Save Money By Being Your Own Butcher

CheapStingyBargains says that rather than relying on a butcher, it can be cheaper just to buy a whole piece of meat and cut it up yourself:

I’ve been in supermarkets where a couple of skinless, boneless chicken breasts cost MORE than a whole chicken. Wouldn’t it make sense to buy the whole bird, trim out the breasts (30 seconds, once you’ve done it a couple of times) and throw the rest away if it will cost less than buying two cutlets?…Does your family like nice boneless centercut porkchops? Buy a whole boneless pork loin and cut into 1? slices. You can even wrap them in plastic film and freeze them for use later. By being your own butcher, you’ll enjoy great quality meat at probably two-thirds the price of anything you would buy pre-cut.

Makes sense to us, especially after seeing this investigation on how chicken is packed with extra water so they can charge you more. Just get a good set of knives and get slicing and dicing. You can also save by cutting and marinating your own meats, and making your own bacon.

Sharpen Knife, Slash Your Food Costs [Cheap Stingy Bargains] (Thanks to Marilyn!)

(Photo: seventime)


Edit Your Comment

  1. fluiddruid says:

    The link for making your bacon is broken.

  2. YMMV. I used a kitchen scale recently to justify buying the bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts. After accounting for waste, it was basically the same price as buying boneless/skinless. However, the meat in the former is usually more tender. But I don’t like donating my labor.

    I need to try the pork loin thing, though.

  3. mike says:

    This isn’t always possible for the standard consumer. For those that have the time to scour the coupons and bargin shop, this might work.

    When I cook dinner, I want to be able to start quickly. Cutting a chicken requires skill (read: “once you’ve done it a couple of times”).

  4. bonzombiekitty says:

    I don’t think Boneless breasts don’t end up costing more than buying a whole bird that often. On the surface, a whole bird may look cheaper on a per pound basis, but once you account for the weight of the bones, you’re paying more on a per-pound of meat basis.

  5. howie_in_az says:

    … or go vegetarian (or even vegan) and grow all your own food in your very own backyard.

  6. crabbyman6 says:

    We already do this, buy a giant pork loin and chop it up for ourselves ahead of time or a london broil and make so-so steaks out of it. Sometimes it pays to buy cheaper meat and invest in some marinade or marinade ingredients. There’s also a supermarket near me (Redners Wharehouse Market) that’s started running a 5 for $20 meat special. You can get $40+ worth of meat for $20, its great.

  7. IrisMR says:

    Logical. When there’s workers involved it always costs more. For instance a whole chicken breast will always cost less than one cut into cubes.

  8. BStu says:

    Isn’t this more of a lifehacker story? I mean, of course businesses charge for value added products. If you have the skill and the time, doing your own butchering will obviously cost less. But I think most consumers know they are paying for a service on that count. Its certainly a good tip for someone looking to save money, but its hardly a case of the consumer done wrong. There IS a reason the stores are charging more, after all. Now, if they inflate the price, that’s a different problem. But just charging for the service provided is very reasonable, even if its a service some consumers choose to do themselves. Pre-cut meat is little different than frozen pizzas, cartons of orange juice, or packaged baked goods. You’re paying for a service.

  9. majortom1029 says:

    So basically they are saying go by the Alton Brown way of thinking?

  10. mgy says:

    Why not just raise your own chickens in the backyard?


  11. Farquar says:

    You gotta be careful… If you cut it wrong you’ll get fugu poisoning.

  12. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    @howie_in_az: But then you’d have to butcher your own vegetables…

  13. LBM says:

    Been doing this for years. And the bones/carcass of a chicken don’t have to be waste – you can make your own chicken stock from them! So you’ll save there too.

    Buy our steaks in a wet pack – a whole NY strip package. This way the steaks are to our desired thickness. Same for pork. We can make regular chops, stuffing chops or a boneless roast.

    YOu can also save yourself possible e.coli contamination by grinding your own beef/meat if you have a kitchenaid processor and meat grinder. It’s where we get our hamburger meat from.

  14. Bagels says:

    @fluiddruid: Makin’ bacon, huh?

  15. Maybe I’m biased because of my vegetarianism, but this strikes me as rather difficult.

    @LBM: Seriously, wow.

