Shopping at the Meat Counter (Part 2)

Shopping at the supermarketLast week, I shared what I do at home to prepare for a visit to the meat counter at the grocery store.  This week, I have a few other ideas to share that will (hopefully) make your future trips to the meat counter a little easier.

  1. First, and most important, is to talk with the staff at the meat counter. They are very knowledgeable and can help you make the best decisions to fit your needs.  Some grocery stores sell only pre-packaged meat, while others have a combination of a meat counter and pre-packaged meat.  In some cases, the pre-packaged meat may be more affordable.  If you are looking for help, but do not have a full service meat counter, click here for an interactive butcher counter that can help you make selections.
  1. Second is to choose your cooking method. Cooking methods fall into two categories, dry heat and moist heat.
    • Dry heat cooking is to grill, broil, or pan-fry meat. This method uses high heat, little or no liquid, and is quicker.  Dry heat cooking is best for tender cuts of meat.
    • Moist heat cooking is to pot roast, braise, or stew meat. This method uses low heat, liquid is added, and it takes a longer amount of time.  Moist heat cooking is best for less tender cuts of meat.
    • Here and here are some great tips for cooking meat many different ways.
  1. Third is to choose your cut of meat. The cut of meat you choose is dependent on the cooking method.  Here is a great resource on cooking different cuts of beef.  In general, cuts with more marbling (fat threaded through the meat) are more tender and cost more.  These cuts are best with dry heat cooking methods.  Leaner cuts are typically less tender and cost less.  These cuts are best with moist heat cooking methods.

I wish you luck with your next trip to the meat counter!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Shopping at the Meat Counter (Part 1)

Butcher behind counter in supermarket smiling, portrait, close-upWhen I step up to the meat counter at the grocery store, I get a little nervous.  There are dozens of choices, a wide range of prices, and a smiling person waiting patiently on the other side of the counter.  I do my best to come into this situation prepared, but it can still be nerve wracking.  This week and next week, I am going to write a little bit about how I make decisions about what to buy at the meat counter when I go grocery shopping.

Here are some of the things I do before visiting the meat counter:

  • Check out what I have on hand. I like to see what I have on hand and then decide what meat I can buy to go along with it.  Right now, I have a lot of potatoes from my family’s garden, so I would like to get some meat that I can put on the grill along with the potatoes.
  • Check the grocery ads. I like to see what is available at a reasonable price before I go to the store.  It does not mean I am locked into buying what is in the ads, but it does give me an idea of what meat might fit into my budget.
  • Check my freezer space. I like to freeze meat when I can get it at a good price.  The grocery store where I shop occasionally sells ground beef and chicken hindquarters in large quantities.  These are meats my family eats a lot of, so, if I have the freezer space, I will buy the larger quantities at the discounted price and then freeze them in smaller portions for another week.  Some grocery stores also sell meat bundles – these may be a good deal if you have the freezer space (and the money) available.
  • Check my schedule. I like to take time to cook a great meal for my family, but time is not always on my side.  The meat I purchase has to fit into my family’s schedule for the week.  If it is going to be a busy week, I usually look for a whole chicken or a roast that I can cook on the weekend and then use the leftovers to make quick meals the rest of the week.  If we have more time, I will plan to grill or try a new recipe.

Shopping at the meat counter can be intimidating, but planning ahead can help a lot.  If you have suggestions for planning ahead that I missed here, please let me know in the comments.

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Making the Most of a Hot Grill

chicken on grill blogIt’s a beautiful time of year here in Iowa. That means I am cooking on the grill at least a couple of nights per week. I love the flavor of grilled food and it saves me from heating up the kitchen. Best of all, fewer dishes!

I use a gas grill and replacing the empty propane tank with a full one is one of my least favorite chores. I want to get the most out of every tank – so when I heat up my grill I fill it up!

Instead of grilling two hamburgers or pieces of chicken, I fill the grill up and use what I don’t eat as “planned overs”. These are leftover ingredients that I know I will use later. I can cook a whole grill full of food in the same amount of time as just a piece or two of meat. Last week I needed two grilled chicken breasts for a recipe so I made six and saved the extra four. I chopped up two of them and saved them in the fridge. I used them to top the salads in my lunch all week. I froze the other two in freezer bags. I’ll defrost them and use them next time I need a fast dinner.

veggie basket blogMeat isn’t the only thing I can make ahead on the grill. I love to make grilled vegetables using a grill basket. I just chop them all about the same size, drizzle with some olive oil, sprinkle with a bit of seasoning and grill for about 15 minutes. I mix them around half-way through using a metal spatula or tongs.

