Even if you’re just an occasional carnivore, you’ve probably noticed that you’re pay about 20% more for meat than last year. Such a significant price increase can make a big dent in anyone’s grocery and restaurant budgets, so we spoke with food professionals about the best protein choices that won’t break the bank.
Cheap Protein #1: Beans
There’s a good reason almost everyone loves high-protein beans, from the budget-conscious to the health-conscious. “Not only are they the most economical source of protein, they are also one of the most nutrient-dense foods for the price,” Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Sharon Palm says HuffPost.
“They’re extremely versatile, high in protein, and low in negative impact on the environment,” says chef Katherine Pardue of Listen ! Coffee, a 100% plant-based, gluten-free restaurant in Minneapolis. “Eating cheap can be good for your health and good for the planet.”
If you still crave at least some of the taste and texture of meat in your bean-heavy meal, use a small amount as a flavoring.
“My mom used to make split pea soup with a ham bone or boiled white beans with a side of cornbread about once a week, and as kids we had no idea she was saving a few sous”, chef and cookbook author Robin Asbel noted. “You can copy his method and use a bone or a small piece of smoked meat to flavor a whole pot of soup.”
These bean-loving food experts often have a favorite variety, of course. RDN Jill Nussinow says contact lenses are one of her top picks. “You can even sprout them in water and add them to soups and salads,” she said.
RDN Amanda Frankeny is also decidedly pro-lens. “Unlike other dried beans, you don’t need to soak them first. Simply rinse them in a colander and simmer for about half an hour.
Federico Tischlerleader and owner of Well fed in Coral Gables, Florida loves garbanzo beans, also known as garbanzo beans. “They can make creamy soup, falafel, hummus, fried snacks and more,” he said.
Chief Marshall O’Brien is another chickpea lover. “They’re ridiculously inexpensive and very versatile,” he said. “Because of their protein and fiber, they keep blood sugar stable, which positively affects energy levels and mood. If you want to go through the day with energy to spare, have beans and your body will thank you.
Professional Preparation Tips: “Don’t add acids like citrus fruits or tomatoes until the end of cooking, or it will increase your cooking time,” Palmer said.
“If you’re making chickpeas, you can make them ahead of time and freeze them for later,” Adam Polisei, business manager of Top Tier Brandsnoted.
“For the bean connoisseur, brands like Rancho Gordo and Anson Mills have heirloom varieties with exceptional quality,” Pardue said. “They are still well below the price of comparable boutique meat.”
Cheap Protein #2: Tofu
“You can buy 14 ounces of tofu for less than $3”, RDN Amy Gorin noted. “It’s full of plant-based protein and it picks up the flavor of whatever ingredients you pair it with.”
Pro tip: “I love baked crispy tofu which is drenched in a delicious marinade,” Gorin said. “You just need a few simple ingredients like sesame oil, soy sauce, and miso.”
Another pro tip to make it taste great: make sure you press it.
Cheap Protein #3: Eggs
“Eggs are a great source of protein” Sandy Davisnew york chef Roxo Events, noted. “Both The Odeon restaurant and Cafe Luxemburg here in New York offer an omelet on their dinner menus, topped with herbs and Gruyere cheese and served with a side salad. There is nothing better.”
Pro tip: Boil a dozen hard-boiled eggs ahead of time to have them on hand for snacks and quick meals. If you want to skip the stove, it’s easy to microwave eggstoo.
Cheap Protein #4: Canned Fish
“I come from the Low Country of Charleston, SC, and it was normal for my family to have seafood on the menu at least three or four days a week,” the chef at Low Country Quisine said. Jolie Oree-Bailey noted. “My grandmother made salmon fried rice with cooked rice, canned salmon, smoked sausage, onions, garlic, rice and seasonings. It’s a dish that can feed a family of five for less than $2 each.
Pro Tip: “Focus on cooking the rice and aim for a nice crust on the salmon as it’s sautéed,” Oree-Bailey suggested.
Cheap protein #5: Less popular cuts
If you’re trying to save money on protein, you’ll need to steer clear of ribeyes and tenderloins and train your eyes on cheaper cuts that will take a slow braise. Chef and television personality André Zimmern says he is visiting local Latin and Asian markets to find pork hocks, oxtails and lamb necks. “They are a readily available option and they are frequently on sale in these markets,” he said.
Polisei is also a pork knuckle fan: “Not only do I love cooking them, but when I see them on a menu, I’ll almost always order them,” he said. “The perfectly cooked pork knuckle is the most comforting food there is.”
Peter Curtisleader and owner of Maud and Butcher and restaurant Gwen in Los Angeles, said beef chuck or pork shoulder are good options. “It’s basically the same cuts from different animals,” he said. “Harder cuts like these require more time to cook, so they make great weekend cooking projects that will fill your home with gorgeous aroma. Remember that “low and slow” are the keys to tenderness. »
Warren Setachef and co-owner of Minneapolis’ Hawaiian Ono Platesgrew up in Hawaii, where pork was cheap and readily available, and he is still a fan of pork shoulder.
“In Hawaiian-style applications, we use aggressive seasonings like Hawaiian sea salt, vinegar, shoyu, and patis, which is a Filipino fish sauce,” Seta said. “To enhance the tenderness of my teriyaki pork recipe, I freeze the meat halfway and slice it as thinly as possible, then add mashed kiwi fruit to my teriyaki marinade. Kiwifruit enzymes act as a natural meat tenderizer.
Chief Bishara Sahouryculinary director at Saint Paul Brewery and Can we wonderland, both in St. Paul, Minnesota, suggested looking for what he called “butcher cuts” like chuck’s eye, also known as Delmonico. Most stores that cut their own steaks will have it, and you can usually find it near the rib eye.
Professional Preparation Tips: “For these cuts, go for heavy seasoning and sour embers,” Zimmern said.
“A good trick for tenderizing cheap beef is to salt it two hours before cooking, or to use a mallet or sturdy pan to physically tenderize it,” Sahoury suggested.
Cheap Protein #6: Grounds, Leftovers, and Toppings
“I always look for ground pork, beef or chicken,” Yia Vangleader and owner of Union Hmong Cuisine in Minneapolis, said. “Most of the time it’s a product made from offcuts and trimmings from butcher shops, so the cost per pound is lower.”
“I love the versatility of ground turkey,” says the executive chef and managing partner Robin Seldeof Marcia Selden Caterer. “It’s a mild protein, so it takes on flavors like garlic and fresh herbs really well.”
Brian Nasajonleader and owner of Beaker & Gray in Miami, asks for leftovers when he’s at the butcher. “People charge a lot for the main cuts, but you can still get great deals on the trims,” he said. “They’re often overlooked, but they make great stews and braises.”
Pro tip: “Make a bowl of rice with your grounds and add chilies, fish sauce, oyster sauce and vegetables,” Vang said.
“With your ground turkey, you can make an awesome chili that can be stretched even further with different beans and diced canned tomatoes,” Selden suggested. “It’s a super filling meal that can be used as a topping for burritos or tacos, or as a topping for nachos.”