  16. astraelraen says:

    You can do this for ground beef easily. I buy a beef roast for 1.99-2.50/lb and grind it up myself. I think it tastes better and you know that the risk of contamination is low. Also, there isn’t much good ground beef you can get for that price/lb.

  17. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says:

    @crabbyman6: My family does the same thing. We also save by buying meat from local farmers directly. If you buy a half/whole cow butchered up you can save a lot, though naturally its paying all up-front first, in the long run its far cheaper (and healthier) than store-bought. We like to make our own sausages, as a lot of the salts/preservatives in store-bought ones aggravate my stomach.

  18. loganmo says:

    bacon link doesnt work–waaaaaaaaaahhhh!

  19. mythago says:

    Argh. I hate when articles like this make it seem like it’s a huge, scary ADVENTURE to do something as simple as hacking up a chicken and using parts other than the breast meat.

    One of the best things about buying whole chicken is that you can remove the skin and fat to make schmaltz – which makes for the rest of the chicken being healthier.

  20. Drowner says:

    @fluiddruid: Suggestive.

    And I donno, I hardly eat meat so this probably wouldn’t be a thrifty idea. Also I don’t even know how to separate my reds from whites let alone debone a chicken.

  21. Starfury says:

    We buy the pork loin from Costco and cut it up into chops/roasts. $2/pound is very inexpensive. I haven’t gotten to making my own hamburger but after the kitchen remodel is done I’ll pick up a meat grinder attachment for my Kitchenaid. We also buy whole chickens and I’ll bake or put them on the BBQ rotisserie to cook. I can pay .89 a pound for whole chicken or $3 for just the breasts I’ll get the whole bird. The only bits that go to waste are the bones, skin and wingtips.

    A note: I like to cook and I am an Alton Brown fan. I also don’t understand vegetarians/vegans at all but then my dad was in the grocery business and we always had good meat growing up.

  22. battra92 says:

    Sometimes you can just ask the butcher and as long as you’re buying the whole thing, he’ll cut it for you how you want it.

  23. howie_in_az says:

    @Applekid: Hunting vegetables is a lot easier than hunting animals. You don’t even have to sneak up on them!

  24. darkrose says:

    I usually take this a step further and grill about once a month. I cook everything I can possibly put on the grill meat-wise including hamburgers. I buy my meat at Sam’s Club in bulk and do things like buy a sirloin roast and cut it up into steaks myself. I also quarter up a giant pork loin I can buy at Sam’s (like 8-9 lb pork loin)..and dry rub it and toss it on the grill as well.

    Then I grill ALL of it, slightly undercooking it. I freeze everyting in reusable, portion sized vacuum sealed bags. When I want a steak, I pull one out of the bag, and put it on a plate with a plate covering it in the microwave for 5 minutes. When the buzzer dings, I have a piping hot, perfectly cooked, tender steak ready to be nom’d.

  25. Drowner says:

    @howie_in_az: But more fun if you do.

  26. DrGirlfriend says:

    There’s nothing difficult about cutting meat.

    Taking a chicken apart properly will take a couple of attempts, but it’s just more about figuring out where to cut and how to use your knife.

  27. AnneCA says:

    My mother made sure that I knew how to cut up and debone a chicken, and make stock, etc., before I moved out on my own. She reasoned that as a newly-independent person, I would need to be economical, so this was her parting lesson to me. And she was right, it came in very handy. I ended up a vegetarian, but I probably still have the memory to cut up a chicken.

  28. fostina1 says:

    the butcher at my walmart will do all this for free.

  29. savvy9999 says:

    I rarely ever buy nothing less than a whole chicken. I have one in the kitchen at home, marinating in brine, ready to grill up tonight.

    Cut it up, cook the meat, and use the backbone/carcass to make soup stock. 3 or 4 meals’ worth out of a single bird.

  30. The problem is that everything is so readily available and cheap compared to just 30, 40, 50 years ago, there’s little true need for these skills (home economics and home butchering). You can still save a little cash and gain some skills, but for most people, they’d gladly take the time savings instead. I’m somewhere in the middle.

  31. Scoobatz says:

    Same goes for pre-packaged salad. I never understood what is so difficult about cutting up a head of lettuce.

