Here is your one-stop for all things Buying in Bulk ; FAQS!
This post is all about the FAQ’s we get about Buying in Bulk, and we wanted to share them with you to make your Bulk experience as easy as possible! It is very long, but it should answer any question you might have! If you still have questions, feel free to leave your question in the comments, or send us an email at email@example.com. You can find out more about where and how to purchase a Bulk order here!
Ordering in Bulk can be intimidating and confusing.. but we want to make your experience as easy as possible in order to get you the best price/pound possible! Buying in Bulk gives you the best deal (over individual cuts or bundles), and gives you so many different cuts of meat. The bottom line is that the more you can get at once the better Price/Pound you’ll get! Our $/lb goes down as you increase from a quarter to a half and then the lowest possible price is if you get a whole.
What do all of these terms mean?
- Hanging Weight: hanging weight here is also called the “rail weight”, which is the carcass split in half and ready to cut up hanging on the meat rail hooks. Hanging weight is defined as what remains after the internal organs, blood, hide, head (for beef and lamb) and feet are removed. Hanging weights for our whole cattle are approximately 650lbs, 240lbs for whole pork and 65lbs for whole lamb. This is the weight before it is cut into primals (certain areas) or into individual cuts.
- Carcass or Rail Weight: same as “Hanging Weight” the two are used interchangeably.
- Cutout Weight: Cutout or “take home” weight is the weight of meat that actually goes into your freezer. This is usually between 60-70% of hanging weight for beef, and similar percentages for pork and lamb (more below). This weight reduction is the result of moisture loss during the dry aging process (beef for ten days) and the amount of bone removed (dry aging provides a more premium product over today’s more popular wet-aging process). It’s also highly dependent on the cutting instructions and processing. For example, water weight is also lost during the smoking process. In general, beef breeds will have a higher cutout percentage than dairy breeds such as Holstein (which are sometimes used for beef).
- Live Weight: The animals weight while still alive.
- Whole/Half/Quarter: Means exactly that – you will be getting that amount of the entire animal’s carcass
What is the process for buying in bulk?
- Choose your bulk option and place your deposit from our convenient online store.
- Once your deposit is received, you will receive an email with a link to an online form that allows you to choose your cuts and provides the butcher with your fully customized processing instructions (i.e. cuts, thickness, number of cuts per package, etc.)
- Rather talk to someone? Not a problem! We can put you directly in contact with our butcher.
- Have questions along the way? Call us, a lot of people do! That’s why we’re here to help.
- We have our Meat to Meals: Quarter Cow ebook, which comes with cutting instructions included along with recipes to deal with every one of the cuts you will receive. (Meat to Meals: Half Pig is coming soon!) You will also receive these ebooks free when you purchase a correlating bulk order (ex: Meat to Meals: Quarter Cow is free when you purchase 1/4 Cow Bulk or more).
- Wait to hear from Together Farms to schedule a home delivery date or pickup time. We will pick the meat up from the butcher and then get it to you either on the food route (free delivery if you are on our food route), you can pick it up right on the farm, or we can ship your order to you. Unless you live closer to Conrath Quality Meats in Conrath, WI and then you are welcome to pick up directly from them too.
- Beef is dry aged to help tenderize and concentrate the flavor of the meat. Cutting, packaging and freezing takes another 2-3 days, so your beef order will be ready for pickup about two weeks after the date the animal went in. If jerky or smoking is being done to any of your product (typical with pork) it will take about a month before it is all done. Since the butcher is about 1 ½ hours from the farm we try to be efficient with our driving and like to wait until all the meat is done before we pick it up or wait until our next batch of animals is going in so we are going both ways “loaded”.
- Your payment in full is due upon pickup/delivery of your order, and your initial deposit goes towards your total payment.
Why is the farmer happy when you buy in bulk?
It’s kind of like why farmers are happy you buy CSA shares: we know we have the demand so we don’t have to stay up at night wondering how we will ever eat 6 steers in a year, we are assured of supply and get the cuts you want (otherwise we have to try to predict what cuts people are going to want), the deposits help cash flow the processing costs, and you are saving us significant marketing and delivery time. So, you are supporting us (telling us to keep doing what we are doing) and you are helping us keep costs down and have predictable demand – exactly what a small, beginning farm needs and which could literally be the difference between success and failure.
What is the Total Cost, and Final Price per Pound?
We sell bulk beef as wholes, halves and quarters; pork as wholes and halves; lamb as wholes. All are based on hanging weight and the current price is on our pricesheet (which can change). Every animal, and growing season, is different so it’s hard to know this number for sure. After you get the meat back you can calculate the exact per lb price. For a small additional fee the butcher will keep track of all your weights and include those on your invoice so you do not have to count every package at home. (We’d love it if you shared your info with us so we can compile averages for our animals.)
But, we know the per lb hanging weight price and we know the average yield from the hanging weight to the carcass weight (if you know you will debone round that percentage down and if you know you’ll keep everything round up), so you can do some simple math:
- A Whole Beef Bulk order is the best Bulk deal averaging ~650lbs x $4.65 = ~$3,022.50 Farm Cost (every cow is different, so final pounds and price may vary).
- Beef processing averages approximately $0.65/lb. So 650lbs x $0.65/lb = $423 processing fee. $423 + $3,022 = $3,445
- 650lbs hanging weight * 66% yield = 429lbs in freezer
- $3,445/429lbs = $8.03/lb
- Half beef hanging weight = averages ~330lbs * $4.95 = $1,633 total Farm Cost (every cow is different, so final pounds and price may vary).
