Nov 16, 2013

Tips for Bulk Buying Beef & Storage

Buying meat in bulk saves time and money.  I highly recommend it.  Even better is if someone gives it to you.

My husband just took a whirlwind 10-hour-each-way-trip to Kentucky to pick up beef from my dad (who has a farm).  Dad raised the steer and gave me half.  My friend, HB, got to pay for her half.  On the hoof, our steer weighed about 900 pounds and Dad paid the processor for packaging 420 pounds of meat.

This is what half a steer looks like in a deep freezer.  
HB took inventory as she was putting her meat in the freezer.  I didn't make an inventory list of mine, but am sure my half of the beef is very similar.

41 pkg ground beef (each package contains an average of 1.5 pounds of beef)
7 huge bags bones (each bag is about 5 pounds) 
17 roasts (each roast is around 3 pounds) 
5 pkg stew meat (about 1 pound each package) 
5 pkg liver (about 1 pound a package) 
22 pkg steak (each package is around 1.5 pounds) 

In addition, I got the tongue, heart, and eyes.

My husband took the back seats out of our mini-van and filled it with coolers. Three giant coolers ~4 feet long and 4 others, regular sized.

Once he returned with the beef, HB and I unpacked each cooler and did a simple "one for me, one for you" kind of separation.

For the most part it was very even.  Since it was vacuum packed in plastic, we could see the amount of fat and bones and could compare packages.  For instance, at one point we bundled 3 fatty roasts with big bones and the other person got 2 roasts with less bones.  

Vacuum packaging is more expensive than freezer paper but a worthy investment since it will prolong the freshness of your meat.  Plus there is the benefit of being able to see inside the package without opening it.

For easy access, I collected my steaks in a box.

 And organized the roasts all together, too.
The top shelf is corn and green beans (thanks, Mom!) with a few roasts.

The second shelf is for roasts, and the third shelf houses the steaks.  The drawer at the bottom collects packages of ground beef.
In the door I have a few containers of beef stock, made a few weeks ago, along with more ground beef and stew meat.
Also in the garage is a side by side refrigerator in which I store bones and offal (liver, heart, tongue.)  This refrigerator was in the garage when we moved in two years ago and I'm not certain of it's reliability so I don't keep precious meat in it.
The next two pictures are of HB's freezers.  This one is her kitchen freezer.
 And this is the deep freezer.
When I pulled these bags of bones from the coolers, my mouth started to water - thinking of all the yummy beef broth and soups this winter.
From the processor, I requested the tongue.  Yes I did.  Here's a recipe.  I've already indoctrinated my 3.5 year old.  She went to bed saying, "Tongue is good!"  My 8-year-old, on the other hand, is not convinced.  I don't plan on letting them know when I cook it.
 We also requested to keep the eyes.  We're weird homeschoolers, ya know.  Dissection here we come!
If purchasing beef is in your future, there are a few things you should know.  Of course you'll want to talk with your farmer and ask about their relationship with their processor.  Chances are, the farmer will have the gig figured out and lead you along.

My dad has used the same "good ol' boy" meat processor in eastern Kentucky for years.  As in, it is a small operation and they process a LOT of deer this time of year.  I visited it a few years ago and thought I wrote a blog post about it but cannot find it now.

Last year I got more cube steak than I wanted.  This year I wrote out exactly which cuts I wanted and in which quantity.  And it came exactly how I asked for it.  I'm thrilled!  Below is the list my dad printed and took to the processor.
The cuts we want are:
1. roasts (~3-5 lb packages)
2. steaks (~1 inch thick)
3. stew meat (~2lb pkg)
4. ground - 80-85% lean.  I want it fatty enough so that hamburgers stick together on the grill.
5. bones for stock making, especially
  - oxtail
  - shank bones (3-5inch pieces in 3-5 lb packages)
  - any other bones the butcher knows of that would be good for soup.
6. no round steaks. (John says there's a round roast and that is OK)
7. both eyes, and they can be packaged together (for homeschool dissection)
8. liver - however they usually package - I think I remember: slices in 1 pound packages
9. tongue - yes, I'm going to try it.

In the past, I have asked for the extra fat to render as tallow.  It is a nutritious and delicious fat to use when cooking - especially frying potatoes!  But, with a baby who has been all consuming this last year, I decided to forgo the tallow-making this year.  I can't do it all.

Some people prefer extra lean ground beef.  Me, I'm not afraid of fat.  I actually like it in great quantities, as long as it is healthy fat.  If you try to make a hamburger for the grill from lean burger, it will fall apart.  And you will cry if your burger falls into the coals of your grill.

If you have a dog, you can ask for any extra bones for it.

What other advice would you give to someone looking to buy meat in bulk?

Previous posts of interest:
Benefits of Bulk Buying Local Meat - by Tracy Youngblood
How to Buy Local Meat in Bulk - by Lisa Lipe

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