To Buy or not to Buy, a side of Beef, that is the Question

Before you spend a fortune on a side or ¼ of beef there are a few things you should know!

To buy or not to buy, a side of Beef, that is the question?

Whether you are buying beef from the grocery store or from a 4-H kid, you already know that beef is expensive. Before you spend a fortune on a side or ¼ of beef there are a few things you should know!
If you haven’t had a chance to brush up and understand the USDA grading system, then let me quickly cover some key issues. First of all, commercially raised cattle are part of great herds, where the ranchers buy literally train-car loads of grain to finish them. After being grass fed for a time, big-time beef producers pour the grain to the steers to add the much sought after marbling that demands a better price. Buying in huge quantities and having the economy of scale on their side, commercial beef producers usually get 50% of their steers to the USDA Choice grade; 2-3% to the prime grade and the balance are USDA Select. The Select steers are leaner, less tender and have likewise less flavor.

Most steers that are raised locally have little chance of being graded USDA Choice. This is because the cost of raising a small herd or even a single steer is very expensive. And why is that? A properly “finished’ steer has been grain fed a minimum of 120 days and quite often 180 days. With the cost of grain running between $10 and $15 per day, one can easily see how it would be impossible for a rancher or 4-H kid to afford to feed and finish a USDA choice steer and then get paid enough to justify the effort.

The market price for steers is somewhere just over $1.10 now, and if you figure that a steer will go about 1200 pounds, the return would be about the same as the cost of grain! If you are a 4-H kid and get $2 or more at the county fair, then you could make a few bucks, but as for selling at regular market price, the grower would be lucky to break even.

So what this means is that most local beef producers will most likely only grain-feed their steers for a very short time, adding a very tiny amount of fat, leaving their steer far short of the USDA Choice grade. If you buy one of these steers you will be greatly disappointed! Even USDA Select grocery store beef is far better than most locally grown steers.

Even so, let’s say that you get a really well fed, nicely finished local steer. Now here are some more things to consider. How much do you like round steak, rump roast, tip roast, cube steak, chuck steak, chuck roast and hamburger? Almost 85% of everything you get will be cheaper cuts and ground beef.

On a side of beef, you will typically get about 13-14 T-bones and Porterhouse, about 12 Rib-eyes and Rib Steaks, 4-5 fillets, only 1 tri-tip, 1 flank steak, 7-8 top sirloins and everything else is ground beef, stew, and tougher cuts. What is even worse yet is that when you buy the steer there will be significant loss during processing.

A live steer weighing 1150 pounds will yield about 715 pounds, and then depending on how lean the steer is you could end up with 500 to 560lbs of take home red meat and trim, with about 25lbs or more of variety meats like liver, heart, kidney, tongue, tripe, etc. should you even want them, and about 140lbs or more of fat and bone waste.

So you pay for the ½ of beef for the hanging weight of 357lbs, then you take home between 250-280lbs of meat most of which is ground beef, round, and chuck, and you end up with only 38 really nice steaks, and that is presuming that you were lucky enough to get a USDA Choice steer! Now, one more piece of bad news. If you paid only $2.00 lb. or so you would be into the ½ beef for about $715, then you have to pay another 80 cents or more per pound for cutting and wrapping which is another $280 or so. That brings your total up to about $995, which makes everything cost nearly $4 per pound including your ground beef.

I will tell you, at Lakeview Supermarket and Deli, I do not even carry Rump roast, bottom rounds, sirloin tip roasts or tip steaks since they are notoriously tough, lean and chewy. We do carry top round, but we try to only sell it when it has been run through our tenderizing machine.

So to summarize, before you spend $500 on a quarter of beef, or $1000 on a side, or $2500 or more for a steer at the Fair, you might want to consider buying what you really like. Five hundred dollars will buy a lot of great steaks, tri-tip and ground beef. Consider our $299.95 Cadillac Pack; you get 26 great steaks, 2 tri-tips, pork chops, 2 racks of pork baby back ribs, bacon, ground beef, prawns and salad shrimp. And like all Lakeview Meat packs anything you don’t want or like can be substituted for equal dollar value for what you really like!

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