- Beef processing averages approximately $0.65/lb. So 330lbs x $0.65/lb = $214 processing fee. $214 + $1,633 = $1,847
- 330lbs hanging weight * 66% yield = 218lbs in freezer
- $1,847/218lbs = $8.47/lb in freezer
- Quarter beef hanging weight = averages ~165lbs x $5.25/lb = ~$866 Farm Cost (every cow is different, so final pounds and price may vary).
- Beef processing averages approximately $0.65/lb. So 165lbs x $0.65/lb = $107 processing fee. $107 + $866 = $973
- 165lbs hanging weight *66% yield = 109lbs in freezer
- $973/109lbs = $8.92/lb in freezer
- A Whole Pork Bulk order is the best Bulk deal averaging ~240lbs x $3.50 = ~$840 Farm Cost (every pig is different, so final pounds and price may vary).
- Pork processing for our wholes has ranged from $0.59/lb to $1.18/lb so assume another $1/lb hanging weight for processing for a total of $840 +$240 = $1,080
- 240lbs hanging weight * 67% yield = 160lbs
- $1080/160lbs = $6.75/lb in freezer
- Half pork hanging weight averages ~125 lbs * $4.00 = ~$508 Farm Cost
- Pork processing for our wholes has ranged from $0.59/lb to $1.18/lb so assume another $1/lb hanging weight for processing for a total of $508 +$125 = $633
- 125lbs hanging weight * 67% yield = 84lbs
- $633/84lbs = $7.53/lb in freezer
- A Whole Lamb averages ~65lb x $7.00 = ~$455 Farm Cost (every lamb is different, so final pounds and price may vary).
- Assuming the average whole lamb weighs 65lbs and we charge $7/lb, a whole lamb would cost approximately $7.00 x 65lb = $455. Lamb cut and wrap costs approximately $60/lamb for a total of $515.
- 65lbs hanging weight *65% yield = 43lbs
- $515/43lb = $11.98/lb in freezer
How much does processing cost?
The cost of processing depends on how much processing you do beyond just “cut & pack”. So, the least it could cost is the cost to butcher and inspect the animal plus the cost of cutting & packing. The cost to butcher is per head but the cost of cut & pack is based on the animals hanging weight. If you order a half the cost to butcher will be half of what you see so that it’s divided equally. These prices are set by the butcher.
- Butcher and inspection of hog = $40
- Cut & pack hog = $0.55/lb
- Bacon = $1.16
- Braunschweiger = $1.59
- Chops smoked = $0.75
- Ham (whole) = $0.75
- Ham (deli) = $1.31
- Hot Dogs = $2.05
- Kielbasa = $1.59
- Shoulder or Jowl Bacon = $1.16/lb
- Smoked Hocks = $0.75
- Fajita/stir fry Strips = $0.60
- Large Casing Brats = $1.59 or $1.89 (w/ cheese)
- Small casing links = $2.05
- Patties = $0.52
- Butcher, cut & pack Lamb = $6
- Lamb Brats = $1.59/lb
- Butcher Beef = $65
- Cut & Pack beef = $0.57/lb
- Marrow bones = $0.60
- Beef soup bones = $0.03
- Minute steak cutting = $0.60
- Small casings (hot dogs) = $2.05
- Large casings (brats) = $1.59
- Jerky = $2.75/lb
- Deli roast beef = $2.75/lb
How much will I go through in a year?
You might be surprised when you do the math on how much beef you might go through in a whole year (usually our time between when cattle go in) or in a few months for pork (go in every two months or so). A family of 4 will get between 100-130 meals of beef from a half beef, 50-65 from a quarter. Eating beef 2 times per week would take a family approx. 1 year to eat a half or 6 months to eat a quarter.
Based on the average take home weight of half of beef (~170 lbs.) and half a pork (~75lbs) or a whole pork (145 lbs) think about how many meals a week you might have pork and how many you might have beef and then multiply by the number of weeks in a year (52) or the number of weeks in 6 months (26) to get an idea of what you might go through. Of course, also remember that some specialty items that you may not have enough trim to make (brats maybe) you can still buy a la carte direct from the farm. Others find that they actually go through their own meat a little faster since it’s so convenient and delicious!
How much will end up in my freezer?
Live Weight vs. Hanging Weight: This is the loss from inedible or undesirable portions like hide, feet, head, bones and most of the innards (include mud for feedlots).
- Beef loses about 39% from live to hanging.
- Pork loses about 28%
Hanging weight vs. Finished Cut Weight: This is the amount of weight lost from hanging on the rail to individual retail cuts in the freezer. Cutting yield is affected by:
- Fatness – leaner animals will have higher carcass cutting yields than fatter animals
- Muscling – more muscular animals will have higher carcass cutting yields
- Bone-in vs. boneless: this will dramatically affect carcass cutting yield. Boneless cuts also take up less room in your freezer.
- Amount of fat on the cuts: the meat cutter can leave more fat on or closely-trim: this should be part of your cutting instructions.
- Ground leanness: if the ground product is made very lean then the carcass cutting yield will be lower than if it is made with more fat. You can ask for the fat separated out (lard, leaf lard, etc).
