What is a Side of Beef? A Complete Guide to Buying a Half Cow

A side of beef, also known as a half cow, refers to one half of a butchered cow. It contains a variety of beef cuts including roasts, brisket, ground beef and popular steaks like ribeye and strip steaks. Read on to learn everything you need to know about buying a side of beef.

What Exactly is a Side of Beef?

A side of beef is precisely what it sounds like – it is half of a cow that has been slaughtered and butchered. The side consists of front and hind quarters and contains a wide variety of beef cuts.

When a cow is slaughtered and butchered, the carcass is split in half lengthwise from head to tail. Each half is considered a side of beef.

A side of beef will weigh around 300-400 lbs. It will be further processed by a butcher into smaller cuts which are then vacuum sealed and frozen for delivery.

Common Names for a Side of Beef

A side of beef also goes by several other common names:

  • Half cow
  • Half steer
  • Beef half
  • CSA beef share
  • Locker beef
  • Beef bundle

All these terms refer to the same thing – one half of a butchered steer or heifer.

What Cuts Are In a Side of Beef?

A whole side of beef is first divided into primals or large primary cuts:

  • Chuck
  • Rib
  • Short loin
  • Sirloin
  • Round
  • Flank
  • Brisket
  • Shank
  • Plate

These primals are then broken down into subprimals. The butcher will further process these into individual retail cuts like roasts, steaks, and ground beef.

Here are some of the most popular retail cuts from a side of beef:

  • Ribeye steaks
  • T-bone steaks
  • Porterhouse steaks
  • Strip steaks
  • Filet mignon
  • Top sirloin steaks
  • Brisket
  • Chuck roast
  • Rump roast
  • Ground beef
  • Stew meat cubes
  • Short ribs
  • Soup bones

You’ll get a variety of high value steaks as well as roasts, brisket and ground beef. Ask your butcher for a complete list of cuts you’ll be getting.

How Much Does a Side of Beef Weigh?

There is no standard weight for a side of beef. Weight depends on the size and breed of the steer as well as how it was fed.

A typical side of beef weighs 300-400 lbs hanging weight. Hanging weight refers to the weight of half the carcass before it is broken down into cuts.

Once the meat is fabricated into smaller cuts, there is loss from moisture loss and trimming. The final packaged weight will be 15-20% less than the hanging weight.

So if you buy a 350 lb side of beef, expect around 280 lbs of packaged beef cuts.

Always find out the final packaged weight you will receive, not just the hanging weight.

How Much Meat Is In a Side of Beef?

A side of beef will supply your family with beef for 6 months or more. Here’s a rough estimate:

  • A 300 lb side of beef = about 120 lbs packaged meat
  • This will supply a family of 4 with beef for 5-6 months.

Of course this depends on how much beef your family eats per week. For maximum savings, look for a side of beef in the 300-400 lb range.

Where to Buy a Side of Beef

You can purchase a side of beef from:

  • Local cattle ranches
  • Specialty butcher shops
  • Online grass-fed beef companies like ButcherBox

Google “buy a side of beef near me” to find a local source. Or work with a trusted online company that offers beef halves nationwide.

Look for ranchers that raise cattle on open pasture or use regenerative practices. Avoid cattle fed on CAFO style feedlots.

How to Order a Side of Beef

Follow these steps when ordering your side of beef:

1. Get a Quote

Contact suppliers and get a quote per pound based on the final packaged weight. Compare pricing between a few different sources.

2. Select Your Cuts

Ask for a cut list. Select the cuts you want like roasts, ribs, brisket and ground beef.

3. Place Your Order

Place a deposit to reserve your side of beef. You may have to wait a few weeks for delivery.

4. Arrange Payment & Delivery

Pay the balance when the beef is ready. The company will arrange delivery or pickup.

5. Store in the Freezer

Make room in your freezer before delivery day. Use within 9-12 months for best quality.

What is the Cost of a Side of Beef?

Expect to pay $6.50 – $16 per pound for a side of beef depending on how it was raised:

  • Conventional grain-fed: $6.50-$8 per lb
  • Grass-fed: $9-$12 per lb
  • Organic grass-fed: $14-$16 per lb

Organic and grass-fed beef is more expensive because of the higher cost of the cattle, feed, and land. But you’ll get superior flavor and health benefits.

A 300 lb side of beef costs $1800-$5000 on average depending on the source. Bulk discounts make the per pound price very affordable.

How Much Freezer Space is Needed?

You’ll need ample freezer space to store an entire side of beef. The general guideline is:

  • 1 cubic foot of freezer space will hold 35-40 lbs of meat.
  • A 300 lb side needs about 8 cubic feet of freezer space.
  • A stand-alone chest freezer works best. Or dedicate a portion of an upright freezer.

Be sure to measure your freezer’s dimensions before purchasing a large quantity of meat.

How Long Does a Side of Beef Last?

Properly packaged beef has a freezer life of 9-12 months. If vacuum sealed and stored at 0°F, steaks, roasts and ground beef will last up to one year in the freezer without losing quality.

For maximum freshness, use your beef within 6-9 months. Cook ground beef and organ meat within 3-4 months.

With proper storage, your beef can supply your family for many months to come. Buying in bulk is convenient and cost-effective.

Benefits of Buying a Side of Beef

Here are some excellent benefits of purchasing a side of beef:

Saves Money – Bulk pricing results in big savings compared to buying beef by the pound.

Food Security – You’ll have a beef supply in your freezer for 6+ months.

Wide Variety – You’ll get steaks, roasts, brisket, ribs, ground beef and more.

Grass-Fed Options – Many ranches offer premium grass-fed and grass-finished beef.

Supports Local Ranchers – Puts money directly in the pocket of regional cattle farmers.

Reduces Waste – Freezing reduces spoilage and gets every bit of meat used.

Control Portions – Customize cuts to the size your family needs.

Is Buying a Side of Beef Worth It?

If you have a large family that eats a lot of beef, a side of beef is absolutely worth considering.

The upfront cost seems high at first. But the savings per pound compared to grocery store beef make it a smart investment. You’ll recoup the cost over time in lower food bills.

Consider splitting a side with another family to reduce the upfront cost. Simply divide the beef when it’s delivered.

With some planning, a side of beef can offset rising meat prices at the supermarket. And you’ll get fantastic quality craft beef raised the way you like it.

In Conclusion

A side of beef provides quality craft beef for a family at an affordable per pound price when bought in bulk. With some preparation and adequate freezer space, a half cow can offset grocery costs for months. For beef lovers, it’s one of the best investments you can make.

A Side of Beef and all the Steaks in 60 Seconds #shorts


How much is one side of beef?

Total cost for half beef (side) is $6.75 per pound plus tax based on hanging weight of the beef. $600 Deposit due at time of order. HALF BEEF will be custom cut to your specifications at a local processor/butcher shop.

How many pounds is in a side of beef?

An average beef carcass weighs about 600 pounds. A side usually weighs slightly over 300 lbs. This refers to the hanging weight or the gross weight by which the carcass is sold.

What is the most tender cut on a side of beef?

The most tender cut of beef is the beef tenderloin and it is found within the loin. This is where we get filet mignon, which is made from the very tip of the pointy end of the tenderloin. Chateaubriand is made from the center cut of the tenderloin. The tenderloin extends from the short loin into the sirloin.

Is a side of beef half of a carcass?

A side is one-half of a dressed carcass that has been split lengthwise from the neck to the tail. The side can then be split into the front quarter and hind quarter. This cut is made between the 12th and 13th ribs counting from the front of the animal.

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