Side of Beef – A Complete Buyer’s Guide
If I told you there was a way to buy beef that was healthier, tastier, AND less expensive you’d probably want to know all about it You would also be all ears if I started telling you that the most convenient source for purchasing meat is not only the cheapest, it helps support your community as well.
Support local economy and get a better price on better meat, who wouldn’t want that?
The fact is, buying a side of beef is almost always more nutritious, better tasting, and less expensive than the store-bought variety. Purchasing and storing cattle meat in bulk is more efficient all around, there’s no doubt about it.
But while purchasing a side of beef or bulk orders may interest you, you will certainly have questions. How and where exactly do you buy in bulk? What do you get and how much is a side of beef going to cost you?
These questions and others are common, and depending on what you’re looking for and where you live may have different answers.
But once you cover the basics, you’ll be convinced and ready to change the way you buy beef forever.
Throughout this article, we’re going to cover all the details to get you informed on the entire buying process (from sourcing to selecting your meat), along with how best to plan for and store large quantities of beef so you can enjoy the many benefits.
It’s a lot of fun, so let’s strap in and go for a ride!
What Do You Get When You Buy a Side of Beef?
Once you’ve become an informed bulk beef shopper, you’ll be able to bring home the best, high-quality meat from the farm to your freezer.
We just mentioned some of the benefits bulk meat purchasing provides you; now let’s go over exactly what a side of beef is along with what and how much you get when buying one.
What Is a Side of Beef Anyway?
A side of beef consists of an entire half section of the cow when you divide it lengthwise from the head to the tail. Straightforward, right?
From a meat buying standpoint, a “side of beef” is purchasing beef in bulk rather than buying a single cut of meat like we’ve all done at the grocery store or membership store.
Not to get graphic, but the side of beef you’re buying is literally one half of the dressed carcass of the beef animal. So then of course there are two sides to every head of cattle. That’s just another way to look at it.
How Much Meat Is a Side of Beef?
What you get from a “side” is what it sounds like -- one half of the animal and that means all cuts of beef that come with it.
In terms of the beef you take home in pounds, this is 210lbs.-225lbs. of cut meat for one side. All wrapped up individually the meat packages would fill a medium sized fridge and attached freezer compartment almost completely.
Getting the Meat You Want
But it doesn’t have to be that black and white. See, you don’t have to take exactly what comes with a side of beef.
Your purchase is completely customizable, and you can work with your local butcher or farmer on the actual size, various cuts, and other details associated with the section of beef that you want to purchase.
Once you’ve selected a farmer or processor, you will simply determine what cuts of beef work best for you.
So, just how much meat comes with your side of beef order is specific to you.
Any reputable farmer or processor will have a standardized list of options that they offer. You can simply go with one of these options if you’re just starting out, or sit down with a sales expert and customize your list.
Additionally, if there are cuts of beef that you don’t want, then the processor can turn it into hamburger for grilling or ground beef.
Most farmers and processors will also let you select the size and weight of an individual package. What you need may vary considerably depending on the circumstances.
If you’re going to be using the beef incrementally over a longer period of time, then you may want it packaged in smaller portions.
If you’re going to be using the meat for a big party or family get together, then you may opt for a larger packaging option.
Once the cattle meat is processed, the processor will vacuum seal it or wrap it up in freezer paper. Once that step is completed, your side of beef is ready to be taken home!
Hamburger is almost always made up a of miscellaneous beef. The amount depends on the size of the animal and the way that the sections were cut.
Side of Beef Cuts
Now that you know what a side of beef is and that it can be decided up to your liking, it’s time to learn more about your specific cuts.
First, before you choose the type and number of each cuts you’d like it’s important to consider a few standard customizations. These are the amount of weight you want to buy for each cut, the thickness you want your steaks and how much hamburger you want in your order.
Thickness -- This is completely your preference, and a skilled butcher will be able to make very thin cuts. The “standard” thickness is one inch.
Weight -- This is also entirely dependent on your own personal preferences. Remember, you can always freeze the pieces of beef if you realize you’ve ordered too much.
Hamburger beef is generally packed into one, two, six, and ten pound packages
Now the most important part! A comprehensive list of the sections and cuts available to you in a side of beef:
There are 7 ribs on either side of the section. In addition to the ribs, there are four additional cuts you can get from this region.
- Bone-in steaks
- Ribeye steaks
- Rib Roast
This is the biggest section of the animal, making up about 26% of edible meat. The Chuck area is composed of the arm and the shoulder blade of the cow. There are four varieties of cuts that you can get here:
- Steak -- Boneless or bone-in
- Roast -- Boneless or bone-in (think pot roasts and chuck roasts)
- Short Ribs
- Stewing meat
- Ground Beef
The most well-known cuts of steak originate from the short loin and sirloin segments. You get to choose if you want the meat cut “standard” or “specialty”. The two different cuts will produce different cuts.
