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Making the most of your meat

It often seems like life only gives us so much, if you think back to all the times that you had it good you may well wish that you had made more of it whilst you had it! A little gratitude for the things we have goes a long way, and what better way is there of showing that we're thankful for the food we eat than to enjoy every last bit of it?

I couldn't tell you the amount of times people have said to me “Oh, I thought you were a vegetarian!” I'd guess it's down to my fair opinions regarding nature and animal rights! So how can I believe in the rights of animals yet still eat meat? I do eat some vegetarian meals and perhaps someday in the future I will manage to go completely vegetarian, however at this time in my life I still find meat to be the best source of protein for me. I'm not speaking for anyone else or recommending anything at this point, it's just that I personally don't trust the processed fake 'meat' foods and soya products which leaves me with pretty much just mushrooms and beans - neither of which I particularly enjoy! So there we are, meat it is then. I know it sounds like I've gone off on a bit of a tangent now but I do have a point...

I figure there is a way that I can eat meat whilst still having as positive an impact on the world as I can. My point is that, if a creature is going to die for me to eat I feel I have a moral obligation to; a. make sure that the creature has lived a good life without unnecessary suffering, and b. to show my gratitude by making the ABSOLUTE MOST of that meat. We could even go as far as saying that since vegetables are also living beings, they deserve the same honour – now think of that next time you drop that poor forgotten droopy carrot unceremoniously into the bin! ;)

I cannot describe the shame that I feel if I have to throw unused or leftover food away, even if it's just a carcass of bones, especially if I know I could have done something more with it. Not to mention the simple fact that I've paid good money for it all! On that note it beggars belief that as a nation we're seemingly obsessed about saving every penny possible at the supermarkets, yet will quite happily toss out unopened packets of food that we just didn't get round to eating before its use by date. Unfortunately we have conveniently forgotten that even sausages were once living beings.


So, upon hearing yet another sickening news report about the literal tons of wasted food we Brits throw away, I decided to tighten up our own habits and to write about it to help give you folk an idea or two of how you can also make the most of your food resources. Firstly I wanted to share what I get out of what's possibly the most popular meat out there; the humble chicken...


Once a month I buy 3 whole chickens, free range of course – we don't use our precious pounds to vote for cruelty! ;) I find that buying them whole is the most cost effective way of buying chicken, especially if you're after Organic or free range. Our local Lidl usually stock very affordable free range chickens, priced around £5 each. I keep one whole for roasting (and for providing us with salad and sandwich meat for a couple of days) and butcher the other two as soon as I get home, freezing whatever I won't get through straight away.

One quick thing to note - it is well worth investing in a good set of heavy duty sharp knives if you also plan to butcher your own chickens at home, if you want it to go well anyway! 

2 whole chickens yeald:

2 x pairs of breasts

4 x thighs

4 x drumsticks & 4 x wings

4 x tender mini-fillets (unless you keep them on the breasts)

2 x carcasses for stock and pies

Chicken Scratchings!Chicken Scratchings!lots of skin scraps for making our incredible Chicken Scratchings

+ fat for truly amazing roast potatoes! (Pull any large clean pieces of hard fat away from the cuts and pop it in a tub, add to it the liquid fat drained from cooking the skin, roasting, and from the surface of stock after straining. Refrigerate or freeze until needed & melt on the baking tray when you make your roast potatoes or Yorkshire puddings)

That sure is a lot of free range goodies for £10!!! Of course the price of what you can find will vary depending on your local suppliers but it's still the cheapest way to purchase your chicken.


I won't go through the actual process of butchering the chickens here, especially since I'm still refining the technique myself! Instead check out this video from no-nonsense butcher Scott Rea that convinced me that it really isn't all that difficult. I'd very much recommend subscribing to him since he posts so many good videos for making all kinds of home made meaty treats! I admit that the first one I butchered wasn't a looker but that's part of learning and practice, and the others have turned out a lot better since! Did you also notice how lovely and sharp his knives are? That's the key in it going well for you at home!

Hot stock!Hot stock!Another reason that makes buying whole chickens soooo much better value for money is that you can transform the seemingly useless carcasses into stock & a scrumptious stew or pie filling. Making your own stock for gravy and the like tastes so much better than using stock cubes or gravy granules and you get the added health benefits from the natural gelatin and bone minerals it contains! 

One carcass worth of meat separated from the bones - a surprising amount!One carcass worth of meat separated from the bones - a surprising amount!

