Being a clever buyer can save you major cash on this dinnertime staple. Here are three surefire strategies for savings.
1. Compare Prices
Surprise! The biggest bargains might not be at the supermarket. Call your local butcher, go to the farmer's market and check out warehouse clubs. Don't be afraid of a family-size package, either: If the best deal is for a larger package than you have room for, call a friend—you can split the meat and the cost.
2. Keep Detailed Notes
Consider starting a price book. For a few weeks, bring a notebook every time you shop. Jot down the ground beef prices on different days and at different stores so you'll recognize a great deal when you see it. If you eat ground beef twice a week, saving 50 cents per pound can add up to more than $50 a year.
3. Go Lean (But Not Too Lean)
In general, the more fat in beef, the less it costs. But depending on your family's needs, you can buy a fattier, less expensive grind; once it's cooked, the nutritional information for 70 percent and 80 percent ground beef are comparable (see chart below).
Get the skinny on what fat percentages in beef mean when it comes to nutrition and price. (Based on a 3 oz. serving of broiled ground beef.; average prices calculated fall 2012)
Percentage Lean: 70%
Saturated Fat: 6.2g
Average Price Per Pound: $2.92
Percentage Lean: 80%
Saturated Fat: 5.7g
Average Price Per Pound: $3.18
Percentage Lean: 90%
Saturated Fat: 3.9g
Average Price Per Pound: $4.34
If you can't use meat within two days of buying it, put it in the freezer. Follow these rules for the best results:
Freeze it for the short term. If you're freezing meat for only a week or two, it's fine to put it away in its original packaging.
Freeze it for longer. Place meat in heavy-duty freezer bags, squeeze out the air, and label and date the package. Use within four months. Note: Small amounts, like 1-pound portions or 4-oz. patties, defrost more quickly.
Thaw it safely. Defrost meat in the refrigerator overnight. But if you forgot to plan ahead, place it in a sealed, watertight plastic bag and submerge it in cold water. Refresh the water every 30 minutes.
Stretch Your Grocery Dollars
Try these tips to see extra savings on your grocery store ground beef.
Spread It Out
Think of ground beef as a seasoning instead of the main ingredient. Use mostly beans and only a little meat in chili. Add finely chopped eggplant to meat sauce for pasta. Your meals will be less expensive that way, and more creative.
Practice Portion Control
A food scale can prevent you from accidentally supersizing burgers: Weigh 4 ounces of raw beef—once it's cooked, you'll get a burger that's about 3 ounces. Pile on lettuce and tomato.
Punch Up the Flavor
Make even a small amount of meat seem bigger with bold flavors. Season generously with chili powder, soy sauce, garlic or cumin while browning.
Photo credit: Flickr/ Danielle Scott