Both of the cuts include some of the most popular steak choices.
- Standard cut -- T-Bone Steak, Sirloin, Porterhouse steaks, and Filet Mignon (beef tenderloin).
- Specialty cut -- No-Bone Filet, Top Sirloin, New York Strip and Tri-tip (roasts and steak)
The round also a large area of the cow, and is divided into four sections. They are:
Eye Round -- This is the smallest section of the round. This piece can be divided in one of three methods.
- Round Roast -- Long, cylinder-shaped roast, which may be cut in one or two varieties for each side. The cuts per side will depend on the selected size of each cut.
- Round Steak -- A circular-shaped medallion cut.
- Ground Beef
Top Round -- Cut in one of four varieties
- London Broil
- Ground Beef
Bottom Round -- Cut in one of three varieties
- Ground Beef
Sirloin -- Cut in one of three varieties
- Ground Beef
Miscellaneous cuts can be kept or stored, or grounded up into hamburger meat to make patties or to have on hand for recipes like sloppy joes.
When selecting from the miscellaneous cuts, the four primary sections won’t be affected.
Here are some of the miscellaneous cuts:
- Flank Steak -- Thin steak cut from the groin area
- Short Ribs -- One to three inches long, cut form the plate of the cow
- Meat for Stew -- Composed of meat from the entire animal. Produce chucks that shouldn’t be combined with hamburger meat. They shouldn’t be combined with hamburger meat because they are much higher quality.
- Brisket -- A common cut of beef that is often prepared by cooking at a low temperature for a long time. The brisket is cut from the chest region.
- Bones for Soup -- Generally cut from the four leg sections originating from the top, then cutting one inch slices all the way to the bottom. The upper sections of the shanks contain more meat than the lower sections.
- Tongue -- the tongue is usually sold as a whole piece for traditional dishes.
- Organs -- Used for a variety of purposes
- Hanger Steak -- Although most people probably think of the hanger steak as a common cut because it is often seen on restaurant menus. However, there is only one Hanger Steak from each cow.
If you really want to see a complete breakdown of all the cuts you can get from Angus beef check out this PDF chart.
The chart below gives you an idea of what each part weighs and how much space you’ll need to store it:
|Specific Cut||Quarter Cut||Half Cut||Whole Portion Cut|
|Chuck or Arm Roast||10 to 12 pounds||20 to 24 pounds||40 to 48 pounds|
|Rump Roast||3 pounds||5 to 6 pounds||10 to 12 pounds|
|Sirloin Tip Roast||3 pounds||5 to 6 pounds||10 to 12 pounds|
|Beef Stew Meat||3 to 4 pounds||6 to 8 pounds||12 to 16 pounds|
|Ribeye Cut||3 to 4 pounds||5 to 7 pounds||10 to 14 pounds|
|New York Strip Cut||3 pounds||5 pounds||10 pounds|
|Sirloin Steak Cut||2 pounds||4 pounds||8 pounds|
|Filet Cut||2 pounds||3 pounds||6 pounds|
|Flank Steak Cut||0.5 pounds||1 pound||2 pounds|
|Skirt Steak Cut||2 pounds||4 pounds||8 pounds|
|Flat Iron Steak Cut||1 pound||2 pounds||5 pounds|
|Brisket||2 pounds||4 pounds||8 pounds|
|Short Ribs||2 pounds||4 pounds||8 pounds|
|Meat Bones for Soup||4 pounds||8 pounds||16 pounds|
|Liver||1 pound||2 pounds||4 pounds|
|Hamburger Meat||50 pounds||100 pounds||200 pounds|
|Total Amount of Beef||85 to 100 pounds||185 to 200 pounds||350 to 400 pounds|
|Freezer Space||8 Cubic Feet||15 Cubic Feet||25 Cubic Feet|
Benefits of Buying a Side of Beef
Let’s cover a few of the main benefits of going with a side instead of buying beef as you shop throughout the year.
You Can Save Money
The first time you buy a side of beef, the cost may appear sizeable. It may feel like sticker shock, and you’ll ask yourself why would you want to spend the equivalent of a few grocery trip bills on just beef?
Here’s the trick…
You have to think long term. Buying in bulk is generally less expensive in the long run. You can actually save money throughout the year by purchasing sides of beef.
It’s true, you have to factor in other associated costs. For example, you may have to to invest in a large deep freezer as well as the cost of the energy it takes to run the appliance.
But who says you have to pay for and use a whole side of beef?