- Beef yields 66% (60-70%)* of the weight from hanging weight to Finished Cut Weight
- Pork yields 67%**
- Lamb yields 65%
*Our beef are generally less than 1,200 lbs live weight.
**We think this number is probably a lot lower for us since the industry average live weight for a pig is 250 lbs but we take our live weights to at least 300 lbs, so there’s more muscling and more fat – this is also where we think cut-out is the most efficient (highest number of cuts/lbs returned per pig).
How much space will it take up?
What I’ve found in my research is that a whole cow will take up 12 cu ft. (Obviously this will vary per quantity you order, and which animal you purchase, but this is just a general idea)
To imagine a cubic foot:
- 1 1ft high x 1 ft wide x 12 ft long, or:
- 1 ft high x 2 ft wide x 6 ft long, or
- 1 ft high x 3 ft wide x 4 ft long, or
- 2 ft high x 2 ft wide x 3 ft long, or
- you get the idea.
I found two “rules of thumb” online: “In general, 50 lbs of meat will fit in about 2.25 cu ft of freezer space” and “Rule of thumb: one cubic foot of freezer space for 30 pounds of pig”. I doubt pig fits any differently than beef, but do with that what you will.
The empty freezer compartment of an average-sized home refrigerator is usually around 4.8 cu ft. Meat from 1/8 of a beef will weigh roughly 50-60lbs and meat from ½ a typical hog will weigh roughly 60-70lbs. So, 1/8 of a beef and ½ of a hog should fit in a mostly-empty home freezer. Quantities of beef greater than this (or if you have a full freezer!) will require another freezer.
I definitely recommend watching craigslist for used chest freezers – there seems to always be a lot. But, do make sure it is running and cooling when you go pick it up!
I thought buying in bulk would be a lot “cheaper”?
Typically, when you buy in bulk you should think of it as getting expensive cuts cheap and being able to customize your meat (and plain just having it available since we’ve been selling out as soon as we get more back in stock!). I doubt we will ever be less than the grocery store prices for the conventionally raised beef (though trends indicate it’s possible), but, from what I’ve seen, most of our retail cut prices are lower than the comparable products in the grocery store and buying in bulk prices should be much lower than comparable product in grocery stores. (But, I also don’t really keep up on store prices either.)
We know money doesn’t grow on trees and we are happy to work with you to make things as easy on you and your budget as possible. You could certainly make payments between when your deposit is sent and when the meat is finished. We do accept credit cards (don’t get yourself in trouble!) and PayPal but we add 3% to help defray the credit card company charges. Also, note that your deposit will come off the final total.
We encourage “cowpooling”! So, if you can find another family/person that would want to go in on a quarter/half/whole than you can both get the lower price. So long as the butcher and the farm only have to work with one party then we are happy to offer the corresponding price.
We will also bring the meat to you if you are on our route – free shipping! Or we can ship to you overnight for $20 (for approx. 50 lbs of meat). You can pick up at the processor if you are closer to them (Conrath Quality Meats in Conrath, WI). Or, pick up at the farm!
Our prices are higher than the grocery store because you are getting amazing product and we want the farm to be our family’s livelihood. I could go on and on about this, but we don’t just charge what everyone else is charging – we figure out what our real, actual costs are to make sure we aren’t losing money and that we can be sustainable….so that we can continue to bring this great meat to you and eventually at least one of us can be on the farm full-time so that our farm can be mostly self-sustaining someday and resilient to weather which means stable prices.
Why is your price different from another farm growing the same thing?
Some reasons why prices vary from farm to farm: buying the farm (some inherit, some owe all to the bank, certain areas have much more expensive land than others); operating the farm (some have cash flow and don’t need to borrow, others have to pay interest on costs and historic weather can exacerbate this); some have much higher start-up costs (some invest in breeding stock, others buy feeder pigs/calves/lambs); likewise, some buy all their feed making them dependent on the market prices and volatility while others can grow all their own feed; some farms own all their land and others rent; some own all their own equipment and others have to hire the work to be done; good butchers (or in the case of poultry – any butcher) are few and far between so some have more miles to the butcher than others (and remember – it’s two trips: one to drop off and one to pick up); “optional” inputs like high-quality minerals, salt and apple cider vinegar for their animals; some keep their animals over winter (requiring more equipment and feed) and others only for the growing season; some are farming for fun/retirement/don’t need money and others are in it for the long-term and for the family’s full employment; some buy high quality fertilizers, microbes, etc for their soil, others don’t; so….all our costs can be significantly different even though we are ending up with a final product that looks the same.
How long will it last in the freezer?
Meat that is vacuum packed and frozen at the optimal freshness will taste just as fresh as fresh meat cuts that have never been frozen. Vacuum sealed meat stored properly will technically be safe indefinitely; however, the government says that for best quality use beef with 12 months and pork within 6 months.
What is the packaging like?
Beautiful! Honestly. It’s vacuum sealed, meaning it will last virtually forever frozen. Packaging was one of the things we looked for when we decided on a butcher. Ground beef is in squares instead of tubes or chubs so it stacks much nicer in the freezer and doesn’t roll around.
How long does thawing take?
The two best ways to thaw meat is by placing it in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours or by placing the vacuum-packaged meat in water and letting the faucet drip (or changing the water every 30 minutes or so). The water bath method will thaw small packages in an hour or less and larger 3-4lb roasts in 2-3 hours.