  32. capnjack says:

    I just did the same thing with a whole turkey breast, instead of just buying ground turkey or turkey scallopini. Was VERY easy to break down.

  33. first2letters says:

    You can also save a lot of money by buying bone-in, skin-on breasts — I do this often, and the meat is tastier (dem bones add flavor!), more tender and generally yields more for less $$ than its rubbery, boneless/skinless counterpart. Marinate the sucker all day in some lime juice, olive oil, fresh garlic and kosher salt, and grill it with the skin on for added flavor — you can always trim the skin after cooking to cut down on fat.

  34. Saboth says:


    True, but as a big guy, I need to take in about 3500 + calories a day. How exactly am I going to do that on tofu and string beans and not put out more methane than 3 cows?

  35. ElizabethD says:

    Sometimes my time is worth more than saving pennies by hacking away at whole chickens. Make that most of the time.

  36. bohemian says:

    I have been doing this for years. We buy whole chickens, turkey, pork loin and beef round roasts and cut them down.

    I also look for close out deals on meat. I got a bunch of turkey breasts for .99 a pound the day after Easter. We also buy our hamburger from the smaller local grocery that grinds their own burger throughout the day. Far less chance of e-coli that way and it tastes way better for $1.59 a pound.

  37. howie_in_az says:

    @Saboth: I try not to go over 1800 calories/day, but I suppose one could make richer sauces or simply eat larger portions if they wanted more calories… Some fancy Indian meals can get pretty heavy depending on the use of cream and butter (shahi paneer as made at my favorite Indian restaurant springs to mind).

    Added bonus: you can use the methane to power parts of your home, ward off intruders, and punish the kids (and/or significant other) all at the same time.

  38. Disturbedearth says:

    I guess I’m not that strapped for cash – good grief. I’ll get to it as soon as I get done squeezing my own orange juice, field dressing the cow and sewing the final seams on my version of Dockers….

    Screw it – I’m just gonna go Morman.

  39. BlackFlag55 says:

    Butcher your own? Absodamnlutely. I raise my own beeves and chickens. Got a brother who raises Black Berkshires and cures his own hams and hangs a damn fine prosciutto. Maybe some day he’ll learn how to cure pancetta or capocolla. Doing your own means you know what you’re eating instead of the forced industrial stockyard “meat” sold in super markets. And you save money.

  40. HeartBurnKid says:

    Oh, man, I love doing this with chickens. I can often get whole chickens for 50-80 cents a pound, and it takes less than 5 minutes to butcher them nicely into individual pieces. One caveat, though: Get yourself a good set of knives, and a honing steel to keep ’em sharp. Using a dull knife for work like this is asking for trouble.

    Oh, and save those spines; you can make a hell of a stock with them.

  41. synergy says:

    Wow. Where have these people been? Sure, you pay extra for the fat you’re carving off if you buy the fattier meat, but once you’re done removing it, you’re still saving money compared to the pre-cut, pre-defatted packages.

  42. synergy says:

    @linus: Sure it is. This isn’t something you sit down to do when you need dinner in 30 minutes. You do it when you get home from the grocery store. Then you don’t go through the step of thawing and freezing again that can be a possible route to lots of trips to the bathroom.

  43. NYGal81 says:

    @BlackFlag55: For the pancetta, check out Michael Ruhlman’s book Charcuterie. I can’t say I can raise my own livestock, but I totally agree that doing it yourself means knowing, and having control of, the quality of what you’re getting.

  44. RetailGuy83 says:

    @astraelraen: The best meat I’ve found to grind in the kitchenaid is brisket. Usually you can get a 10-12lb brisket for $1.25 or so a pound. However, you generally have to be in the south to expect to find a brisket at the local grocery. No doubt a specialilty shop would charge quite a bit more.

  45. bnorton says:

    Why stop there grow all your own food and raise your own animals then instead of using money you can trade things for goods and services. There is nothing like fresh wrung chicken.

    This all comes down to the people that have no concept of time=money. Even when I am not getting paid to do something my time still has value. Spending the day butchering my own meat is not worth the .05 per pound I may or may not be saving.

    Some times you have to ask yourself when you are laying on your death bed do you want to remember the times when you took your kids to the park/camping/sporting even on the weekend or those great times you had de-boning chicken.

