Meat Calculations

Sometimes it’s hard to know what a good deal actually is, especially when confronted with a wide assortment of meat cuts, some with bones, some without, some flash frozen, some untrimmed.

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.

For more tips, check out Works for Me Wednesday at We Are THAT Family!

Gratiuitous Mr X picture:



I love comments. Tell me what you think!

  • christy September 9, 2009, 1:38 pm

    I am going to write this down and keep it with my grocery stuff. I am always wondering if I am really saving money or if it is just tricking me into doing more work.

    Thanks for the info!

  • Lindy September 9, 2009, 2:09 pm

    Thanks! I really appreciate this post as it is extremely helpful. I never really took the time to consider this before, but with your handy mathematics… I love it!

    Thanks, Lisa!!

    PS. More pictures of Mr. X please!

  • Birdie September 9, 2009, 2:12 pm

    We usually pay between .78 and .88 per pound on our chickens and boil the skin, bones, and whatever else to make up broth that we use in soups and other meals. :)

  • sarah September 12, 2009, 6:46 am

    THANK YOU!!!!

    Thank you for giving me a handy tool to figure the ACTUAL price of meat. This will be a very valuable tool to add to my cheapskate mom tool belt.

    And just as importantly, thank you for some practical, real life ways to use math for homeschooling my 6th & 7th grade girls.

    I was just praying with a friend last night about how to teach my 6th grader math. She memorizes concepts and then forgets them quickly. Never knowing when to add or divide…confusing terms. I start to fear she’ll never get it.

    I’ve begun praying that I find some ways to teach her math by living it. Yes, there’s making 1/3 of a batch of cookies, but I need more than that. This morning I decided to catch up on your blog before searching the web for ideas. Praise God, this is an answer to prayer. She loves to cook, so I think she will enjoy helping our family save money when purchasing meat! THANK YOU!!!

  • Mrs. Damian Garcia September 14, 2009, 1:28 pm

    Great tool to have. Thanks for posting it.

    We buy whole chicken for .89 pd. Anytime I boil one we have chicken noodle soup (which is 2 meals since we make bread too), chicken pot pie (the 2 breast) and then sometimes a chicken dumpling which has all the leftover meat. Works out to each meal having $1.25 for the meat portion. It balances out for when we make carnitas or chile verde which is a couple of our more expensive meals.

  • Milehimama September 15, 2009, 10:17 am

    I do that too. I freeze the broth in my silicone muffin tins, because 1 “muffin” is 1/2 a cup. Make it easy to measure out frozen broth to make rice and stuff!

  • Joseph Chiaravalloti July 4, 2012, 9:07 am

    Meat and poultry have water added in many brands. What is a good formula for calculating the net weight of meat that is pumped up to 12% “solution” and poultry that can go up to 15%? (Nominal Price times Percent Water plus Nominal Price = Actual Price) Is this correct?

  • Lin July 6, 2012, 7:47 pm

    I had nine siblings growing up. To stock up on meat, my parents would set aside money and buy a whole pig and a cow from our local farmers and chickens from the Amish. They’ll butcher it themselves. It’s a huge cost up front, but well worth it in the long run.

  • Cricket November 18, 2012, 11:41 pm

    Great succinct post! I wrote earlier this year about whole vs. boneless chicken, but was much more….wordy :-D I used my kitchen scale to compare the weights before and of the gleaned cooked meat. Like you, I found it was a very close race if you’re only wanting the meat. I much prefer boneless, but oound for pound the bone in-breast was my winner for price, plus you can still make stock!

  • Lisa November 3, 2014, 8:51 am

    I used to buy the whole chickens to save money and pick every scrap off. But then I realized that I make $26/hour at my job and if I spent the time I spent picking chicken carcasses working extra hours it’s cheaper to buy boneless! Now I try to just be frugal in ways that don’t cost me any time. Like not buying things I don’t need or buying things on sale in bulk that I already need.


About Milehimama

Desperately thrifty mom of 10, sharing my frugal tips, easy shortcuts, recipes, and thoughts on natural living and real food.

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