The main course can really eat up a budget when you are entertaining. The star of the meal can’t be overlooked, but how can you present a gorgeous main course when you’re on a tight budget? No worries, there are quite a few options and you won’t even look cheap by choosing them.
Let the Sales Guide You
Good cuts of meat are expensive. It helps to be mindful of special sales and giveaways that are in your area. For instance, if you’re planning on having pumpkin pie for dessert, and a grocery store is offering a free honey ham with the purchase of pumpkin pie ingredients, why not let that determine what you serve for your main course? You may have been thinking about duck or a rib roast, but when it comes to your budget, a free ham sure tastes better!
Smart merchants offer big savings on traditional meats and other main course proteins because they want to get you in the store for the other ingredients. Watch the sales flyers so you don’t get stuck in a panic and spend full price when time runs short. Don’t forget your local butcher or independent store. Smaller shops stock up for holiday meals and don’t want to get stuck with anything after the holiday is past. Keep in mind ‘supply and demand’ – grocers lay in a large supply while the demand is high and can ask any price, but they want to move their stock before the demand ends. Watch closely for this price break to happen fast, and be ready to buy.
Know the Proper Serving Size
The USDA guideline for meat serving size is about a quarter pound of meat per person. However, holiday meals usually call for a more impressive serving size. But don’t go overboard! Figure the serving size somewhere between a quarter pound and a half pound per person. Remember, you will be having all your favorite side dishes, as well. It’s so easy to over-estimate when it comes down to picking out your main course. Keep in mind when you choose your protein that if you are buying a bone-in meat, you need to take that ‘waste weight’ into account and buy closer to the half pound per person serving size.
Choosing a big turkey, duck, goose, or chicken will take some estimating when it comes to serving size. You can actually make an assumption to help you calculate the servings per bird. Deduct about twenty percent from the total weight and that should give you a good weight in actual meat. Of course, you’ll want a good amount of both white meat and dark meat. If you’re serving a large group, sometimes it’s better to cook two smaller birds instead of one big bird. Start by calculating the amount of meat you’ll need, then shop for the best price per pound whether you are buying meat, poultry, fish, or other seafood.
Another thing to consider is making a main dish that requires the meat be in single serving portions. Recipes that use pork chops, steaks, or chicken pieces are easier to control portions. Although the meat is sometimes cheaper to buy in roasts or whole meats. Consider buying a full pork loin and cutting it into your own chops to save.
Choosing Quality or Quantity
Some of you won’t be able to bring yourself to put a smaller piece of meat on your holiday table and I get that. By all means buy a larger cut. This means, however, that you will need to shop around for less expensive cuts to make sure your main course still fits your budget. For example, if your budget is limited but you want to serve a big roast beef dinner, you will need to walk away from the prime rib or tenderloin. Choose instead several nice chuck roasts and cook them low and slow so they are cut-it-with-a-fork tender. No one will care that your beef isn’t expensive just so long as it’s juicy and delicious. You can do that with less expensive cuts of meat if you cook it right.
Also consider a great sauce for meat. Don’t use just regular gravy. Try a red wine sauce for steak or a cranberry sauce for pork chops. So many amazing sauces you can put on a lesser quality cut of meat to upgrade it.
If you are going with poultry, compare the price per pound of several different options. If you can’t afford to buy a goose or duck, choose a turkey or chicken. A large turkey that has been roasted beautifully will impress your guests just as much, if not more, than a smaller (and much more expensive) goose. But, you can also serve quality AND quantity, if you shop and plan wisely. If you really want that beautiful duck on your table, go ahead and choose a small one, then roast another bird so you have enough meat to serve. Think of the expensive protein as a side dish and buy a smaller size. In other words, you don’t have to serve your guests a half pound of expensive protein. Plan your main course with a less expensive protein and serve your luxury protein in smaller bites.
Everyone wants their holiday table to feature a wonderful main course, but meat can be expensive. There are ways to still present an amazing main dish without breaking the bank. Be sure to watch the sales in your area and introduce yourself to the butcher or fishmonger. Also, be mindful of the portion sizes and the number of people you are serving. Don’t over-estimate and spend more than you have to. Remember, quality isn’t always about spending more money. It really all comes down to serving the tastiest dish you possibly can, and you can do that on any budget.
Image credit: www.danbrady.co.uk
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