I’m so excited to bring you this first guest post by reader Auburn in southern New Hampshire.
Buying Bulk Meat – What you Need to Know
There’s a lot of info online about “freezer meat” or “bulk meat” and many people blog about their experiences buying 1/4 or 1/2 cow, though most focus on the meat itself (quantity and quality), having to buy a second freezer and the many “new” cuts they get to try by purchasing meat this way.
So I thought it would be useful to write about the buying process, from my own experience.
I started reading FAQs on freezer beef, pork, lamb and goat and, while some of the information was very useful, some of it was also inconsistent and, at times, downright misleading.
So I decided to contact the beef and pork farmers in my area (Southern New Hampshire), asked a lot of questions and, surprisingly, most of them took the time to reply with the answers and an invitation to visit their farm. Nice.
Then, when I was sure I knew everything I needed to know about buying bulk meat, and was about to place an order with the “farmer” who offered the cheapest deal for pastured beef ($3.25/lb hanging weight) and pork ($2.40/lb hanging weight), by chance, I happened to find out that she was a middle person. Aha! And this lady is not the only one who does this in my area – a greedier middleman wanted $4/lb for the beef and $3.50 for the pork!
Guess what? The farmer these middlemen buy from also has an internet presence but he doesn’t list the prices. You have to call, which I did. He charges $2.50/lb for beef and $1.80/lb pork, hanging weight, butcher fees included. See?
Also, the hanging weight the middlemen “estimated” was 50 pounds higher than what the farmer quoted me – they both claimed that a side of beef would be about 350 pounds. This is very important for you to know because when you deal with a middleman, you may not get the invoice from the original farmer stating the actual hanging weight of the animal.
So be sure to do your homework and ask the right questions because that can save you a lot of money and headaches.
Buying from the cheapest middlemen, a side of beef would have cost me $1,137 ($3.25/lb) with an “estimated” hanging weight of 350 pounds and about 210 pounds dressed weight (what you take home).
Buying directly from the farmer I paid $750 ($2.50/lb) for 300 pounds of beef which yielded 240 pounds of dressed weight.
The middlemen “cut” would have been almost $400 plus 30 pounds of dressed weight. Yep.
And how do you know when you are dealing with middlemen? When you land on a website and read something like “I purchase steers from another local farmer who also raises his animals humanely and naturally” or “I raise my own lamb and chicken here but I do not have the facilities or hay fields to raise beef and pork. I buy from a friend who raises them the way I would if I could.”
Other things I’ve learned:
You will get a lot more for your money if you tell the farmer that you want:
- All cuts “bone-in.” This will get you plenty of roasts and steaks with bones that you’ll then use to make wonderfully nutritious stock.
- A thick “fat cap” on all cuts. You want them to trim as little fat as possible. You can use that fat to cook with or you can feed it to your birds, chickens and other animals.
- No ground meat. Instead, you’ll want all scrap meat packaged in 1 lb or 2 lb packages. This way you don’t end up with 80 pounds of hamburger but with scrap meat that you can grind yourself as needed or shave/cube it for use in dishes like quesadillas, stir-fry, etc.
- Flank and skirt cuts whole. You can make delicious recipes with them.
- All bones: dog bones, lower leg bone/heels and tail which you will use for stock (braised beef tail is exquisite, by the way).
- All organ meats. If you don’t cook these, you can feed them to pets or give them to people who appreciate them.
If you decide to buy half a side (1/4 of the animal) ask if they’ll include cuts from the front and also the back of the animal, otherwise you’ll end up with all roasts or all steaks.
The standard thickness, at least in this area, for steaks is one inch. If you happen to like thinner steaks (say, 3/4″) you can ask for this at no extra cost.
This is very important: Be sure to ask if the meat will be vacuum packed and if it will be fresh or frozen. This you really need to know because 200+ pounds of fresh meat is a lot more than what you can safely freeze at once in a regular freezer. Non commercial freezers can only adequately freeze no more than 3 pounds of fresh meat per cubic foot of freezer space within 24 hours.
Here’s a nice beef cuts chart, very helpful to have at hand when you are going over the cut sheet with the farmer over the phone.
Thanks Auburn for the great meat buying tips! We saved a lot of money by buying a local 1/4 cow and 1/2 pig this year as well. And now I don’t have to frantically check the freezer for bar codes every time there is a meat recall.
This also popped up in my google reader today about buying in bulk.