Butcher the High Cost of Meats

Cut into these cheaper meat and seafood options that’ll pack on muscle just as well as their better-known (and costlier) counterparts

February 21, 2013

Buying enough meat to support muscle growth shouldn’t force you to take out a second mortgage. But with the price of beef and poultry ticking ever upward, a bodybuilder could hardly be blamed for deep-sixing his meat consumption. But don’t slap a pale slab of tofu on the grill just yet — you can satisfy your inner carnivore while keeping your grocery bill in check by embracing cheaper, less trendy alternatives. Sure, you may not find these options at fancy-pants steakhouses, but adding them to your shopping list will help you reduce your weekly food budget without sacrificing protein.

Cheap Cut #1: Pork Tenderloin


Standard Choice: Beef tenderloin
Average Price: $14.99/lb.
Alternative: Pork tenderloin
Average price: $5.99/lb.
Savings: $9.00

Beef tenderloin is sliced from the loin of the cow and is widely considered the most tender — but also the most bland — cut of beef. Why pay such a hefty price for protein that doesn’t deliver in the taste department? Pork tenderloin brings plenty of flavor to the table and packs some serious nutrition credentials. Ounce for ounce, it contains about five times less fat (1 gram vs. 5 grams per ounce) than beef tenderloin, not to mention an additional gram (6 vs. 5) of muscle-friendly protein. Pork tenderloin is also a great source of thiamin, a B vitamin necessary for converting carbohydrates into the energy required to lift huge loads at the gym. Look for unseasoned tenderloin whenever possible.

PREP METHOD: Tenderloin should be seared quickly and finished in the oven. Preheat oven to 450°F, then heat 1 tablespoon of oil in an ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork and sear until golden brown on all sides, about 6–8 minutes. Transfer skillet to preheated oven and roast for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest 10 minutes before slicing. Avoid overcooking, since pork can turn dry and tough.

Cheap Cut #2: Turkey Drumsticks


Standard Choice: Turkey breast
Price: $4.29/lb.
Alternative: Turkey drumsticks
Price: $2.49/lb.
You Save: $1.80

Boost flavor and save cash by joining the dark side. While white breast meat — be it turkey or chicken — often dries out during cooking, rich-tasting dark cuts like drumsticks and thighs stay deliciously moist. In fact, to counteract the parched nature of overrated breast meat, many food manufacturers inject it with a saltwater solution that can increase sodium levels four-fold. Dark-meat poultry contains just 1–2 extra grams of fat per serving than white meat (3 grams vs. 1 gram in a 3-ounce serving), but provides higher amounts of energy-boosting iron and zinc, which is vital to testosterone production. A Turkish investigation showed that intense exercise can reduce circulating testosterone concentrations in men, but high intakes of zinc can prevent it.

PREP METHOD: The best way to prepare turkey drumsticks is to gently simmer them in a liquid base such as chicken broth or canned tomatoes. Simply place the meat, liquid and any desired seasonings in a large saucepan, cover and heat to a steady simmer. Cook for 1 1/2 hours or until tender. They’re also excellent prepared on the grill. Cooking dark poultry with the skin on infuses the meat with great flavor, but you may want to remove it before eating to slash calories from fat. However, hardgainers or mass-hounds may find these extra calories beneficial.

Cheap Cut #3: Mussels


Standard Choice: Salmon
Price: $9.99/lb.
Alternative: Mussels
Price: $2.99/lb.
You Save: $7.00

Mussels boast a laundry list of vital nutrients — including significant levels of protein (10 grams vs. 17 grams in salmon per 3-ounce serving), phosphorus, iron, vitamin B12 and selenium. In the body, selenium is incorporated into proteins to make selenoproteins, potent antioxidants that may help muscles mend from intense training. While salmon earns accolades for its omega-3 fatty acids, mussels are also a surprising source of these supercharged fats. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine (St. Louis) found that omega-3s can stimulate muscle protein synthesis, giving them serious anabolic properties.

PREP METHOD: Place 1 cup of liquid such as water, broth, wine or coconut milk in a large saucepan for each pound of mussels. Bring to a boil, add rinsed mussels, reduce heat and simmer until they open (about 5 minutes). Discard any that don’t open during cooking.

Cheap Cut #4: Top Sirloin Steak


Standard Choice: Rib-eye steak
Price: $14.99/lb.
Alternative: Top sirloin steak
Price: $6.99/lb.
You Save: $8.00

As a major player in many bodybuilding diets, steak can put a serious dent in your budget. Seek out affordable alternatives like top sirloin — an often-overlooked cut of beef that has great flavor and tenderness. As a leaner option, top sirloin delivers a stellar 6:1 ratio of protein to fat; the pricier rib-eye has a 1:1 ratio. Like all red meat, top sirloin contains creatine that helps bolster muscular strength.

PREP METHOD: Boneless top sirloin steak is tasty on its own, so a simple seasoning of salt and pepper will do. Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook steak for 3–4 minutes on one side, flip, and cook until desired doneness. Medium-rare, or a 135°F internal temperature, is optimal. Remove from heat and let rest 5 minutes before slicing. Alternately, try it diced into a stir-fry.

Cheap Cut #5: Whole Chicken


Standard Choice: Chicken breast
Price: $3.29/lb.
Alternative: Whole chicken
Price: $1.99/lb.
You save: $1.30

Pound for pound, whole chicken costs less than any cut of poultry in the meat aisle. Best of all, this juicy protein can serve as the backbone for various quick meals such as sandwiches, pasta, chili and salads during a busy workweek.

PREP METHOD: Roast the chicken whole. Preheat oven to 425°F, then wash chicken and pat dry. Brush skin with vegetable oil, and season with salt and pepper. Stuff garlic cloves, lemon slices and herbs into the cavity. Transfer chicken to a rimmed baking sheet, roasting pan or cast-iron skillet. Roast for about 1 hour. Remove from oven and let rest at least 10 minutes before tearing it apart.

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Use these tips to slash your meat grocery bill even further!


1) BULK UP: Look for items like chicken thighs sold in bulk or family-size packs. They generally cost less per ounce and can be frozen for up to six months. Divide the meat into individual servings before freezing.

2) KEEP THE BONE IN: Cuts such as chicken breast are almost always priced less if they aren’t de-boned. Plus, the bone adds flavor during cooking.

3) DON’T BE SHY: Many grocery stores mark down the price of their meat at a certain time of day. Ask the man in white behind the counter when is the best time to shop for priced-to-sell meat.

4) VISIT A FARM: Buying meat directly from the source eliminates the middleman, helping you pay less for protein. What’s more, the product quality will often be better than you’ll find in the Styrofoam trays at the supermarket.