Sunday, February 18, 2007

How to make chili cheaper

A crock of slow-cooked chili has saved us from eating out so many times. Fortunately, chili makes a cheap meal, even for a crowd. But it's not always a bargain if you dump ten cans--bought at grocery retail--into the crockpot. Here are a few strategies for cheapening your chili:
  • The homestead method: Buy spices at the Mennonite market, can your own tomatoes, grow your own onions, kill a deer, grind your own meat for a venison chili.
  • The bulk cooking option: buy restaurant-size cans of tomatoes and beans, find a commercial butcher who will sell large amounts of ground beef near wholesale, make several batches at once for the freezer.
  • The cherry picking principle: watch the sales flyers like a hawk. When groceries advertise canned beans and tomatoes as loss leaders, stock the pantry and wait. When you find three family packs of ground beef reduced for quick sale a month later, make chili and freeze the extra.
  • The co-op alternative: be open to other meats, or try crumbled tofu sauteed with spices. Use extra produce from your CSA share. Buy beans from the bulk bins and precook before combining chili ingredients.
  • On the run, or when it's too much trouble to cook for one. Buy a Wendy's 99 cent chili and pour over the 99 cent garden salad. Taco salad for half the menu price! (I owe this tip to Maggie at Hillbilly Housewife, who also loves Wendy's on the run.)

How do you make your chili cheaper?

17 comments:

Brenda@CoffeeTeaBooks said...

I love your homestead method. :)

I use a combination of a couple methods. I purchase some items through my co-op a few times a year.

Otherwise, I stock up when I get a good sale. Our favorite canned tomatoes are Red Gold, which go on sale about every five or six weeks (otherwise they are expensive).

I also use store brands of beans and tomato soup (which my recipe calls for) when I don't have any other brands in the pantry. Frankly, I can't tell the difference in chili.

My recipe called for chili powder and taco spices when I first tried it many years ago. Through the years I started putting cumin seeds in when I brown the ground beef, onions and green peppers. Then I add Tony C.'s as it simmers...to taste. MUCH cheaper.

One container of Tony Chacheres seasoning lasts all year and I use it anytime I want just a little heat added.

When my husband was out of work, I soaked dried beans and cooked them before adding to the chili.

Heather said...

Hi Meredith - I'm wondering if you know of any good co-ops in the Nashville area for purchasing pantry stocking items in bulk? Also, is there a Mennonite market in the area, like the one you mentioned in the homestead method? Thanks! I'm learning a lot about how to save money in the Nashville area from your blog. I appreciate all the info you put out.

Frugal Homemaker said...

I use the cherry picker method. I also don't have a carved in stone way of making it. It's a thrown together dish, with whatever I have on hand. Last time I made chili, I used Ragu pasta sauce, as I had no tomato sauce. It worked fine! I also almost always use dried beans. I cook them in the crock pot overnight, then dump the water, put the beans back in the crock, and add my other chili fixings. :) I only add meat if I have it.

We have the same crockpot!

Jessica said...

This is a great post! I can't even remember the last time I made chili, 'cause it seems like such a picky meal, but with your methods of just using whatever's available, I think I'll be making itmore often!

btw, in my part of the country, the place to get cheap spices isn't the Mennonite markets, it's the Mexican ones! (And, frankly, Mexican oregano is lots yummier than the stuff in the grocery stores!)

Thanks for the helpful post. I look forward to making some chili soon!

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica

p.s. I'm also gonna try that Wendy's idea. Yum!

Anonymous said...

I use a can of chili beans as one of the cans of beans. It gives extra flavor without any extra price!

Ruth

Meredith said...

Ruth, I was just coming in to add that very tip! Thank you for sharing it. It saves a lot of mess measuring spices, too.

Meredith said...

We also use mostly the cherry picker method, with dried beans instead of canned (usually).

My husband's south Georgia family does the whole thing from scratch, though--even dressing and grinding the deer themselves. Had to add that in tribute to them, even though there's been no honest homestead chili made in my own kitchen.

Meredith said...

