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What to know about buying a side of beef

If you’re interested in stocking your freezer with bulk beef, here’s what to know about buying a side of beef.

We started raising our own Black Angus beef a few years ago. We started with two cattle and are up to four cattle. 

Packages of frozen ground beef in butcher paper.

Yep, it’s a pretty big cattle operation here on Frieders Farm. We’re giving those Yellowstone ranchers a run for their money. Just call me Beth Dutton.

Buying a side of beef

Of course, even though we love beef, we couldn’t possibly eat it all. We have quarter beef or half beef portions to share with family and friends to fill their freezers. 

I remember the first time the meat locker called and began rapid firing questions about how we wanted our beef cut…

It was pretty overwhelming! She asked things like…

How thick do you want your steaks?

Do you want round steaks? Cube steaks? 1 pound packs or 2?

By the time we hung up the phone, my head was spinning!

I later learned that she used a cut sheet to ask me those questions, which are the specifications that each person wants for their portion of beef.

After that experience, I thought I’d share my non-farm brained side of things with you, in case you’re buying a side of beef.

Of course, it will vary from place to place, but at least this is something to get you started!

Why Buy a Bulk Side of Beef?

This is going to vary from person to person. For us, we like knowing where the beef was raised, and the quality of the beef is outstanding! 

I’m not just saying that about our beef…I’m sure others who raise beef would agree that the taste of locally grown been is a different product altogether that the beef at a grocery store.

Buying beef in bulk means you’ll always have meat at your fingertips. This is great for larger families or those cook from home a lot. 

It can also be more economic in the long run.

Should I buy a side of beef?

Well, I can’t specifically answer that for you, but I can tell you a few things to think about if you’re considering buying a side of beef.

  • Will we eat that quantity of beef over the year? For the cattle we raise, a quarter of beef is the equivalent of about 200-225 pounds of meat in the freezer.
  • Do we have freezer space to store the beef? For a quarter beef or more, you’ll need a larger freezer than just your standard fridge/freezer. For a beef half, you’ll likely need a chest freezer or the equivalent of an upright freezer.
  • Are you willing to make the upfront investment for a quarter of beef or half?
  • Do you want to split our beef with a friend? You could go in on a half of beef and once your product is home, split it up amongst yourselves.
Beef steak on a cutting board with greens.

How many pounds in a quarter beef?

At our farm, a quarter of beef is usually about 200-225 pounds of beef that you’ll take home. Of course, that can vary, but it’s a good rule of thumb.

How much does a side of beef cost?

Again, that will depend on the year, the input costs to the person raising the beef and what they charge. 

We charge a per pound fee based on hanging weight, which is about 65% of the total weight of the cow going in.

How does the process work?

Again, this will vary from farmer to farmer and likely, from each meat locker.

I’ll cover how the process works for our farm, just to get you started!

  1. We generally put out a notification to previous buyers and/or on social media when we know when our beef will be going to market.
  2. On the market date, we take the cattle to a processor (sometimes called a locker) where they take care of prepping the meat into individual cuts. In our case, we have a dedicated locker we work with for all of our beef.
  3. The beef hangs for a period of time (you may have heard of the term aged beef). This helps keep the meat flavorful and tender, and is one of the reasons why our beef is so darn delicious.
  4. We charge our customer based on a “hanging weight”. This amount is usually about 65 percent of the weight of the cow going into the processor.
  5. We charge a price per pound based on what the hanging weight is. So while we can approximate how much a quarter or half of a beef will cost, it will vary based on the final weight.
  6. The processor we work with checks with the beef buyers to see what their preferences are for package size and cuts. They’ll cut the beef, package it in plastic wrap and paper, and prepare it for you to pick up once it is frozen.

Some of the questions the processor may ask are:

Do you want quarter pound or third pound hamburger patties?

What size do you want your roasts?

Do you want stew meat?

Do you want your ground beef in one or two pound packages?

There are more…I’ll take notes when I talk to our locker in January.

How much freezer space will I need for my beef?

According to this source, they recommend at least one cubic foot of freezer space per thirty-five to forty pounds of pre-packaged meat.