To make stock and retrieve more meat: pop the carcasses into a large saucepan (break them up if needs be to fit them in) add onion, carrot & celery (or whatever else veg you have laying around) plus a bay leaf & peppercorns if you have some to spare. Cover with water and simmer for several hours until the cartilage has broken down and the carcasses begin to fall apart, I tend to keep my stock going for the whole day if the fire is lit to make best use of the free heat and get as much as I can from the bones! Sometimes I even pour some stock off to use and top up the pan with more water to make even more. Allow it to cool slightly & with your fingers pick over the mixture to separate as much meat as you can from the bones, it's messy business but well worth it! Strain the remaining stock and bones through a sieve to get a clean batch of stock. I usually end up with around three tubs of stock through this method (using 2 carcasses) giving me; one to use for the gravy that day with the whole roasted bird, one for enhancing a nice soup for our weeks' lunches, and another to pop into the freezer for another time.

Now remember the meat you so painstakingly picked from the bones? Pop the pulled meat back into a portion or two of the yummy stock, and add some more veg to make yourself a yummy stew or pie filling.A yummy stew!A yummy stew!

Don't forget about the carcass left over from the whole roasted bird either! Pick over the bones first to remove as much meat as you can and pop into a tub for making tasty chicken sandwiches, salads, and curries. Tear up the remains of the carcass and repeat the above stock procedure or add to an already simmering stock to enrich it further.

For ultra frugality you can even use veg trimmings instead of whole ones to flavour the stock, though I recommend waiting until you've picked out the meat before you add it so it stays nice and clean - hopefully you cleaned the veg before you chopped it to start with so it shouldn't be muddy but it's still nicer to think about! Try using leftover carrot tops (including some of the foliage!), the tough ends of green beans and asparagus, cabbage and even lettuce leaves, and herb or broccoli stalks. Spring onion or leek tops add a nice oniony punch, or use the root trimmings and tops from onions used for other dishes...


So what about making the most of other meats? 

A lot of the same principles apply. Buying in bulk is always a cheaper way to buy anything, and if you can cut your own steaks at home from a single piece you'll get a lot more high quality meat for your money. Other meats are a lot more expensive to buy in bulk than chicken so I know it's not something that many people will be able to afford unless they club together - now there's an idea!

The next way to make other meats go further is to use them in stews or pot roasts. Any juices, and therefore flavour, released during cooking stay right in there with it all and we find we can easily add a lot of veg to a stew to make it go that little bit further without feeling like we've missed out on our meat portions. This is especially useful when we get an extra visitor stay for dinner! See our lamb shanks recipe for a decadent way to feed three to four people from just two shanks that would normally only feed two. The same recipe can be used with cuts of lamb neck or scragg end, slow cooking renders even the toughest cuts melt in the mouth.

Personally instead of dry roasting a large, and expensive, traditional joint of beef I tend to go for the cheaper cuts and pot roast it with carrots and onions. Shin of beef makes a really rich and tasty pot roast, gorgeous with a dollop of creamy mash and greens. To fancy it up for a Sunday, pair it instead with some crispy roast potatoes and yorkshire puds. 


Make use of leftovers!

Don't turn your nose up at leftover meat, it may not look as tasty the next day when it's cooled in the fridge but it's a diamond in the rough! Ryan loves getting leftovers for lunch, a nice few scoops of casserole or stew in a tub with a dumpling or some mash is easily transported and reheated at lunchtime, and makes for an extremely satisfying and healthy meal. Much better than a packet sandwich from the garage! If you regularly buy sliced cooked meats for sandwiches, try making your own at home. Thinly slice leftovers after your roast dinner for tasty sandwiches during the week, add some spice and transform into a curry, or marinade and pull leftover beef and pork for wicked subs.


Make a plan.

Shopping without a plan of what you need and what you are going to do with it all is always asking for trouble! Check your cupboards before you go shopping so you know exactly what you already have at home to work with. Plan what you will cook on which day to make the most of everything in order of its use by dates and stick to the plan! At this point you will realise if there is anything that you won't be able to cook before it goes bad so you can freeze it straight away. Also plan for making use of the leftovers, I know that when we make a batch of chilli with a standard pack of mince it will feed us our main evening meal for two days, or one day and a lunch portion each. It's also great to have a day in which all I have to do about dinner is to reheat it, which stops us reaching for fast food if we're busy! If you're feeling really ahead of yourself go ahead and pop any extra portions in the freezer for those random rush days.


Hopefully I've managed to inspire a few of you to try some of these techniques and to make the most of the meat you buy, perhaps even try a spot of home butchering to enable you to afford better quality and help to raise welfare standards. At the very least I hope that you won't be wasting as much in the future! If you have any suggestion that you think might help other people please leave us a comment below!


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Sarah is a UK artist and writer with a lifetime interest in camping and survival techniques.

Living the #vanlife since before it was a hashtag and touring on two wheels with her husband Ryan, they have a wealth of camping and motorcycling knowledge to share, and know a thing or two about packing light! read more

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