Ordering meat in bulk? While the practice isn’t standard due to the convenience grocery stores offer, working with local farmers will give you more control over your meat than you think.
Buying your meat in bulk is a great way to gain independence from a grocery store. It’s also a great way to bulk up your pantry and avoid trips to the grocery store throughout the year. You already have the meat in your freezer! However, there is a bit of a learning curve that comes with buying your meat in bulk.
Buying meat in bulk is an upfront investment
Whether you’re purchasing a whole beef or half beef, meat is expensive. In 2023, our family spent about $1,600 on beef, based on our hanging weight (we’ll talk about hanging weight in a bit). We worked with our butcher to get the individual cuts we wanted, and what we didn’t want was turned into ground beef. Even though we spent about $1,600 at one time, we know that this meat will last us for one year. We are also much more willing to pay this price because our final price isn’t determined by cuts of meat – it’s determined by hanging weight.
Your final price isn’t determined by cuts of meat
Hanging weight, or rail weight, is the weight determined by the butcher after an animal has been killed, bled, and gutted. From a mathematical standpoint, it’s usually 60 percent of the live weight. Who knew organs, feet, and hides weighed that much?!
In our experience, farmers charge a price per pound based on hanging weight. And that price extends to every cut of meat you get. If your hanging weight is $4 per pound, your steak is going to be $4 per pound. Another reason why we are so willing to work with family farms! That’s a great price for a steak!
Your final price may not stop there, though. Our farmer works with the butcher to incorporate butcher fees into the cost we pay our farmer. When buying your meat in bulk, be sure to ask if your processing fees are included in the cost you’re paying to the farmer. Your processing fees (fees paid to the butcher to kill, dress and package your meat) may be paid to your butcher upon pick up.
Buying in bulk requires much freezer space
There isn’t a hard and fast formula for estimating how much cubic feet of freezer space any XYZ weight of the animal will take up. In our experience with bone-in cuts and chest freezers, we can fit half a beef into an 8.8 cubic foot chest freezer with a little of the beef going into another freezer. We don’t request our meat be packaged in smaller portions, so that’s something else to take into consideration. We also aren’t buying a quarter of beef. If we were, we would have enough freezer space!
Working with butcher shops
In my experience, your butcher will contact you with a cut sheet, or your preference for the different parts of an animal (ribs, ground beef, roasts, etc). It’s a good idea to research the differences between cuts of meat so you have an idea of what you’re looking for from your animal. Examples of this are things like round steak, NY strip steak, or sirloin steak. You should also consider whether or not you want your meat packaged in smaller amounts. For example, our butcher works in 1-pound packages for ground beef or 2-pound packages for ground beef. The cutting instructions you give your butcher will be influenced by what’s on their cut sheet. You will have plenty of options!
You can also work with your butcher to get the fat and bones from your animals. Fat from a cow, when rendered, is called tallow. Fat from a pig, when rendered, is called lard. Both of them are usually discarded by butchers. But they make great cooking fats! Reserving the bones of your animal is for making bone broth. You are paying for all the parts of this animal – you might as well use them!
The butchering process can take up to two or three weeks, depending on the butcher. Work with your farmer on the estimated delivery date of the animals. From there, you can generally estimate when your meat will be ready for pickup.
Other things to keep in mind
As I said before – there isn’t a formula for the size of the animal and how much freezer space it will take up. If you’re unsure, order a smaller amount of meat. You can also visit your local farmers’ markets for smaller amounts of meat.
I have never experienced a farmer or a butcher using special offers to drum up business. What you see is what you get.
Your butcher or farmer may also work with pigs. This year, we were able to work with both to get our half-beef and half-pig processed at the same time.
Always remember to pack a large cooler when picking up your meat. Our meat was frozen solid and stayed frozen for the trip home.
If this is your first time ordering meat in bulk, don’t be afraid to ask questions! I don’t know a farmer who isn’t accustomed to educating newcomers about what they do. The same goes for your local butchers! This isn’t the traditional way of obtaining meat and every butcher has a different way of doing things. Ask those questions!
Grass-fed beef may get sent to a different butcher, just because grass-fed beef farmers may not farm grain-fed beef. Grass-fed beef is also a tougher type of meat because it takes longer to grow, meaning the animal is older at slaughter. It’s also a leaner cut of meat because the animal was grass-fed.
Have you ever ordered meat in bulk?
I did a series over on my Instagram page about ordering meat in bulk! Check out what a bit of the process looks like here. Comment on this post and let me know what your experience was like! Did any of these tips help you?