Taking the plunge

After some discussion with myself – I talk to myself quite a bit, and it’s probably the reason I don’t speak as much to other people as they might like, something my very dear friend has chastised me for in the past day or so – I’ve decided to take The Challenge. This is also after some back and forth with the person who proposed it, with the ground rules previously discussed in this very space.

We will kick things off on Sunday the 18th. This will give me a few more days to get some planning in. Last week, I did some comparison between Publix and Costco, and of course, buying in bulk really does save quite a bit in the wallet area. If you’re really serious about saving a few bucks, a membership to one of those warehouse places like Costco, Sam’s, or BJ’s will pay for itself in no time.

Before I get started on some of the comparisons I made, though, an observation about “popular” cuts of meat. Flank steak, in particular. It’s amazing how much this cut costs these days now that everyone and their brother has decided it’s the latest in thing. Last year, pre-cancer, we did a cookout at my mom’s place. One of the things I made was a rubbed flank steak with several different sauces. I can’t recall how much that cut cost at the time, but I’m sure it was not the 5.69/lb I saw at Costco. Publix had no flank steak that was not already wrapped around something the day I went. By the way, one of those sauces – which got great reviews from the guests, including my (now) ex’s parents – was a peach-bourbon sauce. I’ll have to see if I can dig that one out of my brain again, because that was quite good. The blueberry wasn’t bad, either.

As usual, I digress, and will do so a little more. The ex before last and I actually got the Costco membership and used it mostly for paper products, laundry stuff, and so on, and not so much for food – at least not frozen/refrigerated items, as the fridge in the apartment where we lived was not as large as it could have been. We also ate out quite a bit because we both worked quite a lot, and the things we cooked tended to be rather uninspired. Not bad, but nothing to write home about. Certainly nothing worth blogging about.

When I found myself alone again, I found myself in an apartment with a single person’s fridge: small. Once again, not suited to storage of the bulk-type packs of food that required freezing or refrigeration. When the cancer diagnosis and all the assorted treatment came – surgery, healing, radiation and chemo, more healing – and I landed in my mom’s house so she could care for me, I really couldn’t have cared less about what the fridge could hold, as I was in no condition to wonder about it, shop for anything, or eat anything.

But now…these days, with two fridges and a freezer available, and a FoodSaver at my disposal, it makes it easier to be able to pick up those bulk packs of frozen or refrigerated items and not have to worry about how they will be stored. Your mileage may vary, as you may not have the luxury of the storage space I have available to me. Do what you can with the space you have, though. In the end, it will be worth it.

Now, on to our little excursion to compare some prices that I’d never really paid attention to before.

My first stop was Publix, which is my very favorite grocery store. In (many) years past, when I lived in this area off and on when younger, I can recall shopping at the A&P and Piggly Wiggly with my mom, or, more often, my grandmother, before those chains left the area. I have shopped at Publix since I’ve been on my own down here, though.

The difference, price-wise, between Publix and Costco can be extreme: sometimes, it’s almost a dollar and a half per pound, as in the case of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Now, I know some people scoff at the idea of these breasts, because they claim the meat gets dry and stringy, there isn’t enough fat, and so on. But, cooked properly, and with a little care, boneless, skinless breasts need not be shoe-leather candidates – and, for people or families for whom cholesterol and/or fat are considerations, they are the best choice from the chicken.

Publix: 3.99/lb
Costco: 2.59/lb

I have nothing against the other members of the chicken family (so to speak). When I’m not worrying about my cholesterol or the fat content of the chicken that sacrificed itself for my dining pleasure, I’m a big fan of buttermilk fried chicken – especially the drumsticks. Thighs are great for grilling, as they can generally fend for themselves provided the heat is not too extreme on the grill.

