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How to Save Money at a Carnicería

Photograph by Twenty20

If you're like me, you love to cook delicious homemade meals, but you hate the high cost of groceries.

The USDA lists the average monthly cost of a moderate food budget for a family of four at around $1,065 which is both depressingly expensive and still not enough to feed hungry, growing kids.

Since my family lives on an active-duty military budget, I had to figure out ways to feed everyone and save as much money as possible. That is why carnicerías are my favorite place to shop for meats, which tend to be some of the most expensive items on my grocery list.

RELATED: 10 Tips for Reducing Your Family's Food Waste

Found all across the United States, Latino meat markets are known for their inexpensive, high-quality products that cater to their Latin-American clientele. If you've never shopped at your local carnicería, you are missing out on some seriously deep discounts.

Whenever we're stationed in a new town, I seek out carnicerías and will shop at the busiest locations with the longest lines. I know it sounds strange, but here's why:

Meat, by its very nature, decays. When there are lots of customers, the meat doesn't have time to sit around and go bad, and that means you're most likely getting a much fresher product. Plus, long lines of eager customers mean that particular carnicería is doing something right. When customers are happy, they come back for more—and that's the store I want to shop at.

Shopping at your neighborhood carnicería is not only a great way to save money, it will boost your local economy, build stronger ties in your community, and empower Latino business owners who are working to provide you and your family with the best possible products.

Just showing up isn't enough, however. The following tips are ways you can maximize your dollar while buying enough meat to feed a small army, or, in my case, a husband and two hungry teenage boys.

Shopping at your neighborhood carnicería is not only a great way to save money, it will boost your local economy, build stronger ties in your community, and empower Latino business owners who are working to provide you and your family with the best possible products.

1. Buy bone-in, skin-on meat whenever possible. The less butchering done to the meat, the less it will cost. Even if you prefer boneless, skinless meat, it's easy to learn how to remove them yourself at home, and save a few dollars per pound. Plus, when you cook meat with the skin still on and bone-in (forma tradicional), the meat will be more tender and flavorful. That's why your abuelas and tías left the skin and bones in your caldo. Trust me on this one.

2. Purchase big cuts instead of small. Pay attention. Fajita meat will be more expensive per pound than an entire flank steak or bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts. Whole roasts are also cheaper than pre-cut stew meat. Buy a few pounds and then divide it, wrap it and freeze it at home for deep savings. We love to make carnitas at home, and found that our local carnicería sells pork butt for just $1.89 per pound (it's about $4 per pound at the regular grocery store). We buy around nine pounds at a time, divide it up at home, freeze it in separate packages, and always have it on hand for when we get a craving.

3. Pay attention to the specials. As I mentioned before, meat has a shelf-life. Butchers are eager to get rid of products that are close to their expiration date, which can be safely frozen for a few months at home before cooking. Often times the meat that is closest to expiring will be put on sale, and that's when you need to buy in bulk. Get more than you need and then wrap it and freeze it at home to have a hearty supply. Don't be afraid of reduced-price meats either. Reputable tiendas can't sell bad food, or they will go out of business. Also, it's important to look for overstock. Sometimes they will receive excess product or customers will place large orders and cancel at the last minute, meaning they have extra meat to sell. I was recently able to buy several pounds of normally expensive tri-tip roasts for dirt-cheap this way.

4. Avoid pre-marinated items. I know the carne asada, mojo and fajita-spiced meats look amazing, but they are the most processed of all, meaning they are usually also the most expensive. Make your own marinades at home and save yourself a few dollars per pound. Side note: this tip does not apply to meats that are on sale. As in tip No. 3, if the pre-marinated meats are on sale and it's a good deal, buy it!

5. Shop late. Get to know your butchers at the local carnicería and show up close to closing time. Kindly ask the butchers if there are any discounts for extra meats that won't sell. You'd be surprised what gets thrown away at the end of the day. I've gotten soup bones, rib meat, and even some mixed ground beef that was delicious, and super cheap.

RELATED: How to Save Money When Eating Out With Kids

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