Here's an economical way to buy local meat.
WRITTEN BY TIM HAUSERMAN
You like the savory texture of a well-turned steak and the succulence of a roast fresh out of the oven. But you keep finding yourself staring into a meatless fridge at 7 p.m. There is a solution. If you buy a whole steer or cow, you will have a freezer chock-full of beef ready to cook. (Well, you do have to defrost it. But at least it doesn’t require another trip to the store.) And if you buy a bovine from a local rancher you can know where it was raised, what it ate, and how and where it was butchered. Because most female cattle, or cows, are kept to produce the next year’s calves, most of what’s sold are castrated males, or steers.
If you don’t need the whole steer yourself, you can share the purchase with friends and buy a side (half) or quarter of an animal. It’s a great way to get good quality meat, while supporting a local rancher, in the process. The first step is to find a rancher. A good place to start is Eatwild.com. On the site, you’ll find a list of grass-fed beef suppliers by region of the country. The list ranges from small-scale operations that sell just a few steers a year to larger-sized operations that will ship the meat anywhere. You also can visit Nevadagrown.com or take a gander at our list of suppliers below.
Trish Fredrich from Stone House Ranch in Chilcoot, Calif., says that the average cow weighs between 1,200 and 1,500 pounds, with about half of that weight being meat. The consumer finds a butcher, or the rancher provides a recommendation. It’s at this stage that the consumer gets choices that he or she doesn’t usually have at the supermarket.
“You want a good, clean, unstressed kill,” Fredrich says. “This will give you better meat. Find someone who that is important to.”
Next, you have the choice of how long you want the meat to age in a cooler. This can affect the flavor. Finally, you have some control over what sorts of meat cuts you receive. No, you can’t have all filet mignon. But if you decide that stew meat or a cross-rib roast is not for you, how about a little more hamburger? The actual mix of meat you get will vary depending upon the animal. However, you can get a good idea of the types of meat you will receive by referring to the sidebar, below.
So what are the challenges of buying a steer? First, you need an extra freezer. Even a half of a cow is several hundred pounds of meat (too much to stuff next to your frozen pizza and peas in your little side by side).
If you live in the mountains, you better make sure that the freezer is safe from intrusions of the local bear population. They would enjoy the chance to gnaw away on one of your frozen steaks.
Buying a side of beef also is an upfront investment of time and money. Instead of just stopping by the store on the way home, you have to make all of the arrangements, and plunk down several hundred dollars in advance. Perhaps another challenge is working with the various cuts you receive. If you only like steak and hamburger you will need to expand your horizons and try something new. But learning how to cook with cuts that you normally wouldn’t pick up at the store can be part of the fun.
In fact, Rancher Joe Bertotti from Hole-In-One Ranch in Janesville, Calif., believes that “the greatest benefit for the families that buy in bulk, aside from saving a little money, is the variety it brings to their meal preparations.”
If you can get past the challenges, however, it is the flavor of the beef that might be the tipping point. Tahoe City Resident Diane Pang, who’s had this experience, says, “It is the best beef I have ever eaten.”
Albaugh Ranch, Fallon, Nev., 775-423-3361, www.albaughranch.com
Grow for Me Sustainable Farm/Girlfarm, Reno, Nev., 775-221-0001, www.girlfarm.org
Mills Ranch, Fallon, Nev., 775-867-3431, www.millsranch.org
Steninger Ranching, Lamoille, Nev., 775-753-6466, www.steninger.us/beef
Stone House Ranch, Chilcoot, Calif., 775-351-7000, www.stonehouseranch.com
Trimmer Outpost/Ranch One, Genoa, Nev., 775-782-2518, www.trimmeroutpost.com
Wolf Pack Meats, Reno, Nev., 775-857-3663, www.cabnr.unr.edu/wpm
What do you get with a quarter of a cow?
The Nevada County Free Range Beef website (Nevadacountyfreerangebeef.com) provides the following example of what you might find in a typical quarter-animal order.
In this case, the total weight of beef cuts from a quarter of a cow was 79.11 lbs. and the total cost to the customer was $474.66. One order consisted of the cuts listed below. But since every animal is different, the exact weights per cut in your order will differ from this example.
Back ribs: 1 package; 1.13 lbs. total
Boneless rib eye steaks: 3 steaks; 4.10 lbs. total
Chuck roast: 2 roasts; 4.58 lbs. total
Crosscut shank: 2 shanks; 2.93 lbs. total
Crossrib roast: 1 roast; 2.97 lbs. total
Filet mignon: 3 filets; 1.64 lbs. total
Flat iron steak: 1 steak; 1.83 lbs. total
Hamburger (lean): 29 packages; 30.07 lbs. total
Knuckle bone: 2 bones; 3.16 lbs. total
London broil: 2 packages; 4.70 lbs. total
New York steak: 3 steaks; 3.79 lbs. total
Rump roast: 1 roast; 3.02 lbs. total
Short ribs: 2 packages; 3.55 lbs. total
Sirloin tip steak: 2 steaks; 2.79 lbs. total
Stew meat: 2 packages; 2.13 lbs. total
Tenderized round steak: 2 steaks; 1.23 lbs. total
Top sirloin steak: 3 steaks; 3.94 lbs. total
Tri tip roast: 1 roast; 1.55 lbs. totalTim Hauserman wrote The Official Guide to the Tahoe Rim Trail and Monsters in the Woods: Backpacking with Children. He lives in Tahoe City.