With grain futures on the rise, meat is poised to reach an unheard of price per pound. How do you keep your family fed quality local beef without breaking the bank? Joshua Applestone, owner of the famous Hudson Valley, NY based Fleishers Meats, explains how to save money buying beef by the side – or “locker beef.”
“Locker beef is straight forward. It pays if you have the storage as well as the culinary abilities to use the whole animal,” says Applestone. “Customers at Fleishers are usually purchasing a whole or half beef for multi-family situations. They get the whole thing in a couple of boxes and divide it up amongst themselves.”
Two or more families with a small freezer can save as much as 50% or more on their beef, pork or lamb by purchasing a side or even whole animal and having an experienced butcher package the meat for freezing.
STORE YOUR MEAT
If you’re buying a side of meat, you’ve got to have a place to store it. And that means buying a freezer. According to Applestone, the best freezers are the chest-style, and sold at Sears for between $80 - $399, depending on the size. Aside from easy storage, a chest freezer holds cold air far better than drawer-style home freezers, saving you not only on meat, but on the electricity needed to keep it cold.
Make sure you have enough room in your house for your new freezer. While most suburban homes have basements or garages big enough to easily swallow even the biggest ice box, it might be hard to squeeze an extra freezer in a 700 sq ft. apartment. That’s why many urban dwellers have been setting up online “cow-share” lists for people interested in buying good, inexpensive meat but don’t known enough people to share it with.
SHARE WITH FRIENDS
It’s always a better idea to get friends together to go in on a side than trying to keep it all to yourself. The first issue is pure cash flow. Estimate the side of meat is 375 pounds, split between three families. That’s 125 pounds of meat per family. Multiply that by $2.50 a pound, and you’re paying $312.50 for one person to eat a pound of meat a day for 31 days. Since most people don’t consume that much meat everyday, it’s safe to estimate that a family of four could potentially eat every meal off the steer for two months and still have some left over - all for $300.
But there’s also a culinary aspect to the equation. The longer you keep meat frozen the more likely it is to get freezer burned, no matter how nice your chest freezer might be. This will make your meat taste stale and gamey when it should be juicy and mouthwatering. Sharing a side with friends will assure your meat is fresh and tasty.
MAKE THE CUT
Make sure you find the right butcher for the job. Many rural or suburban independent butchers are familiar with locker beef, having sliced and diced a side hundreds of times. But urban butchers may be completely inexperienced in dealing with an entire side. When you’re investing several hundred dollars in a large meat purchase, it pays to ask around at work, little league practice or church, to get someone to recommend a butcher if you don’t already have a one you trust.
Buying meat by the side also means in addition to the usual cuts, you also get the lesser known (but equally delicious) cuts like beef shank or plate (short ribs). So, make sure your butcher explains exactly what cuts you’ll be getting, and how to prepare them.
“We’ll go through a cut list and I walk them through every part, what they can do with it, the options of what they can have that part fabricated into and also explain about presentation,” says Applestone. “If they have a special occasion they‘re planning, I make sure they’ll have a nice rib roast or whole tenderloin.” And remember, if you’re uncomfortable with less common cuts, your butcher can turn them into ground beef as well.
If you’re not sure where to find a side of meat, ask your local butcher if he or she can source the meat for you, or check Craigslist.org and local classifieds for farmers looking to sell whole animals. Anyway you do it, buying meat by the side or quarter is the highest quality and most inexpensive way to ensure that you and yours will be eating good local meat- no matter what direction the markets go.