Buying in Bulk? Understanding the Math Behind the Meat

Making the decision to purchase a large bulk order of beef for your family can be a bit confusing if you do not understand the language or processes used in the cattle industry. The most common way that ranchers direct market their beef to consumers is by the “hanging half”, but what does this mean? Simply put, after an animal is processed, the carcass is hung up on a rail and split into two equal portions because it is easier to handle and cut that way, hence a “hanging half”. In addition, this beef is usually sold by the “hot hanging weight” or “rail weight” this is the weight of the half taken right after processing while it is still warm and hanging on the rail. Ranchers sell beef this way so that they are paid for the carcass before it naturally shrinks during the dry aging process which can be about 8%.

Dry Aging  After weighing, the half is then moved into a cooler and left to dry age (hang) for 7 to 21 days. This process allows the beef to dry and relax, adding tenderness and flavour to the final product. When the half has finished dry aging, the butcher will usually call and ask for “cutting instructions” — how you want it cut up — which can be puzzling at best if you don’t know where certain cuts come from. Canada Beef has a great interactive web program to help consumers better understand the anatomy of a beef carcass, and this is a good place to start. You will also be asked what portions you would like so it’s worth thinking about how much you and your family consume at one meal. The beef is then cut and wrapped in brown butcher paper, boxed and frozen. It’s important to note that dry-aging is very rare these days, almost all beef in grocery stores is wet aged which is a completely different process where the beef is aged in a vacuum bag.

It’s also important to understand that a carcass consists of about 35% waste, bones, gristle and fat, that is discarded. So while you might have paid for a 400 pound half, the meat that actually goes into your freezer is significantly less. To determine how much beef you will actually receive takes a little math, but it’s relatively simple, add the shrink of 8% to the waste of 35% and you get 43%. Multiply this by the “hot hanging weight” of the half, we will use 400 pounds, and you get 228 pounds. This is called the “lean meat yield” and is what actually goes into your freezer and is based on everything you receive being boneless. The math might change a bit if you like T-Bone steaks or standing Prime Rib Roasts that have bones in them, but the final numbers will be close. At this point most ranchers ask you to drive to the processing plant to pick up your meat and, in most circumstances, you will be paying the cutting and wrapping charges too. These charges are also based on the “hot hanging weight” and are about $1.10 per pound here in Alberta.

So if you buy a 400 lb hot hanging weight half for $4.75/lb you will pay the producer $1900.00 plus you’ll pay the processor $440 (400 lbs X $1.10) for cutting and brown paper wrapping the meat. The approximate end cost will be $2340.00 for 228 lbs of finished meat in your freezer. These prices often do not include grinding the beef, cutting stew beef or making any value added products like patties or sausages. This can add a lot more onto your bill so make sure you ask the butcher for clarification.

 On TK Ranch we keep things simple   When we sell our customers a dry-aged grass-fed and finished beef half, mixed quarter or mixed eighth we charge a flat price which includes dry-aging, cutting and packaging. This way you don’t have to worry about the math. Our packages consist of a lovely selection of well trimmed roasts, steaks, stew, stirfry, patties and many other delicious items. Everything is vacuum packaged to extend freezer life — this makes thawing simple and mess-free. All of our cuts are also individually labeled so you know what is in your freezer.