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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What to do with 20 pounds of ground beef

It's that time of year, again. When it seems like time speeds up. Between now and New Years, the calendar may say there are about 44 days, but it will feel like a week and a half to me. With family birthdays, baking cakes, wrapping presents, baking pies, decking the halls at church, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, decking the halls at home, Christmas shopping, wrapping presents again, baking cookies, open houses, a musical performance or two, (and all of the rehearsals that go with those), Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas Day dinner, unwrapping of presents and New Year's Eve dinner and festivities -- there will be less time, before there is more, when it comes to making weekday dinners.

Coincidentally, ground beef was on sale at Cash & Carry, last week, in 10-lb chubs, for $1.99 per pound. I bought 2 chubs (20-lbs). Ground beef is great for make-ahead meal items. I can make so many of our family favorites with it, such as meatballs, taco/burrito filling, Salisbury steak, and of course, hamburger patties. And, with a little up-front work, I can have these all in the freezer and ready to go, for an easy dinner.

Last Friday afternoon, I took a couple of hours to divide up these large chunks of ground beef, precooking/seasoning some of it, and pre-portioning other amounts.

I made a 48-ct batch of 1-oz Italian meatballs,

3 pounds of cooked and Mexican-seasoned beef for filling tacos and burritos, making skillet dinners, quick chili con carne, and bun tacos,

flattened 3 pounds into hamburger patties for 15 burgers,

and portioned the rest into 1-lb packages.

The pre-cooking and pre-patting saves money over similar offerings in convenience frozen foods. Cash & Carry sells 1-oz Italian meatballs, in a 5-lb bag, for a little over $3 per pound. My meatballs, in a 3-lb batch (and also now conveniently in a zip bag for easy access), cost about $2 per pound. Cash & Carry has pre-formed beef patties (same 80% lean/20% fat as the ground beef I bought), on sale this week for $2.49 per pound. My hand-patted patties cost $1.99 per pound.

I saved both time and money, by cooking and/or forming the beef, in one large batch.

Meatballs are a favorite for our family. I would be making them anyways, with ground beef on hand. So making a large batch will save me time for future meals. Once upon a time, I actually did buy them, pre-made at Cash & Carry. So, this is a "real" savings for us, not just hypothetical. And those hamburger patties that I formed? When I gave my son some choices for his birthday dinner, this week, he chose hamburgers. Our home-cooked burgers will cost about $2.50 for meat and homemade buns, or 50 cents per burger -- far less-expensive than anything I could get carry-out.

One more perk to doing a little extra prep work this last week --

in addition to there being less time for cooking, before there is more, last week reminded me that there will be more colds/viruses, before there are less. So having some easy to fix, meals-at-the-ready may be very useful in coming weeks.


  1. I'm glad you found a good deal on beef. I know in the past, that is something you have missed sometimes as you followed your spending plan. And have make ahead food in the freezer is invaluable--especially this time of year.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      Thank you. We are glad to have beef on the menu more often. It's funny, because as a teen, I didn't like beef, but always preferred chicken. Now, I feel as if I've had my fill of poultry, and wish for more beef.
      And I think beef tends to be the meat that the menfolk prefer. Not always, but just seems like a favoritism towards beef.

  2. Since you are the font of all knowledge when it comes to pinching pennies I'm hoping you will get your calculator out and help me. Math, is not my strong suite. In fact it ranks down there with fluency in Russian.

    How does one compare the prices of ground beef? Sounds like a duh question but I'm wondering, if I see gr beef 75% lean (I'm assuming that's what you bought at that low price) how much meat do you end up with compared to buying 80% gr beef at a higher price? Also don't you find that if you use the high fat gr beef for meatballs or meat loaf you end up with a dish swimming in grease? I know it's not as much of an issue with meat that is browned first as would be used in tacos, spaghetti sauces, and burgers.

    How do you determine what the best buy is?

    1. Hi Linda,
      actually, it was the 80/20 beef I bought. (That info is in the post, just buried in information about the patties for burgers.)

      But to answer your question, I usually do a percentage of price calculation. 80/20 beef means that 80% is lean, or what most of us think of as the "meat" that we're buying. Using that definition of the "meat" we're buying, assuming I'm discarding the fat portion --

      So, if I pay $1 per pound (wishful thinking, I know, but simpler for calculation), for 80/20, then I'm actually paying $1.25/lb for the "meat", if discarding the fat. If I purchase 75/25, for $1/lb, then my price per pound for "meat" goes up to $1.33/lb.

      Take price per pound and divide by .80 or .75, or whatever is the lean, and that's your "real" price per pound on the lean "meat", after removing the fat.

