Learn grade-A secrets on how to buy beef, chicken, pork and other meats; you'll ace the meat counter and only bring home the good stuff.

By Rachael Ray Every Day
November 01, 2005
meat counter

Examine the meat and bones.

According to Jamie Purviance, author of Weber's Way to Grill, "Meat should have a rich pink color, bones should be bright white, and wisps of creamy, white fat should be evenly distributed throughout the cut." Avoid deep purple or dark brown colors, which mean the meat is on the verge of going bad or comes from an older animal (translation: tough and less flavorful meat). Other less-than-fresh signs are dark bones and yellowed fat.

Beware of value packs.

They're technically cheaper, but you could be getting an inferior product. Packaging stickers hide flaws and inedible parts, like cartilage or bones, which are only good for stock. Value packs can also conceal a butcher's sloppy cutting skills, leaving you with an uneven piece of meat that will cook unequally -- resulting in dry ends and raw centers.

Go big.

Buy a roast instead of individual steaks from the butcher. A strip loin roast gets sliced into New York strip steaks, and a center-cut pork loin turns out boneless pork chops. You'll save up to 25 percent, and "a roast stays fresh for a few days longer than when it's sliced up," says Purviance. Have the butcher slice it if you're eating it the same day; otherwise, do it yourself -- all you need is a sharp knife.

Buy extra and freeze.

Just stock up at the right sales. Store-circular sales are used to draw in customers, so stores stock up, says Venezia. Meat is sliced frequently to replenish the stock, meaning you'll get a fresher piece. But steer clear of the in-store manager's specials advertised on the package. They're usually slapped on to move old product as stores make room for new arrivals, says Venezia.

Grind your own meat.

Packaged ground beef loses moisture and flavor since "so much surface area is exposed to air," says Ray Venezia of Fairway Market in New York City. It's often made up of scraps and is overprocessed, resulting in tough, chewy meat. Grinding your own beef (sirloin or chuck make great burgers) will save you about 10 percent, and grinding chicken, turkey or pork can save you up to 30 percent, says Purviance. For an even consistency, cut meat into chunks before grinding in a food processor.