How to Order a Side of Beef

Don’t be cowed by buying meat in bulk – check out this advice from an artisan butcher and our readers about ordering a side of beef, from calculating prices to communicating with butchers.

| October/November 2018

  • steak
    When you buy meat in bulk, you help reduce the production cost and sale price of the meat, as well as support artisan butchers.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/nadianb
  • beef-cuts
    You can enjoy a variety of cuts from beef, depending on what you like to eat.
    By Kyra Haas
  • cows
    Consider a cow share with friends to split up beef in manageable portions for each household.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Vincent
  • freezer-beef
    Freeze your customized beef cuts, and enjoy them through the year.
    Photo by Terry Wild/ Terry Wild Stock
  • butcher
    Don't hesitate to ask questions and discuss with your butcher exactly how you'd like your beef to be cut.
    Photo by Getty Images/Fertnig
  • soup-bones
    Soup bones can come from either the forequarter or the hindquarter.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Brian Yarvin
  • beef
    Ordering your own beef is not only empowering, but can also be environmentally responsible.
    Photo by Courtesy of New Society Publishers

  • steak
  • beef-cuts
  • cows
  • freezer-beef
  • butcher
  • soup-bones
  • beef

When considering how to buy a side of beef, one particular story comes to mind. I was cleaning up my knives after a presentation at the Texas MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR when an elderly man approached the stage. He smiled up at me and said, “Nobody’s ever going to do the stuff you’re telling them. They’re too lazy.” I remembered his face from the audience, smiling and nodding as I butchered half an animal from nose to tail, explaining the workings of the muscles, the different types of fat, and the value of the bones, the feet, and the organs. 

He went on to tell me, “When I was a boy, we were in the meat club. Once every month, somebody would slaughter a beef. After it was cut, everyone in the club would take a piece or two. There was a record of what you had received every month to make sure you got a little of everything before the year was over. Everyone shared, everyone worked, and everything got eaten. But nobody thinks about it like that anymore.”

I told him I thought that was a great idea, and that because I was talking to someone who could remember it happening, then it’s probably possible to keep it alive. To which he said, “Bless you, darlin’,” and then disappeared into the crowd.

Maybe he’s right, but it seems to me there’s too much at stake to be lazy. What we need is for our meat to have a good life, a good death, a good butcher, and a good cook. It’s a tall order, considering the obstacles toward affordable, environmentally friendly, low-stress production and processing. Plus, there are added impediments in affordability and culinary aptitude. We need buy-in from everyone, from the farmer to the guy at the grill. How do we do it?



Buying meat as whole as possible, or in bulk, is the first domino in a chain reaction that leads in a positive direction. Buying in bulk drastically reduces the cost of production, which in turn alters the price the farmer has to charge at the point of sale. It also rewards a growing cohort of artisan butchers who are aiming to bring thrift, ingenuity, artistry, and quality back into the meat supply chain.

In addition to being supportive of a sensible, sustainable food economy, buying as whole as possible will save you money, teach you new knowledge and skills, and allow you to enjoy more diversity in the kitchen. I’d bet that people are just itching to know how, and not that we’re too lazy or hopeless to learn.

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10/4/2018 5:32:58 PM

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islander
9/14/2018 7:45:44 PM

This is hinted at but I don't think explicitly stated in the article -- since there are farms that sell direct to consumer, this means you can set up an order with them and not worry at all about coordinating between the farmer and the butcher. We have ordered two sides of beef directly from farmers so far and have not been disappointed with either the quality of meat or the cuts received. There may be a benefit to picking butcher and farmer separately for some, but for someone buying a side of beef for the first time, buying from a farmer who has an ongoing arrangement with a butcher is more than a fair deal in my experience. We were asked some questions to get our preferred cuts and then the meat was dropped off, result being much higher quality meat for a cheaper price than the grocery store.







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