Let’s Talk: Buying Beef in Bulk

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Heather says:

This post is to help those who are intimidated by the process of buying beef in bulk.  If you have strong views about the ethics of beef consumption, this is not the forum for that discussion.  Inflammatory comments will be deleted at our discretion.  Home Ec 101 is a place for both omnivores and vegetarians, where neither choice is esteemed over the other.

Before buying a 1/4 cow or side of beef there are several points to consider.

Are you comfortable preparing or experimenting with different cuts of meat?

As nice as it would be, cows are not walking filet mignon.  There are tougher parts (sirloin tip), there are tender parts (filet), there are  parts  that  aren’t  in  every recipe book (sometimes organs are included).

Do you mind the taste or texture of frozen meat?

Personally, it doesn’t bother me in the least, but some insist on fresh only.

Do you have adequate storage space?

It really is a LOT of meat.

Do you eat out often?

If the answer is yes, it may be difficult to consume the quantity of meat in a reasonable length of time.

If you have a small family, consider asking others and divvy up the cost through a joint purchase.  If you take that route, you will need to decide before hand how the cuts will be divided.  Once the meat has been cut it needs to be frozen as soon as possible.

If you still believe a side of beef is the choice for you, first you will need to locate a source.  Word of mouth, LocalHarvest.org, Eat Wild, and your state university’s agriculture extension offices are all great resources for finding high quality meat.

Most bulk beef sales are based on the hanging weight, this is the weight before it is cut into pieces.  Some bone and some fat is included in this price that will go to waste. Also, before determining your final cost ask if there are any additional fees for butchering, cutting, and wrapping.

Call the ranch, farmer, or butcher and ask about how they handle beef orders.

  • Do they need to be placed well ahead of time, perhaps only during a specific time of year?
  • Where is the animal raised?  If you aren’t squeamish, can you see the animal?
  • Where is the animal butchered?
  • How long is the meat aged?
  • Is it processed on site or at a separate facility? Is the facility licensed?
  • Will you as the customer need to be present when the meat is cut and wrapped?
  • Will the butcher walk you through your options when choosing cuts?

We have just made our second bulk beef purchase.  Our first was four years ago and it took us a while to work through the meat, but we found our last pound of ground beef as high quality as the first.  Our family is much larger now and over the past few years we have had many conversations along the following lines: remember how nice it was to have our freezer full of beef?  Do you miss red meat as much as I do?

It is possible to buy meat cheaper, but I enjoy knowing where my meat came from and do not mind preparing a wide variety of cuts.  We have been fully satisfied with our investment.  I found our first beef purchase intimidating, but we made a wise choice with our butcher who walked us through the process.  I enjoyed choosing the thickness of our steaks, how much meat would remain in whole form, and how much would end up as hamburger.  Remember, even if you opt for whole cuts of meat in every case possible, there is still a good bit of hamburger in a side of beef.

So Home Eccers, any questions?

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19 thoughts on “Let’s Talk: Buying Beef in Bulk”

  1. Oddly enough you can often find farmer’s selling bulk meat on Craigslist. I’ve never purchased from them since there are only two of us and we live in a tiny apartment but I always wondered…

  2. I have been a meat cutter for 49 years and a Market Manager for most of these years. I would like to comment on buying meat in bulk. SAVE your money !! buying sides or quarters of beef will give you many items you want like. to me it makes better sense to watch the adds for sale items you like, then big in large amounts. you have what you like and no waste to talk about.
    Average cutting loss is 30%. So on an average 300 side of beef, you would receive approximately 210 lbs. of take-home/edible meat.

  3. If you notice, I mentioned that not only did I include the mention that some would be waste, but that cost was not my sole reason for purchasing beef in this manner. Regardless, including the waste approximation I spent 3.01 after tax per usable pound. Knowing exactly where my meat came from and being present for the handling is worth that for me.

  4. I just brought home a quarter of beef and a half hog. Altogether, it averaged to $2.79/lb for my cut/wrapped meat. Sure, I can buy pork chops cheaper than that on sale, but it’s cheaper than the good-quality hamburger goes for, and certainly less than t-bone prices.

    I love the options available as well–how thick I want the chops/steaks cut, how many to a package, bulk sausage/seasoned/unseasoned, etc.

    For those wondering about freezer space, the 1/4 beef and 1/2 hog filled about 2/3 of a 14 cu ft chest freezer.

    And it’s all wrapped in butcher paper instead of those huge plastic/styrofoam containers from the store.

    I like buying meat in bulk so I can just go to the freezer and pull out what I want.

    Good article with some good tips!

  5. My parents are in a unique position to do this since they have stables at their house and already care for some horses boarded there, but they’ve been doing the bulk meat thing for a while. They usually buy a cow and split it with a friend of theirs when they butcher it.