Note that some cuts (any thin cuts like ham steak) can go right from the freezer to the pan or slow cooker – just in case you maybe forgot to plan supper or something.
Why is beef dry-aged for ten days?
Aging is the time from when the animal is slaughtered and hanging until the carcass is broken down into retail cuts.
Dry aging does three things:
- Improves meat tenderness
- Increases “beefy” flavor
- Causes meat to lose weight through evaporation
Aging beef beyond ten days primarily results in strong flavor and increased product weight loss with just a minimal increase in tenderness. Plus, it takes up precious space in the butcher’s cooler, typically during their busiest time of the year. Aging beyond 28 days may result in off flavors.
Most beef in the supermarket is “wet aged” meaning it is vacuum packaged right after being processed and then ages in the packaging.
What cuts do I get and how many?
You can’t get every cut possible from one animal. For instance, you may prefer T-bone and Porterhouse steaks rather than NY strip and Tenderloin–did you know that a Porterhouse steak is composed of a NY Strip on one side of the T-bone and tenderloin on the other?
There are also minimum weights to run batches of sausages (25lbs)– so you likely will only be able to make one batch of a type of sausage from a half of a pig. The other sausages you want you can order a la carte from us. Or, if you go in with someone else, then you can divide the total sausage so you can get more options but less total of each particular one.
|¼ Beef||½ Beef||1 Beef|
|Brisket||2 lbs||4 lbs||8 lbs|
|Chuck Roast||10-12 lbs||20-24 lbs||40-48 lbs|
|Flank Steak||0.5 lbs||1 lb||2 lbs|
|Liver||1 lb||2 lbs||4 lbs|
|NY Strip Steak||2.5 lbs||5 lbs||10 lbs|
|Ribeye Steak||2.5-3.5 lbs||5-7 lbs||10-14 lbs|
|Rolled Rump Roast||3 lbs||5-6 lbs||10-12 lbs|
|Round Steak or Stew Meat||3-4 lbs||6-8 lbs||12-16 lbs|
|Short Ribs||2 lbs||4 lbs||8 lbs|
|Sirloin Steak||2 lbs||4 lbs||8 lbs|
|Sirloin Tip Roast||3 lbs||5-6 lbs||10-12 lbs|
|Skirt Steak||1.6 lbs||3.2 lbs||6.4 lbs|
|Soup Bones||4 lbs||8 lbs||16 lbs|
|Tenderloin Filets||1.5 lbs||3 lbs||6 lbs|
|Ground Beef||45-50 lbs||90-100 lbs||180-200 lbs|
|Total Amt of Beef||84-93 lbs||168-186 lbs||336-372 lbs|
|Approx Freezer Space||3 cu ft||6 cu ft||12 cu ft|
|½ Pork||1 Pork|
|Bacon||8 lbs||16 lbs|
|Butt Roast||4 lbs|
|Fat||8 lbs||16 lbs|
|Ham||15 lbs||30 lbs|
|Pork Chops||13 lbs||23 lbs|
|Sausage, Ground Pork||9 lbs||18 lbs|
|Shoulder Roast||10 lbs||20 lbs|
|Should Butt Roast||8 lbs|
|Spare Ribs||3 lbs||6 lbs|
|Stew Bones||5 lbs||10 lbs|
|Total lbs in freezer||75 lbs||147 lbs|
|Freezer space needed||2 cu ft.||4-5 cu ft.|
What cuts come from where?
Beef is made up of 8 primals.
- Brisket & Shank
- Short Plate
- Short Loin
- Animals shoulder, accounts for approximately 26% of the carcass weight. Because an animal constantly uses these shoulder muscles the chuck contains a high percentage of connective tissue resulting in less tender, but very flavorful meat. Working-muscle meats cook well with moist-heat cooking such as stewing and braising. Cuts: 7-bone pot roast, Arm roast, Blade steak, Stew meat, Short ribs.
- THE CHUCK: Steaks, Roasts, Stew Meat, Ground
- The chuck is the shoulder of the cow; it stretches from the neck to the start of the ribs (numbers 1-5). Because it is a rigorously used muscle, meat from the shoulder requires longer, slower cooking to tenderize it.
- The chuck subdivides into three portions: the neck, the ribs, and the clod. The neck portion of chuck can be boned and cubed for stew meat or else rolled and tied as a chuck roast. The rib portion of chuck can be dressed out as either bone-in or boneless steaks/roasts. If the bone is removed, you get flatiron steaks from the meat above the rib blade, and stew meat from the remainders. As an alternative, the butcher could divide the meat along the spinal groove for bone-in chuck eye steaks from one side and crosscut roasts from the other side. The clod can be dressed out as shoulder steaks and the shoulder tender, or else tied as a pot roast, also with the tender.
Brisket & Shank
- The brisket (breast) and foreshank (front leg) form a single primal that accounts for approximately 10% of the carcass weight. Cuts: Brisket (as in corned beef or cured and peppered to make pastrami), cross-cut foreshank
- THE SHANK: Stew Meat, Ground Beef, Marrow Bones
- The shank is a tougher cut of meat and wants slower cooking with lots of liquid. It typically provides stew meat or ground beef. If ground, the meat is separated from the bones, which are then available as marrow bones, great for making broth or as a reward for the dog.
