Ingredient Showdown: Prepared Ingredients vs. Raw Ingredients

Here are our takes on what to make at home and what to buy ready to eat.

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Which to Buy?

Time is money, as the saying goes, but the problem is, what do you do when there isn't enough of either? Is it better to go for the prepared food that costs more or the raw ingredients that require more time to prepare? Cathy Erway, of Not Eating Out in New York, says that she almost always prefers to buy raw ingredients that "can be made ahead easily and will be much better tasting and free of the preservatives in canned versions that are so often found in salad bars." 

 

By Sarah Spigelman Richter

Dill

1 Bunch for $1.69 vs.1 Package with 5 Sprigs for $1.99

As a quick garnish for borscht or any favorite dish, that packaged dill is already clean and has way less brown and dead dill to sift through, and you won't have any herbs languishing in your fridge, becoming a mold breeding ground.

Garlic

1 Head for 50 Cents vs. 4.5-Ounce Jar for $1.99

This is one ingredient where the extra prep time is worth it. Just a clove of garlic offers enough punch for an entire bowl of pasta, without any of the phosphoric acid found in the jarred stuff. 

Parmesan Cheese

Freshly Shaved at $14.48 Per Pound vs. a Wedge at $12.98 Per Pound

Savings of almost $2 per pound just for grating your own cheese makes buying the wedge of cheese a no-brainer. Break out the Microplane for topping your risotto and get bonus points for tableside serving.

Chicken Sausage

Fresh at $5.49 Per Pound vs. Cooked at $7.32 Per Pound

For less than $2 more per pound, you don't have to worry about salmonella, your sausage and peppers will hit the table faster, and you can spend your time saved with the family.

Tuna Salad

Ready-Made Deli Tuna Salad at $10.62 Per Pound vs. Tuna Salad Kit at $1.99 Per Kit

The deli salad is more than a dollar more expensive per pound, plus you can't control the amount of mayonnaise or filler ingredients. Choose the kit and have a made-to-order lunch for less money. 

Green Cabbage

$1.99 Per Head of Cabbage vs. $1.99 Per Coleslaw Bag

Unless you are planning a pot full of sauerkraut, go for the coleslaw kit for the best bang for your buck and time.

Organic Onions

Chopped at $3.99 Per 10 Ounces vs. Whole at $2.29 Per 16 Ounces 

Who knows when they chopped those onions? Ensure that your onions are fresh and save a buck at the same time when you chop your own at home. Erway recommends doing this kind of prep work ahead of time; when you come home late from work, you are ready to cook and eat in no time at all.

Chicken

Whole Chicken at $4.99 Per Pound vs. Thin-Sliced Cutlets at $12.99 Per Pound

That's a steep markup, but when making chicken Parmesan, piccata or francese, what are your choices? Unless you are an expert butcher, the money you save on the whole chicken will be spent on therapy to get over the trauma of trying to butcher an entire chicken for four perfectly pounded cutlets.

Get the Recipe: Chicken Piccata

Kale

Steamed with Garlic at $9.99 Per Pound vs. Raw, Local and Organic at $2.99 Per Pound 

Buy the raw stuff, not only to save money but to ensure that the kale's versatility is optimized. Wash and dry it the day you buy it, then during the rest of the week you can make chips, stir-fries, creamed kale — the possibilities are endless!

Cookies    

Name-Brand Variety at $4.99 Per 7 Ounces vs. Frozen Dough at $6.99 Per 14 Ounces

Absolutely get the stuff to make at home. It's cheaper per pound, takes almost no time to make, and who doesn't love the scent and taste of freshly baked cookies?

Steak

Marinated Skirt Steak at $19.99 Per Pound vs. Bone-In NY Strip Steak at $19.99 Per Pound

The dry-aged beef is a luxurious, more richly marbled product. It might serve slightly fewer people, but Erway says, “If I'm buying meat, it's always a splurge because I prefer to get the best, freshest, tastiest, free-range types I can find.” Get your own steak and marinate it at home for pennies on the dollar and full sodium and flavor control.

Get the Recipe: Cocoa-Rubbed Steak With Bacon-Whiskey Gravy