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Late-date carnivore bait

Clearance meat can help stretch the food budget.

By Donna_Freedman Sep 30, 2009 3:58AM

I had a $1 steak for lunch, but it was no one-buck chuck. It was certified Angus beef sirloin, with no hormones or antibiotics, and “minimally processed,” according to the label. In addition, this steer apparently ate only vegetarians: The label also said "100 percent vegetarian diet."

How'd it get to be a dollar? First it went on sale, then it got old. 

Meat department managers keep a constant vigil against meat that's close to its sell-by date. They need to sell that flesh pronto, so they discount it deeply. 

That’s how people like me end up with steaks whose original per-pound cost was one and a half times the federal minimum wage. That same shopping trip netted me a two-pack of sirloins that initially cost $8.99 a pound; I paid $4.07 total. Another pair of steaks cost just $1.24 and $1.52.

Look for the used-meat label

A friend calls the markdown bin the “used meat” section, a phrase that amuses me greatly. Probably 75 percent of the time I don’t find anything I want: Either the prices are still too high or it’s meat I don’t like. 

I always take a quick look in the markdown bin even if I’m not in the market for meat, as it were. The other night I was actually shopping for loss-leader tomatoes and carrots. To me the markdown bin is foraging rather than shopping, in that I don’t plan my meals based on what I might find. I always have freezer backup.

Most of the stores I patronize use a bright orange sticker on their late-date carnivore bait. The color gets my attention with its connotation of “BUY ME NOW! I’M UBER-CHEAP!” The actual message is usually much more genteel, along the lines of “manager’s special.” 

Always being on the lookout keeps me from having to pay full price, ever. I honestly cannot remember the last time I bought meat that was not from the markdown bin or at least at a killer sale price.

A real meat market

When you buy ground beef close to the end of its useful span, always be prepared to cook or freeze it immediately. It probably won’t hold over in your fridge. As a kid I got really sick from eating old hamburger. I will never make that mistake again.

You may find that larger cuts in the markdown bin have more than a day left before their sell-by dates. Because of that long-ago bout of food poisoning, I still err on the side of caution and throw it in the freezer unless I’m going to cook it right away.

For optimum shopping, ask the manager if there’s a particular time of day when the used meat gets put out. Some stores do it first thing in the morning, others throughout the day. 

Finding meat at these bargain prices will make you feel as smug as I do: All that discounted protein! 

Please, all you vegetarians and vegans, do not write to tell me that there can be protein aplenty in a no-meat diet. I know that. But I’m a happy omnivore. 

Besides, after reading that certified Angus label, I’ve got another reason not to be a vegetarian: Cows might eat me.

Published Oct. 9, 2007



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