May is Pennsylvania Beef Month! There are so many ways to enjoy this protein, which is an important part of the agricultural industry here in Pennsylvania. But we understand that not everyone is visiting their local butcher or meat counters for steaks or ribs — expensive cuts aren’t always an option for our many neighbors experiencing food insecurity.
Beef can range widely in price, and some types of beef are, in fact, super-affordable. Packed with protein and iron, beef can be an economical way to feed yourself or your family, especially with a couple of tricks in the kitchen!
Ground beef is commonly known to be a great value. There are different blends which contain varying fat-to-lean ratios, which are shown on the packaging in numbers like 90/10 (90% lean to 10% fat). For beef to be labeled as “lean” it must be 93% lean or higher. Ground beef with a higher fat ratio is good for dishes like burgers, meatballs and meatloaf, while leaner beef works well for chili, taco filling, stuffed peppers, meat sauce and in casseroles, like lasagna. Basically, in applications where the ground beef will be mixed with a bunch of other ingredients, lean is a great option.
Storing ground beef is simple enough: Keep fresh ground beef in the fridge for 1 to 2 days (or 3 to 4 days if cooked), or keep beef in the freezer for 3 to 4 months. To thaw frozen ground beef, let it sit in the refrigerator for about 12 hours.
Canned beef is also affordable, though because it is often high in sodium, we suggest using it in a more sparing quantities in dishes that also include a few servings of vegetables or grains. Mixing canned beef into chili is a superb way to use it, and we’ve got a crowd-pleasing recipe from our Nourish PA series ready to go!
Other ideas for using canned beef include: mixing it into pasta sauce with vegetables like onions, zucchini and bell peppers; using it as filling in shepherd’s pie or pot pie with potatoes, peas and carrots; and tucking it into corn-and-cheese quesadillas topped with mashed avocado.
There are also cuts of beef that are more affordable than the “special occasion” steaks like T-bone and ribeye. Chuckeye steaks, which are located on the steer right near the ribeye, are a bit thinner-cut than that iconic steak, but seared in a cast-iron pan or on the grill, chuckeye steaks can yield delicious, juicy meat that would be lovely served with a brussels sprouts salad or with a fried egg atop a breakfast quinoa bowl. Tri-tip steaks, which are indeed triangle shaped, are amazingly flavorful sirloin steaks, which are great for marinating and grilling; try them sliced thin against the grain for dishes, like steak fajitas with pickled onions or simply served with summer cookout classics, like corn on the cob and tomato salad.
Of course, roasts are the secret weapon of savvy home cooks everywhere. Roasts use cuts of beef which are inexpensive; if not cooked properly, the beef is unpleasantly tough, but with slow-and-low techniques, like braising and smoking, the meat becomes wonderfully tender. For classic pot roast, try round roast; for slow-cooked BBQ or smoking, brisket is the winner; for beef bourguignon, chuck round is a great choice. Classic beef stew usually calls for a product frequently sold as “stew beef,” which are already-broken down chunks of meat, often from the hardworking parts of the cow, like its shoulder (called the “chuck”) or from the rump. Full of connective tissue and collagen, these cuts get fall-apart-tender when cooked for a nice long time in liquid.
We hope you’re inspired to try some new recipes featuring beef, even if you’re shopping on a budget or incorporating foods from your local food pantry. Let us know some of your favorite ways to cook with PA beef in the comments below or on the PA Eats Facebook page!
- Photos and video: Dish Works