Beef prices have begun to creep up, as the drought leaves its mark. The corn shortage has raised the cost of feed for cattle.
"We've reduced our cattle numbers," said Ann Marie Bosshamer, Executive Director of the Nebraska Beef Council. "Those cattle have to be sold off if you can't afford to feed them... so we are right now in the situation where we have the lowest cattle numbers in history in the United States."
Prices have edged up over the last couple of years, not just on beef, but on many grocery staples, causing many families to more closely scrutinize what goes in their shopping carts. But Bosshamer said, "Consumers, by doing some very smart shopping, can really continue to afford beef and have that on their plate every single day."
Ground beef is a more affordable option, as far as meat goes - and the cost goes up according to how lean it is. In some cases, Bosshamer said, it's worth the splurge. "If you're making a chili or lasagna, a lot of times a 90% lean is a great way to go because you eliminate any additional fat that might rise to the top."
However, she added, "A lot of people tend to prefer 85% lean ground beef simply because if you're making burgers and using a dry heat cooking method such as grilling, you want to keep that moistness in there."
Buying in bulk pays off, Bosshamer said. She suggests buying a 10-pound chub of ground beef, which can add up to $5 or $6 savings over buying individual pounds. Separated pounds, wrapped in foil or placed in freezer bags, can be stored in the freezer for up to four months.
Chuck roast or round roast can be great options from two standpoints: affordability and flexibility. "You can cook once yet dine twice," Bosshamer said. Leftovers make excellent sandwiches, tacos or burritos.
Sirloin steak can be another great buy, she said. It can be divided up, since a serving size is supposed to be about three ounces - the equivalent, in size, to a deck of cards. "You could also use it for breakfast. Beef for breakfast is a phenomenal way to add protein to your diet."
She said shoppers should look for deals, comparing grocery ads. "If they find something on the great buy, they need to make sure they use the proper cooking method. "
For instance, "A round steak is less tender. It needs to have a marinade to break down those muscle fibers to make it tender and juicy on the grill."
Those low numbers, in turn, mean consumers are paying more. However, Bosshamer, said, "We in the beef industry are very, very positive about the future and consumer demand locally."
She added, "Nebraska has all the wonderful resources, from the Ogallala Aquifer to the rich soils that help us to grow crops and corn, and so we’re a great place to raise some phenomenal beef, but rain certainly would help."