One strategy is to go in on an order with others and divide the costs with friends or family. This can ease the pressure of spending so much.
There are definitely some advantages to bulk buying though.
Think about the next time you’re going to have a party or family reunion. With your large stock of stored beef, you won’t need to go shopping for all those individual cuts. You can just go out to your freezer and thaw out the portions you need.
The Healthiest Way to Eat Red Meat
Grass-fed beef is always a healthier and better option, and this is what you’re investing in when buying a side of beef.
Supermarket or store-bought meats are often not of the grain-fed variety, but it’s best to buy it when you can.
For example, you increase your intake of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA); a fatty acid that has numerous health benefits. Research has shown that CLA can help fight off cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Beef is one of the best natural sources of CLA. Grass-fed beef tends to possess around two or three times more CLA than the grain-fed variety.
This is because cattle diets that are based around grain have properties that reduce the amount of CLA being produced.
The best retailers of bulk beef or sides of beef will have grass-fed cattle. Therefore, purchasing a side of cow locally is almost always a healthier option.
As stated previously, freezing meat keeps the freshness and flavor preserved. So whether your grilling or using a smoker, you’re assured the best flavors possible.
The only problem with freezing a side of beef is the sheer size. So, if you’re going to buy a side of beef than you should also invest in a chest freezer so that you have plenty of space to store the meat safely.
There are plenty of great options for chest freezers on the market for $200 or less.
In summary, there are some primary reasons that buying a side of beef is a better option compared to buying cattle meat from a regular store.
- As long you’re going to eat the beef in a reasonable amount of time, or have enough people to eat it, then buying a side of beef will definitely be the more cost-efficient option.
- Sides of beef are almost always grass-fed and more nutritious.
- Once you’ve bought a side of beef, then you will realize the convenience of always having a massive amount of beef to use for any occasion.
- By purchasing beef from local farmers, you’re supporting the local economy and agriculture industry.
Buying a Side of Beef
One of the most significant benefits of buying meat in bulk is that you minimize waste.
However, purchasing a side of beef isn’t for everyone, and it will depend on the individual situation and circumstances to determine if this is the best option for you.
Here’s how it works…
When beef is ready to be put up for purchase, it will usually be sent to a butcher or processing plant to be split into the cuts of meat that most people are accustomed to seeing at a supermarket.
Some farmers complete this process on their own while others send their beef to a preferred processor.
Most retailers will charge customers by the pound for the “hanging weight” of the cow.
The processor will hang the meat for the aging process for a period of 10 days to two weeks. Aging the meat improves the taste and makes it more tender.
The hanging weight of the cow is generally around 60% of the live weight of the animal. For instance, if the animal weighed 1,000 pounds when it was alive, then the hanging weight would be 600 pounds or 300 pounds for each side of beef.
The first time that someone buys a large portion of meat, the sheer size may come as a bit of a shock.
Planning Storage Before You Buy
Can you store this much beef?
Beef can be safely frozen and stored between 9 and 12 months. For hamburger meat, it should only be stored between 3 and 4 months.
The meat will retain its quality for several months, but it is best when it’s fresh. Therefore, how quickly the food is going to be eaten should be a consideration before purchasing cattle meat.
If you don’t think that all of the product will be consumed within one year, then you should consider buying a smaller amount.
One of the advantages of buying a side of beef is that the cuts are customizable to the exact way that you want them.
Therefore, you won’t need to cut with your own knife. and repackage them for freezing, which is the case when you shop at a grocery store or get large quantities at Costco or Sam’s Club.
Where do you go?
Buying from Farmers
People generally purchase a side of beef from a local farmer or rancher.
Look for one who has a track record of quality and established operation of the retail side of cattle meat sales.
You can also buy sides of beef directly online, or use the internet to find farmers that sell cattle products in your area.
When you do find a farmer in your area that sells sides of beef, you should always go visit the location in-person.
Customers still feel more confident once they’ve seen the operation first-hand. You’ll be able to see the area that the cows are living in, what they’re being fed, and documents confirming that the cows are free from hormones.
Additionally, the best retailers will have current government inspection documents.
Regardless of where you live, there are sure to be hundreds, if not thousands of places to purchase larger sections of meat.
If you don’t live in a rural area with a beef farmer right down the street, then you can use the internet to find the best retailers in your area.
Once you’ve identified one, contact the farmer. They will be more than happy to discuss all the details.
What to Ask a Beef Rancher or Farmer
Here are some critical questions that you should ask your farmer or cattle processor before purchasing:
- What sizes or portions of beef do you provide?
- After I order a side of beef portion, when will it be available?
- How are your cattle raised? Do you feed them a grass-based or grain-based diet?
- Does your farm use any growth hormones on your cattle?
