What To Tell the Butcher When You Order a Quarter Beef

quarter beefI had no idea what to name this post … “How to Butcher a Quarter Cow”, “Ground Beef and Everything Else”, “Fill Your Freezer With a Happy Cow” … well, you see what I landed on. Either way, this post is all about beef cuts and what to expect if you ever purchase a quarter (or just double this info for a half) of a happy cow!

We’ve purchased a quarter of a cow the last 3 years, because 1) We like beef 2) I like knowing where my meat comes from and 3) We call these happy, healthy cows – the kind that graze and are treated humanely.

Plus, at $3.29/pound – I can’t beat the price.

Now, our beef isn’t technically organic meat. The farm our cow comes from is just a family farm that raises 2-3 cows each year. They’re grass fed until the final few weeks before butchering, then they get a  bit of grain in their diet because it marbles their meat. 

The $3.29 is calculated on what they call hanging weight. Hanging weight is the final weight before the beef is butchered into various cuts. Our quarter cow totaled 161 pounds and cost us $531. It will last us all year thanks to our deep freezer.

Once you commit to purchasing a share of a cow you’ll be given a range of what it will weigh after butchering. Then the butcher will call you with exact details and ask some specific cut questions. This baffled me for quite some time as I didn’t know exactly what to do with each cut or how much of what cuts we would need. Now, on round three, I’ve narrowed down our favorites and figured I should share.

So, for a quarter cow this is roughly how the conversation with the butcher went …

A half beef is divided into the front quarter and the hind quarter. The front consists of chuck steaks, pot roasts, rib steaks, short ribs and soup bones. The hind consists of ground beef, top round, bottom round, t-bones, top sirloins, tender loins, flank steaks, sirloin tip, rump roast.

They’ll ask for packaging purposes what thickness you’d like for each steak, typically 3/4 in to 1 in. We prefer 3/4 inch. Also, what weight you would like for each package of ground beef, we opt for 1 pound packages, but if you have a large family you can easily request 1 1/2 pound or 2 pound packages.

They offer soup bones or stew meat – if you don’t want them they’ll keep them for dog bones and such. We always take them for bone broth and we request that the stew meet be ground into extra ground beef packages.

The bottom and top round are usually tougher cuts so they’ll offer to cube them (tenderize). This is where we got smart and we asked for these cuts to be cut as thin as possible to use for carne asada or rouladen.

We always forgo the rib steaks and request that it stay a rib roast also called a standing rib roast for our Prime Rib Christmas Feast. This is usually one big roast, but we ask that it be cut into two because we all like the salty outer crust from the Prime Rib recipe and having two roasts gives us more outside pieces.

For the short ribs they’ll offer a flanken cut, like for Asian short ribs where there is a circle of bone with a little bit of meat surrounding it. Instead, we ask for the larger, chunky short ribs and we braise them in the oven.

If there are any cuts you are unsure of or don’t know how to use, you can always ask that they just be ground into ground beef. Typically for a quarter you’ll get 25-30 pounds of ground beef. You’ll see below that we had our stew meat turned into ground beef which gave us quite a bit of extra.

This is what it looks like once delivered. Our quarter beef included — 5 packages of rouladen/carne asada, 49 packages/pounds of ground beef, 2 packages of soup bones, 3 top sirloin steaks (2 steaks in each package), 2 packages of short ribs, 1 sirloin top roast, 2 packages of T-bone steaks (2 steaks in each package), 3 pot roasts, 1 rib roast, 1 rump roast, 1 package of tenderloins and 1 package of flank steaks.

quarter beef packaged

Over the next year I’ll be sharing our favorite recipes for each cut, I’ll do my best to update this post so they all show in one place. I’ve learned a lot about preparing meat beyond ground beef and have officially awarded myself a homemaker badge for “beef knowledge”. It’s like Girl Scouts, but for moms!

Stay tuned for …

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  1. pierogiemama says

    Great info here! I've strayed away from buying a beef because we eat probably less than 10 lbs of beef a year.. I make beef stew a couple times and then there's the occasional good steak on sale. Truthfully, I cook mostly #1 chicken, #2 fish (salmon), #3 pork. I wish there was a way to buy good, wild salmon in bulk (except working in a fish factory over the summer in Alaska, lol!)