  46. spinachdip says:

    @bonzombiekitty: Yeah, but you can make cheap chicken stock with the bones. Considering how much store-bought stock costs, the saving there is yoooooj.

    @first2letters: BUT! You have to rinse the lettuce! Did you think about THAT?

    BTW, one of the most underrated purchases of the past 12 months is a hand-held shredder. I use it for pretty much everything from carrots to parmesan cheese to ginger to lemon zest.

    It’s one thing to pay a butcher to cut the meat, it’s whole another to pay more for shredded products.

  47. HeartBurnKid says:

    @bnorton: Why stop there? You should buy and eat nothing but expensive, tasteless, nutritionally void processed foodstuffs that are ready to eat right out of the package. After all, life’s too short to cook or prepare anything. Every minute you’re doing work is a minute you could be out at the park/camping/at sporting events!

    #1, it’s usually closer to $1.00 per pound savings, give or take, at least in my area. #2, it takes about 5 minutes to butcher a chicken properly. How much money are you going to make in 5 minutes on your day off? Are you really going to regret the 5 minutes you spent each Sunday evening cutting up chickens and putting them in the freezer? Are you going to say, “Damn, I wish I could have spent those 5 minutes with my kids”?

    Home butchery saves you money, is more sanitary, and gets you a deeper connection with your food. What’s not to like? Hell, bring the kids into the kitchen and chat with them while you do the work (though they probably shouldn’t be helping with this little job).

    That said, I usually don’t do this with beef, because the savings just aren’t there like they are with chicken and, to a lesser extent, pork. However, when chuck roast is on sale, I will buy an extra to cube and toss in the food processor. Best hamburgers can be had.

  48. theblackdog says:

    @DrGirlfriend: Agreed.

  49. spinachdip says:

    @bnorton: Why would you spend a whole day cutting meat? You’re just dealing with one bird or one slab. That adds, what, 15-20 minutes to your post-grocery run routine? If that’s too much, then it seems you have a much larger time management/allocation issue.

    Plus, cooking is fun! Chopping vegetables is fun! Slicing meat is fun! Being in control of what you eat is empowering! Well, YMMV, but I for one don’t mind being in the kitchen. I find it relaxing to prepare food.

  50. Krustey says:

    I dunno, breasts at my supermarket are very comparable to the price per pound of meat for a whole chicken. Them bones and useless liver/heart/neck/chicken butt/flaps of fat near the big opening weigh lots. I’d go as far as to say that 50% of the weight is bones and useless matter. Where I’m at, whole chicken is around $.99/lb and boneless skinless breast is $1.99. The real rip-off is wings, $3.00-$3.49 a pound!
    That said, i do buy whole chicken simply because thats the way i prefer to cook it. A boneless skinless breast has its uses, but when i want chicken, its not what comes to mind.

  51. HeartBurnKid says:

    @spinachdip: Thank you! I love to cook too. There is nothing more satisfying than sitting down to a delicious meal that you prepared, except possibly sitting down to the same meal with friends and loved ones and having them compliment you on the fruits of your labors. Some nights I can’t be bothered, true, and I usually have a couple of low-cal frozen dinners in the back of the freezer for those occasions, but when I have the time and inclination, cooking is a tremendously empowering experience.

  52. CharlieInSeattle says:

    I’ve already been doing this for years.

  53. khiltd says:

    I just bought a nice heavy cleaver this weekend after paying $20 for 4 breast halves that were so ridiculously oversized that they could not be pan fried without spending another 20 minutes in the oven. That $8 vikon chicken that hasn’t been de-beaked, tortured and left to feed on its own droppings they’ve got hanging in the window of the Chinese market looks a lot better anyway.

  54. velvetjones says:

    If you’re scared about taking a chicken apart yourself, start with a cooked rotisserie chicken, after they’re cooked they come apart in an easy, logical way.

    A razor sharp boning knife and a good set of kitchen shears make this easy.

  55. Smorgasbord says:

    It’s not just chicken the government lets the processors and retailers add water to. They can do it to all meats. Also, do you remember when we had to add water to a can of soup. Now the water comes pre-installed in the can. Thanks for that time saving feature!!!

