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Old 05-15-2005, 10:40 AM
LSLGuy LSLGuy is offline
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Buying a side of beef: good idea or waste of money/effort?

Wife & I are considering buying a side of beef, perhaps to split with the neighbors.

From my Net research the plusses seem to be 1) 20ish% savings on final cost, 2) possibly better quality meat (local grown, non-hormone-saturated, etc.), 3) chance to control the cuts, getting more of the good stuff you don't normally buy and steaks cut like you want them.

The minuses seem to be 1) need to store a LOT of meat, 2) you'll be eating much of it after months in the freezer, 3) you get lots of cuts you wouldn't normally buy, 4) you get what you pay for; the average cut of the whole side is lower-quality than you usually buy.

In particular, I don't use 3lbs of ground beef a year now, and it seems that a whole side yields a minimum of 20% ground beef and usually much more unless you choose to take most of the marginal meat as stew meat or sausage instead of as hamburger.

We're just 2 adults so a whole side is a LOT of meat. We expect to split the side with the neighbors so we'd be talking 100-ish lbs of finished cuts for us.

We're pretty versatile cooks so we can do something tasty with any cut we get. And I do use a lot of chuck roast, arm roast, and strew meat now; we're not just sirloin-or-better eaters.


So: anyone have any experience with buying a side? What worked, what didn't? Given what I've said about our situation, does this sound like a good (or at least non-bad) idea?
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  #2  
Old 05-15-2005, 11:35 AM
don't ask don't ask is offline
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I bought one once many years ago when living with friends. Since there were 5 adults in the house and the butcher was famous for their meat - both price and quality, it seemed like a great idea. It was handy having all that meat available in the freezer but we didn't benefit enough to bother repeating the experiment. We ended up with some pretty dubious cuts that no one could be bothered using really. We ended up checking out a buyers guide in the paper each week and buying in bulk exactly what we wanted, from butchers we trusted, when they were on special. More steaks and roasts and less mince and bony bits that way.

This information pretty accurately reflects my experience.
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Old 05-15-2005, 11:41 AM
flickster flickster is offline
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Well first off, I'm going to assume you already have a large chest type or upright freezer.

That said, we have purchased beef from a local farmer in central Illinois for the last 10 years. Most of the time we would split a half with another family but we also got the whole side a couple of times.

Advantages:
Quality - knowing where the beef came from, who & how it was processed, tpye of breed, etc.
Cut by order - We had a long standing relationship with the "butcher" (called meat lockers in Illinois) they kept our preferences on file which we would sometimes tweak a little. With the boys at home we used a lot of ground beef so we would have all of the round steak added to the cuts the usually used for grinding.
Flash Freezing - the Meat Locker would cut, wrap, and flash freeze everything so when you went to pick up your beef it was already frozen.

Disadvantages: Havng to maintain a large freezer. I've never noticed a freezer burn problem on any of the cuts even 6 months later.

Toss Up: Costs. Usually close to what you would pay in the store once you calculate the waste and the additional charges for the processing. There were times when I would still take advantage of local sales on sirloin and such to supplement the quantity of those cuts.
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Old 05-15-2005, 11:44 AM
Indygrrl Indygrrl is offline
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No real experience with this, but I always like the thought of meat from a farm as opposed to the grocery or some unknown source. Same with chicken.

But, if you eat all of that beef you will probably need to get your arteries reamed at some point after you finish it.
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Old 05-15-2005, 12:44 PM
Eureka Eureka is offline
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My parents bought a beef quarter a couple of times when I was growing up. I think they did so out of neat to think of meat straight from a farm, theoretically less expensive meat, and support the farmer(a particular known individual).

They decided that even at only a quarter of a cow, it was a heck of a lot of beef. (Much more than we ate in a year plus it needs a lot of storage space). Have to remember to thaw it. (As opposed to stopping by the grocery store to buy something for tonight's dinner).

And finally, while it theory it was probably better beef than that at the supermarket- we just didn't have sophisticated enough tastebuds to notice. So after doing it a couple of times, they decided it wasn't worth it.
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Old 05-15-2005, 01:05 PM
Gorsnak Gorsnak is offline
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Amateurs.

We always "got" a whole beef. Since they were ours, and there's no good way to slaughter half the animal and leave the rest for later, it's not like there was any choice.
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Old 05-15-2005, 02:15 PM
devilsknew devilsknew is offline
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At our local House of Meat they have quarter and half side specials. I believe we got a quarter once. I don't know the current price but I remember it was considered a helluva deal for my decidely carnivorous family. I believe The House of Meat gives you a variety of different choices as to the final dress, they even make some into sausage, if you so desire.

It's like any bulk food purchase--great value, but only if you got the storage space and can actually consume it in a timely fashion. Best for big families but maybe not so great for a couple who doesn't like or use much hamburger and lesser cuts. You might also consider going in on a side with your extended family. You can split the costs and divvy it up accordingly...they might take some of the burger off your hands.

Here's an information packed site with some cut charts and bulk formulae.
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Old 05-15-2005, 02:18 PM
flickster flickster is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gorsnak
Amateurs.