    • says

      We do just as much chicken as beef – I get that through Zaycon. And I haven't found a good source for pork so that's pretty nonexistent these days. Well, except for my Zaycon bacon – WHICH I LOVE! It's the thick cuts and the bake up so good! Anyways, I wish we liked fish for all the benefits, but we just don't :/ I mean, we eat fish and chips, but tend to get that at restaurants when we're near the ocean :)

    • KADI says


      I know this is years late, but I have a great source for wild caught Alaskan salmon in bulk. It’s a family that I grew up with that moved to Alaska years ago to teach. In summer they go out and catch a few kinds of fish to sell down near us but they ship anywhere. They don’t have a website or anything, since they aren’t a business, but they have an order form you can fill out. If you are interested, let me know and I can pass on their info.

      • Ashley says


        I am interested in the information for bulk wild caught salmon!

        • Teresa says

          Me, too! Salmon Contact info? Thanks!

      • Brooke Straks says

        I would love info!

      • Libby says

        I am interested!

      • Serena Lairson says

        Could I also get information on Salmon

  2. feliciae25 says

    I'm a little new to the blog, so question? You say this feeds your family for roughly a year right. How many are in the family?

    We are looking into getting either a quarter or half a cow in the next couple of years and I'd never thought about what type of cuts to get.

    This is a great starting point! Thanks so much now I want be so confused when we get ready.

    • says

      I'm laughing because this is kind of a loaded question :) Technically there are my husband and our two kids (almost 2 and almost 4). During the school year though we have 1-2 international students living with us and often my mom and sister stop by for dinner. So depending on the night we've got 2-6 adults eating. I could beef 1-2/each week, but sometimes we just do 1/2 steaks and a hearty side like pasta or potatoes. I hope that gives you a better idea :)

      • feliciae25 says

        That helps a ton and I get the loaded questions. =) We have people in and out also. Thanks for the information. 

    • roger samms says

      1/4 beef will feed 4 people 2 adults 2 teen boys about 4-6 months depending on how you get it cut..get ribeye steaks instead of rib roast..rear quarter is alot of good steaks..im cowboy been raising angus beef 50 yrs,i butcher and keep a half to feed myself,wife,adult son and daughter and gradson for a year.

      • NADINE says

        I just bought my first 1/4 front cow and split between my 2 daughters, I was expecting so much more for my buck, his hanging weight was about 232 at 3.25 lb, I wound up with like 55 lbs of chop meat and not too much of anything else. I bought from a cowboy and I’m sure I wasn’t ripped off but looks as if I only got 1/2 of the 232. Does the back end give you more steaks?

  3. says

    This is really a helpful post. My family and I were considering doing this instead of always buying beef at the grocery store at various prices.

    • says

      There is a big difference in taste too – I didn't really mention that. The quarter we get tastes much fresher and there is rarely any fat when I cook up ground beef!

  4. Aimee says

    I’ve been tossing around the idea of a side or quarter of beef for about a year and a half now. I think we may take the plunge this fall!

  5. Anna P says

    My grandparents have been raising 2-3 cows the past few years for this very reason. The past few years either my parents or my grandparents would just give us some of their portion through out the year, but this year my husband and I are getting our own half beef. We live a couple hours from either of them and with our growing family we don’t get to visit as often. This will let us stock up for quite a while and save us so much in the long run.

  6. Paulina says

    Thanks for sharing. We're at that point, where we're considering buying that chest freezer for meats, so it's a timely post. :)

    • says

      We got our chest freezer for $100 on Craigslist – definitely look there before buying new. Then there is more money for meat!

  7. says

    I very very much look forward to more on this topic, as we plan to buy our first quarter in the next few months. I’m so excited, yet intimated because I’m not sure about the process abd what/how to do everything. I’m hoping our Gartner will be helpful… :)

  8. says

    Oh my gosh! You are my new best friend! Thanks for this post. I have had the freezer for two months now and hadn’t yet figured out what to put in it. :-)

    • Gretchen says

      I’m so glad it’s helpful! I’m working on a slow cooker French dip recipe to share from a roast cut soon :)

  9. Kari says

    Thank you so much! Your post kind of saved my life today…

    • Gretchen says

      Oh yay! I’m so happy it was helpful!