  56. AcidReign says:

        Chicken’s little messy to cut, but I love using a whole chicken. Every part is a little different tasting, even if the thing’s all cooked the same way. If you buy the whole chicken from a good store like Publix, there will a be a bag full of gibblets inside, too. While you’re cooking or prepping the chicken, you can cut up a little celery, onion and a garlic clove, and put it in a small sauce pan with water and soy sauce. Boil the gibblets in this mix for about 15 minutes, and you’ve got a really tasty little snack to tide you over till dinner!

        Many years ago, I worked in a BBQ restaurant that featured “All you can eat BBQ chicken” night, on Tuesdays, for $2.99. We’d get 2000 pounds of frozen whole chickens for this event every week. Guess whose job it was to cut those things up… Cutting one chicken up is nothing!

  57. chiieddy says:

    I usually buy the roaster and cook it. Use the legs for one meal and then cook up the leftover breast into a casserole later in the week. Saves tons of money. Of course, I bought separate breasts (and promptly froze them) when my local market had a 50% off deal on the bulk pack. Cost about the same as a chicken for 3 breasts (6 halves)

  58. drjayphd says:

    @howie_in_az: What if I’m already opposed to vegetarianism on moral grounds?

    + Watch video

  59. BlackFlag55 says:

    NYGal81 – gracias, mi amigo. He actually knows how, and has referenced that very book. He’s just not gotten around to it.

    Damn fine suggestion , mi lady.

  60. rdldr1 says:

    Many people find cutting up whole chickens disgusting (you dont have to pay for the labor). God forbid they become doctors or nurses.

  61. Akamaru says:


    I’m squeemish when it comes to blood and surgery.

    But cutting up a chicken isn’t that bad. It saves a lot of money, you can make broth and you don’t have to buy watered down chicken breasts in bulk packaging for 3 dollars a pound.

  62. LosersHaveCreditCardDebt says:

    Save your heart and don’t eat meat.

  63. LJKelley says:

    @howie_in_az: Not my strawberries… they run when they see me coming. I have never seen strawberry plants with so many runners…

    But seriously are we gonna teach Lion or Sharks or Wolfs to be vegatarian? It would be much easier for them to, no huge chases to plan. Things work the way nature intended, even some Monkeys naturally eat meat.

  64. HungryGrrl says:

    Chicken roasted whole with the bone in is much tastier than pan fried chicken breasts. I buy my chickens whole, roast ’em for an hour in a 400 degree oven, eat one breast one night, the other goes into another meal, and the dark meat that I don’t like so much usually gets shredded and mixed with BBQ sauce and onions and cooked on low for a while to make some badass shredded chicken.

    After all the meat is removed I break up the carcass into a pot, cover it in cold water, and put it on the stove on medium heat until it simmers and then reduce heat and let it simmer for a few hours while I watch a movie or something… then strain and let cool to room temputure then divide up into freezer containers and freeze- free chicken broth without excessive salt.

    All that well justifies my buying of organic chickens.

    If people are too squemish to handle a whole dead bird, then you should consider vegetarianism.

  65. spinachdip says:

    @howie_in_az: Sounds like someone who’s never heard a lettuce scream.

  66. HungryGrrl says:

    and re: “don’t feel like donating my own labor”

    You’re actually EARNING money buy doing the labor yourself. If it takes 5 minutes of work to save $2, it’s like earning $24/hour.

  67. says:

    “I’ve been in supermarkets where a couple of skinless, boneless chicken breasts cost MORE than a whole chicken.”

    ….um…yeah, less work is in higher demand and therefore cost more. boneless chicken is in higher demand than a whole chicken because you don’t have to bone it. duh.

  68. battra92 says:

    Why so much hate for meat here? Meat is rich in protein and tastes good.

    After all, God put animals on this earth for that purpose. Take the pig for example. Its sole purpose is to be transformed from a worthless soulless ugly creature into wonderful things like pork chops, ham, pork loins and of course, bacon.

  69. BigBoat says:

    @HungryGrrl: I think I love you.

  70. P_Smith says:

    @LBM: YOu can also save yourself possible e.coli contamination by grinding your own beef/meat if you have a kitchenaid processor and meat grinder. It’s where we get our hamburger meat from.

