When I was growing up, we didn’t have a lot of beef and bacon around. Not that we didn’t like it, or were vegetarian on principle, but between budget constraints and the lowfat diet movement that had its grip on popular wisdom at the time, we hardly ever bought it. Extra lean ground beef and the occasional boneless skinless chicken breast were the extent of our meat choices. If I ever had a steak, it was at a restaurant, and was a big deal.
This pattern has continued into my own cooking and meal planning. I chuckle at frugal menu planning tips like “try eating a meatless dinner once a week”. I have to work to incorporate meat into my planning! And I do want to incorporate more healthy, grass-fed beef and pork into our cooking. I certainly enjoy it, and I know my husband loves it. But the price can be quite prohibitive.
So over the past couple of months I have been researching different sources for our meat. I know that getting pastured or grass-fed animals are going to provide the best nutrition for us, but they are also fairly pricey. Not having a large freezer we can’t order up a whole cow for a good bulk deal. But there are some good options out there, and you can balance budget and quality. They fall into categories of Good, Better, and Best:
Good: Reasonable price, but substandard quality
Central Market: I’ll start here. Most grocery stores fall into the “Bad” category-forget grass-fed, you’re lucky if they have organic or meat not full of hormones and antibiotics. But Central Market is a local chain that has a much healthier selection. I frequently buy whole free-range, air-chilled chickens here at a very reasonable price. But while the majority of their meat is hormone free, it is grain finished, and you don’t have as much exposure to the source of your steak. I figure most major cities have grocery stores of this caliber; if you are stuck in an Albertson’s only land, I’m sorry.
S&L Quality Meats: a local butcher shop that proudly advertises natural, hormone-free, antibiotic-free meat. Prices are comparable to Central Market. They tell you where the meat comes from, but unfortunately that is a couple of states away in Montana, and the meat is grain-finished. The person we talked to there seemed to think that was perfectly fine and that grass-fed proponents were a little snobbish. Well, sorry, but I am going to be a snob when it comes to the health of my family. Still, if I needed something in a pinch, it would be an okay option.
Better: Great quality, high prices
US Wellness Meats: Known on the web for having high quality and high prices. When I first looked at this site I wondered how anyone could possibly eat grass-fed meat on a regular basis unless they had a)no kids or b)a very high salary. We don’t have kids yet but our salaries, while a blessing, won’t support those prices along with our other financial goals.
Bill the Butcher: There are multiple Bill’s locations around Seattle and all are fun small butcher shops with sassy employees and large hunks of tasty meat. They haven’t found a good supplier for sausages (Jer actually pointed out to the guy working the knife that the brand they sell has msg) but their bacon is to die for. I mean, seriously good bacon. I make little egg and bacon breakfast muffins for quck bites in the morning and they are so tasty. Prices here are better than premium retailers, but still more expensive than S&L, because their beef is actually grass-fed. They also have Wagyu beef, in case you felt like dropping a LOT of cash on a big steak.
Sea Breeze Farms: A farm on Vashon Island, these guys do it all. If I was going to farm, this is how I would do it. You’ll find them at farmer’s markets, selling meat, charcuterie, raw milk and cheese, and even wine that they make on their farm. I saw them at the U District market and bought a couple of sausages that they had made themselves, with no chemical additives. The sausages were delicious, and Jer was thrilled. These guys even have a limited seating weekend restaurant with a menu made from their foodstuffs. Great sustainability and diversity on a small farm. Wendell Berry would be proud.
Best: Good quality and good price
Thundering Hooves: Here is my new solution-a CSA for god meat. Grass-fed meat at prices comparable to the good options. Quality like US Wellness, with the local dedication of Bill’s. Unfortunately, they don’t have nitrate-free bacon or sausages (this seems to be a recurring problem, even among grass-fed proponents) but they do carry a wide selection of extras like liver, lard, and marrow bones. You have to order a couple of weeks in advance and go pick it up from a drop off center, but since I plan my meals 1-2 weeks in advance, that’s not too strenuous. Also, when you go pick up the meat they will have extras on sale for 30% off, and you can score some real deals. I just found out that my produce CSA is going to start offering THundering Hooves meat in the weekly delivery box, at a higher price, which is a good option if pickup day is far off and we need something. But if we were going to pay extra, we would likely just go to the farmer’s market or Bill’s and get a fresh cut of something fabulous.
So there you are-the options for someone not in possession of a large freezer. But now that I have done all this research and found a good solution, we have decided to buy that freezer after all. We found someone who will go in with us on the purchase of a cow from a local farm, and my parents are going to take some as well, so come July we will likely be in possession of a quarter side of beef. And the price? With the beef and the cut and wrap fees, it works out to be $2.42 a pound. Yes, that’s right. Less than $3 a pound for grass-fed, locally grown and butchered red meat. I think the freezer is the right investment.
Now I just have to find more good recipes for beef!
This post is part of Two for Tuesday