- THE BRISKET: Pot Roasts, Stew Meat
- The brisket is good for pot roasts or stew meat. It can be left whole and rolled and tied, or else divided into the flat cut and point cut. If you don’t want it as a roast, it can be cubed for stew meat. Typically you want to slow cook the brisket because it is a tougher cut. However, the divided brisket rubbed with salt and pepper, cooked as a London broil, and sliced thin makes a tender grill or broiler option.
- Accounts for approximately 10% of the carcass weight. The ribeye muscle (the center muscle) provides structural support rather than mobility and is therefore quite tender. It also contains large amounts of marbling. Cuts: Ribeye roast (aka prime rib), Ribeye steak, Ribs (which can be ground)
- THE RIB: Beef Ribs, Steaks, Roasts
- The rib can be dressed out as bone-in rib steaks/roasts; or as boneless rib eye steaks/roasts with beef back ribs; or as a standing rib roast. All options produce stew meat from the rib caps.
Short Plate & Flank
- Accounts for approximately 10% of the carcass weight. The flank steak and skirt steaks are meaty yet high in connective tissue lending them to marinades and grilling or broiling and serving sliced for items like fajitas. Cuts: Flank steak, Skirt steak, Ground
- THE PLATE: Skirt Steak, Short Ribs
- The plate portion encompasses ribs 6-12 and offers a nice palette of options. You can get have the entire portion dressed out as English short ribs, or you can request ribs 6-9 to be prepared as flanken short ribs and 10-12 as English short ribs. Alternatively, the ribs can be divided across the bone and the upper half dressed out as short ribs and the lower half boned and rolled. Each option also produces the outside skirt for skirt steak. Once it’s cooked, slice the skirt steak against the grain to maximize tenderness.
- THE FLANK: Flank Steak, Sirloin Flap Meat
- The flank produces flank steak, best left whole for grilling or searing and then sliced against the grain, and the sirloin flap. This can be left whole and grilled, or else cut into steak tips or butterflied for stuffing.
- Front portion of the beef loin, located just behind the rib – approximately 8% of carcass weight and yields many of the most tender and expensive cuts of meat. Steak are interrelated: keeping the tenderloin rules out the cutting of T-bone and Porterhouse steaks; cutting all the T-bones possible rules out New York strip steaks. Cuts: T-bone, Tenderloin roast or medallions, Porterhouse steak, NY strip steak.
- THE SHORT LOIN: Steaks, Roasts
- The loin is a particularly tender portion of meat because it comes from a little-worked muscle on the cow. The short loin can be cut into T-bone steaks, boneless NY strip steaks, or bone-in NY strip steaks. Each option preserves the tenderloin, which can be left whole as a roast or else sliced into steaks.
- Approximately 9% of carcass weight and contains part of the backbone and hipbone. This primal produces flavorful and tender bone-in or boneless roasts and steaks. Sirloin tip steaks and roasts have several names such as “round tip steak” and roast or just “tip steak” and roast. Flavorful but less tender. Cuts: Top sirloin steak, Sirloin tip roast (aka Round tip roast), Tri-Tip roast
- THE SIRLOIN: Steaks, Roasts
- The sirloin can be cut into bone-in or boneless top steaks or roasts. In addition, you will get a tri-tip roast, which can be left whole or else sliced.
- Very large, approximately 27% of the carcass weight. Meat from the round (the hind leg) is flavorful and lean. You cannot get full cut round steaks and top, eye and bottom round steaks; they are from the same muscles. Cuts: Full-cut round steak, Top round steak, Bottom round steaks, Round rump roast, Eye round roast
- THE ROUND: Steaks, Roasts
- The round can be kept whole and sliced into round steaks or else dressed as roast. It can also be further divided into the top round, the bottom round, the sirloin tip, and the eye of round. Each of these subprimals produces its own cuts. The top round can be cut into all steaks, all roasts, or a combination of steaks and roasts or steaks and kabobs. It can also be sliced thin for jerky. The bottom round can be cut into all roasts (including the point or “rump” roast), into a combination of roasts and thick steaks (London broil), or into stew meat or jerky slices. The sirloin tip can be slicked into steaks for London broil or into a combination of steaks and a tip center roast. The eye of round can be either left whole for you. Otherwise, it can be cut into pot roasts, steaks, a combination of steaks and roast, or stew meat.
OTHER CUTS by request
Although not commonly used, the variety meats and extremities all have their culinary uses and traditions. Depending on the butcher’s schedule and capacity, you can request less common meats.
- Beef Liver: a nutrient-dense super meat, the liver is very good pan fried with onions and is a rich source of vitamin D
- Heart: very good rubbed with spices and grilled; it comes off tasting like steak
- Kidneys: steak and kidney pie anyone?
- Tongue: not everyone’s cup of tea, but a classic feature in many cultural dishes, including tacos.
- Oxtail: creates a rich broth for oxtail stew
- Suet: an ingredient both in steak and kidney pie and in Yorkshire and Christmas “puddings”
Pork is made up of 4 primals.
