Last Updated on March 9, 2023 by Jeremy
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At the start of the pandemic in early 2020, we decided to make a transition in how we shop for meats. Previously, we'd shop through the conventional process most shoppers are familiar with- namely, we'd go to the store or local butcher every time we need a specific cut of meat.
But as we were wanting to support more local farmers and also avoid going to the store to begin with, we decided to get into buying meat in bulk from local farmers.
It was one of our best decisions yet.
While it would be easy for us to simply sit back and say this is the way, we do have to reflect on our experience as buying meats like beef, pork, duck, chicken, lamb, fish, and more in a bulk order has just as many cons as there are pros. So let's work through them in this one!
Pro – Actually Knowing the Animal Breed
One of the things we never liked about buying mass-farmed meat in stores is that the quality, origin, and pedigree of the meat is questionable at best. Yes, national standards exist to let you get an idea (say, USDA prime), but at the end of the day, you know very little about how the animals were raised, possibly even where the animals were raised, the breed, how long it has been since the animal was originally processed, and so on.
When you buy meat in bulk from local farms, odds are good you can learn everything about the animal from birth to when it arrives at your door (and possibly even more like family lineage and where their predecessors came from!). Perhaps most important here is the type of meat to begin with. Instead of buying indeterminate lamb, we know we buy Icelandic lamb. Instead of random beef, we know we're buying Piedmontese cows. Instead of unknown pork, we know we're eating Berkshire hogs or Mangalitsa hogs. And so on.
Compare this to the typically unknown breed you may be buying in the supermarket, and the difference is striking.
Con – Storage Required for Volume
A downside to buying meat in bulk is, depending on the animal at least, the volumes for orders can be quite large. When we purchased a cow, for example, the smallest size was 1/4 cow- or about 100 lbs butchered and delivered. Our 1/2 pig was about 70 lbs. Our 1/2 lamb was about 15 lbs.
This means that you will likely need far more storage space than a conventional freezer, and for us this meant that we bought a deep freezer for our basement. While our 7 cubic foot chest freezer is large enough for ample storage of all meats we buy, it was still an extra purchase that comes with space concerns, utility costs, etc. So if you are getting into buying meat in bulk, you'll definitely need to plan for extra storage as odds are good your kitchen's standard refrigerator won't be large enough.
There is also a risk when having this much meat in bulk in that if there is an extended power outage the meat can be wasted at an even greater scale; however, one of the tangential perks of having a second freezer that is fully stocked is that it often stays cold for much longer than traditional freezers, too. That being said, this is still a risk we do not take lightly even if it may be rare and/or affect some more than others.
Pro – Supporting Local and Humane Farming
Before buying meat in bulk, we must admit that we did not cook that much meat at home because we disagree with mass farming practices. But when you buy in bulk, this often means you are buying locally, which we fully support, and local/independent farms tend to also engage in ethical farming practices.
We source almost all of our meat exclusively from one farm outside of Pittsburgh, Birch Creek Farmery. We have visited the farm for tours and farm dinners several times over the years. We know the owners on a first-name basis and consider them friends. We've walked the land and have seen how the animals are raised, cared for, and fed firsthand (we have even seen the specific animals that likely have been in our final delivery, too).
Suffice it to say, if you have any ethical concerns about farm-raised animals, going local helps alleviate many of these all at once as you should be able to verify that the farm is up to your standards first-hand.
- We will admit that there is one protein we do not typically source locally, and that is fish. While we buy local trout in bulk (which is quite delicious), the fish we normally like to cook is not native to our region. As such, we support ethical fishermen in Alaska with a fish share from Wild Alaskan Company. If you want to give this one a try, take $25 off your first order on us here!
Con – Price Savings May Be Negligible
This one may be up for debate, but for us, we do not see cost savings when buying in bulk. Yes, some farms may be able to offer bulk meat cheaper than what you would find in a grocery store. But in our experience some of these farms also engage in some mass-produced farming techniques we do not necessarily support either be it by breed choice, feed type, grazing opportunities, etc.
Your mileage will vary here based on your personal ethics and local availability, but for us wanting to support the highest quality practices possible (read: the best of the best), this meant paying a premium over alternatives.
At the end of the day, we found that our average cost for meat was a bit of a wash. As you're typically spending one bulk rate for the total of the meat, the dollar-per-pound average becomes fixed. That price-per-pound average for steaks or brisket may look great. That same price-per-pound for ground beef, probably not. Overall, when it was all said and done I don't think any of our purchases represented any appreciable discount, but we were quite fine with that for all of the tangential perks of quality, supporting local, etc.
Pro – Ability to Cook With New-To-You Cuts
One thing that we found quite enjoyable about buying meat in bulk was that we got to experiment with cooking cuts of animals we typically would not buy in the store. Long roasts? We were shocked to learn we love them cooked in sous vide. Beef heart? Why yes I do love a good beef heart taco. Rendering lard for cooking? This was far more satisfying than I ever would have thought and we cook with lard for just about everything.
If you are as big of a fan of cooking as we are, buying in bulk simply may get you outside of your comfort zone and force you to cook meals you otherwise would avoid. Will everyone like this aspect? No- but we do, and that is good enough for us!
Con – So Much Ground Meat
Perhaps the biggest con of all when it comes to buying meat in bulk is that you get so much ground meat, especially when buying pigs and cows. Think about a large amount of ground meat by a reasonable standard and then triple that. You may still be underestimating here when it is all said and done.
We had so much ground meat that we find ourselves throwing meat into everything as a means to get rid of it. Spaghetti sauce with ground beef? Never was a fan but we cook that now. Meatballs? We make a few dozen and throw them in the sous vide regularly. Burgers? We eat a ton now when we'd rarely make them before. Vegetarian-turned-meat-heavy stir fry? Yep, that meat won't cook itself!
The premium steaks and pork chops may disappear quickly, but we never, ever seem to run out of ground beef and pork no matter how hard we try. Considering we were not that big of fans of ground beef before buying meat in bulk, this was quite the challenge for us all around. The good news is the quality we have is amazing. The bad news is we still can't cook it fast enough.
Pro – The Flavor Can't Be Beat
Finally, perhaps the biggest pro above all others is that locally raised animals, when done well, are impossible to beat flavor-wise. We mentioned above that we never quite liked ground beef and pork, but we really enjoy it now despite struggling to use the absurdly large volume we have on hand. We hated pork chops, but now find our farmer's cuts to be some of the most delectable cuts of meat we have ever had the privilege of trying.
Repeat this with just about any animal or cut and we'll say the same thing- the flavor of an ethically raised, local animal is so good that we will never go back- it is bulk local meats for us all the way.
Looking to buy meat in bulk? Check out options from Porter Road to start stocking your freezer!
Do you buy meats in bulk? What do you love about it? What do you dislike? Comment below to share!