Check out some of these "on sale" prices from my local store's weekly circular:
- Ground chuck: $2.99/lb.
- Top sirloin steaks: $3.88/lb.
- Kansas City Strip steak: $7.88/lb.
- Pork loin roast: $2.99/lb.
- Pork loin chops: $3.19/lb.
Let me assure you that there is another way. Buying meat directly from a farmer or rancher has a host of benefits. While it's not a practical solution for everyone, it can reap huge money-saving rewards for large families and voracious meat-eaters.
I have a family of six, and I'm not ashamed to admit that we eat quite a bit of hamburger over the course of a year. We bought a quarter of beef (which means 1/4 of a steer, or a beef-making boy cow) a year ago and ended up with the following:
- 40 lbs. ground beef
- 20 lbs. steak (including rib eye, t-bone, skirt steak, round steak, and sirloins)
- 20 lbs. roast
- 10 lbs. prime rib
- 2 lbs. short ribs
- 4 lbs. stew meat
- 5 lbs. cubed steaks
- 5 lbs. brisket
- 2 lb. liver
That works out to be 108 pounds of beef, for which I paid $289.44 (including tax). That works out to an average of $2.68 per pound. Wrap your head around that figure a minute. While ground beef can be purchased at the grocery store on sale for cheaper than $2.68 per pound, you're not going to find a decent steak or prime rib at that price. Also, keep in mind that this is for a quarter of beef. There are several options when buying a beef, such as 1/8 of a beef, 1/4, 1/2 (also known as a side of beef), or the whole animal. The same is true for pork or lamb.
There are other benefits to buying beef directly from the source:
- The meat comes from one particular animal, so there's less risk of contamination.
- The farmer or rancher knows the animal's health history and/or antibiotic use.
- You know where the meat's from, so you don't have to worry when there are mass recalls on particular brands or stores.
- The meat is packaged to your specifications (I always get six steaks in a pack because there are six in my family).
- There's no need to repackage for freezing; it's already done!
- It's usually easy to find a group of families and split the cost and the meat between them.
- You support a local business.
- It tastes better than store-bought meat. I don't know how to explain it. It just does.
There are some considerations before buying a whole beef, though:
- Do you have the storage capacity for that much meat?
- Do you have a way to get it home? (Hint: an empty trunk and lots of ice chests)
- Is your freezer reliable? (There's nothing worse than the smell of rotting meat in a malfunctioning freezer.)
- Do you eat a variety of cuts?
- Will you eat that much meat in a year?
I myself am blessed to live in the heart of cattle country with cattle grazing just outside city limits. For me, finding a farmer is not difficult, although I tend to buy from the same guy year after year. For those living in a more urban area, a bit of detective work may be in order. Local butchers or vendors at farmer's markets are the best sources of information. A quick Google search of your area may also give you names and contacts for large area farms close to you. Though their list is by no means exhaustive, Eat Wild can help you get started in your search, as well.
Keep in mind that if you choose to buy beef directly from the source, you may end up with two bills—you'll pay the farmer for the "hanging weight," which is the total weight of the animal and is usually based on market prices (the farm markets, not the supermarkets), and you'll pay the processor the processing and packing fees. My $289.44 includes both, although market prices have risen over the past year due to the drought in the US.
Buying meat in bulk isn't right for everybody, but it is a viable money-saving option for many. Heck, it's a way of life in my little corner of the world! Crunch the numbers and see what a freezer full of steaks and chops can save you in the course of a year. You might find out that it's the right option for you.
This is a guest post by Crystal from Hill City, Kansas
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