    It’s also healthier. These are (or were) standard in the meat industry:

    “Regular” ground beef – 30% fat

    “Lean” ground beef – 17%

    “Extra lean” ground beef – 10%

    The price difference is absolutely unnecessary. What are supermarket butchers doing, cutting off part of the fat and grinding up some meat, then cutting off the rest before making lean? Or are they cutting off all the fat, then weighing how much extra to add to make “regular” and “lean”? Think about that.

    When I do buy ground round nowadays, I usually end up buying prefrozen lean hamburger patties in 24s from Costco. They work as burgers, salisburies, and can be broken up for adding to other foods, as well as costing a little less than Costco’s wrapped ground beef.

  71. Channing says:

    That would suck.

  72. @bonzombiekitty: (I know I’m commenting late, but:) Depending on the sales cycle, I’ve seen breasts cost more than twice as much per pound as a whole chicken. I do buy breasts when they’re on sale, but a whole chicken is pretty easy to cook anyway.

    I’m not good at butchering the chicken, so I just usually cook it whole and cut it up afterwards. (They’re easier to cut up once cooked.) Really easy recipe: get a jar of Newman’s pineapple salsa, dump over chicken, roast chicken in oven at 350 until done. VERY tasty. People think you spent hours at it.

    As for the “waste,” homemade chicken stock IS really easy and really tasty, though it does require time. It’s passive supervision, though; it’s not like you have to stand there and stare at it. I either do it on weekends when I’m at home anyway, or on days I work from home. Takes 10 minutes to throw everything in, and then you just simmer it for a few hours, and I stir when I happen to get up and walk by. I also toss all the ends of stoup-stock-type vegetables (tops and bottoms of carrots, skin and ends of onion, center bits of celery I don’t like to eat) into the freezer in a tupperware thing so when I have a chicken carcass to stockify, I have veggie bits all set to go in too for flavor.

    Incidentally, you can toss, like, buffalo wing bones in the stock as well. We toss those in the freezer with the veggie bits too.

  73. betatron says:

    Cutting up a chicken requires very little skill and is easily learned. Do it a couple of times and you’re almost an expert. I learned some great technique by watching Jacques Pepin, available in on PBS, at your library (books and video), and even online []

    All it requires of you is a sharp knife and a cutting board. Save everything, freeze the bones and when you have a bunch, make chicken stock (transcendently delicious, light-years better than that canned stuff). This kind of thing is part of being a competent cook, and frankly, you’ll eat better and be healthier. After a couple of times, it will take far less time than you’d imagine. I can part out a chicken in under a minute, or bone it ala Pepin in about 3.

    Being a good cook is fun and rewarding and easier than you think!

  74. backbroken says:

    Unfortunately I don’t have time to read all the comments, so someone might have already mentioned this. But my favorite ‘cost-added-service’ at the grocery store is the pre-marinated fish. My local chain always has a few salmon filets slathered in Jack Daniels sauce, for which they charge about $3 more than a plain filet of the same weight. For that price you can get the plain filet and an entire bottle of the sauce. It’s not as if it takes more than 10 seconds to put the sauce on the filet at home.

  75. betatron says:

    Ahhh…. Think it’s hard? Watch Julia Child and Jacques Pepin doing this!

  76. Wormfather says:

    Ha, I’ve been doing this for years. Costco FTmotha f*ckin’W

  77. Wormfather says:

    @backbroken: But that doesnt really help if need to make dinner 10 minutes from now.

  78. chiieddy says:

    @Akamaru: I do have to say, I buy fresh killed chicken from a place in Cambridge, MA and I do get squeamish about plucking feathers. Sometimes there’s a couple left on the roasters, but I make my husband do that deed. I think it’s just a weird thing for me. I can cut up stuff no problem, but plucking a few feathers gets me.

  79. chiieddy says:

    @backbroken: Our local Stop & Shop will add a marinade to any cut of fish for you for free. You just pick which one you want. I generally don’t go for it because it adds extra calories I can’t necessarily account for. If I marinade, I pick something light I can manage myself.

  80. lordargent says:

    howie_in_az: … or go vegetarian (or even vegan) and grow all your own food in your very own backyard.