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 :)

  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. 

  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. :)

  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. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.


  12. 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.

  13. 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?

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