Friday, May 6, 2011

Getting the Most from Your Meat Counter and a Sweet Deal

Yesterday I went to Raley’s (Nob Hill, Bel Air) to take my knives to be sharpened and prepare for this post.  My plan was to publish it in the next couple of weeks.  But the meat department manager told me of an up-coming e-coupon that I just have to tell you about now so that you can take full advantage of it if you have a Raley’s nearby.  (If you don’t have one, keep reading as there are some great general tips applicable at most major grocery stores.)  So I apologize in advance if this post is a little scattered.  I also don’t have all the pics I wanted to include, but we’ll just have to do without.

My original intent was to talk to someone in the meat department and find out all the services that are offered for free that I’m sure a lot of people never think to take advantage of.  A couple years ago, I was at Raley’s do to a great meat sale.  As I was browsing the meat case, I discovered a container of knife sleeves.  You simply place your non-serrated knives into the sleeves and drop them off in the meat department.  Twenty-four hours later, you can pick up your knives, sharpened!!  And it’s absolutely free!  The only limitation is that you can only drop off three knives at a time.  As I write this, my chef knife, utility knife, and boning knife are at Raley's.  I can't wait to pick them up tomorrow!

Another service that is available is free marinades and rubs.  They don’t just give you a packet to take home with you; they will actually rub and start marinating your meat for you.  Just pick out your meat and give it to a meat counter employee.  This is especially helpful if you plan on cooking your meat that day or the next.

Keep in mind that this is no extra charge to you.  Being me, I never take advantage of the rubs and marinades because I rarely serve meat as the main part of the meal.  But if you do use store-bought rubs and/or marinades, this service can save you quite a bit of money.  Curious to see what the value of these might be, I strolled on over to the BBQ sauce section.  This is what I found for marinades:

Lawry’s marinade packet—$1.59/1.06 oz.
McCormick marinade packet—$0.89/1.06 oz. (on sale)
Raley’s bottled marinade—$1.99/12.25 oz. (on sale)

If you buy bottled marinades or marinade packets, you could save a lot of money.  Not only do they give you the marinade for free, but they start it for you!  You can find a list of available rubs and marinades here.

After my experience today, I am convinced that we have the nicest meat department manager there is.  He told me about a number of services they offer:

They will cut roasts into steaks for you.  This is often a more inexpensive way to buy steaks.  If you have a large order, simply call ahead.

If you want a specific type of fish, they can order it for you.  This of course depends on availability.

They will also grind anything from the counter.  This is often a cheaper way to buy ground beef if a piece is on sale for a good price.  You could, for example, pick up a chuck roast when it is on sale and have it ground up for tacos or hamburgers.

They will also trim up a piece of meat for you, though trimming is not always desirable.  Our dad prefers untrimmed tri-tip because the layer of fat helps seal in the juices.

My meat manager also gave me a great tip about beef grades.  The USDA grades beef as Select, Choice, or Prime.  All other factors being equal, a Prime steak will taste better and be more tender and juicy than a Select or Choice steak.  Here’s the key:  this only matters on cuts that come from the middle of the animal (find a beef map here).  Because you “cook ‘em to death” (in the words of my meat man), the grade doesn’t make a difference for tough cuts that come from the shoulder or hind region.

Now for the savings!  Raley’s has an on-going special on meat.  If you buy 6 or more packages of beef or pork, you save 10%, even off the sale price!  (Details here.)  Now, six packages is a lot of meat.  But meat is super freezable.  The idea is to give customers the family pack price without having to buy a lot of the same kind of meat.

And here’s the sweet part:  next week they will be offering an e-coupon for 20% off beef and pork.  Buy 6 packs, you get 30% off—even if it’s already on sale!  Now is the time to stock up the freezer for summer BBQs!

Next time you’re in your grocery store, stop by the meat counter and find out what services they offer.  Then take advantage of them to save you money!

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