  10. Jenny says

    This is so great! I was trying to figure out what to tell the butcher (we have a GREAT deal on beef through a family member). I love the idea of the carne asada, I wouldn’t have known to ask for that. We aren’t big on roasts around here. I probably would have just asked for it all to be turned into hamburger with a few steaks.

  11. tonyb says

    How did this come out? There’s 3 of us and we’re thinking of half a side of beef (we bbq ALOT).

  12. says

    My wife and I have done this for years, though we usually get a half beef. For the bottom round portions we have the butcher slice them very thin, cross grain so she can make bracioles. Since our grass fed beef around here ends up costing us almost $5 per pound we get cuts that minimize the amount of ground beef and maximize steaks and roasts. One of our local stores that gets it’s ground meat from in State often sells ground chuck for $2.77/pound and that’s where we get most of our hamburger.

    • Gretchen says

      I’ll have to give that a try with the rounds!

  13. Ward Williams says

    Would you mind please uploaded a higher-quality image of that great beef cuts graphic at the top of this post? I can’t read the actual words, and it would be super handy to have.


  14. Stephanie Thompson says

    Thank for the cutting information on a quarter beef. I was given one from my boss who happens to run a family ranch on the side. Pretty nice gift! This is all new to me so I turned to the internet and found your site. I appreciated your clear and concise instructions. Thank you.

    • Gretchen says

      What an amazing gift! I’m glad my post was helpful :) Enjoy many amazing meals ahead!

  15. janie vezina says

    we really need to find a place to buy beef like this with 11 eople in the house to cook for.

  16. shannon says

    I am in the process of asking our butcher how I want our quarter of a cow, so your blog came in handy! How do you cook your carne asada? Im assuming you don’t throw it on the grill because its already sliced thin, right?

  17. says


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  18. says

    Oh, I forgot to say in my previous post/request that we get Bottom round roasts sliced paper thin cross-grain for use making bracioles. We sprinkle each slice with garlic powder, fresh-grated parmesan or romano cheese and parsley flakes then roll them up (starting with the widest end and rolling toward the narrowest) sear them closed in a frying pan then dump them in our homemade tomato sauce to finish. We serve it with spaghetti and garlic toast and it’s far more flavorful than meatballs.

    We order our 1/2 beef each year from a neighboring ranch. It’s a bit pricier than what you pay as ours averages about $5/lb but we emphasize steak and roast cuts and minimize ground beef as we can often get ground chuck for $1.79/lb at a local store (that does business with the same rancher).

  19. Alice Gryte says

    We are buying a quarter of beef for the first time. Found your site.
    Exactly what we needed! Thank you so much for sharing what you
    have learned.

    • Gretchen says

      I’m so happy it was helpful!

  20. Josh says

    I don’t see how the numbers given add up. 161lb and only $535? We raise beef for slaughter. We sell it for $3/lb hanging weight. So a 1200lb cow has a hanging weight of 700lb. At $3/lb that’s $525 a quarter plus then there is .44/lb processing and slaughter fee. All said and done a quarter of said cow is 105lb and total cost is $618. Quite a bit different then your example. 1200lb cow has a hanging weight of 700lbs and a take home weight of 400lbs approx.

  21. Whitedove Apple says

    So want.to do when tax $ comes in. Have a 21cu freezer. So got the room. Thks

  22. Shannon says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! This was very helpful I will be taking to the butcher tomorrow and now I have some idea as to what they will be asking and what answers I will need to have. Truly appreciate your articular.

  23. Kendra says

    Thank you. This was very helpful. Roughly, how long does it take you to eat all of your 1/4 beef?

    • Gretchen says

      We eat beef 1-2x a week and this lasts us about a year.

