I recently attended a dinner & auction and one of the items being auctioned off was a side of beef donated by a local rancher (yes, I live in Alberta). I’ve thought about buying a side of beef to save money, but I never knew where to buy it, how much it costs and what kind of storage capacity was required.
Where to Buy a Side of Beef?
The best place to buy a side of beef is to find a local rancher who has already established a business of selling beef directly to consumers. In some cases you can buy a side of beef directly online, or you can find ranchers selling in your area on websites like Kijiji.
Even with the convenience of shopping online, it’s probably a good idea to drive out and visit your local rancher. You’ll feel better knowing that you’ve seen the pasture the cows are grazing in, the barn they’re sleeping in, and the papers confirming that they are indeed hormone free, grain fed and government inspected.
If you live near a rural area, sometimes the farmer is literally only a few miles away and can deliver your side of beef right to your door with it cut, wrapped and ready to go.
How Much Does it Cost?
An average beef carcass weighs about 600 pounds and a side usually weighs slightly over 300 pounds. When you purchase a side of beef, you will get a variety of high and low priced cuts. You can specify how the side of beef is cut, and every cut should be utilized in order for your purchase to be considered a good buy.
I spoke with a local rancher who had sides of beef for sale. They were pasture raised, hormone free and government inspected red angus that had been grain fed for 150 days. They weighed approximately 330 pounds per side and cost $2.50 per pound, which including the cutting, wrapping and delivery.
For an upfront cost of $825 you could have over 325 pounds of beef consisting of t-bone steaks, rib-eye steaks, sirloin steaks, round steak, sirloin roasts, round roasts, cross-rib roasts, chuck roasts, lean hamburger, and stew meat. Make sure to ask for a discount if you pay in cash.
What about Storage?
When you receive a side of beef it will likely come in 5 big boxes, which would definitely fill a chest freezer and would require additional storage in your kitchen freezer. Depending on the size of your family, this order could last you upwards of 7-9 months.
Beef can be stored for 9-12 months, but only 3-4 months for ground beef. Most meat items can be stored for longer periods but they will lose some quality. Before you buy, decide whether or not your family can eat an entire side of beef within a year.
When you buy meat in bulk at a grocery store like Costco, you have to repack the meat in portions yourself in order to freeze it. The advantage of buying a side of beef is that the roasts and steaks can be cut to the specific weight and thickness that you desire, and they are packaged properly for long term freezing.
Is it Worth Buying a Side of Beef?
If you are thinking about purchasing a side of beef you should calculate the approximate cost per pound of edible meat (oxtail, anyone?) and then consider if it is cheaper to buy meat from a live animal or carcass, or compare grocery store prices and buy meat when it’s on sale.
Find a source of beef near you, and ask another family to try it out with you so you can split the initial cost, save on storage space and maximize the types of cuts yielded from the side of beef. Some families prefer roasts and t-bone steaks, while you may prefer ground beef and rib-eyes.
Some people swear that purchasing beef directly from the farmer not only saves money but it tastes better too. Have you ever purchased a side of beef, and was it worthwhile?