Even if I just need a few cups, I fill up the basket and save the leftovers for other meals. I love to add them to cooked rice and pasta for a really fast meal. If I know I’ll eat them in a few days, I keep them in a sealed container in the fridge. Otherwise, I put them in a freezer bag and stash them in the freezer.

I love knowing that when I come home from work late I can grab the chicken and veggies from the freezer and put together a tasty meal with the flavors of the grill in no time at all.

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Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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Meat: How can we afford it for dinner?

Part 2: Spendsmart’s Top Ten Money Saving Meat Tipskebabs grilling meals

I have spent 2/3 of my life on farms that raised beef, pork, and some lamb. So, at times I have had the luxury of bountiful, inexpensive meat. Now I live in the city and buy all my meat at the grocery store. I still enjoy meat but I eat meat differently than I used to. I eat smaller portions of meat and combine meat with other flavors and textures in meals. I eat more fish and seafood, chicken, beans and eggs and pay attention to the amount of fat I consume.

Why? Partly because I know that along with great protein in meat you can get saturated fats, which I avoid, and partly because I have a “thrifty gene” and the cost of meat has my attention.

This week I’m  sharing 10 tips which I use to save money on meat and a list of beef and pork planned overs from the American Meat Institute.

I’d love to know your best tips for saving money on meat.  Please leave a comment and share.

Update: Link to 10 tips was broken, but is fixed now! Sorry for the inconvenience, Thanks!

Pork Loin Roast with Veggies

pork loinHere’s a Feast for the Eyes, Nose and Taste Buds.

Roasted pork loin and vegetables is one of my “go to” recipes when I’m having family and friends over. It’s easy, it tastes wonderful and the preparation is done long before the guests come. I usually serve it with fresh or frozen fruit salad, rolls, and a fruit crisp since I am heating the oven.

Oh, I forgot to mention two more benefits. The house smells wonderful while the roast is cooking and the cost is very reasonable for such an impressive meal!

When choosing a roast make sure you buy a loin roast, not a tenderloin roast. A loin roast is about 3-4” in diameter and usually sold in pieces that weigh 2-4 pounds. In central Iowa, pork loin costs about $2 a pound on sale. A tenderloin is much smaller in diameter and costs about twice as much.

I use a rub to add flavor to the roast and I have a trick that dials up the flavor even more. I brown the meat in a big skillet before I put it in the oven to roast.

The only way to determine when your roast is done is to use a meat thermometer and take it out at 145 degrees. You’ll want to avoid overcooking the roast. Allow the meat to rest for at least five minutes before slicing.

When I make this recipe I make more vegetables than the recipes calls for. Roasted vegetables have a sweeter more intense flavor than raw or boiled vegetables and I love the leftovers. Cut the vegetables so they are all roughly the same size. I typically shoot for about 1 inch chunks, so they will be done at the same time.

I serve the pork sliced on a platter with the vegetables around the outside. Delicious!


Pork Loin Roast with Veggies

Serving Size:  3 ounces meat and 1 cup veggies | Servings:  6


IngredientsFoodProSQL PDF File

  • 2 cups potatoes, diced (about 12 ounces or 2 medium)2 cups onion, cut in wedges(about ½ pound or 2 medium onions)
  • 2 cups baby carrots or ¾ pound regular carrots, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1¼ pound pork loin

The Rub

  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon salt


  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. In a bowl mix the cut veggies with oil, salt, and pepper.
  3. Lay veggies around the edge of a 9 by 13 pan (or jellyroll pan).
  4. Use a small bowl to make the rub. Mix the brown sugar, garlic, ½ teaspoon pepper, and ¼ teaspoon salt in the bowl.
  5. Sprinkle the rub over the loin. Press gently so the rub sticks to the roast. Wash your hands after handling the raw meat.
  6. Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the loin. Brown the sides of meat. Turn after about 2-3 minutes per side.
  7. Transfer the pork to the center of the pan with veggies. Bake for about 40 minutes. Check the temperature after 30 minutes in the oven. Take the meat out when a meat thermometer reads 145°F.
  8. Remove from oven. Let set for 5 minutes. Slice and serve.

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Meatloaf… One of My Favorite Comfort Foods

Our feature this month is Mouth Watering Meatloaf which includes grated vegetables and a whole grain (oatmeal). It tastes so good, and it is healthy, providing great amounts of protein and Vitamin A.