Publix: 1.49/lb (thighs and drums)
Costco: .89/lb (thighs and drums)

Sometimes, there’s nothing like a nice, roasted chicken. The rotisserie chickens at Publix are fine from time to time, and most of the warehouse places now sell them, too. But really, I’ve found that the leftovers from those are not very good, as the chickens tend to dry out very quickly. Roasting chickens on your own, though, gives you a great opportunity to ensure that you put exactly what you want on it (or in it), you get to control the proportions of spices, and you get to maintain whatever juiciness you happen to like. Me? I like tender, juicy chicken, with leftovers that are good for quesadillas or chicken salad or just plain old snacking.

Publix: 1.29/lb (roaster, average seems to be about 4 lbs)
Costco: .69/lb (two per pack, average again about 4 lbs each)

What if you’re not in the mood for chicken, though? What if you really want a nice steak, or a tropical storm is blowing through and something homey like a roast is calling your name? Or, what if you want to pretend you’re deep in the heart of Texas and you want to try your hand at barbequed beef brisket, low and slow on the grill?

Publix: 4.29/lb
Costco: 3.59/lb

Eye round
Publix: 3.99/lb
Costco: 2.89/lb

Boneless chuck pot roast
Publix: 3.49/lb
Costco: 2.69/lb

Publix: 5.99/lb
Costco: 5.89/lb

Ribeye, steaks
Publix: 11.49/lb
Costco: 7.49/lb

Ribeye, whole, boneless
Publix: none
Costco: 6.30/lb

Tenderloin, whole, beef (this is where filets mignon come in)
Publix: none
Costco: 9.39/lb

Maybe beef isn’t your thing, and what you really want is the other white meat: blissful, porky goodness. A butt to smoke for hours, a whole tenderloin, a couple slabs of spare ribs, or some sausage or bacon.

Boston butt (pork butt – this is where that pulled pork came from)
Publix: 1.69/lb (on sale)
Costco: 1.59/lb

Tenderloin, whole
Publix: 5.99/lb
Costco: 2.99/lb (small), 2.09/lb (large)

Baby back ribs, slabs
Publix: none
Costco: 3.49/lb

Spare ribs, slabs
Publix: none, all they had was already cut ribs, for some reason
Costco: 1.99/lb

Publix: depends on the brand, 3.49/lb and up
Costco: 2.67/lb

Sausage, in casing, varieties (mild Italian, spicy Italian, breakfast)
Publix: 3.19/lb (in-house)
Costco: 1.83/lb (in-house)

Now, admittedly, there are some things you can find at your grocery that you can’t always find at the warehouses. For instance, the day I went to Costco, they had no picnic cuts of pork (that’s the end of the shoulder opposite the butt, toward the leg, whole picnics 1.19/lb at Publix). They also had no NY strips cut (11.49/lb), no ground turkey (2.19/lb), no half turkey breasts (2.79/lb), and so on.

But that’s quite all right. This is what I picked up at Costco:

Four whole chickens – 11.45
One large bag of garlic – 4.49
Chicken thighs (12 pounds) – 10.77
Four packs of bacon (eight pounds) – 21.38
Boneless chuck roasts (2) – 13.56
All-purpose flour, 25 lb – 4.49
1.5 dozen eggs (Eggland’s Best, my favorite) – 2.59
Pecorino-romano cheese, wedge – 7.30

None of these things are taxable, of course, as they’re all food items. Total: 76.03

All of this will make quite a few meals for both the immediate fam and for additional guests. Leftovers are sent off in doggie bags with guests and with the fam the next day for lunches/dinners.

Let’s do a quick example of Sunday’s dinner, with two roasted chickens, based on the pricing above. For six people, those two chickens worked out to .95/person (even though not all of the chicken was eaten and some of it is currently sitting in a baggie in the fridge). For future meals, I’ll do a complete rundown, but I’m guessing that the entire meal amounted to perhaps a bit less than five bucks a person if we assume that everything on the table was eaten, even though it wasn’t.

I think the challenge itself may not be the pricing, really. I think it may actually be in the creation of food that tastes good without being horrible for you, and then figuring out what to do with any leftovers.

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