  24. says

    Hello! I just stumbled across your post (super handy!) and thought you might want to hear about a new way to buy a quarter beef (or half, whole, etc.) online. A new service called RanchMeat just launched and it allows ranchers to list their animals in an open marketplace, and buyers can browse local rancher listings and do the whole process online–then either pick up at a processor near them or have it shipped.

    RanchMeat also takes care of a lot of the points you cover in your article–because you just choose your cuts online when you check out (custom processed with steaks, etc. or just hamburger). Check it out: http://www.RanchMeat.com

  25. Adam says

    Based on your order above what is your meat cost and what is your butcher cost? I am mainly concerned with butcher costs as my cow is on the way. Wooot!

  26. Dan Stephan says

    What size freezer do you need for a quarter cow?

    • Gretchen says

      It doesn’t take up as much space as you’d think. Probably 2-3 copy paper size boxes. We have a chest freezer and it fits our quarter cow and lots of Costco hauls :)

  27. Michelle Dillard says

    Hi, maybe I missed it, but which quarter did you purchase front or rear?

  28. sara says

    I’m seeing this post in 2020. My husband is finally on board with buying our meat locally. It took me 17 1/2 years to convince him it’s a good idea. He claims it’s been on his mind all along….(Not really, I’ve had to work on him a lot). A friend of his, who has a farm, is selling us 1/4 and since we have the space to put it, I won’t object. It’s going to keep the lamb and goat company for now. And the hams that were gifted to us at Christmas time. When he asks me how I want to get it back I have no idea, so thank you for this. It’s very helpful!

  29. Jennifer says

    I have a few questions concerning your final takeaway. We too are going to be purchasing our first 1/4 this year. My mother-in-law purchased her first 1/4 last year and laughs when telling the story of talking to the butcher – she had no clue what to ask for! So I decided to do a little online research first which brought me here to your blog. Thank you for sharing specific information. It is so helpful for me to be able to visualize what my family’s needs will be based off of what your family has used. So to my question… you mentioned that you got a package of tenderloinS and flank steakS. Yes, I capitalized the “S’s” on purpose. How many did you get per package? And with the tenderloin, was it one whole tenderloin or individual filet mignons?

    • Gretchen says

      Oh goodness … I’m trying to remember. I think with a quarter we got 2 packs of 2 each for the tenderloins and flank steaks. Count usually all depends on the final hanging weight. One of the great things about working directly with a butcher is that you can request things to be packaged/cut however you like. So if you want them wrapped singly, just ask! Or cut into filet mignons, just say so :) Hope you enjoy your bulk purchase!

  30. Alexa says

    How large of a deep freeze do you need to store your 1/4 beef?

    • Gretchen says

      Less than you think! We have a full freezer in our garage … like the size of a standard fridge/freezer but it’s all freezer. Our 1/4 beef takes up about 1/3 of it I’d say. Lots of room for other meats (we bulk buy chicken and bacon too) and many Costco essentials :)

  31. Michelle says

    Thanks for this post, like many, my family will be making our first purchase of 1/4. We have 2 growing boys to feed at my house! Its awesome this post was originally made years ago and it was my #3 google result today in May of 2020!

    My question may be silly (**naive**)… does your meat come frozen or fresh from the butcher?

    • Gretchen says

      Yes, I wrote this on such a whim years ago and it is one of my top posts! I love that so many families are going this route for meat.

      Not a silly question at all! Our meat as always come frozen. And we have used a handful of different butchers due to moves, I suspect this is their protocol, but you can always ask when you discuss your cuts with them! Best of luck with your first 1/4!

  32. Rachael says

    Hi there! Like many others have said, we ordered our first half side of beef. It’s at the processor as I type. They sent us a cutting sheet to fill out, but I have no idea how to put numbers when we’ve never done this… How could I take your info and put it into numbers for the sheet?

  33. Marie B. says

    Just wanted to say thank you! Helped me know exactly what to tell the butcher for the half we’re splitting with our in.-laws. It was nice to be able to sound like I knew what I was talking about. LOL! Much appreciated!

    • Gretchen says

      You’re so welcome! I’m glad it was helpful!

  34. Dorothea says

    Did you ever post that recipe for carne asada? I tried searching for it, but couldn’t find it. :)