Why Buy a Side of Beef
A side of beef is half a cow. It is a lot of meat and costs a lot upfront, but is a fantastic way to get quality meat for much less per pound than buying it by the piece.
Though a side of beef is half a cow, it is possible to buy a quarter beef or the whole thing if your budget, eating habits, and freezer space allow. Some farmers also sell beef in bulk in smaller packages.
Buying a side of beef means you get quality meat for less. Your local beef is more nutritious, more delicious, and better for the environment. You support your local farmer financially and get to know more about him and his farm.
Local beef is not a commodity, it is a quality product. Buying locally means you can buy from a farmer that supports your values. You can get the cuts you prefer.
Buying a side of beef requires planning. You need to find the right farm , make sure you have the money and freezer space, and decide how you want your beef cut.
Think about whether you will eat all the beef from a side of beef. Can you try some beef from the farmer first? How do you plan to use unusual cuts, or large amounts of ground beef? Will you want bones?
Buying a Side of Beef (or a Quarter)
Bulk beef can be purchased as a whole cow, half, a quarter, or simply in larger boxes if the farmer sells that way. All methods should cost less than buying a roast or a steak by themselves.
Here in Maryland we have a lot of fantastic farms that sell beef. You can find beef farmers on the map, and see if they offer bulk beef. If you have a local farmer you buy from frequently, you can ask them if they will sell you a side of beef.
When buying a side of beef, you pay a deposit up front, and then have to wait until butchering time. As each cow weighs differently, you won’t know what the final cost will be until your beef is ready.
A good farmer can estimate how much their cows will weigh from previous butchering times. They can give you an estimate of the whole cost, letting you know your per pound cost.
Though many farms sell bulk beef, different sites give you more or less information about buying a side of beef.. Some are very upfront and tell you approximate cuts, weights, prices, and even when they will slaughter. Others may simply tell you they will sell a side of beef. Ask for more details.
Pricing aside, a side of beef may mean 200 pounds of meat. A cubic foot of freezer space should hold about 15-20 pounds of meat. A regular sized fridge has about 4 to 5 cubic feet of space in an empty freezer.
How much beef do you eat? How do you eat it? That 200 pounds of meat will probably be half ground beef. The rest will be roasts, stew meat, some steaks, and soup bones, and liver and offal. If you just eat steaks, you might not want a side of beef.
When buying a side of beef, start by determining how much beef you want to buy. How much do you want to pay? What qualities are important to you? Do you want grass fed, organic, hormone free? Do you want to visit the farm?
Look through the beef farms on the map. Taney Place Farm estimates $1700 for about 200 pounds of meat, meaning about $8.50 a pound for all of it. Half of that is ground beef.
Lovell Grass Fed Beef has a more complex pricing plan, telling you how much they get paid, and how the butcher gets paid, but their bottom line is about $7.38 per pound of what you bring home.
Evermore Farms simply lets you know that whole beef goes for $7/pound, half for $7.50, and a quarter for $8/pound.
Right now, the cheapest grass fed ground beef at Sprouts is $8/pound. So you are paying grass fed ground beef prices for all your meat. That means half ground beef, and most of the other half of steaks, roasts, and stew meat.
Bringing your Side of Beef Home
Buying a side of beef starts with determining how much space you have, how much beef you want, and whether or not you have the money to pay upfront.
Once you decide how much meat you want, go find the right farm for you, and contact the farm to put down a deposit.
Your farmer will give you an approximate date for slaughter, and will contact you prior to slaughter to find out how you want your beef cut.
Standard cuts means about half will be ground beef. You probably won’t be able to specify fat percentage, but you might be able to ask for them to add more or less fat to the mix.
If there are cuts you don’t like, they can be more ground beef. You might ask for steaks to be cut thicker, or as t-bones rather than separate tenderloins and New York strips.
You can ask for offal to be added as well. That usually means liver, but can also mean tongue, heart, kidneys and other unusual parts.
Different packaging might be an option. If you want to avoid plastic, the butcher might offer paper. If that is important to you, ask your farmer before you put down a deposit.
Find out how you will receive your beef. Likely you’ll pick it up yourself. Will that be at the farm, or at the butcher? How will you get it home?
Other Things to Consider
Be honest with yourself before you commit to buying a side of beef. How much beef does your family eat? How long can you freeze the meat? Paper wrapped doesn’t freeze as well as plastic wrapped.
Are you organized enough to eat through the beef before it ends up freezer burnt? Do you have a plan in place in case the power goes out?
Pantry management is important when buying large amounts of anything. If you know you will be getting 100lb of ground beef, you might want to plan to use 2 pounds of it each week to make sure it gets finished in a year.
What will you do with unusual cuts? I love not wasting food, but if you realistically won’t use that tongue, it’s better to not bring it home.
Do you like a challenge? Do you cook roasts regularly? Buying a side of beef means you may be cooking unfamiliar cuts of meat. It can be a great way to make you learn new recipes, or a poor way to fill your freezer because you don’t know what you want to do with the meat.
Before buying a side of beef, consider a meat CSA first. If it is from the same farm you want to buy bulk beef from, so much the better. Pay attention to how quickly you eat your beef. Would a monthly or quarterly meat CSA work better for you?
Buying your beef in bulk is a fabulous way to get quality meat at better prices. You know your beef is local, and know how it was raised. You might be able to visit the farm.
There are many beef farms in Maryland. Look through them, and find one (or twenty) that work best for you! Sustainable beef is delicious and nutritious, and sustainable community farms are important.
If beef is not what you are looking for right now, consider buying bulk pork instead. Buying meat in bulk is a great way to combat higher prices for quality meat.