- Side (aka Belly)
- Leg (aka Ham)
- Approximately 25% of the carcass weight and is typically subdivided into two sections: top portion known as the Boston butt and the bottom portion known as the picnic. Shoulders are used extensively by the animal so there is significant connective tissue, but they are flavorful. Cuts: Arm picnic roast, Shoulder/blade steak, Shoulder roast, Smoked picnic roast, Hocks, country-style ribs
- THE UPPER SHOULDER: aka Boston Butt or Pork Butt
- Despite what its name might indicate, the pork butt, also called the Boston butt, comes from the upper shoulder of the hog. It is a complex weave of muscles, fat, sinew, connective tissue and bone, but cooking it with love creates some of the most delicious flavor and texture on the hog. The shoulder can be cut into roasts, steaks or stew-meat (or ground for sausage) but it was made to roast or braise low and slow. The most common (and delicious) use for pork shoulder is for pulled pork and traditional barbecue.
- Why is it called the ‘Butt’ if it’s from the shoulder?
- In Colonial New England, those pork cuts not as highly valued were packed into casks or barrels known as ‘butts’ for storage and shipment. The way the hog shoulder was cut in the Boston area became known in other regions as ‘Boston butt‘ and the name has remained in common use until now. In England it is known as ‘Pork Hand and Spring.’ In Spain it is known as ‘paleta de puerco’ and it is the main ingredient in the famous Mexican dish carnitas.
- Picnic Shoulder
- The picnic shoulder cut is the lower front leg below the shoulder joint and it can be used interchangeably in recipes for Pork Shoulder/Pork Butt. Because it is not as intensely marbled, the Picnic will not have quite the same melting unctuous quality as the upper shoulder but many feel that it yields an even more delicious flavor. It is very popularly roasted or braised whole and prepared as pulled pork, and braising smaller cuts slowly makes it perfect for recipes like stews and fajitas. Picnic shoulder is also used for making ground pork or sausage meat, and the entire picnic shoulder can be cured to make something similar to ham, commonly called a Picnic Ham.
- Approximately 22% of the carcass weight contains the rib, the loin, and the sirloin. Note that pork chops that are cut 1 ½” thick are often called Iowa chops. Cuts: Whole loin, Ribs, Pork Chops, Tenderloin, Frenched pork loin roast, rib roast, boneless pork roast
- THE LOIN: PORK CHOPS, RIB ROAST & MORE
- The loin of the pig is the long strip of tender, lean meat that runs on either side of the hog’s spine and on top of the ribs almost the entire length of the animal. (The loin includes, but is not synonymous with, the tenderloin, an even more tender small strip of meat just under the loin.)
- You can have the entire loin cut as bone-in Pork Chops – 1-inch center cut, blade cut, and loin cut chops – the most tender and flavorful pork chops you have ever tasted. But you have other delicious choices, as well. If you’re a rib lover, you might prefer a combination of a boneless Pork Loin Roast and a rack of awesome Baby Back Ribs. If you have a special occasion coming up you might want the entire Loin tied into a beautiful Crown Rib Roast, or if your gathering is small, you could choose a center cut Rib Roast (6-8 ribs) and the rest cut into chops,. Part of the loin can also be cured to make Bacon, known as Back Bacon or Canadian Bacon.
Side or Belly
- Contains both the spare ribs and the belly/bacon and makes up approx. 23% of the carcass. Note that pancetta is belly meat that has been cured in brine and rubbed with herbs but not smoked. Cuts: Spare ribs, Bacon
- THE BELLY (SIDE): Bacon
- The pork side, or pork belly, is where we get bacon, but pork belly meat can also be rolled and roasted or even cut into steaks.
- Make your own Artisan Bacon by taking slabs of pork belly, rubbing them with salt, pepper, sugar and other spices, letting it age for days to weeks, then smoking it over low temperatures and slicing it. Did you know that cheap supermarket bacons are cured by just injecting them with a seasoned salt solution? Just say no!
- THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BELLY: Pork Spareribs
- Pork Spareribs are another unsung hero of the hog. Taken from the belly side of the ribs where they join the breast bone, spareribs have plenty of meat that is even richer and more flavorful than the more popular baby back ribs. Because all that flavor comes from marbling, spareribs are best grilled slowly over low temperatures, or braised in a crock-pot or slow cooker.
Leg or Ham
- Hind leg accounts for 30% of the carcass weight and contains large muscles with relatively little connective tissue. Cuts: Bone-in or boneless ham
- THE LEG: Ham
- The Ham is the rear leg of a hog. Hams can be fresh, smoked, or cured, and you can request them bone-in or boneless. Fresh hams are usually roasted whole, but they can be cut into ham steaks as well. The flavor of fresh ham is similar to that of Roast Pork Loin, while a cured ham has that salty sweet flavor we all crave. If you won’t be serving ham to a large party or gathering, ask the butcher to cut the rear leg into several small hams or make deli-sliced ham for sandwiches or party platters.
Other Cuts by request
Our butcher is as committed as we are to zero waste, so some lesser-used cuts are handled automatically by them unless otherwise requested by you. Each cut listed below has had popular culinary uses throughout history, but if one or more are not your cup of tea, rest assured that they will still be well-used and not discarded.
- Hocks: A must get! The hocks are the short portion of the legs from the knee to the ankle – shoulder hocks from the front legs and ham hocks from the rear. Hocks add amazing flavor and richness to soups, stews and big pots of braised greens.
- Lard: Lard is the term used for both rendered and unrendered fat from the hog. Leaf lard comes from the fat surrounding the kidneys and is highly regarded for use is baking because it has virtually no pork flavor. Fatback is the slab fat from above the loin, and can be added to ground pork or sausage, or rendered for use in cooking.
- Liver: Liver has a very distinctive flavor and texture that is not for everyone. If you like beef liver, however, you will love pork liver. It can be prepared using any beef liver recipe, or used in pates and terrines. If you don’t like liver, but your dogs eat meat, consider requesting the liver for a special canine treat.
- Heart: Again, not for everyone, but heart is a fantastic ingredient in sausage, pates and terrines, and is very tasty when roasted.
- Jowls: Jowls are from the rear of the head. It is mainly used to make sausage, although it can be cured and made into bacon, known in Italian cooking as ‘guanciale.’
- Ears: Pig ears are found in pet stores as dog treats, but they are a people treat as well when boiled and then fried.
- Feet (aka Trotters): Pig’s feet are high in collagen and are a great source of gelatin for soups and stews. There is not much meat but what is there is very tasty. Pig feet can also be cured, smoked or even pickled, and are a key ingredient in traditional Mexican menudo.
- Head: Cooking a whole pig’s head seems like an ambitious undertaking, but before the middle of the last century, it was a very common thing for home cooks to do. The most famous recipe using pig’s head is for ‘headcheese’ which is not a cheese at all, but rather a delicious type of terrine created with meat and stock from the head.
Lamb is made up of 5 primals.
- Foreshank & Breast
Note: Unlike beef, which is divided into sides, lamb is first divided into sections called the foresaddle and hindsaddle, which are then broken down further into their main primal cuts.
- As a rule, lamb is fairly tender, which means that most cuts of lamb can be cooked using dry heat — even when the corresponding cut of beef or pork might not. One example of this is the lamb shoulder. Lamb shoulder is also sometimes cut into chops, though these chops are not as desirable as rib or loin chops. Lamb shoulder can also be cooked with moist heat.
- Roast: This is the sheep equivalent of the beef chuck roast, but goes lower and includes the shoulder joint and part of the leg bone. This cut has a complex bone structure and some rather large fat deposits.
- Steak: This is the sheep version of the beef 7 bone steak, complete with a 7 shaped slice of the shoulder blade. It is sliced from the Lamb Shoulder Roast.
- Neck: Another tougher cut with a lot of cartilage, the lamb neck is best used for making lamb stew .
- THE SHOULDER: Roast, Chops, Stew Meat
- As with beef, the lamb’s shoulder is a tougher section of meat because of the amount of activity the muscle sustains. Nevertheless, the meat from the shoulder can still be roasted, though you will want to slice it thin. Leftover meat from a shoulder roast can be put through a meat grinder for shepherd’s pie or taco filling. Lamb chops are particularly nice marinated in a vinaigrette and grilled. Alternatively, you can braise the shoulder and use it for pot roast or stew meat. Kabobs are also an option, and of course, shoulder meat can be ground.
- Sometimes called the “hotel rack,” the lamb rib primal cut is where we get lamb rib chops , lamb crown roast and rack of lamb . Depending on the size of the ribs, a lamb chop may actually have two ribs on it.
- Officially, this primal cut is both sides of the lamb (like a saddle) but in markets it’s generally sold by the side. To many Americans this is the most desirable part of the lamb – used in many of the fanciest classic lamb recipes. It’s also very much the most expensive especially since there isn’t all that much meat on it.
- Cuts: Rack can be left whole or cut into chops. These chops will be of varying size and meatiness due to position in the rack. Note that the feather bones (above the spine) are removed as is the outer layer of fat and miscellaneous bones.
- THE RACK: Ribs
- The rack of lamb can be cut into rib chops, excellent marinated and grilled, or else dressed whole and frenched as a rack of lamb, an impressive centerpiece for a special meal.
- The Lamb Loin is generally sold as a half loin (the full primal cut is a saddle including both sides) and is “trimmed” by removal of the flank, which is rather small in any case and mostly tough membranes.
- Cuts: lamb loin roast and lamb loin chops, both tender cuts that are best prepared using dry-heat. The entire lamb loin can also be cooked on the grill.
- Sirloin: This cut exists only with a certain cutting style, in the US it’s generally included as part of the leg.
- THE LOIN: Roasts, Chops
- Nestled between the ribs and the hind legs, the loin is a tender portion of meat. This is portion is dressed out as roasts or chops, good for dinner parties or grill outs. The chops make a particularly nice quick meal—thawed during the day, and then pan-fried and served with your favorite sauce.
- The leg of lamb can be cut into leg chops, though more frequently it is prepared whole. Roasted leg of lamb is one of the most common preparations, although braised leg of lamb is also popular in some cuisines.
- Whole: This is a fairly meaty cut and sells at a higher price than some other lamb cuts.
- Chops: The loin chops are quite meaty, containing only a thin T-shaped bone. Actually, they are miniature T-Bone and Porterhouse steaks.
- Shank: Lamb shanks are popular in all lamb eating cultures. The meat is flavorful and there’s plenty of connective tissue to make good soups. The lamb shank is the source of a particularly succulent dish, braised lamb shanks . Lamb shanks can also be braised in a crockpot.
- THE LEG: Roasts, Chops, Ground
- Like the shoulder, the leg gets a lot of work. For this reason, the shank, or lower leg, is typically ground. Nonetheless, the shank can be left whole and braised with wine or butter for a rich and satisfying dinner, or wrapped in foil and baked for the ultimate comfort food. The upper part of the leg is traditionally left whole and roasted, though it can also be cut into chops, miniature roasts, or steaks.
