Let them eat steak: Omaha Steaks carves up prices

CNBC points us to a recent Omaha Steaks promotion that features the mail-order butcher's flagship product for as little as $5 per juicy, marbled slab of meat. (That's for the bacon-wrapped sirloin, and you have to order a dozen of them to get the deal.) With everyone from department stores to automakers slashing prices these days, perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that Omaha's getting in on the act.

As the recession slogs on and money stays tight for many Americans, home cooks are gravitating to lower-priced cuts like flank steak. You can barely open a women's magazine these days without encountering yet another recipe for marinating this chewy cut into submission (hint: a tequila-lime combo works wonders).

As a result of our collective frugality, the top-shelf stuff goes begging; according to CNBC, steak prices are down by around 30% (I've seen special-occasion cuts for as little as $5 a pound at my neighborhood supermarkets). This creates a frustrating paradox: Those pricey portions may be more affordable than we've ever seen them, but we're in no position to splurge.

If you need a justification, consider deals like Omaha Steaks' cut-to-the-bone discounts as an alternative to dining out in a fancy restaurant. Even if you throw in a baked potato and some of that yummy-but-artery-clogging creamed spinach, recreating the steakhouse experience at home will cost a fraction of the real deal. You won't have to leave a tip to a snooty waiter -- although you will be stuck with the dishes.

CNBC points out that steak isn't the only gourmet fare with a price fast approaching that of canned tuna. Lobster in coastal New England can be scarfed for less than many sandwich fillings at $5 to $7 per pound, and an Australian winemaker is selling its vino for less than you'd pay for one of those high-end bottled waters the celebrities tote around everywhere. The sad news that Hershey will stop peddling chocolate online at the end of this month is made a bit more palatable by the confectioner's 25%-off closeout sale.

I enjoy my bargain-basement beef as much as the next carnivore, and I have to confess that I'll miss paying hamburger prices for steak once the economy picks up steam again. My own "grill stimulus" is a lot easier to chew on than the government's version: I buy in bulk when prices hit truly unbelievable lows, wrap the meat carefully in family-sized portions using a vacuum sealer and freeze it. (Just don't forget to label the packages with the date and what's in them because all frozen plastic bags look the same after a while.)

One final suggestion, this time for the Omaha Steaks folks: Have you tried interesting local billionaire Warren Buffet in a few thousand pounds of T-bones?
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