Buying Grass-fed Beef in Quarters/Halves/Wholes (“On the Hoof”): 5 Simple Steps
Grass-fed meats are now available in many grocery stores nation-wide. Labels such as AGA Certified (American Grass-fed Association) are your best assurance of the source and quality of the meat. You may also purchase individual cuts and smaller portions through local farmers markets, CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) and Buyers Clubs. Buying direct from the rancher/producer, however can be a great way to truly know where your food comes from, be assured of its quality and enjoy significant cost savings! See the “Where to Buy” page of this website for a map of producers throughout the Southwest who you can buy from directly.
When you buy directly from the rancher, you are buying a fraction of a live animal (a whole, half, quarter). In some cases ranchers offer a variety pack of a smaller quantity. As a courtesy, the rancher delivers the animal to the local processor. When the meat is ready, it will be packaged, labeled and frozen. The customer often picks it up, but the rancher might provide delivery to a more convenient location for pick up.
Step 1: Determine how much beef you will need.
The average American consumes between 60-90lbs per year (1.15-1.73lbs/week). A family of four, for example, could consume 200-250 pounds of beef per year – approximately ½ side of beef (depending on weight of animal). An adult couple could consume 100-150 pounds per year – approximately ¼ side of beef.
If you are ordering from a rancher, you will want to determine how much beef you and your family will eat in a year, as most producers have beef ready only once a year, in the fall or winter. You can safely store your frozen beef for 12 months. Consider how often you’ll eat beef during a week and the number of pounds you and your family will eat and multiply that by 52.
Ranchers elect to slaughter their animals at different ages and weights, so you will find a half yielding from 100 to 250 lbs. Ask the producer you are buying from how much meat she or he expects the half or quarter to yield.
Step 2: Determine how much freezer storage space you will need.
100 pounds of beef will fill the freezer side of a typical side-by-side refrigerator/freezer Or: allow 1 cubic foot per 24lbs of beef. Stand-up “chest” freezers are available in 5 to 25 cubic feet.
Step 3: Place your order with a local rancher.
Pricing can be figured in several ways: based on the live weight of the animal, the hanging weight, or the finished, packaged weight. Most ranchers base their pricing on what they could get for the animal at the auction, adding in the price of processing, plus their extra work in handling the sale, delivery, and so on. Some ranches will require a deposit, and orders are usually made from a couple of months up to a year in advance. At time of ordering, you can specify the types of cuts you prefer, or go with the rancher’s standard packaging.
Step 4: Delivery.
Find out when your beef will be ready. Your local rancher will likely deliver the animal to the processor for you. You will then either pick up your beef there or it will be delivered.
Step 5: Enjoy!
Having a freezer full of delicious, nutritious grass-fed beef can be a real culinary inspiration! You can make hearty soup stock with the bones, experiment with less traditional cuts and of course, enjoy classic favorites that are easy to cook like burgers and steaks. Be sure to see “Grass-fed Cooking Tips” for important information on how to cook your grass-fed beef for optimum tenderness and flavor. Most packaged beef that is stored in a freezer should be consumed within one year from date of purchase.
Preparing Grass-fed Meats: Cooking Tips
Bring your grass fed meat to room temperature before cooking. Never use a microwave to thaw your grass fed beef. Either thaw your beef in the refrigerator or for quick thawing place your vacuum sealed package in water for a few minutes.
Always pre-heat your oven, pan or grill before cooking grass fed beef.
Don’t overcook it! This beef is made for rare to medium rare cooking. If you like well done beef, then cook at very low temperatures in a sauce to add moisture. Due to high protein and low fat levels, the beef will usually require 30% less cooking time and will continue to cook when removed from heat. So, remove the beef from your heat source 10 degrees before it reaches the desired temperature. If using an oven, lower the temp by 50 degrees from your usual recipe. Use a meat thermometer if possible, checking steaks from the side.
Keep it tender and juicy by coating with light oil for flavor enhancement and easy browning. The oil will, also, prevent drying and sticking. You may also want to consider marinating your beef beforehand, using slightly less marinade than you would for grain-fed beef. When grilling, sear the meat quickly over a high heat on each side to seal in its natural juices, then reduce the heat to a medium or low to finish cooking. Also, baste to add moisture throughout the grilling process. Never use a fork to turn your beef . . . precious juices will be lost. Always use tongs when roasting, sear the beef first to lock in the juices. Use moisture from sauces to add to the tenderness when cooking your roast. When preparing hamburgers on the grill, use caramelized onions, olives or roasted peppers to add low fat moisture to the meat while cooking. Grass-fed meat is typically more lean, so some moisture is needed to compensate for the lack of fat.
Let it rest! Let the beef sit covered and in a warm place for 8 to 10 minutes after removing from heat to let the juices redistribute.
Cooking “The Ultimate Burger”
For safety, ground beef should be kept refrigerated until just before cooking and the burgers should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 160°F.
Be sure that the grill is hot – if you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grill rack for 3 to 5 seconds, but no longer, it’s hot enough. Also make sure the grate is clean to prevent sticking, it’s okay to brush on a little oil before cooking as a preventive measure.
The ideal patty is 6 ounces of raw meat (ideally, ground chuck), shaped into a 41/2-inch circle, 3/4-inch thick on the edges and 1/2-inch thick in the center. To do this, simply form the burger, then gently press in the center on one side to form a small depression. These patties will cook evenly, and they will not end up puffy and round.
Burgers should be grilled or fried over medium-high heat for a nice crusty exterior and a juicy interior. Leave the grill uncovered while the burgers cook. Six-ounce burgers do not require much cooking time — 2 minutes and 30 seconds on the first side and 3 minutes after flipping will yield a medium burger. Don’t press on the burgers with your spatula while you are cooking –you’ll squeeze out the juices.