I’ve figured out a few basic “rules of thumb” as a guide.
Which is cheaper, a whole bird, or boneless breasts?
According to the USDA nutrient data base, about 1/3 of a whole chicken is waste (bones.) This means for every pound of whole bird, you’ll net 2/3 a pound of meat. Multiply the cost of the chicken by the inverse of 2/3 and find the actual cost of meat. Easy “in your head” equation: multiply the cost per pound by 150%, or one and a half.
So, if a whole chicken costs 1.00 per pound, you are actually paying $1.50 for the edible portion. This assumes that you eat the giblets and skin!
Therefore, boneless skinless chicken breasts are only cheaper than a whole chicken if you can get it for less $1.50.
This equation, of course, does not take convenience or fat content into account. How much is the time spend deboning a chicken worth to you? But I hope the one and half times rule of thumb can aid in your frugal decisions.
A bone in pork chop is 27% waste; a boneless chop is 11% waste. So, 16%, or about 1/6 of the bone-in chop is waste. For every pound of bone-in chop you buy, you are getting about 5/6 the amount of meat that you’d get from a boneless chop.
Multiply the price per pound of a bone in chop by the inverse – 6/5 – to compare the price to a boneless chop. 6/5 is a stupid number to do mentally in the grocery store, in my opinion – so multiply by 1.2
So, if bone-in chops are $1.99, you are paying $2.39 comparibly for the meat part. If boneless pork chops cost more than $2.38, in this case, than bone-in is the better buy.
Beef roasts come boneless or bone in. (I’ve always found it cheaper to buy a roast and cut it into slices than to buy stir fry, stew meat, or flank steaks.) A trimmed chuck roast (bone in) is 19% waste.
Make it easy (this is a rule of thumb, after all) and say 20%, or 1/5 of a bone in roast is waste. That means 4/5 is meat. Multiply by the inverse – 5/4 (125%) to compare it to a boneless roast. So, if a bone-in roast costs $2.49 a pound, that’s the equivalent of paying $3.11 for boneless beef.
So, to recap:
Multiply the cost of bone in chicken by 1.5 to compare it to boneless chicken.
Multiply the cost of bone in pork chops by 1.2 to compare it to a boneless chop.
Multiply a beef roast by 1.25 to compare it to a boneless roast.
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Gratiuitous Mr X picture: