13 Tricks to Get Cheap Meat to Taste Expensive

Meat lovers rejoice! Cooking an amazing steak dinner on a budget has never been easier thanks to these tips from pro chefs and food bloggers.

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Barbecue dry aged wagyu flank steak sliced as top view on a burnt cutting with a knife

Cut against the grain

For cheaper cuts of steak, like bottom sirloin, short rib, or flank steak, Heidi Larsen of Foodie Crush recommends grilling the meat until medium rare and then cutting it into thin slices rather than serving the whole slab of steak. “It makes each bite a bit smaller and more succulent,” she explains. Just be to sure cut against the grain—otherwise, you’ll be left with chewy beef.

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white crystals sea salt isolated on black background. sprinkled salt shakers of white salt. shot selective focus. Sifting coarse scattered sea salt on stone close up.
Elvira Koneva/Shutterstock

Soak it in salt

“Brining makes everything taste better!” says Cody Hopkins, CEO and founding farmer of Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative, a cooperative of farmers who raise and sell organic, pasture-fed meat. Because when you soak meat in a salty solution, the salt begins to break down some of the proteins, making it easier to chew. Two rules of thumb to remember: Use one cup of salt per 3.8 litres of water and let meat brine for about one hour per pound.

Still cooking with aluminum foil? You’ll want to read this.

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Cane and white sugar in a porcelain bowl, top view, selective focus

Sprinkle on sugar

Don’t skimp on the sugar if you want a restaurant-quality steak without the hefty price tag. Combine brown sugar with the spices of your choosing (paprika, garlic powder, salt, etc.), then rub it generously all over the outside of the meat before cooking. It will keep some of the juices inside the meat while providing that glistening caramelized crust you love.

Or, try adding these amazing Indian spices to your dishes!

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Breeding, KY, USA - January 08, 2019: Instant Pot pressure cooker on kitchen counter with beans and rice.
Stephanie Frey/Shutterstock

Use a pressure cooker

There’s a reason that people, like chef and former restaurant owner Sylvia Fountaine, are so obsessed with pressure cookers: they produce tastier meat in half the time of a standard oven. Fountaine advises, “Just be sure to let whatever meat you are cooking have about 20 to 30 minutes to rest on warm and reabsorb some of the liquid from the pot, allowing it to get juicy and tender.”

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Young woman measuring temperature of whole roasted turkey with meat thermometer
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Check the temperature

Pay attention to the temperature of the meat. Most people don’t realize that they’re overcooking (or undercooking!) meat, which makes it chewy and tough to swallow. The ideal temperature, especially for less expensive cuts which need to be cooked perfectly to taste good, is medium. Check the meat frequently with a thermometer while grilling or searing.

Don’t miss the easy trick to knowing when chicken is done cooking.

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Marinating meat with spices on table, close up
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Marinate for more flavour

Meat that’s tasty and tender? Yes, please. To prep the perfect piece, Lacey Baier of A Sweet Pea Chef says that she likes to marinate her meat for at least six hours before cooking. Choose one that has an acidic base (think: vinegar, wine, or lemon juice), which will soften any tough muscular fibres in chicken and steak.

Get the recipe for green garlic marinated lamb chops with mint chimichurri.

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Homemade yogurt or sour cream in a wooden bowl

Try a dairy-based rub

Don’t forget the dairy! Marinades with yogurt, butter, or cream bases can work just as well as acidic ones. That’s because the active bacteria and calcium in dairy products activate enzymes in the meat that naturally softens it.

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Dry aged beef packed in vacuum sealed bags.
sleepyhead photos/Shutterstock

Experiment with sous vide

Meet what Hopkins calls your “secret weapon” when it comes to cooking cheaper cuts: sous vide. The trendy hands-off method involves placing your meat inside a vacuum-sealed bag, then submerging it in hot water for about an hour. The result is a super succulent steak as all of the moisture is trapped inside the bag.

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beef steak on cast iron pan, dark background, top view
Anna Shepulova/Shutterstock

Grill with cast iron

Take your grilling game to the next level by placing an affordable steak, like a flap or flat iron, in a cast iron skillet before placing it on the barbecue. By doing so, you’ll trap in all of the juices rather than letting them drip through the grill grates so that the steak stays melt-in-your-mouth moist.

On the other hand, here’s what you should never cook in cast iron.

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Closeup baking powder on wooden background

Make a baking soda brine

Tenderize cheap ground beef by soaking it in a mixture of baking soda and water for 15 to 20 minutes (use 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 1/2 cup of water for every 12 ounces of meat). “It helps to lock in moisture and accelerate browning by raising the pH level of the meat,” explains Jennifer Segal of Once Upon A Chef.

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Woman beating raw steak with meat mallet in kitchen
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Pound it out

To soften inexpensive cuts while also getting a good arm workout, break out the meat mallet. Not only does it flatten out the meat so that it will cook evenly but it also begins to break down some of the tough connective tissue so it will be easier to digest and can soak up any marinade better. If you don’t have a mallet, no worries—you can use a rolling pin or even the bottom of a small saucepan.

Hosting a backyard bash? Check out these delicious summer grilling recipes!

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herb and spice rubbed beef rib roast fresh from the oven

Don’t rush the cook time

Low and slow is the name of the game in Holly Storm’s kitchen. The food blogger behind Southern Mom Loves suggests putting cheaper cuts (like fatty brisket) in the oven or a crockpot at a low temperature for a long time. As the meat cooks, the collagen, which is the protein that makes it tough, begins to dissolve so your meat becomes more tender.

But before you hit the kitchen, read this list of slow cooker mistakes and how to avoid them.

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Delicious Spare ribs plate or grill

Toss it on the smoker

Another “low and slow” method that was basically made for tough types of meat—particularly pork shoulder or ribs—is smoking. Not only does it soften the tough proteins just like the oven and slow cooker do but it also adds that crave-worthy smokey flavor. Warning: You’ll need patience for this style as it takes about one and a half to two hours of cooking time per pound.

Now, find out the cuts of meat you should never throw out!

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest