Monday, January 17, 2011

Cutting Cost of Ground Meat Recipes

Meat is expensive, no bones about it. (Pun intended.) From my calculations, at least around here, ground meat (aka hamburger) is actually one of the more expensive types of meats, at least compared to the other things I regularly would buy. (I'm not comparing hamburger meat to steaks, obviously.)
Many recipes call for ground meat, as it is a delicious and protein rich addition to a dish, but adding this expensive ingredient to all these foods can significantly impact your grocery bills. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to lower this cost and still make your food taste good.
The added benefit is that many of the packaged ground meats sold in the US are very unhealthy and contaminated- the following tips help you find a healthier and cheaper alternative.

Cutting Cost of Ground Meat Recipes

Skip the meat- use lentils. Many typically meat dishes have lentil replacements that do the job quite well, from this lentil stuffed peppers recipe (which sounds totally awesome and I plan on trying it out soon!) to this lentil "snobby joes" (vegan sloppy joes- which also sound good and I plan on trying with a bit of tweaking) to lentil shepherd's pie. Alternatively, if making something like pasta sauce or mac and cheese, you can leave the meat out entirely without replacing it with something else.

Cut the meat amounts. Like I do whenever a recipe calls for chocolate chips, when a recipe calls for ground meat, I use less than the amount called for. You still get the meat, but since you use less, it costs you less. I probably use half to three quarters the called amount of ground meat in many recipes.

Switch to poultry. At least where I live, ground chicken and turkey cost significantly less than ground beef. The flavor is somewhat different, but it has the same basic effect. I use ground chicken or turkey to make burgers, meat balls, meat loaf, etc. They can be used interchangeably; their raw and cooked textures are practically identical.

Grind up cheaper meats. The cheapest meat we're able to get here are chicken gizzards. I first cook mine in my pressure cooker (faster that way), then whiz them up in my food processor attachment to my blender and use ground chicken gizzard in place of mince meat in many recipes. This works for any recipe where the meat doesn't need to stick together, recipes that call for ground meat crumbles. Johnny Mazetti, meat lasagna, stuffed grape leaves, wontons, etc.
I've also successfully done this with cooked chicken hearts and with raw chicken breast.

Switch to ground seitan. I've recently bought a bunch of vital wheat gluten, making it easy as pie for me to whip up a batch of seitan- wheat meat. If you don't have vital wheat gluten, you can make seitan from white or whole wheat flour. Once the seitan is cooked, you just whiz it up in a blender or food processor until you get small pieces, and use that in place of hamburger in recipes. This won't work in recipes like meatballs or meat loaf, most likely, unless you add an extra egg or two (and even that I'm not guaranteeing), because seitan  doesnt have the same properties as raw meat and won't hold together in chunks like raw meat does without a binder like egg. It works terrifically in the same types of recipes mentioned above.
(Though I hate to share this info because I think its very unhealthy, but... TVP, soy flakes, hydrolyzed soy protein, texturized vegetable protein... all the same name for this proteiny, meaty, soy derivative. We stay far away from soy in our home because of health reasons, but since I know other people do consume soy, I wanted to share that yes, where ever I'm talking about ground seitan, you can apply the same principles to rehydrated TVP and substitute that for the ground seitan.)

Make a mix. Mix and match any of the above.
Stretch your ground meat with ground poultry to make it cheaper. Mix your ground meat (or poultry) up to half half with ground seitan- it'll have the same effect as using plain ground meat (it holds together nicely in meatballs, etc).
Use half ground meat, half lentils in your recipes (this works terrifically in most recipes, especially in things like shepherd's pie).
Use half ground gizzards and half ground seitan in place of ground meat.
Last night for supper I made rice-a-roni that called for 1 pound of ground meat. Instead, I used half a pound ground gizzards and half a pound ground leftover seitan. It was such a hit, and you couldn't tell it wasn't really ground meat!

You can use nuts, especially walnuts... but since this isn't really a frugal option, I'm not going to expand on it.

Yes, it is definitely possible to spend less money on your ground meat without needing to sacrifice flavor or ease. These replacements taste delicious and can easily save you a lot of money.

Do you ever do anything to cut the cost of ground meat in recipes? If so, which? Do you think you'd try any of the ideas here? Which sounds most appealing?


  1. I got a great tip from "A Turtle's Life For Me" blog. (The blog appears to be down right now.) She grates up carrots, onions, bell pepper, and celery and adds them to all her cooked crumbled ground beef. I've started doing it for my recipes that call for cooked crumbled ground beef that also calls for a lot of strong flavors and other vegetables (spaghetti sauce, chili, sloppy joes, etc) and we can't tell much difference in taste or texture of the finished meal. But the meat does go twice as far.

  2. I always half the quantity of ground meat and mix it with textured vegetable protein. The meat flavors the TVP and it costs pennies. I also generally try to buy my meat at the local Asian store, I can pick a check cut of meat and they grind it for me.


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