    Admittedly, this is a grass fed, free-range cow that has the company of several lovely horses and the shade of several big pecan trees, but it is the best meat I have ever eaten. I don’t like to eat conventionally raised beef because of additive issues and living conditions of the animals, so this is a wonderful way for me to score high quality organic beef. I do get it for free, being that I’m a moocher, but my parents have found it to be very economically sound, even with the high price of grain.

  6. I’ve been making it a rule lately to try and buy meat on sale for less than $1 a pound. Sounds insane but it can be done. Unfortunately it has pretty much cut red meat out. Even the crappy ground beef that’s mostly white specks of fat is around $3 a pound so if you can get the good stuff for that I say hit it. And if you can get better cuts for that, even better. As for the tougher cuts- all hail the crock pot!

  7. We are waiting for our 1/4 cow right now. We have bought once before and my parents have bought bulk for as long as I can remember. It is so nice to have meat in the freeze and I tend to eat out less if I aready have the meat on hand. We got a new chest freezer for Christmas and have just been waiting for the cow…I am so excited and we should have meat in the freezer in about a month, yeah!!! just in time for summer:)

  8. Just ordered our 2nd side of beef last week! I love it. First, I know I’m getting beef that was not fed yuck and injected up the yingyang with antibioitics and growth hormones. Because it’s local, not only do I do something nice for the planet by not using oil to move it, I encourage green space from the farm in my local community. Plus, it’s great to have a freezer of beef. There is ALWAYS something for dinner instead of fast food.
    Most states have local CSA (community supported agriculture) websites. Great place to check for beef. We found ours by going out to dinner and having an amazing steak. I asked the waitress where the beef came from. It was a farm less than 20 miles away. I called the farmer and got hooked up.

  9. I would love to do this myself but I cant find any butchers affordable enough for me. I live in farm country too. I have 2 deep freezers and would love to fill them with hog, beef and chicken…..if I could only find it cheap enough!

  10. Kudos for pointing out the cuts of meat issue. I’m not sure everyone realizes that.

    We’ve done this before, and I have mixed feelings. I can’t argue though that the meat is much better. When we have our own cows ready we will be doing this, but I’m not sure we would purchase other beef.

    When we have a freezer full of meat I find we eat about double our normal meat consumption. It is easy, delicious and convenient, but not very budget friendly. Generally buying beef in bulk makes for cheap steaks and expensive hamburger. Since we almost never buy steaks, and we tend to eat a lot more meat when we have it, it just doesn’t make sense for us and our budget. So until we have our own to take to the butcher, I’m shopping the sales.

    Yes, I know cost isn’t your prime consideration here, but I hope you don’t mind my opinion on the topic. Our budget is very tight and cost is a prime consideration for us. 🙂

  11. I have eaten beef from a cow purchased in bulk from a local farm. The quality difference is AMAZING! We have Kroger here for the grocery store and the meat you buy is almost always beginning to turn when you buy it. The meat from the farm was given to me (by a relative) after being deep frozen for over a year and was more beautiful than any cut I have ever gotten from the grocery! It makes me wonder how long the grocery meat has been sitting around before I buy it!

  12. How much did you have to pay for what you purchased (was it 1/4 cow or side of beef?)? I've thought about doing this, but haven't investigated. The plus side, to me, is knowing the quality of the meat. The downsides, in my thinking anyway, is that I might spend more than usual or necessary and that we might begin to eat too much red meat (not healthy to increase it, I think). However, I'm interested in learning more. Also, maybe we could find a good source for other meats too.

    • A side of beef is usually around $2.39 per lb and the average weight is 300 – 350 LBS. A hind quarter of beef is usually around $2.69 per lb. and the average weight is 160 -200 lbs.

      • While this sounds close to my experience, it should be noted that it may vary widely depending on the region and will vary from year to year dependent on the cost of grain (grass fed beef shouldn't be impacted in this regard, but. . .) and other factors.

  13. I Have Been Getting A lot of diffrent prices For1/4 and1/2 off beef where is the best and cheapest meat to buy sonoma county california please if someone no's tell me thank you.

  14. i always wondering the cost difference of store bought versus going to the country with my dad. to pick up the 1/2 or whole beef. To be honest I think you get a leaner cut from a sale item at the local grocery. Price, I dont think anyone can tell you which is more of a value. Convenience, It sure is nice to open the freezer to an unlimited supply of meat.
    Bottom line, I will never forget the days of going to the market with my dad and load down the truck full of beef, or pork.
    I'm not talking a younster, I still go to the market with him today at 44 years old. Last week we help load 3 pigs and were not farmers.

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