Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Buying a half cow


jonnymikes
 Share

Recommended Posts

Hey everyone,

I am a long-time lurker on the board, and could use some tips if anyone can help.

My wife and I are thinking of buying a 1/2-cow from a local farm. They are willing to cut to request, age and deliver. We have the freezer space, so the basic need is covered.

To anyone who has done this before, any tips? What cuts would be best to ask for or is there a special style we should have in mind? What kind of list should we be submitting, if any? We are looking at doing 21-day aging, any feelings on that?

A lot of this will obviously have to do with the farm's flexibility, but I wanted to have a basic framework in mind before sounding like a fool.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My father was in the cattle business for years, and he often would give us a side of beef.

Although this sounds so simple as to be practically no advice at all, my advice would be to simply tell them to butcher it however you like to use it. Much depends upon the size of your family and what portions you generally purchase and cook.

If you usually cook, for example, five-pound roasts, tell them that. Ditto as to how thick you like your steaks. Be sure to get some good stew meat. And some hamburger.

Is it easier for you to cook your filet in one long piece, or in filet mignons?

Imagine yourself standing at your supermarket butcher counter buying beef. What do you usually buy?

That's how you tell your butcher to cut your beef.

__________________

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Unless you are sure that you will use the front end (the not so tender cuts!) then a side of beef becomes an expensive proposition!

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Unless you are sure that you will use the front end (the not so tender cuts!) then a side of beef becomes an expensive proposition!

Right. You're really better off to get a half-side - the rear half.

In our case, we got the entire side for free, and we were raising a big family, so were happy to use up the less-tender cuts for stews, braises, hamburger, etc. But after Dad retired from the cattle business, and we bought beef, we tended to get a half-side.

Especially for your first time, you might start with the half-side.

Although I could get a half-side into the freezer portion of my large side-by-side fridge, that's still a LOT of beef.

_____________________

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

that's still a LOT of beef.

½ a cow is indeed a lot of meat. Unless you are ready to braise/simmer/cure the less tender cuts (almost half of the creature), it will be a lot of frozen ground beef, which is a shame and cheapens the value of an animal, particularly one that has led a pretty good life as far as cattle go. Dry aging increases flavor but reduces yield. All the primal cuts require agile butchering to remove sinew and such while keeping a high yield but will eventually oxidize and smell like a wet dog. A whole sirloin for 2 is quite an eating endeavor. Freezing will compromise the quality and flavor. Better off splitting it between a few other families and enjoying it as it is best rather than freezing.

The primal and sub-primal cuts from the front quarter:

Flatiron (have to split it to remove the sinew). Roast/grill, stew or cure whole and poach like corned beef.

Teres major (next to the flatiron). Roast/grill. similar to tenderloin.

Brisket. Cure and poach for corned beef.

Short ribs. Braise, on or off the bone.

Flank & skirt. Cut thin and cook quickly over high heat.

Chuck. Roast/grill, grind or stew.

Shank. Cure off the bone and cook like corned beef or simmer/braise.

Collar. Braise/stew.

Ribeye/chops. Dry age, roast/grill, on or off bone.

Deckle/caillotte. Roast/grill

Tongue. Cure and simmer

Cheek(s). simmer, braise

Trimmings. Grind.

Hind quarter:

Top sirloin & tri-tip. Dry age, roast.

Tail. Braise/simmer.

Shank. Cure off the bone and cook like corned beef or simmer/braise.

Sirloin/NY strip/porterhouse (with tenderloin). Dry age, roast/grill, on or off bone

Tenderloin. Roast/grill.

Top round. Roast beef, served cold or cooked slow and moist (can be very dry)

Silverside. Roast/grill.

Eye of round. Roast/grill.

Bottom round. Roast/grill.

Hanger steak (if you get it). Roast/grill.

Trimmings. Grind.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

All is not lost in getting the front quarter. If you do and plan to use sous vide, those tougher cuts with longer SV cooking come out great. The first time I did a brisket SV, my son asked me what kind of steak I cooked. I have cooked many of the front cuts using SV and they emerge quite tender. By the way, the brisket was cooked for 48 hours at 132F. For more discussions on SV, check out the SV thread, all 128 pages.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

All is not lost in getting the front quarter. If you do and plan to use sous vide, those tougher cuts with longer SV cooking come out great. The first time I did a brisket SV, my son asked me what kind of steak I cooked. I have cooked many of the front cuts using SV and they emerge quite tender. By the way, the brisket was cooked for 48 hours at 132F. For more discussions on SV, check out the SV thread, all 128 pages.

There are some great front quarter cuts that you don't get if you just go for the hind quarter.

To me, really, it all comes down to how many folks you're going to be feeding. If you've got a large family, like we did, you'll use it all.

But if you get a full side, and there are only, say, two of you, you'll still be looking at a lot of beef in your freezer a year from now. So in that case, you would be better off to find another one or two families to go in with you. If you do that, though, you need to come up with a fair way to distribute the most-popular cuts because that can be an issue.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

For the city folk, how much cow is half?

On average about 330 pounds per side.

Here is a typical cut up in Iowa. (people in this area don't understand brisket and flank steak)

12 T-Bone Steak (3/4” thick) 12 Ribeye Steak (3/4”)

7 Top Sirloin Steak (3/4”) 16 Round Steak (3/4”)

2 Sirloin Tip Roasts (3lb) 7 Chuck Roast (4lb)

3 Arm Roast (3lb) 3 Rump Roast (3lb)

8 pkg Stew beef (1lb) (can be ground) 4 pkg Short Ribs (1.5lb)

5 pkg Soup Bones (1.5lb) (can be trimmed) 1 Slab Back Ribs (2lb)

4 pkg Boiling Beef (1.5lb) (can be trimmed) 80-100 lb ground beef

(liver, heart, tongue, and oxtail. Brisket & Flank

are automatically ground unless otherwise requested.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yeah, don't grind those up. And enjoy those need-special-cooking but more flavorful cuts -- braising will be fine for many of them; no need for sous-vide. Don't worry about ground beef since you'll get more than you want anyway. Decide whether you want a whole, long tenderloin (which would include the filet mignon), which would be whittled out from front to back and then with the neighboring meat ground up; or whether you want more steaks, which would keep the tenderloin as part of many of those steaks.

