Cheap organic meat. Is it really possible? Our family enjoys eating beef and chicken, which are definitely not two of the most affordable items in the grocery aisle and are some of the hardest food items to replace with a healthier option because of the cost. I’ll share with you how we can afford to eat healthier meat without having to sell our firstborn child!
Money Buffalo readers: This is another article where I share tips on how my wife and I eat organic and healthy food on a budget. Whole Foods isn’t your only option to eat healthy, in fact, it’s probably been at least three years since we even set foot in a Whole Foods location! All opinions are my own and I encourage you to share your thoughts and how you save money on your groceries as well.
Plan on buying organic meat locally. This is because it’s expensive to ship meat and keep it cool. While you can find local or regional sellers online, it’s difficult to find a national seller fresh and frozen meat.
One Organic Meat You Can Buy Online—Nick’s Sticks
One rare exception for buying organic meat online is Nick’s Sticks.
They only sell dry meat.
You can buy either spicy or non-spicy beef or turkey beef sticks. You can also order these flavors in jerky format too.
My family has been buying Nick’s Sticks grass-fed beef sticks for over a year. By far, they are our favorite. They’re not greasy (like a Slim Jim) and not spicy. They sell some spicy ones, but we’ve never tried them.
Besides the superior taste, we like using Nick Stick’s because they don’t contain these nasty additives:
- Red Dye
Their beef is grass-fed and their turkey is free range.
While this probably won’t replace a juicy hamburger, you now have a high-quality snack or a quick meal-on-the-go if you eat while driving.
We Buy Local Fresh Meat First (Even If It Isn’t Organic)
Unless you live in a major metropolitan area, you can probably drive to a local farm that sells organic, free range, or grass-fed meat within an hour.
Maybe I’ll catch some flak from this statement (this post is about organic meat after all), but my wife and I usually don’t buy organic-labeled beef and chicken. Why? Because we normally buy from local farms that don’t go through the whole organic certification process. However, we visit their farms and trust their operation.
There have been occasions when we didn’t make a purchase after visiting the farm.
This is my own opinion here, but, meat can be one of the hardest areas to verify if the cow or chicken is truly eating an organic diet, if they are really 100% grass-fed, or if those chickens were really cage-free and still had ample room to run or were still stuffed into a coop like sardines without the cage.
If You Can’t Buy Local Organic Meat (or Grass-Fed), Consider These Factors
We like buying local beef, chicken, and pork because we can meet the farmer and ask him these two questions:
- Do you use antibiotics and growth hormones?
- What does the diet consist of? (100% grass-fed, corn-finished, free range, grass and grains, etc.)
We only buy from farmers that are 100% grass fed and don’t use antibiotics and hormones. The meat might cost a little more, but, it’s worth the piece of mind.
USDA Organic Beef by nature prohibits farmers from using non-organic feed or administering antibiotics and hormones that conventional feedlots use. Not only were cows not designed to eat corn (watch the video below), but we don’t believe the health impact of antibiotics and hormones are suitable for human consumption, even if it’s only the residues.
Being able to actually meet the farmer and visit the farm lets determine if he is “walking the walk.”
What to Know Before You Buy Local Beef
Buying locally-raised beef is a whole lot cheaper than buying local, organic or free-range chickens. As a result, we eat more beef than we do chicken.
The cheapest way to buy local beef is to buy a side (half) or a quarter of the cow. Before you purchase your first quarter, you need to know a few things about how local beef is priced because you might not get as meat as you might expect.
It’s confusing at first but a cow has three different weights:
- Live weight: How much the cow weighs alive
- Hanging weight: How much the cow weighs butchered but not yet processed into steak, ground beef, etc.
- Boxed weight: The edible weight of the cow
Also, invest in a deep freezer because you are going to get a lot of meat that won’t fit entirely in your kitchen freezer. Remember, buying bulk meat is definitely an easy way to save money.
By buying a side or quarter, you pay a flat rate per pound regardless of the cut, so you will come with a combination of ground beef, ribs, and steak! Some butchers sell by the cut (like the grocery store) but this is more expensive.
Hanging Weight vs. Boxed Weight
Each farmer does it differently. However, they generally sell by the hanging weight. This is different from the boxed weight that is the price we pay per pound at the grocery store. Hanging weight is the entire slab (meat and bones) before the butcher processes it into ground beef, steaks, roast, etc.
When they say they hang weight is 100 pounds, about 70 to 80 pounds of it is consumable.
Our Real-Life Example
Here’s our real-life example from the most recent quarter we bought that had a hanging weight of 112 pounds. After the processing, we picked up right around 80 pounds of beef. The other 32 pounds was discarded by the butcher. While we got back about 70% of the hanging weight this time, we might only get back 55% next time which is usually a conservative average given by butchers.
In the end, we paid $6 per pound for 100% grass-fed beef and we got ground beef, steaks, and roast. At our local grocery store, the corn-fed ground beef costs about $5.75 per pound and the prices go up for the more select cuts like New York Strip, Filet Mignon, and roast.
While our beef isn’t labeled organic, it’s the next best thing (to us). And, we saved at least $2 per pound (organic beef starts at $8 per pound in our local stores) which also makes our wallets very happy!
Buying Healthy Chickens
You can buy organic and free-range chickens (these are two different types of diets), in the store. We do have a local source for free-range chickens and he only charges $3 per pound and he has very limited quantities. We live in a rural area and this is extremely cheap even for these parts. You can expect to pay up to $8 per pound (or more) from a local farmer depending on where you live.
For a conventional, non-organic and non-free range chicken, our local grocery store charges 99-cents per pound for a whole chicken. For a bird that weighs five pounds, that can easily be a difference of $20 per bird!
Non-commercial chickens can be very expensive. Typically, we stick with farm-fresh eggs that we buy for about $3 a dozen.
Tips For Buying Organic and Natural Meat in the Store
We do buy organic and natural meat in our local grocery store periodically. Generally, it’s for special family dinners (when we don’t have enough of a specific cut in our freezer) or to buy some meat on clearance.
Here are some things to look out for:
- “Natural” can mean a whole variety of things (sadly) in the grocery world. Naturally raised beef could have been fed grass for a short period of time and mostly fed grains and corn after that to give it the desired “marbling” and fat content the typical American consumer desires.
- 100% grass-fed means the cow was only fed grass but it might not be organic.
- Organic meat could have been fed grains and not just grass.
- The animals (cows, chickens, and pigs) may not be pasture-raised; they may only have to eat organic food and not be kept totally confined.
I’m not trying to talk you out of buying organic and natural meat from the grocery store. But, if there is one area where we can buy local, it’s beef and chickens. We can check the source and it can be easy to get similar quality cuts for less than you will pay at the grocery store. You only need the space to store 100+ pounds of frozen beef, pork, or chicken at once.
Cheap organic meat and naturally raised meat can be found. We recommend checking local sources first since cows, chickens, and pigs are raised all over the country in counties just like yours! Not only can you meet the farmer, but it can bed cheaper than buying a similar product in the grocery store.
Don’t miss the other articles in this series on how I share how we eat healthy and organic foods for less-than-retail: