by Jessica Oddo, Mt. Shasta Wild LLC Wild Foraged Beef at the Base of Mt. Shasta
So you’re ready to eat healthy, do it affordably and have new cooking inspirations but are intimidated by the thought of how to go about buying a quarter beef. If every reference or website you read adds to the confusion then follow the simple steps below.
1. Freezer Space
“How much freezer space do I need?” is a common question. A standard kitchen freezer in a fridge/freezer combo is around 7 cubic feet. If it were totally empty, then you could fit 100lbs of beef in it (a typical size of a quarter beef).
Investing in a deep freeze is the way to go. A 7 cubic foot freezer is inexpensive and provides years of savings through bulk purchasing. If you wanted to store more than your beef, then look at a bigger freezer. The deep freeze pays for itself on the first purchase. For a whole beef, about 400lbs, I would recommend getting the 15 cubic foot model. A half beef typically fits well in an 11 cubic foot freezer.
2. Types of Meat Cuts; 1/2 of 1/2
1/2 of 1/2 or split half:
When you purchase a quarter of beef, we divide it into “a half of a half” because the cuts of meat from the front half differ dramatically from the back half (or front quarter from the back quarter). So you will get equal amounts of cuts from the front quarter and back quarter.
3. Weight Hanging vs Actual Meat in Your Freezer
You will hear about 3 weights:
Live Weight (on the hoof)
Packaged Weight (yield)
Live Weight (on the hoof) — Whole live beef typically after 24 hour fast.
Hanging Weight — Also known as dressed weight or carcass weight — what you get when you remove the parts that are inedible like the hide, feet, head, some of the bones and most of the innards. The dressing percentage for most beef cattle is about 53% of the animal’s live weight for a grass fed animal. A 1,000lb animal would “dress out” at about 500lbs.
Package Weight (yield) —Your actual take-home finished cuts or “yield.” The percentage of the hanging weight that remains after cut and wrap is called the “yield” and is generally 75% of hanging weight.
A whole beef with a hanging weight of 500 lbs. will yield about 400 lbs. of take-home meat.
Hanging weight is the weight used for most beef bulk meat buying plans when they need you to buy beef on the hoof to avoid USDA inspection. Legally this is a grey area and requires you to deal with the butcher and pick your meat up at the processor.
Pricing off from hanging weight is confusing and can be misleading because it doesn’t reflect the pounds of meat put into your freezer and often does not include the price of cut and wrap, which can be another $0.65 to $0.90/lb. It is hard to estimate what your expense will be and how much meat you will end up with.
If you see an offer for $3-$5.75 per pound bulk beef, the first question you want to ask is, “Is that live weight, hanging weight or packaged weight?” If you decide to buy based on hanging weight you want to ask about their average yields and get recommendations on the processor. A lot of waste can happen at the processor if they do not have attention to detail.
4. USDA Inspection vs Custom Processor
USDA facilities have trained meat inspectors on site. The Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) is required by law to provide inspection for all federally-regulated processing facilities. Without the inspector present, the establishment cannot process cattle, hogs or poultry.
The Federal Meat Inspection Act requires USDA inspectors to provide inspection of all live animals before they enter the facility. The inspector evaluates the animals to ensure they are healthy and fit to enter the food system. If animals are sick or have an injury, the USDA inspector will deem the animal as not fit for human consumption, and the animal will not enter the food supply.
The USDA inspector will again inspect the carcass of the animal to ensure the safety of the beef. Once approved, the carcass is stamped with a nontoxic ink stamp to show that the animal has passed the USDA inspections. If a carcass does not pass the USDA inspections it is condemned, stamped as such and does not enter the food supply.