Heather, use the search tool above to look for my posts on Mennonite markets. The one I liked best is the Cane Creek market, about an hour and a half heading west on I-40, outside Lobelville TN. It was a weekend trip more than a shopping destination for us, though. When I went, spices were pre-packaged in small plastic lidded containers and were about half the price of Wild Oats' at that time.

I would second the recommendation for mexican/international markets. They have cellophane packets of spices priced about 89 cents apiece, usually for 1/2 oz to an ounce. I really need to take my price book and compare ounce per ounce.

Otherwise, I recommend buying spices by the pound at Wild Oats. At least you only buy what you can use while it's fresh.

Just don't buy McCormick's! : )

The Family CEO said...

Great post! I definitely use the cherry picker method. Although, the ingredients for chili are so inexpensive that even if I don't have any loss leader stuff on hand it's often cheaper than the alternatives.

I use ground beef, kidney beans, canned diced tomatoes, onions, green pepper, tomoato sauce, and chili powder in my chili. It's easy to keep those ingredients on hand, too, when a cold or snowy day sneaks up on you.

Heather said...

Thanks very much for the info!

Molly said...

LOL! I have to say that this post really gave me a giggle. I can't imagine anyone buying 10 cans of chili, pouring it into a crock pot and serving guests with it. hehehe, that really makes me laugh. Although, I didn't actually know that chili came in cans until I was an adult and can honestly say I don't think I've ever eaten chili from a can, my mom made hers from scratch and so do I.

Anonymous said...

last week I had guests over and fixed chili for lunch in the crockpot. There were 11 of us in all.

I spent just under 18 Euro (I live overseas, so the conversion to US $ is just under $24) for not only the chili ingredients, but also for a large greens salad and fruit salad for dessert!

I always add kidney beans to the chili to make it go further. I also add kidney beans to the meat when I make tacos or taco salad.

-melissa

Headmistress, zookeeper said...

I never buy canned beans. I buy dried legumes, cook up a big pot of them and then freeze the cooked beans for an easy and cheap convenience food. I've also never purchased (or eaten, that I know of) chili from a can.

We ususally have our chili with kidney and/or pinto beans.

I have, on occasion, used a can of tomato soup when I realized I didn't have enough other canned tomato goods. Naturally, the canned tomato soup is only in the pantry when we've stocked up at a three for a dollar sale- or better yet, that rare four for a dollar.=)

Lindsey @ Enjoythejourney said...

I read a tip recently that said everytime you brown hamburger for ANY recipe, save about 2 TBSP's of it. You'll never miss 2 TBSP's. Store in a bucket in the fridge, and when you are ready to make chili, soup, spaghetti, whatever, dump into your pot and voila! Seasoned, cooked ground beef saved up for a rainy day.

Anonymous said...

I shop at Aldi's or Dollar General for can goods. I use tomatoe juice as I can get a large can for .99 and I use this along with can of diced tomatoes. Kidney beans or chili beans are usually .59 can and I use about 1# or a little more and get hamburger on sale. I use to make chili at least once a week when my 2 children lived at home. I like to use grated cheese and taco chips for garnish or oyster crackers. Kathy C in ILLinois

karlanee said...

I use the cherry picker method. But one tip I'd like to start doing is using dried beans to save some money. I can make up a big batch of beans and save them for several recipes during the week.

Also, I used to work at Wendy's in high school (eons ago). Their chili is made from burgers that get too dried out on the grill to serve as burgers. They save them up, put them in the fridge and chop them up for the next day's chili. It's a great way to be resourceful and a good tip at home when we do make burgers ourselves.

geekswife said...

i used dried beans home mixed sesonings and no meat. my hubby loves it.
1 c dried pintos
1 c dried black beans
1 c dried kidney beans (we buy beans in bulk)
2 tb mexican seasoning (miserly meals recipe)
1 tb cumin
1 chopped onion (or dehydrated minced onion)
1 can tomatoes with chilies (or diced chilies and diced tomoatoes)
9 c water or broth

just throw everything into the crockpot and dinner practically serves itself!!