Foreshank & Breast
- Breast: This is the lamb equivalent of pork spare ribs, cut from the front of the shoulder back to the division between rack and loin, and from mid-rib to keel. Lamb breast contains a lot of cartilage and other connective tissues, making it one of the few lamb primal cuts that needs to be cooked with moist heat . Lamb breast can also be used for making ground lamb.
- THE BREAST (FORESHANK): Roasts, Riblets, Ground
- The norm these days is to grind the breast meat, but it is delicious if requested whole as a roast. The breast is fatty, comparable to the brisket from a cow, so use a roasting rack, use the fat for roasting potatoes, and finish the breast at a high heat to crisp it. You can also order the breast to be dressed as exquisite riblets, good barbecued or oven-roasted. Denver ribs come from the lamb’s breast.
What “Odd Bits” can I get?
|Leaf Lard||No||Y||Very little|
Buying at the store seems much more convenient.
You will probably find that once you become accustomed to having your meat on hand, the MOST convenient source of meat will be in your own freezer. Did you know that some cuts can easily go right from your freezer to the stove? And, no need to get dressed – can be done while in a bathrobe. (Side note: I definitely found it this true of cloth diapers vs. store diapers! So much more convenient to just have them at home and not having to worry about how many are left, when we are going to the store next, etc.)
I prefer fresh meat though (not frozen).
Meat that is vacuum packed and frozen at the optimal freshness will taste just as fresh as fresh meat cuts that have never been frozen. Vacuum sealed meat stored properly will technically be safe indefinitely; however for best quality use beef with 12 months and pork within 6 months.
Bad experiences with frozen meat are typically due to it either not being frozen properly or being old before it was frozen. The two best ways to thaw meat is by placing it in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours or by placing the vacuum-packaged meat in cool water and letting the faucet drip (or changing the water every 30 minutes or so). The cool water method will thaw small packages in an hour or less and larger 3-4lb roasts in 2-3 hours.
Anything special to know about cutting instructions?
The butcher will walk you through your options and will tell you that if you get x you can’t get y, etc. However, it’s good to know a few things ahead of time:
- How many pork chops, brats, etc do you want per package? Single people could choose to have one chop per package, families could have 5.
- How thick would you like your steaks, chops, etc to be? ¾”, 1”?
- How would you like the packaging? Strongly recommend vacuum sealed but paper wrapping is an option
- Allergies or ingredients you or you family need to avoid. (For example, a lot of the sausages contain nutmeg which folks with tree nut allergies can’t have.)
- % of fat in your ground beef.
- Amount of fat to keep on your fresh cuts and the amount to trim off. Some butchers will trim every bit of fat off the sides or pork chops, steaks, etc and either throw it out or use in ground beef, sausage or keep as fat for you. But, fat-lovers can ask for more of the fat to be kept on.
- Decide which “odd bits” you would like to keep and enumerate those. If you just say “keep all the organs” the butcher may think like the average customer and assume that means liver, heart, tongue; so if you want more than those three actually list them out (see table above).
What if you go through all this time and effort and you don’t like it?
First of all – it only seems like it’s going to be a lot of effort – it’s actually a pretty painless process and after the first time you’ll be an expert. It’s just impossible for me to be concise and we are covering all three in this handout: beef, pork, lamb.
Secondly, we stand by our product – it’s why we’re doing this. So, if you are not completely satisfied we will be happy to refund or replace any returned product.
I don’t know how to cook a lot of these “weird” cuts – I don’t want to be overwhelmed or burdened.
I completely understand. And, to make matters worse, so many of our cookbooks and restaurants only focus on a few cuts; or, in the case of chicken just one – boneless, skinless chicken breasts! So, you may need to look outside the box a little. But, there’s a treasure trove of amazing, healthy dishes that are out there just waiting for you to find them!!
We have our Meat to Meals: Quarter Cow ebook, which comes with cutting instructions included along with recipes to deal with every one of the cuts you will receive – even the “weird” cuts! (Meat to Meals: Half Pig is coming soon!) You will also receive these ebooks free when you purchase a correlating bulk order (ex: Meat to Meals: Quarter Cow is free when you purchase 1/4 Cow Bulk or more).
You don’t have to take any of the odd bits and anything that’s too weird for you you can just have ground up into ground beef/lamb/pork!
I also recommend Allrecipes.com where you can type in the ingredients (or cut of meat you have) to search for recipes, as well as America’s Test Kitchen. I have lots of book recommendations, there are lots of them now for pork especially. Specific ones worth mentioning: Good Meat by Kasner is great and covers all three animals, Beyond Bacon by Toth and McCarry (I think this one is better than Odd Bits which as a lot of more complicated recipes and ingredients).
Also, there are all the handouts we have available today that should be very helpful! You can post on the TFMN site, facebook or ask for cookbook recommendations. And, you can suggest a cooking class for weird cuts!! We could do it at the farm or maybe even in a generous person’s kitchen in the cities.
Wow! Sounds great, I want to buy a half a pig (or beef, etc.), what do I do first?
See First Question! 🙂 Or head over to our Buying In Bulk Page!
I’ve been compiling this information for a long time so I’m not sure where all of it has been stolen from – just know that almost everything was “stolen” from somewhere. Of notable use was: http://www.lorentzmeats.com/direct_marketers.cfm
Good Meat by Kasner
Sugar Mountain Farm