We always "got" a whole beef. Since they were ours, and there's no good way to slaughter half the animal and leave the rest for later, it's not like there was any choice.
We used to do the same when I was growing up in TN. You can flat fill up a freezer - and then pray you don't have a long term power outage (prior to the days of portable generators).
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Old 05-15-2005, 02:34 PM
Smeghead Smeghead is offline
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We had cattle ranchers in the family when I was growing up, so my parents got all the free beef they wanted. This led to interesting situations - when we were hungry, Mom would tell us to go cook up a steak instead of telling us to make a sandwich or macaroni and cheese or whatnot - but that's beside the point.

Some of that beef would stay in the freezer for years, but it was still perfectly good when we finally pulled it out and used it. As long as it's well wrapped, it should last a good long time in there.
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Old 05-15-2005, 02:42 PM
Raygun99 Raygun99 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Eureka
And finally, while it theory it was probably better beef than that at the supermarket- we just didn't have sophisticated enough tastebuds to notice. So after doing it a couple of times, they decided it wasn't worth it.
The biggest difference you notice with farm raised beef is in the ground beef -- it's much, much leaner. I've never had to drain fat from beef I've cooked that comes from my dad's farm. This might not be to everyone's tastes perhaps, but supermarket ground chuck seems disgusting to me. In a hamburger, the texture is something like a steakburger. Steaks can be a little more marginal, especially compared to restaraunts. We usually get fantastic roasts out of them though.
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Old 05-15-2005, 09:12 PM
ouryL ouryL is offline
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The only time our family ever bought a side of beef was for a Texas-sized barbecue. It was for our parents 25th aniversary. Our uncle used a drive shaft from an old moterboat as a spit over a pit. EVERYONE took home leftovers. Thank goodness, the stuff froze well.
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Old 05-16-2005, 12:44 AM
raz raz is offline
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It's not unusual for beef you get at the store to be weeks to months old because quite often they will "age" the meat, ie) let it hang around in the freezer for a while. You don't know this, though, because you just see the "sell by" date. So even if you don't use the meat very fast, it will keep for a suprisingly long time if properly frozen in a relatively airtight wrapping.
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Old 05-16-2005, 12:53 AM
FordPrefect FordPrefect is offline
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Just make sure that the animal is not old. You want something under 24 months old
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Old 05-16-2005, 02:41 AM
Lynn Bodoni Lynn Bodoni is offline
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My husband hunts, and so every year we get a freezer full of venison. He and our daughter will cook all sorts of unusual dishes, because we get all of the various cuts. My daughter rather enjoys this, as cooking is one of her hobbies, and she likes to find new ways to fix the odder cuts.

When they have venison, I'll pull out a pork chop. I don't care for the taste of game.
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Old 05-16-2005, 04:51 AM
Broomstick Broomstick is online now
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I grew up in a family of six. A couple times the parents bought a quarter of beef.

Ditto what everyone else says about storage. But we had a big freezer unit in the basement.

The marginal meat was often reduced to stock in our house, and large chunks of gristle and bone were much enjoyed by the family dog.

It can be a good thing, but there's more labor involved even if the butcher does the big cutting. If you're short on time this may not be the way to go, but if you've got more time and labor than money you can get some monetary savings with this.

A steer is a BIG animal - no wonder that in many parts of the world and much of history those who slaughtered one threw a big party. Before refrigeration, you needed help to eat one before it went bad.
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Old 05-16-2005, 06:02 AM
Lynn Bodoni Lynn Bodoni is offline
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Perhaps I should actually give an opinion...IF you have enough storage, and IF you and yours like eating lots of beef, and IF you have a lot of people to feed, and IF you are a creative cook, then buying a quarter, a side, or even a whole beef can be a good deal. If even one of those IFs is not true for you, then I'd advise against it. A deer is much smaller than a steer, and we get more than enough venison for two adults for a year from one deer. My husband gives away the venison from the second and subsequent deer he shoots, either to one of his family members or to Hunters for the Hungry (sort of a food bank which hunters stock). If you decide that buying a quarter, side, or whole steer is not for you, you might still be able to bargain with the butcher, and get a bulk price if you'll agree to buy 50 or 100 pounds of meat all at once.
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  #17  
Old 05-16-2005, 11:14 AM
Mr. Goob Mr. Goob is offline
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I used to work on an Angus farm. Nothing like picking out the steer you want and delivering him yourself to the butcher. Go back a few days later and pick up a few cases of meat.

Talk with the processor about what cuts you want, more steaks or roasts, sausage or hamburger? A half is a lot of damn beef, think about splitting it with somebody the first time.
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Old 05-17-2005, 06:39 AM
Shalmanese Shalmanese is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by raz
It's not unusual for beef you get at the store to be weeks to months old because quite often they will "age" the meat, ie) let it hang around in the freezer for a while. You don't know this, though, because you just see the "sell by" date. So even if you don't use the meat very fast, it will keep for a suprisingly long time if properly frozen in a relatively airtight wrapping.
You've got it completely the wrong way around. Even though it may sound disgusting to you, meat gets better as it ages up to about 14 - 21 days. Most meat in your supermarkets are 3 - 5 days old tops because it costs money for meat to sit on a shelf.

See this for some more info on ageing.
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  #19  
Old 05-17-2005, 09:04 PM
LSLGuy LSLGuy is offline
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Hey everybody,

Thanks for all the info.

We've pretty well decided that the quantity in a side or even 1/2 side is just too much for us. We originally started this idea as a way to buy better beef, not necessarily more beef. So we're gonna find a local butcher shop that uses local cows & buy it by the pound, not the ton.
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