Grass-fed/pastured meat is most often much more expensive than its factory farmed counterpart, although we know how much better it is for us and that it’s worth every penny, and then some. But knowing and greatly appreciating that doesn’t always help the “sticker shock” when you’re working with a budget that doesn’t have a lot of leeway. I also have very few options locally for purchasing individual cuts of grass-fed/pastured meat and poultry, so I have to get a bit more creative. If you frequent other blogs and social media pages in the paleo/primal community, these money saving ideas are probably not news to you, but I would like to offer my own experiences and explain in-depth the few things I am able to do to ensure my family keeps eating well!
Disclaimer: None of the links in this post are affiliate links. I was not asked to post them and do not benefit in any way from anyone clicking through–I’m simply sharing!
If you can do it, ordering whole or partial animals is much more cost effective than buying individual cuts. Last year we purchased 1/4 of a grass-fed steer from a local farmer, and after paying him for the hanging weight of the steer and a local meat market for processing, we paid somewhere around $5.50 per pound for approximately 100 pounds of beef, and that included everything from ground beef to NY strip steaks. I can’t even find grass-fed ground beef in the store (which I have to drive for an hour to get to) for that price! Most farmers around here offer 1/4,1/2 and whole cows, and the price drops a bit per pound of hanging weight when you order the larger portions. If you don’t have room for even 1/4 of a cow in your freezer, you don’t want to shell out a lot of money at once or you just want to get the price down a little bit more, find friends or family members to go in on one of the portions with you (a “cow share”). We tried to avoid dropping one large sum of money by splitting the cost between two payments: a deposit to our farmer that was more than his required minimum and then his remaining balance and the processing fee when we picked it up. We ended up having to buy a new chest freezer since our old one had died, but we found a great deal on one at Home Depot during an appliance sale. I can’t remember if it’s five or seven cubic feet, but it was more than adequate for our quarter beef and will have plenty of room for our whole hog (we have a nice sized freezer alongside the fridge for storing some too). Our farmer recommends approximately 1 cubic foot of freezer space per 35 pounds of cut and wrapped meat.
The same ideas for beef portions can be applied to pork. Most farmers around here sell either half or whole hogs, and the price is slightly lower if you order the whole hog. I just reserved a whole pastured hog with our farmer, and I can’t find the numbers at the moment, but I know I calculated our cost for every cut of pork we’ll get to be well under $3 per pound. Potential processing costs for our hog varies much more than it did with the beef, as there are many more options for specialty items like sausage, bacon, brats, etc. that might require curing, smoking or the addition of seasonings and other ingredients. I am keeping our processing costs at the bare minimum by asking for nothing but the fresh cuts of pork, and we’re going to have some fun making our own sausage, bacon, smoked pork belly, rendered lard, etc., thanks to the wonderful new book Beyond Bacon: Paleo Recipes that Respect the Whole Hog by Matthew McCarry and Stacy Toth, also known as the Paleo Parents. The book is absolutely beautiful, I mean REALLY beautiful! I ordered the Nook version though because I had a $5 Barnes & Noble gift card, and major bonus, paying only $4.99 for the Nook version leaves more money to pay for the hog.
As for chicken, it’s the hardest for me to come by as far as finding a product that fits all of my criteria. I asked our farmer if he knew of a local source for pastured, soy and corn-free chicken. He told me that he hopes to raise them in a future, but right now he is farming the land that belonged to his grandparents, and his grandmother won’t allow him to bring chickens in. I got such a giggle out of that, I’m not really sure why! Haha! While I will purchase chicken that’s at least antibiotic-free and air-chilled from the grocery store if I am in a pinch and it’s on sale (oh, the horror!), I try to get pastured chicken from a somewhat local farm family that frequents farmers markets within a 60-90 mile range of us. I do buy some whole chickens, and when it comes to chicken parts, I never buy breasts and stick to the more economical parts like wings, legs and thighs. It’s not purely for cost reasons, either–I find them more fun to eat and to cook with, and because of their higher fat content, much more flavorful and better for slow-cooking as well. My husband said it tastes like the farm-fresh chicken his grandmother made when he was young, the antithesis of the horribly bland Frankenchicken all too common on store shelves these days. While it’s of course more expensive than the conventional stuff in the grocery store, it’s much cheaper than the pastured chicken I have found from online retailers.
Speaking of online retailers, when we ran out of our 1/4 beef, I started ordering grass-fed beef from US Wellness Meats. They do have lamb, bison, chicken, pork and several other products as well. To save money there, I order when they have a 15% discount in their newsletter (they offer a code every two weeks), and I usually stick to some of the more economical products like the sugar free beef franks, ground beef and minute steaks. We absolutely love these products–the flavors are wonderful, and it’s obviously quality stuff. The minute steaks are perfect for our family, as they come in generous 24 ounce packages (four 6-ounce steaks) at a great price for individual cuts of grass-fed steak–$7.71 per pound after the 15% discount. I also buy marrow bones occasionally for homemade beef bone broth, and they are perfect for the task. I recently bought some beef tallow from them for the first time, and after trying it in several dishes, I have vowed to never go without again. We’ve also tried and very much enjoyed their bologna, salami and beef snack sticks. Shipping is free, with only a $7.50 handling fee per order, which is a ridiculous bargain considering I receive my orders in 24-48 hours, and they arrive fully frozen because they are packed ever so neatly in coolers with dry ice. They also offer wholesale packages and buying opportunities and a $25 discount per 40 pounds of product ordered, excluding only a few things.
Again, I have little to no options locally for purchasing individual cuts of grass-fed meat and pastured poultry in a grocery store, so I don’t have much experience with cutting costs there, but I have shared every cost-cutting idea I am able to take advantage of given my circumstances. If you’re not sure what’s available to you locally outside of the grocery store, whether it’s chicken, beef, goat or goose, check out Eat Wild for a great list of pasture-based farms in the U.S., Canada and several other countries. I never knew our farmer existed until I found him there!
I originally planned on sharing a new minute steak recipe in this post (featuring the lovely package pictured above), but this has gotten so long already, I thought I’d separate them. Stay tuned for that recipe tomorrow.