March 11, 2011

Tip of the day—Buy Meat in Bulk

I’ve told you all that I prefer to buy meat directly from local farmers whenever I can.  You’ll find that the prices are a bit higher than the grocery stores in many cases, but the quality and taste in my opinion is far, far better.  One way to reduce costs when buying from farmers is to buy meat in bulk.  We’ve done this for three years now with lamb, buying a lamb with a friend and each of us receive a half.  For the first time since I was a teenager and we had cattle on our farm, I went in on a beef order with two other friends.  We split a half of a 3 year old steer—one friend took a quarter and another friend and I split the other quarter.  Below are a few tips that we learned in the process:

  • The friend that organized the purchase said that next year he’ll know better what cuts to ask for from the farmer and processor.  The meat processor can tailor cuts to your preferences, even going so far as to the thickness of the cuts that you want.  I remember that when I was young my dad took great pride in having 3 or 4 inch steaks to serve to guests on special occasions!  Familiarize yourself with the cuts that are offered and the pros and cons of each.  Do you want more ground meat or less?  Do you prefer the bone in or out of cuts?  When in doubt, ask the processor or friends who have bought meat in bulk before for advice. 
  • There are certain cuts that won’t divide evenly.  There is only one neck, for instance.  If the animal is large, you might get a few cuts out of that piece, but in general be prepared to compromise.  With my friend who split the quarter with me, we tried to even things out as much as we could.  If one package were larger then when dividing the next cut the person who took the smaller piece would take a larger one of another cut.  If one of us preferred more roast and less steak, then we divided it out that way. 
  • Prepare your budget as best you can for the cost.  Buying meat in bulk has a large upfront cost, but you save a lot of money per pound on individual cuts.  If I were to buy a pound of ground beef from a local farmer, I could pay around $6 per pound.  The cost of the meat that we bought yesterday that was pastured and organically grown was a little more than $3 per pound!  Because we found out about the purchase only a couple of weeks ago, we paid for the meat out of savings and each month we’ll take $25 out of our grocery budget to repay that cost.  Normally, I would prefer to plan ahead and reserve money from our budget to spend on a bulk buy, but this deal was a good one!
  • When dividing the meat, it helps to have someone who is well organized.  Our friend who picked up the meat for us had weighed each piece to make the split as fair and easy as possible.  What a blessing that was!  He also brought a scale that helped us to measure out multiple pieces.  He even had a spreadsheet so that we could see what pieces he chose and the weight of each to know that it was as even as possible!  Each of us had slight variances in the weight of what we received, but all of us left feeling good about the cuts and amount that we purchased for the price. 
  • Another trick I learned from him was to wear gloves when dividing the meat.  He said he thought of the idea when his fingers kept getting cold when moving the meat—brilliant idea!
  • Let the person who picks up the meat get first pick of the cuts.  My friends let me do this when divide the lamb, and both of us yesterday were more than happy to let him have first pick of the beef yesterday.  I brought him a few jams and home canned treats as a little thank you for his hard work, too.  When I realized all the work that he had done, I wished I had brought more of a thank you gift for him!
  • Make room in your freezer.  Had we not just spent last month eating from our freezer, fridge, and pantry, I would not have had room in our freezer to store the meat.  It took up the entire freezer from our downstairs refrigerator.  Lots of people have suggested that we get a small deep freeze, but I’m going to resist that as long as we can.  We have two refrigerators already, and frankly, I don’t want to use more electricity than that.  If you were buying meat in bulk and didn’t have as much storage, you might ask a relative to store some for you and give them a little meat as a thank you.

What other tips or recommendations do those of you who have bought meat in bulk have?  I’d love to hear your thoughts, as we are still learning this process!  Add them in the comments section please so that all might enjoy!

2 comments:

  1. Great tips! As you pointed out, the upfront cost is large, but we find the overall savings is also large! Not only on the price per pound, we avoid the grocery price fluctuations over the course of the year and it’s a big time saver. I make large batches of meatballs and chili, freeze them, and have a ready supply of “quick-meals” that only need to be defrosted. We find ourselves eating out less and grilling more. In addition to all the many benefits of buying farm direct and the quality/taste, it’s wonderful to have the meat packaged to our specifications.

    We’ve learned over time which cuts we prefer and which cuts we’d rather have ground. In addition to thickness, we specify how many pounds or items per package, including specifications for roast sizes to fit in a crock-pot. For an additional fee, most processors will actually make hamburger patties – we don’t do that, but it might be beneficial to others. Also, don’t forget to confirm the leanness of how you want your ground meat. We also always ask for a few soup bones. Enjoy your beef!

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  2. Great tip on the leanness of the ground meat!! I'll definitely be using that next go around!

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