Butts and Cubes? Yeah, Those are Some Good, Cheap Meats

cube steak.jpg
Photo by Flickr user Maddog 20/20
Cube steak: Tasty, yes, but cover it in something.


Just because it's spendy doesn't make it good, as the series of "Mummy" movies keeps hammering home again and again. But the reverse is true as well: it doesn't have to cost a ton of money to not suck. Witness the $15,000 film Paranormal Activity for example. What does this have to do with meat? Strictly speaking, not much. But as the old adage says, "as goes film, so goes meat," and this week I'm going to look at two easy ways to get your meat on without having to draw down your IRA.

Cheap Meat No. 1: Cube Steak Sandwich
I'm a huge fan of cube steaks. They don't weigh much, so a package of four is practically free, and they cook up in about a minute, making them not only cheap but fast ways to get a red meat fix. Plus, the cubular nature of the steak allows the juices to release easily, making them pretty damn juicy, particularly in a sandwich. If you've turned away from these steaks just because they look like they've been cut from the surface of off-road tires, you've made a terrible mistake. Cooking them is easy, eating them is awesome. Here's how to handle it:

Season a steak with salt and pepper. Toss it into a very hot frying pan. Let it sizzle like hell for bit. Flip it. Repeat sizzling part.
cube steak sandwich.jpg
Photo by Flickr user Sydney Kania
​Remove it from the heat.

For me, these steaks work best in a hearty sandwich. There's just no way to get around the fact that they look pathetic on a plate (unless, of course, they're prepared as chicken fried steak, which will deservedly get an entire future Meatist column to itself and all of its cream-gravy glory), and a sandwich takes much better advantage of the steak juices as the bread gets saturated. I like a nice crusty roll or a pita pocket for a cube steak sandwich; both stand up to the liquid onslaught admirably and rarely fall apart, thus avoiding the emergency use of a knife and fork.

Top the sandwich with thinly sliced red onion and mayo, and I'm good to go. But anything works with these bad boys. For me the pleasure is in making a cheap steak sandwich in under three minutes that would make a Phillies fan drool.

Cheap Meat No. 2: Pot Roast
With the weather in South Florida dipping into the icy reaches of the mid-60's, it's time to bust out this fall classic and fill the house with happy smells. Pot roast can be made with the
potroast.jpg
Photo by Flickr user The Flying Enchilada
cheapest cuts of meat, is easy to prepare, and is exceedingly hard to screw up. It's the perfect meat dish to make on a weekend afternoon that you'll be hanging around the house, regardless of how much beer you'll be drinking. Bonus: Sometimes it's even better reheated.

Start with a three- to five-pound rump or chuck roast from your local butcher. I prefer the rump roasts because they often have a bit more fat on them (fat equals flavor, ladies!) and provide plenty of opportunity at the dinner table to tell your kids that they're eating butt. Which is funny.
Season it with salt and pepper, then brown it for 15 minutes or so in some vegetable oil in the heaviest large pot you've got that has a top. Keep turning it to avoid burning. Pour off most of the fat, leaving a few tablespoons, then add some chopped onions, celery, carrots, and whatever else floats your vegetable boat. Add a cup or two of liquid: dry red wine, beef stock, chicken stock, take your pick. Like I said, this is a tough dish to blow but keep in mind that your liquid choice adds flavor, so I'd avoid using plain water if possible.

Bring the liquid to a boil and add spices of your liking (I suggest starting with thyme and going from there), as well as a couple of bay leaves. Cover it and reduce the heat to a simmer. Turn the roast every 30 minutes, or as often as you remember to. If you're cooking a flat roast, let it bubble away for two or three hours. Leave it simmering for four hours or more in the case of a fat, round, Sir-Mix-A-Lot rump. Keep adding more liquid as necessary to keep everything nice and moist.

When your roast is tender, remove it from the pan. Skim the fat off the liquid and strain it, then add a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of flour for each cup of juice. Simmer and stir until thickened, put it in a gravy boat (you do have a gravy boat, don't you?), and serve with sliced pot roast. Or, for those of us who like protein-starch love-ins, break up the roast and combine it with the gravy in a pot of egg noodles. Revel in the cheap-and-easy beef-fest.

There are plenty of other under-priced and/or overlooked options out there; in previous Meatist columns, I've talked about using Boston butt to make pulled pork and how ground chuck makes the very best burgers. And I still haven't broached the topic of poultry, in which there is a cornucopia of great budget-meat opportunities.

The point is that you don't need Brendan Frasier in a pith helmet to make a great meat dish; sometimes it just takes a good idea and the willingness to see it through. Of course, a little help from Steven Spielberg probably wouldn't hurt.


Bradford Schmidt is The Meatist. He's also author of the blog Bone in the Fan. He lives in northern Palm Beach County and is currently on a meat-filled dialysis machine.

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