Cooking Substitutions: How to Swap Meat, Poultry, & Seafood

Learn about the best substitution for any type of common meat, poultry, or seafood with our infographic guide!

  • By Brittany Yamamoto-Taylor
  • July 30, 2019

At one time or another, we have all tried to substitute ingredients. Sometimes it has gone well and other times we ultimately ordered take-out. Whichever way your ingredient replacements usually turn out, you probably wonder if you would get better results by choosing a different substitute.

To help make your cooking decisions easier, we put together a Guide to Ingredient Substitutions for Meat Cuts & Seafood. This infographic is designed to teach you how to switch out different types of animal proteins in a way that maintains the integrity of any recipe by matching similar flavors and / or cooking times.

Now you may be wondering if you actually have much need to substitute different meats and seafood. Well, here are 5 ways our guide can help you in your daily cooking life:

5 Reasons to Substitute Ingredients

1. Availability

Instead of experiencing the let-down that comes when you are set on making a delicious meal but can’t find a specific ingredient the recipe calls for, you can still enjoy the flavors and cooking techniques of the dish by consulting our guide to find the best replacement.

2. Budget

If you discover that a particular animal protein is out of your price range or you are working to lower your overall monthly food budget, our list can help you find the best budget ingredients to replace pricey or mid-range items like salmon or ground beef.

3. Diet

Many of us have come across a recipe that sounds simply divine, yet it calls for a type of meat that we don’t eat because of religion, allergies, health, or preference. Instead of foregoing the mouthwatering meal altogether, our guide can show you how to successfully substitute one animal protein with another. This is also useful when you’re cooking for loved ones who have different dietary needs than you!

4. Food waste

Instead of going to the store and buying pork chops for a recipe, did you know that you can easily use up the leftover halibut or chicken thighs you already have in your fridge or freezer? By keeping our infographic handy, you can make sure none of your food (and thus, money!) goes to waste.

5. Sustainability

According to this World Resources Institute article, beef production requires about 7x more land and emits 7x more greenhouse gases per gram of protein than chicken does. The next time a recipe calls for steak, our guide can show you how to substitute chicken breast instead. If you want to invest in sustainability even more, swap out your animal protein for plant-based options – bean production emits 20x less greenhouse gasses than beef (and will save you a pretty penny)! 

If you’re convinced our infographic guide can make your daily life easier, download and print your free copy here:


Guide to Ingredient Substitutions for Meat Cuts & Seafood

Learn about the best substitution for any type of common meat, poultry, or seafood with this infographic guide!

Now that you know just how useful our substitution guide can be, let’s get into the individual meats that our infographic covers:


Beef is an extremely common type of meat found in a variety of recipes, such as chili, stir-fries, and burritos. However, there are many kinds of beef that need specific types of cooking methods – you can’t just swap ribeye steak for ground beef. Keep in mind how you plan on serving the finished dish.

For example, steaks are often enjoyed whole, an entree in itself, and is usually done with a simple sear over the stovetop or grill. Similar beef steaks, pork chops, chicken thighs / breast, and even halloumi cheese can be cooked the same way and enjoyed as a similar entree. Beef that takes longer to cook, such as chuck roast and beef stew meat, can be substituted with meats that also require long cooking times, including pork butt or a whole chicken.

Budget Tip:

If you’re looking for budget steak options, the best way to go is with flank steak, strip steak, or skirt steak. Meanwhile, an extremely economical substitute for ground beef is lentils or beans.


In the United States, people eat more chicken than any other single type of animal protein, so you’ll find it used in a lot of recipes. Its mild flavor and versatility makes it easy to substitute various proteins, from meaty options like turkey cutlets and pork chops to leaner, tender substitutions like halibut and tofu.

Our guide lays out the keys to successful chicken substitutions, but always gauge cooking times based on the recipe and your substitute. If a recipe calls for braised drumsticks, pork tenderloin and chicken wings can be swapped for similar cooking times. However, if you’re barbecuing drumsticks on the grill, you can always opt for pork chops, which will cook in less time but will satisfy that meaty goodness that comes with a good ol’ BBQ!

Budget Tip:

When it comes to cost, the cheapest chicken type is generally thighs. It may not be as lean as chicken breasts, but its longer cooking time makes it a good substitute for many different meats. Ground chicken is also usually less expensive and can be easily swapped with other inexpensive ingredients like ground turkey, beans, or lentils.


From tenderloin to prosciutto, there are a wide variety of pork options out there, so we cover a host of suggestions for substitutions. Whether you want to make pork substitutions because your doctor has put it on the “No List” or simply because you can’t find a specific cut at the store, our infographic can help you substitute like a pro.

Budget Tip:

When it comes to versatility for substituting various meats, pork chops are cheaper than steak and won’t get you stuck in that “chicken for dinner again?” rut. But if you have the option of slow cooking, look for pork shoulder (also called pork butt), which can be stretched across several meals, like tacos, sandwiches, and grain bowls. You can even get creative and use it in place of other meats for chilis, soups, stews, and stir-fries.


There are a lot of reasons to substitute seafood, from taste preference, to shellfish allergies, budget considerations, and “it’s a texture thing”. We cover shrimp, scallops, mussels / clams, and a variety of fish in our infographic. Fish comes in different textures – some are firm while others are tender and flaky – and knowing this will make it easy for you to find the right substitution.

For instance, tilapia can easily be replaced by tofu based on tender texture and switched with shrimp in terms of fast cooking times. Tuna is a firm, meaty fish that is best swapped with similar-textured fish like swordfish and halibut, but you can also achieve that meatiness with an actual beef steak.

Budget Tip:

Since fish can often be a bit pricey, you can save a lot of money by substituting tofu. Yes, tofu is that versatile! Plus, it doesn’t require a long cooking time, just like seafood. Of course, you can also look in the freezer section for frozen seafood. You can find these frozen selections on sale sometimes, and they can be kept in the freezer for future quick meals.

Now that you have our swapping guide, you can start substituting meat, poultry, and seafood in any recipe that strikes your fancy. But don’t keep these substituting skills to yourself – share our guide with your friends and family, especially loved ones who have started a new diet or are trying to make a lower budget work! To make substituting ingredients even easier for you, we include substitution recommendations in the recipes that are part of our meal plan service. Learn more about our meal plans and sign up here to cook healthy, delicious, and simple dinners.

We’ve had our share of substitution mishaps and are sure you have a funny story or two to share as well. What has been your biggest food substitution disaster? We’d love to laugh along with you in the comments below!

As always, we’re here to help you live your best life in the kitchen and provide delicious memories for you and your family. If you sign up for our newsletter below, we’ll send you great cooking tips and resources that will help you raise your kitchen IQ and cook with confidence.

Cooking Substitutions: How to Swap Meat, Poultry, & Seafood | Cook Smarts Cooking Substitutions: How to Swap Meat, Poultry, & Seafood | Cook Smarts Cooking Substitutions: How to Swap Meat, Poultry, & Seafood | Cook Smarts Cooking Substitutions: How to Swap Meat, Poultry, & Seafood | Cook Smarts

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