When I make this meatloaf I use 85% lean ground beef to save money. First, cover a cooling rack with foil. Then poke holes in the foil to allow the fat from the ground beef to drain. Then place cooling rack on top or inside of a cake or jelly roll pan. After the meatloaf is formed, place it on the foil covered cooling rack. If you are using a 90% or 95% lean ground beef there isn’t much fat to drain so you can use any baking dish you like.  You could also make the meatloaf with ground pork or ground turkey. Be sure to use a thermometer to make sure it is done.  The minimum internal cooking temperature for ground pork and beef is 160 degrees and  ground turkey should be cooked to 165 degrees.

I think one of the reasons I like this meatloaf is because of the sweet topping. We were careful to use a small amount of sugar. Since I am heating the oven when I make this meatloaf, I try to include baked potatoes or sweet potato fries in my menu.

Mouth Watering Meatloaf

Servings: 6 | Serving Size: 1/6 of loaf | Per Serving: $.88


  • 1 pound ground beef
  • ½ onion, chopped (about ½ cup)
  • 1 cup grated carrots (about 2 carrots)
  • ½ cup dry quick oats
  • ¼ cup nonfat milk
  • 1 egg
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup ketchup, divided (¼ cup in meatloaf and ¼ cup in sauce)

2 tablespoons brown sugar or white sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  2. Mix together the ground beef, onion, carrots, oats, milk, egg, black pepper, salt, and ¼ cup ketchup.
  3. Form the mixture into a loaf and place on broiler pan.*
  4. Bake for 50 minutes.
  5. Stir the remaining ¼ cup ketchup and sugar in a small bowl.
  6. Remove meatloaf from oven and spread the sauce over the top and sides of meatloaf.
  7. Bake for an additional 10 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 160°F.

* You can make a broiler pan by laying a wire cooling rack on top of a jellyroll pan or cake pan. Cover with aluminum foil. Poke holes in the aluminum foil so the meat juice can drain.

What is Cheaper: Turkey or Ham?

Thanksgiving is about 10 days away. Have you started to plan your dinner? The biggest expense of the meal will probably be the ham or turkey (or both) that you buy. The grocery ads are full of deals, like buy a ham and get a turkey free. Or buy $50 in groceries and get a $5 off coupon for your turkey. I was curious, so I stopped by 5 different stores to check out prices. I went to Hy-Vee, Fareway, Aldi, Dahls, and Wal-Mart.

Here are the costs I found. Whole turkey prices range from $.88 to $1.19 a pound. Boneless, spiral cut hams are about $3.50 a pound. Bone-in ham varies from $1.48 to 1.98 a pound. Both ham and turkey are priced to lure you to the store.

Number of 3 ounce servings per pound Cost per pound Cost per serving
Turkey 2 $ 0.99 $ 0.50
Ham, boneless 4 $ 3.50 $ 0.88
Ham, bone-in 3.5 $ 1.80 $ 0.51

The simple answer is turkey and the bone-in ham cost about the same with boneless ham costing significantly more. But, as usual, every situation is different. Below are some comments/questions with some of my thoughts.

Doesn’t matter what it costs. I want to serve both ham and turkey and make sure we have enough. Ok, but when you are buying, remember you can cut back on the amount you buy because people will eat some, but not a whole serving of each.

Is the buy a ham, get a free turkey a good deal? That deal was to buy about 7 pounds of boneless ham at $3.50 ($24.50 total) and get a 12 pound turkey free. You would get about 28 3 oz. servings of ham and 24 3 ounce servings of turkey. So you would get 40 servings for $24.50 at .61/serving. If you want a boneless ham it is a good deal. But it would be cheaper to by the bone-in ham and turkey separately.

We are saving for Christmas gifts so I don’t want to spend a lot. I would get either a boneless ham or the turkey. If you have time, go for the turkey and make soup from the turkey bone (that way you can stretch the cost over several meals). A couple of years ago we developed a Healthy Holiday Dinner Menu with Recipes.

I am exhausted after our Thanksgiving meal. Maybe we should just go out to eat. Last year in the blogI shared my Top 5 tips to save time, money, stress and calories for Thanksgiving dinner. Maybe you will find an idea that works for you.

My turkey is always dry so I think I’ll have ham this year. Are you cooking the turkey too long? Try using a meat thermometer (sometimes the pop-up timers fail). Put the thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh because the dark meat of the turkey thigh takes longer to cook than any other part. When the thermometer is at 165 degrees, it is done.

My grandpa says he can’t eat ham so we will have turkey. From a health standpoint both ham and turkey are great sources of protein, but turkey provides significant less fat if you skip the skin. Ham also has more than 10 times the sodium and may contain nitrates.

Have a Great Holiday.

