Buying a Side of Beef: Part 1 Terminology

  1. Fairfarmhand
    Perhaps you're raising a steer for meat, or maybe you are considering buying a side of beef from a farmer. Before you go to the butcher or hand that farmer a check, you probably should familiarize yourself with some basic terminology that you will hear when you buy a side of beef.

    Live Weight

    This is exactly what it sounds like. This is the weight of the animal on the hoof. This number includes the weight of the hide, hooves, heat, and organs.

    Side of Beef

    When a steer is taken to the processor, right after the animal is killed, it is skinned and dressed. The head, hooves, and tail are all removed, and the intestines and organs are removed. The animal is split in half. Each half of the animal is a "side of beef." So if you're in the market for a side of beef, you want a half a beef animal.

    Hanging Weight (also called Rail Weight)

    The hanging weight is the weight of the animal after it is skinned, gutted, and it is "hanging" on a large hook in the butcher's cooler. The hanging weight is fifty or sixty percent of the live weight. However, this percentage can vary depending on the breed, gender, and age of the animal. For instance, certain animals have heavier coats than others do, and the age of the animal can influence the hanging weight as well.

    Aging

    Aging sounds pretty gross, but it really does improve the texture and flavor of the meat. The beef will hang in the butcher's cooler for ten to twenty one days to allow enzymes to work on the muscle fibers of the side of beef. These enzymes tenderize the beef and improve its flavor. Some water evaporation will occur from the side of beef during the aging process. The cooler temperature will keep the beef from getting moldy or rotten during the aging period.

    Finished Weight

    After the meat hangs for awhile in the butcher's cooler, he will then cut it up into usable pieces. You will probably receive a form before you go to the butcher explain to him how you want the meat cut. You'll need to tell him how large you want your roasts cut, how thick you want your steaks and in what size packages he should wrap your ground beef.

    The finished weight is how much beef is wrapped for your freezer. This number excludes excess fat that is trimmed from the meat and any bones that are removed from the meat. It is the same number that you would see on a supermarket package of beef. A good average for finished weight is about 75 percent of the hanging weight.

    Understanding butchering terminology will help you understand exactly what you are buying from a neighborhood farmer and how much you will owe him when you're done. If he's selling you an animal based upon live weight, and you don't understand the terminology, you will end up getting a lot less meat than you planned.

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