      And you're right meatballs/meatloaf from 75/25 do have a lot of grease in the pan after baking, if you don't drain them. Burgers do well with a higher fat content, though. (But they shrink more.)

      I bake meatballs, then drain the fat (and save for future cooking). So the spaghetti sauce doesn't get all greasy. I know using meat fat in cooking is kinda controversial. I do it. But if my doctor told me I had high cholesterol or some other issue, then I'd probably buy a leaner beef, and toss the fat, or, maybe would have to skip the beef altogether. But, by saving the fat in the freezer, and using in cooking later to saute onions in or whatever, I'm not losing any product when I drain the fat off. And I displace some of the cost of purchased cooking oil.

      I hope I made my answer clear, above, about figuring the real price per pound on meat, based on percentage of lean to fat.

  3. Hi, Lili--

    Looks like some good stocking-up going on at your place this week. With ground beef AND salsa, I predict some very happy meals ahead!

    I did some bulk re-packaging this week, too. Takes some time at the outset, but saves so much in convenience and accessibility later, I always feel stoked about it.

    And on the subject of re-packaging items, I wanted to thank whoever it was who said that they froze sliced black olives successfully. I tried that a month or so ago (split a commercial-sized can into 20 packages), and was using some of them last night.

    The longer they're in the freezer, seems like maybe the more liquid there is. But I sort of squeezed mine out before using them, and by the time they were cooked in my dish, they were completely perfect. What a great money-saver! (And time-saver for me, too, because normally I buy whole olves and slice them myself.)

    Have a great week! Sara

    1. Hi Sara,
      It IS such a nice feeling to know there is a quick dinner in the freezer/fridge!

      I froze some sliced olives for pizza, too, and they did pretty well. the texture was only slightly different from just out of the can. They were just a bit more squishy. When I open a can of whole olives, I'll freeze a couple and see if the texture is okay enough for freezing large amounts, as I can buy those #10 cans of whole olives for a reasonable price.

      Hope your week is off to a great start, Sara!

  4. Yum I am coming to your house for sounds like beef prices have dropped a little or you got a fantastic deal. I love making things ahead to freeze
    Do you use bread crumbs or oatmeal in your meatballs, Last time I used bread
    and they seemed to stick a little more to the pan. I also bake them on big trays in the oven.

    1. Hi Patti,
      I used some bread crumbs plus an egg in the meatballs. I guess you could say I have a technique for doing the meatballs. They never seem to stick much. Maybe that will be tomorrow's post! LOL!

      This was at Cash & Carry (like Smart & Final). They have weekly specials, with just one or two items featured. A lot like loss leaders. When I find meat on the Weekly Special, I know it's about the lowest price of the season for them. Do you ever check out Smart & Final? Their ads have a different look, but they carry many of the same products and labels, some in institutional sizes, which is where I find the best deals, overall.

  5. Not only do we freeze sliced olives after breaking bulk once..we freeze any leftover pizza slices topped with previously frozen olives. By the time we reheat the pizza slices in the toaster oven...that is two freezings that the poor olives had undergone. But they hold up quite well, in fact the olives taste more concentrated. On pizzas the texture seem fine, not sure if they would fare as well in whole form and eaten without cooking. I imagine the olives to loose some firmness.

    Our freezers are filled to the brim. I love buying at low price points, repackaging in convenient portion, and freezing it for future meal preparation. I also love freezing any leftovers no matter how small because they always come in handy for a quick meal later.


    1. I lost an earlier reply...meant to also mention that your meatballs not only look so yummy and came in cheaper than packaged prepared, but you had the advantage of controlling the ingredients. The time to prepare those meatballs is the price to pay for that privilege, so making any price comparisons without the labor factored is rightly so.


    2. Hi, YHF--

      I thought maybe it was you who was talking about sliced olives before, but I couldn't remember for sure. Great tip! I agree that I'd guess whole olives would suffer a lot more in quality than the sliced. Since we bought the big can of sliced, I've used those for all cooking (and yes, a lot of our stuff gets cooked, re-frozen, and re-cooked like yours. Like you, I immediately freeze leftovers in manageable portions for easy meals later. LOVE it... home-made convenience food!)

      We do also like to snack on olives, so I've only bought a couple of small cans of those for snacking; and we're being frugal with those. I think it's going to work out brilliantly. :)

      Thanks, again! (Oh, and happy almost retirement!) Sara

    3. Thank you Sara!! was a difficult decision, but I look upon next year as basic training in "extreme frugality" if there is such a word lol. At least we will have the time and concentration to do more. Once learned hopefully it will become habit, even when the budget is not as tight. Anyway, I love a good challenge, so it will not be as dreadful as it sounds.