- What is your hanging weight cost per pound of beef?
- Are your cattle butchered on the farm or are the they sent off to a 3rd party butcher?
- What are the extra costs for processing?
- Do you have any delivery options or will I need to pick the order personally?
Get Your Meat Home Safely
How do you get the meat home?
Once you’ve found a farmer to purchase from, you’ve got to figure how you’re going to get the meat to your home.
Most farmers and processors will provide a delivery service for an added fee. Due to its sheer size, this may be a good option for you if you don’t have a vehicle that can transport all of the meat.
It’s also very convenient to have the side of beef delivered straight to your door.
How Much Is a Side of Beef?
Retailers for wholesale will generally price the meat by the pound. The “by pound” side of beef cost is for the hanging weight of the beef.
What exactly is this?
The farmer or processor of the meat will hang the beef for ten days to two weeks, which is to “age” the beef. Aging improves the taste and tenderness of the meat.
The hanging weight of the meat is approximately 60% of the full weight.
For example, an entire cow that weights 1,000 pounds will be 600 pounds at hanging weight. 600 pounds of hanging weight is equal to about 300 pounds for each side of the animal.
The cost per pound of hanging weight is generally around $3.50 to $3.65 per pound. That cost doesn’t include processing fees, which you’ll find are approximately $0.70 per pound.
Quarter Side of Beef
- 150 to 180 pounds at $3.65 per pound is equal to roughly $550 to $650 for the beef plus $125 to $150 for the processing fees.
Half Portion of Beef
- 300 to 360 pounds at $3.50 per pound is equal to around $1,100 to $1,300 for the beef plus about $250 to $300 for processing fees.
Whole Portion of Beef
- 600 to 760 pounds at $3.50 per pound is equal to approximately $2,100 to 2,600 for the beef plus around $500 to $600 for processing fees.
This table gives you an idea of pricing based on the weight of cut and packaged meat:
|Hanging Weight Price||Finished Cut Price|
|Full Cow||$2,000 to $2,700
|$6.40 to $8.60 per pound|
|Half Cow||$1,100 to $1,400
|$6.40 -- $8.60 per pound|
|Quarter Cow||$569 to $747
|$7.10 to $9.30 per pound|
Storing Your Side of Beef
Now that your farmer or processor has called and told you that your side of beef is ready for pickup, how are you going to store your beef before your ready to cook it on the grill?
It’s a complex and critical process that will play a huge role in how much money you save. The worst thing that you can do is bring home a massive side of beef without the adequate freezer space.
The best option for storing a large portion of beef is with a chest freezer. It is recommended that you purchase a chest freezer with a lid that opens on top instead of a side opening standard chest freezer.
Get Your Temperature Right
The most important factor to consider regarding your freezer is the temperature. You don’t want your freezer to be too cold, which can result in the products inside getting freezer burned.
Additionally, you’ll want to be ensured that your freezer can maintain temperatures that keep your beef optimally frozen.
The cattle meat will almost always be packaged by the farmer or processor themselves.
The Ideal Packaging
This packaging will be freezer-ready, and then meat should be frozen when you pick up your order or when it is delivered.
However, if you think that you may want to re-package your beef, then you’ll need to invest in a vacuum-sealing packaging product or freezer-specific wrapping.
Your beef can safely be frozen for a period of 9 to 12 months. It is recommended that bulk meat-purchasers keep an inventory of their freezer.
This will help you keep track of exactly what is inside your freezer and how long it has been in there.
Bring Patience to Thawing
What should you do when you need some your frozen beef for your next meal? There are a few popular methods that are used for thawing.
The most simple method is to take the beef out of the freezer in advance, put it into your refrigerator for a day or two, and then it will be sufficiently thawed for cooking.
Sometimes you may need a portion of your beef quickly and didn’t have the time to let it thaw for a day or two.
Be sure to check out the following great video about how to store your beef in the freezer.
Here are some of the faster methods for thawing out the frozen meat:
- Microwaving -- This method is fast but it is known to take away from some of the moisture and flavor of the beef.
- Bowl of warm water -- Remove the beef from the farmer’s packaging, place it in a plastic or ziploc bag, and then let it rest in a bowl of warm water for about thirty minutes.
Buying a large portion of meat is an excellent way to save money, time, and support your local economy.
Beef sold by a farmer who treats their cattle right can be healthier than the cuts you buy at a supermarket.
By purchasing directly from a farmer you can ensure the quality and freshness of the product. With a little know how and research buying in bulk is easy.
You can custom order your cuts of meat based on the kind of steaks and roasts you want as well as the quantity of hamburger.
This guide can serve as a stepping stone into the world of buying a side of beef for the first time and many years to come for your family.