They saved me the math by calculating that a 200-pound half would require six cubic feet worth of freezer storage space. 

What cuts are in a side of beef?

We don’t actually pick front side or back side, left or right. A half a beef is half of the cuts of one whole beef.

What to know about buying a side of beef.

You can expect cuts of meat like:

  • Chuck Roast – this is good for pot roast and Italian Beef Sandwiches
  • Soup Bones – these are awesome to roast and then use for making beef broth. Ours are generally meaty enough that we can add the meat to soups.
  • Brisket – in the past, we have the option from the processor to have a traditional brisket as well as a corned beef brisket.
  • Hamburger – the ground stuff we go to. Some of my favorite things to make with it are chili mac & cheese, old fashioned sloppy joes, and crockpot hamburger helper. You can check out these recipes using ground beef and healthy instant pot ground beef recipes.
  • Burger Patties – these are individually formed and shaped into patties. They’re great for throwing on the grill or cooking in the air fryer. (No need to thaw!)
  • Flank Steak – this is great for steak fajitas
  • Skirt Steak
  • Short Ribs – these are tasty for cooking low and slow in the slow cooker, instant pot or more.
  • Steaks – Sirloin, T-Bone, New York Strip steak or Ribeye steaks
  • Rump Roast – Because of the lower fat content, this cut benefits from slow cooking or braising.
  • Stew Meat – perfect for beef stew, beef barley soup or slow cooker beef stroganoff.
  • Arm Roasts
  • Top Round
  • Round Steak and Cube Steak – here are some great cube steak recipes

We don’t take all of the cuts like the organ meats, but that’s just a personal preference thing.

There are probably some cuts I’m missing. I’ll take notes next month when are cattle go in!

If you have tips to consider when buying a side of beef, please share in the comments below. It will help all of us!

made with love, Deanne

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Jill Hill

Wednesday 4th of January 2023

We’ve been selling and using our own beef for a few generations, and your article looks to be a great source for helping explain the process. One thing I would suggest is that someone buying the beef, doesn’t have to take all of the cuts/choices offered. If someone isn’t a roast user..or other parts don’t seem to be in your menu, they can be used in other ways. Like more hamburger etc. So decide how you use beef and ask the locker about choices.

Deanne Frieders

Tuesday 10th of January 2023

Hi Jill, that's a great suggestion! I think my in-laws have their round steak made into ground beef :)

Greg

Wednesday 4th of January 2023

You said a 1/4 weighed from 200 to 225 pounds, then later in the story you said a Half weighed those amounts, 200 pounds, towards the bottom of the story, when talking about what freezer space was needed.

Deanne Frieders

Tuesday 10th of January 2023

Thanks for pointing that out Greg, I'll take a look and adjust. I appreciate you pointing it out :)

Joe

Wednesday 4th of January 2023

I think your article is excellent information for anyone wanting to know more about buying beef from a local producer. Maybe the best I have ever read. Like anything, the more detail you can learn the better decisions you can make. Understanding you cannot cover all details in a short article, you might consider covering some other items in a future articles. Beef Quality - sadly I see people buy a beef from someone who has not properly fed and finished the animal. That can leave people with a bad taste - pun intended. Grass fed vs grain fed - there is a difference between them and just as big of a difference within each category. Same could be said for breeds of cattle - as much difference within a breed as there are between breeds. That subject is too much for general public. You do a nice job and I appreciate your work. I don't follow many people and only pass out complements when they are well deserved. We put quality beef in our freezer each year, have for many, many years. Always learning, reading and absorbing new information. Keep up the good work.

Deanne Frieders

Tuesday 10th of January 2023

Great points, Joe. We pride outselves in how we care for the animals and the thought we put into their diet. We personally raise black angus and they are grain fed with some hay/grass. I'm glad there are choices for everyone!

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About The Author: Even though on the go meals are now Deanne's specialty, she didn't take a direct path to get there! Go here to read her story,"How I Finally Came Home". You can see Deanne's "Table to Tailgate Cookbook and custom recipe cards here".