All meat products are inspected by USDA inspectors before they leave the federally-regulated establishment.1
Custom Exempt Facilities
Custom-exempt facilities differ significantly from USDA facilities. The custom facilities are not inspected on a daily basis, nor are the animals and meat products handled there. The buildings and equipment are inspected for proper sanitation and maintenance per state requirements. Because the animals and meat processed are not inspected, the products may not be sold (donated or given away) to anyone other than the owner of the animal. Each animal presented for slaughter must be processed, packaged and returned to its owner for consumption within the owner’s own home to his/her family and non-paying guests. Products are labeled “not for sale.”2
5. Cost and Amount of Beef/Pounds per Week
We set our prices based on packaged weights/yield. Again, most farms use hanging weights to price bulk beef. This is something you want to clarify and if it is hanging weight, does it include the price of cut and wrap or is that additional?
$6.75lb pre-order takes home USDA inspected meat all cut and wrapped from Mt. Shasta Wild. Average quarter weighs 100lbs = $675 a quarter. This equates to about 2lbs of Beef a week for a year at the cost of $13 a week.
The supermarket would have you believe that some cuts are better than others; not true. Some cuts are easier to prepare — a tenderloin is virtually a no-fail cut. But beef heart or a rump roast can be amazing as well! It takes an understanding of how to prepare various cuts, willingness to try something new and an appreciation that each cut will have its own unique texture and flavor. A flank steak will never cut like a tenderloin, but many agree it has deeper, richer flavor. The internet is a great resource for techniques and recipes that will work well with each cut. Customize your own beef cookbook on Pinterest for free.
Buying a quarter beef gives you a sampling of the whole animal experience and is helpful at getting you out of the food rut we find ourselves in now and then. It helps change eating habits because you learn to cook cuts that are hard to find in the store or are often unavailable. Where before you might have just eaten steaks or ground, now you avail yourself to endless opportunities and develop an appreciation for the less glamorous cuts. The internet and Pinterest has made it easier to attempt something new.
Do a little research in cooking grass fed meats. Because of its lower fat content, it does cook a little differently. My tips are whenever possible let the meat come to room temperature and try not to cook over medium. Remember, well done is typically over done for grass finished meats, and also remember it will continue to cook for a while after removing it from heat.
For the perfect finish, I pull it off when it looks slightly underdone for my taste and cover it with foil while I complete the rest of dinner. The time also allows for the contraction that happens to meat when it cooks to relax for a more tender dining experience.
Steaks: Top Sirloin Steak, Filet Mignon, T-Bone, Rib Eye, Porterhouse. These premium steaks are perfect for that special night. Grilling it is the way to go.
Roasts: Tri Tip, Brisket, Top Round and beyond, slow roasted all day in the crockpot means dinner can be ready when you get home. Eat as a traditional roast or shred it for tacos or BBQ sandwich.
Ground Beef: Easily the most versatile product. Grill it, loaf it, sauce it, casserole it, fry it up with some fresh veggies for an easy Whole30 meal.
Bones: Have a decadent appetizer with roasted marrow bones or make your own bone broth. Sip on mugs of steaming, gut-healing bone broth.
Hotdogs: 100% Natural Uncured Beef Hotdogs. Great for snacks, for kids or meals in minutes. I like mine with sauerkraut, and with eggs in the morning. My husband likes to slice his in half lengthwise and have on a hard crusted bread. Easy to pack for a hardy snack or meal-on-the-go for kids.
Batch Cooking on Sunday will set you up for the busy week ahead: Crockpot a roast and shred it for BBQ Beef sandwiches, salads or tacos. Cook several roasts and freeze it for meals in minutes on those hectic nights.
Put on a good audio book and make up a big batch of meatballs and/or Bolognese to freeze for quick easy meals with little clean up. There are lots of good casseroles out there that are freezer friendly. I double a batch, eat one and freeze one.
Now that you know the process and terminology you can talk intelligently to ranchers and CSAs. I hope this guide helps you save money while enjoying the best beef you can buy.
Jessica Oddo, Mt. Shasta Wild Foraged Beef
2 Source: www.in.gov/boah/2504.htm
Photos by Jessica Oddo