Do you get a choice of how the animal was raised/fed? My informal cow-buying group (more on that in a second) started with grass-fed and grass-finished, but even those steaks could be tough. So we switched to grass-fed, grain-finished, which has been amazingly tender. Such fattier steers dress down to less usable meat, so they're relatively expensive compared to the former, leaner kind, but we've all preferred the latter. (I don't know much about aging, but though that dessication increases the deliciousness, that too reduces yield and therefore increases the cost.) Finally, if you buy certified-organic rather than close-to-but-not-certified-organic, you may end up with 100 percent grain-fed since with certification, it's hard to prove that the fields that the steers graze on don't have pesticides or pollutants even just drifting over from neighboring farms or roads.

My friends and I have, for the last seven years, been buying whole sides of beef from New Paltz, NY. Our organizer has it butchered and flash-frozen near there, and then he drives it down to NYC where we divide it up, having PayPalled him for for our shares, which are eighths of a side (each being 1/16 of a whole steer). Each share is around 30 lbs of meat. It has cost us around $130/share, or around $4.30/lb for each share's assortment of cuts. It is delicious.

It's not the easiest way to buy beef. We meet at a mutually inconvenient home in Brooklyn, though once or twice we used a low-traffic sidewalk. Dividing common cuts like burger and most steaks is easy, but larger or more unique cuts like roasts, short ribs, skirt steak, and hanger steak then require some friendly round-robin picking, and then maybe trading if some people prefer some cuts over others. (For instance, some like the convenience/smaller size of the ground beef, while others like the challenge of the brisket). These cuts are wrapped in butcher paper and stamped with the name of the cut, so you can't examine it in advance. But this is head and shoulders above supermarket meat.

I don't know when we'll be doing it next, but you can see photos over the years of us dividing it up at at http://foody.org/meating.html . Or hear me talking about it on KCRW-FM's "Good Food" at http://www.kcrw.com/etc/programs/gf/gf040424noodles_your_own_cow . Or read one member's blog post about it at http://familyoffood.blogspot.com/2009/01/beefening.html . Finally, if any other eGullet members want to take part in the future, we've created a Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=307598391990 . I'm hoping the next share will be for pig, which has also worked well a couple of times.

Edited by jkarpf (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I understand! I just took two hogs to the processor yesterday. I have their suggested beef cut up on my desk and posted it directly.

Although the largest Kosher meat packing plant in the US is nearby, you can't find a brisket anywhere within 100 miles.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Although the largest Kosher meat packing plant in the US is nearby, you can't find a brisket anywhere within 100 miles.

It's been my experience that although it's relatively easy to find a brisket "flat," it's darn near impossible to find a whole brisket, untrimmed, including the fat cap/deckle/point, etc., anywhere but Texas. Down here, we barbecue the whole thing. My son, out in California, didn't understand why his smoked brisket was never so juicy and tender as what we regularly produce in Texas. The secret, of course, is that we're smoking the whole brisket, including that fat cap, while all he could find was the much leaner trimmed-up flat.

______________________

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for all the tips guys. As a follow-up, we are very interested in the front cuts and not planning on wasting a thing. The cows will be grass-fed and finished, but we've had cuts from the farmers before and are happy with the product. Your advice did make us do a re-evaluation, and when we contacted the farmer again to ask about some other options, we were lucky enough to find out that another couple was looking at the same situation, so we are now going to buy a half of a half but not front or back. I have already called dibs on the Flank, since it is my favorite cut, and cannot bear to see it ground. My wife loves Brisket and this is our first attempt to make it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

jkarpf and I are in the same informal beef purchasing group, and I think he said most of what I would have said, but I would also add that you should be fairly specific about how you like things cut, or you might be in for some surprises. For instance, in our group we always seem to end up with the briskets cut lean, missing most of the second cut, then rolled and tied, which I think is the style of an English pot roast, instead of flat with a 1/4" of fat on top, which is more amenable to Jewish-style (at least the flat end), smoking, and barbecue. A few of us have also been wanting thicker steaks.

Even as we try to use as many braising cuts as possible, which I'm completely happy to have, we do seem to get lots of burger--way more than I would buy a la carte--and that seems to be a common experience with other bulk beef buying groups I've read about.

I recommend dry aging, if you can do it. We were looking into having a butcher hang the beef for four weeks before cutting it, but we weren't able to set it up for the last round.

Edited by David A. Goldfarb (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I haven't had freezer space for half of anything in a long long time. Now I buy lamb from a CSA in bulk instead (much smaller).

Anyhow, I do remember having too much ground meat with a side of beef, but the one thing that was kind of nice is having to deal with all the meat. It forced my parents (and now me with lamb) to cook different things. Since getting my lamb, I have found a fabulous recipe for lamb shoulder roasts. There is something kind of cool about having too much meat and being forced to cook with it. It is a learning experience as much as anything. BUT...that is only if you have enough freezer space.

I like to say things and eat stuff.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My wife loves Brisket and this is our first attempt to make it.

Not sure how you're going to "make it." If you're going to be corning it and then boiling it for corned beef, you don't need that deckle/fat cap.

But if you're planning on smoking or barbecuing or broiling it, be sure to ask them not to trim it off.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...