less likely to dry out if overcooked. Ground turkey is mild in flavor, especially compared to beef, so try it out in recipes that will intentionally amp up the meatiness through umami-rich ingredients like the mushrooms in this Bolognese sauce, or the fish sauce and peanuts in this stir-fry.
Boneless Top Sirloin Steaks
This is a quick-cooking steak that can go by a few different names depending on where you shop—boneless shell sirloin, top sirloin butt, and center-cut roast to name a few. Because this cut comes from one of two main muscles from the hip, it can be on the larger side, making it great for a family meal. While flank steak gets a lot of attention for being the best bang for your buck, boneless top sirloin steaks are a popular choice amongst people in the know because of their big beefy flavor and tender texture (a "rare" combination!). Even more rare is the value: the 2019 average for boneless top sirloin steaks was $5.70 per pound. That's a steal if you compare that to $8 per pound for flank steak or ribeye's $9 average.
Because brisket comes from a "working" part of the cow, it typically requires hours of braising in order to break down the tough, lean muscle fibers. It is no surprise, then, that the low cost per pound ($4.50 on average) for brisket correlates with the time investment required to get it to a place of fall-apart tenderness. But thanks to modern appliances like multicookers and pressure cookers, it's now possible to enjoy brisket's return on investment in a much shorter period of time. Deeply flavorful and prized for its leanness, try it in your instant pot for dinner one night, or put it in the slow cooker before you leave for work in the morning, and save the leftovers for lunches all week. Have all day and feeling nostalgic? Go the traditional route with this heirloom recipe for sweet-and-sour brisket from Sarah Carey, our editorial director of food and cooking.
A muscular, well-marbled roast that is perfect for slow cookers and multicookers alike, the shoulder cut has a longstanding reputation of being one of the most affordable meats out there—in 2019 the average price per pound for bone-in pork shoulder was $1.23 (and $1.62 for boneless). It's a cut many chefs love because of its mild flavor, succulent texture, and dynamic versatility. Whether you want to a bake it low and slow to carve tableside, pressure cook it quickly for a casual taco night, or slice it super thin and turn it into a quick and easy fried rice—you'll never run out of ideas.