  6. I was able to purchase pork shoulder roast at $1.29 per pound . Got 4 large ones . 20 lbs of butter at $1.99.
    We are still eating from the garden have lots of squash and carrots . I canned 20 quarts of French onion soup from my onions this gives me a nice base for refrigerator soup when I don't feel like cooking .
    We were given a $40 gift card to Outback restaurant . My husband found a note book on the on ramp to the freeway. It contained a man's licence and registration . When the gentleman came to pick it up he handed me the Gift Card and insisted I take it ! This was so generous of him .
    Thanks again for all you do Lili .
    Dee D

    1. Hi Dee,
      I'm so glad that gentleman rewarded you with the gift card. You really did do the right thing, and many others, today, might feel they're too busy to bother. It was generous of him, but you saved him potential headache, trouble, and possibly identity theft, down the line. I'm glad for you and him both! He was fortunate that it was you who found it.
      What a deal on pork shoulder! And kudos on making ahead all of that onion soup! It will be a real time saver on busy days!

  7. I bought 18 lbs of ground turkey on clearance for $1.67/lb last Friday (its pull date was that day). Really, it was the last thing I wanted to deal with on that very busy day, but the price was right. We've been out of ground meat for awhile now. So, I went home and browned & froze 12 lbs of it for easy spaghetti/chili/taco meals in the weeks to come. I separated the rest into 1 lb pkgs & froze those. I say, "I," but really mean, "we." It's so great having big girls that can help. Melissa P.S. Those meatballs look really good. I should have thought of that. Next time!

    1. Hi Melissa,
      Oh wow! that is a spectacular price on the ground turkey for you! I understand how you felt, though. Not at all what was in the plans, but this will save you money and time for future meals. I see lots of spaghetti/taco/burrito/chili nights in your future!

  8. Wow, what a great price! I love ground beef/turkey. It is sooo versatile and you can come up with a huge variety of meals. How do you cook your burgers during the winter? We don't have a gas grill--my husband is a charcoal grill purist--I have found that I like them best under the broiler when I can't have them grilled. My husband likes to grill up a bunch of burgers at this time of year, and then we freeze them and pull them out when we want that almost-fresh-grilled taste. It has the benefit of being an easy-peasy meal,as well.

    1. Hi Kris,
      I've never known anyone who pre-cooked burgers. But I've seen them sold in the freezer section of the wholesaler. Good idea. And you like the texture just fine? This is so smart! I just pan fry them in winter. Not too picky, here. I wish I had a grill pan. That would keep the bulk of the meat out of the juices while cooking.
      Pre-cooking would not just be an easy dinner to put together, but it would make lunch for one, super easy, especially if that someone were following a low-carb plan. Thank you for the idea.

    2. Yes, the texture really doesn't seem any different to me, and you still get the smokey grill flavor (I know, I know, carcinogens and all of that ... but we still like it!). This is often the meal we pull out of the freezer once we return from a visit with my in-laws--after 8 to 10 hours in the car, no one really wants restaurant food. We just want to be home eating a "home-cooked" meal--I can literally have dinner on the table minutes after we get home.

    3. Good to know! I'll be trying this for sure!

  9. Great way to save both time and money, Lili. What a great savings at $1.99 a pound. I would have stocked up on that deal too. :)

  10. That is a great price on ground beef, around here it is outrageous. I have been watching for a sale as I am out right now. I do have couple meals of ground beef things already made in the freezer, chili, sloppy joe meat & I think a couple burgers. So at least we have some ways to have it until a sale comes up. I actually bought about 5 packs of ground pork a couple months ago that I have in the freezer, that is not something I would normally buy but I found it on a mark down special for 98 cents a pound so I could not pass it up. I think I will make spaghetti with meat sauce will some of it in the next few days. I will have to think of some other ways to use it.

    1. Hi Rhonda,
      Oh, what a great deal on the ground pork you found! You could season it for Italian sausage, and cook in patties.
      I make a meat pie for New Year's that I use some ground pork in, when I have it. It's meat (usually one ground meat and one chunks of cooked meat), browned onions, apples, dried fruit, seasonings, all in a pie pastry. It's called Medieval Game Pie. This year, I have ground turkey in the freezer, that I'll use, along with cooked chicken leg quarters, plus prunes, apples and onions.

      Wishing you success finding good recipes for your ground pork!

    2. Oh, those are good ideas! I will keep them in mind.
      Tonight I am making a batch of the spaghetti & meat sauce.



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