Grocery Shopping Tips From Chefs: When to Splurge, When to Save


Say what you like about the latest “it” ingredients, but you can’t feed a family on truffle salt, and knowing when to save – and when to splurge – is as important for home chefs as it is for professionals.

Thankfully our Chef In Your Ear stars were eager to share their tips on which items they never feel bad splurging on. Save your spare dollars for these key ingredients so you can save elsewhere.

Splurge on…

1. Meats, fish and proteins

Most of our Chef In Your Ear experts mentioned meats, fish and proteins as worthy splurges, but Rob Rossi offered specific advice on how to get the freshest quality. “Not all grocery stores are great,” he says. “Some of them are better for produce and [then] you go to the meat aisles and you just don’t find stuff that you want. And that’s why I think you should completely separate your shopping. Go to the butcher’s, visit your fish market. Because the one stop shop [is] convenient, but it’s not always the way to go.”

2. Olive oil and vinegar

Our chefs agree that good olive oil is a must, but Craig Harding adds that a quality vinegar can also take your cooking from ho-hum to yum, whether it’s an aged balsamic, rice wine or red wine vinegar.

3. Herbs, spices, and seasonings, including salt and pepper

“Don’t cheap out on saffron, don’t cheap out on paprika, don’t cheap out on vanilla,” says Harding. “Those things that are expensive in your pantry? Well, there’s a reason.” To ease your financial burden and get the most out of your herbs, spices and seasonings, he suggests buying in small batches. “Buy fresh and don’t buy too much, because things don’t last long. Buy what you need and buy it frequently.”

4. Fresh produce

“When I’m cooking [I] put a lot of emphasis on the vegetable components of the dish,” says Cory Vitiello. “For me, that means going to the market, figuring out what’s in season and selecting the best produce.” Jordan Andino adds that it’s important to spend money on items “that are less cooked,” like salad greens. “So, the more cooking you do and the longer something cooks, the less money you need to spend on it. And it’s a completely inverted scale. So more time, then less money; more money, less time.”

Save on…

1. Items that take a long time to cook

It’s likely that your favourite slow-cooker recipes are also some of the most economical items in your repertoire, so if you’re looking to cut back on your grocery budget, plan to increase the number of Crock-Pot meals you serve. Long-cooking beef cuts include brisket, short ribs and stew cubes; pork shoulder and lamb shanks are also good meat choices, while dried beans and legumes are time-consuming (but delicious) veggie proteins.

2. Dry goods and flours

Go ahead and buy the good stuff if you can afford it, but “you don’t necessarily” need to, says Harding. Average-quality dry goods are easily elevated with awesome oils and superior spices.

What are your favourite items to splurge on, and where do you find the best savings? Share with us in the comments below.

Watch Chef In Your Ear Mondays 10 E/P. Click here for full schedule.

Devon Scoble is a Toronto writer and food lover who specializes in approachable home cooking. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @devonscoble.