Buying beef in large quantities can result in significant cost savings. But savings are not always realized and the quality of the beef may vary. Therefore, careful consideration must be given to these purchases in terms of cost, quantity, quality, variety, family needs and preferences. Terms used to describe the product are as follows:
Carcass-Includes both sides of the beef animal. The carcass represents about 60 percent of the market weight of a beef animal. For example, a 1,000-pound market animal = 600 pounds of carcass. A beef carcass from a market-ready animal should weigh 550 to 650 pounds. Some may be 500 pounds, and a few may weigh as much as 800 pounds.
Side-This is half of a beef carcass including a front quarter and a hindquarter. A side of beef usually weighs 275 to 325 pounds.
Hindquarter-This is about 50 percent of a side of beef including the full loin (short loin and loin end or sirloin), round, flank and kidney knob. The hindquarter from a 300-pound side should weigh about 150 pounds.
Frontquarter-This is about 50 percent of a side of beef including the chuck, rib, plate, brisket and shank. The frontquarter from a 300-pound side should weigh about 150 pounds.
Wholesale Cuts-Sometimes referred to as primal cuts, there are 10 wholesale cuts from the beef carcass. Five are considered major-chuck, rib, short loin, loin end and round; five are considered minor-shank, brisket, plate, flank and kidney knob.
Sub-primals-This is used to describe a portion of a wholesale cut. Sub-primals that are frequently available include whole tenderloins, sirloin butts, strip loins, top rounds, bottom rounds and rib-eye rolls.
Cost and Quantity
The amount of take-home beef and cost per pound of the beef in the freezer are two important considerations for potential beef buyers. Beef is often advertised and sold on a “hanging weight” basis. This does not represent the take-home beef. In processing, there is a considerable amount of cutting loss. This amount varies and can be much greater than expected. Processing procedures and the amount of external fat trim affect the amount of cutting loss. It is not unusual to have 25 to 30 percent of the hanging weight of a carcass or side as cutting loss. This would mean that if a side of beef weighed 300 pounds hanging weight, there would be only 210 to 225 pounds of beef in terms of trimmed retail cuts for the freezer. Assuming 25 percent cutting loss, 300 pounds x 25 percent = 75 pounds of fat, bone, shrink and other losses. And, 300 pounds – 75 pounds = 225 pounds of take-home beef.
Yield grades are used to estimate the usable beef in a carcass. Yield grades are important when buying carcasses, sides, quarters or wholesale cuts. The following percentages represent the estimated yield of retail cuts from carcasses of each yield grade (percentages are rounded to whole numbers).
- Yield Grade 1: The carcass or side will yield 80 percent or more retail cuts (300 pounds x 80 percent = 240 pounds of retail cuts).
- Yield Grade 2: 75 to 80 percent retail cuts (300 x 75 = 225 pounds).
- Yield Grade 3: 70 to 75 percent retail cuts (300 x 70 = 210 pounds).
- Yield Grade 4: 66 to 70 percent retail cuts (300 x 66 = 198 pounds).
- Yield Grade 5: 65 percent or less retail cuts (300 x 65 = 195 pounds or less).
A Yield Grade 2 carcass is of greater value than a Yield Grade 4 carcass. Compare the difference in cost of usable beef: Yield Grade 2 = 75% retail cuts. A 300-pound carcass x $1.25/lb = $375; 300 lbs x 75% retail cuts = 225 lbs. $375/225 lbs = $1.67 per lb of usable beef. Yield Grade 4 = 66% retail cuts. A 300-pound carcass x $1.25/lb = $375; 300 lbs x 66% retail cuts = 198 lbs. $375/198 lbs = $1.90 per lb of usable beef. $1.90 – $1.67 = 23 cents per pound less for the Yield Grade 2.
Consumers have learned to rely on quality grades to project the palatability characteristics of beef. Quality grades of beef are determined by careful evaluation of age, marbling, texture, firmness and color of the lean. There are standards for each USDA grade of beef.
- USDA Prime: The lean is highly marbled and usually very tender and juicy; outside fat may be excessive.
- USDA Choice: The lean is average in marbling and usually tender and juicy; outside fat is variable.
- USDA Select: The lean contains some marbling; tenderness and juiciness can be extremely variable; usually not much outside fat.
- USDA Standard: Little or no marbling; tenderness and juiciness extremely variable; very little outside fat.
- USDA Commercial, Utility, Cutter and Canner: Generally applied to older animals. This beef is most often used in processed products and is rarely cut for the freezer.
Hindquarter or Frontquarter
Hindquarter cuts are often identified as the more demanded cuts. This is because cuts from the short loin (club, T-bone and porterhouse steaks) and the loin end (sirloin steaks) of the top quality grades of beef are more tender and are best suited for broiling. Cuts from the round (rump roasts, round roasts, round steaks) are also popular. Because of this popularity, the hindquarter is always more expensive than the frontquarter. Cuts from the frontquarter, with the exception of the rib (rib steaks, rib roasts), are less tender and are best prepared using moist heat (braising, stewing, etc.). Therefore, frontquarter cuts such as chuck roasts, rolled briskets, cross-cut shank and short ribs are less popular and less expensive. Deciding which quarter to buy depends on the family preferences for cuts and the preparation method to be used.
Primals or Sub-Primals
Buying and processing primal cuts or sub-primal cuts for the freezer offer an alternative for many families. Advantages include the following: (1) One can buy only cuts the family prefers, (2) it’s a small investment for a supply of freezer beef, (3) it provides an opportunity to do home processing and freezing, and (4) there is less risk of a large investment in a product that may not be entirely satisfactory. Buying primals or sub-primals may mean a higher cost per pound for the beef because of these advantages.