October is National Pork Month

The past couple of weeks when looking thru grocery ads, I’ve noticed some good deals on pork. This is likely related to this summer’s drought. With high feed costs, many farmers are selling their pigs so they don’t have to purchase so much feed. This means there is a lot of supply. However, in an ad this week, I noticed it said ‘Celebrate National Pork Month’. Therefore, many grocery stores are also likely putting pork on sale to highlight National Pork Month.

So now is the time to buy pork and put it in your freezers. I recently bought a boneless pork loin and had the grocery store cut it into smaller portions that would be enough for my family for a meal. The pork loin was $1.79/pound. The loin I purchased was 8.4 pounds, so the total cost was $15.04. I had it cut  into fourths so it cost me $3.76 per package.  I made roasted pork loin with apples one evening and put the rest of the packages in the freezer for later use.

When purchasing pork, look for the words ‘loin’ and ‘round’ in the name for the leanest cuts. However, tenderloin is more expensive so for lower cost look for pork loin. If a cut has visible fat, be sure to trim it off. When cooking pork, whole cuts like chops and roasts can be safely cooked to in internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit . Ground pork, like other ground meats, should be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

From Spend Smart. Eat Smart. try Garden Pork Sauté.

What recipes do you like to use pork in?


Ok, I admit it.  Most of the time when planning a meal I start with the protein food.  I think this is a carryover from growing up on a farm and having a freezer full of homegrown beef, pork and chicken to choose from.  The type of meat and how it will be prepared (grilled, broiled, oven roasted, pot roasted, stewed, etc.) effects the rest of the meal. My mom taught us the importance of matching the cooking method to the cut of meat.  I didn’t make the mistake of turning a great rump roast into a pot roast more than a couple times.

Where on the animal the cut of meat comes from, how long it is cooked and whether you use moist or direct heat effect juiciness and tenderness.  When a cut of meat is from a more used muscle (the fore and hind quarters of the animal), the stronger and, therefore, tougher the cut of meat will be.  The longer meat is cooked, the more liquid it loses, and the tougher it becomes.  Other factors that also influence tenderness and juiciness are the animal’s age at slaughter and the amount of fat.

My kids didn’t have the benefit of a freezer filled with different cuts of meat when they started cooking, so they are less prepared to match up the cooking methods with cuts.  They also have questions about how many servings per pound you can get from different cuts of meat (this varies by the amount of bone and fat there is).

The Beef-It’s What’s For Dinner web site has a pull down tab on the home page called Shopping for Beef where you can find several great resources you might want to bookmark. The Interactive Beef Case lets you choose a beef cut then tells you the recommended cooking method plus recipes using that cut.

Grilling Made Easy and Safe

May is National Barbecue Month LogoAccording to a recent poll most of us think that cooking outdoors is easy, costs less, is more economical than dining out and encourages time outdoors.

My three favorite reasons to grill are: 1) it tastes good, 2) I don’t have to heat up the kitchen, and 3) cleanup is easier.  When done right, grilling meat and poultry is a healthy option because the excess fat drips away. Just avoid flame-ups and remove charred areas from meat before eating to avoid the development of potential carcinogens (cancer causing substances).

Hot dogs and hamburger are frequently on sale. Take advantage of special bulk prices on ground beef and make your own patties.  Lay your patties on a wax paper lined cookie sheet so they don’t stick together, freeze completely, and then transfer them to a freezer container for storage.  This way you can take out as many as you need for one grilling session.

Hot dogs and smoked bratwurst are easy to prepare because they are already fully cooked.  Just keep them cold until you are ready to grill and then make sure they are thoroughly reheated and steaming hot.  Fresh sausages, like fresh Italian and fresh bratwurst, need to be cooked slowly and evenly over mature coals until the sausage is gray throughout and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the sausage reads 160°F for meat sausage and 165°F for poultry sausage. Fresh sausage may be parboiled in water for 15 minutes and then grilled.  However, grilling should immediately follow parboiling; interrupted cooking is not recommended.

Hamburger on grill with meat therometer showing temperatureHamburgers are more difficult.  The trick is to get them to medium (160°F) doneness, until no longer pink in the center and juices show no pink color, without getting them charred on the outside.  It is not safe to eat rare hamburger because the process of grinding distributes any E. coli or other bacteria throughout the meat.  And now experts say the color of meat is no longer considered a reliable indicator of ground beef safety.  A meat thermometer is the most reliable way to reduce risk of food-borne illness. Cook burger to 160 degrees and put them on a clean plate or platter.

Here’s more information on grilling:

Becoming the Grill Master


-pointers by Peggy

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