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 and Sprout's aren'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. As in from a local farmer that you trust. This is because it's expensive to ship meat and keep it cool.
And grocery stores need to make a profit too. There are some national sellers of fresh and frozen meat but in most cases, you must buy it preserved.
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. We personally buy their beef sticks which taste good. They make for a good snack or a good emergency food provision if the power goes out.
You can buy either spicy or non-spicy beef, turkey or chicken sticks.
My family has been buying Nick's Sticks grass-fed beef sticks for over three years. 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. We have a bland taste palate 🙂
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.
Nick's Sticks Options
Here are some of the Nick's Sticks meat stick options you can choose from:
- Beef sticks (the one's we buy and love)
- Beef sticks with pea protein
- Spicy beef sticks
- Turkey sticks (regular and spicy)
- Chicken sticks (regular and spicy)
- Mini sticks (0.5 ounces versus 1.7 ounces in a normal package)
We Buy Local Fresh Meat First (Even If It Isn't “Organic”)
Buying local beef can be cheaper per pound than from a supermarket. But you will need to buy in bulk (i.e., lots of money upfront) and will need a lot of freezer space.
We buy local beef in bulk once a year. Instead of spending $8+ per pound, we pay approximately $6 per pound for a variety of cuts like ground beef, steak and beef roast. You get the entire cow–or maybe a quarter or half of one instead.
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 don't always buy organic-labeled beef and chicken. Why?
Because we normally buy from local farms that don't go through the whole organic certification process. It's too costly and time-consuming to get the certification for a family farm. However, we visit their farms and trust their operation.
We have declined to purchase from some farms after inspecting the place.
Raising beef cows on a small family farm can be naturally-more environmentally friendly than organic commercial farming. You can meet the local farmer and butcher.
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.
For example, are the cows really 100% grass-fed or are they corn-finished at the end?
For chickens, are they really cage-free and still had ample room to run? If not, is their coop stuffed in like sardines?
In addition to the diet and living condition, you might also ask which shots the animal receives. Some farmers perform more inoculations than others.
Quarter Cow vs Half Cow
Most family budgets only permit buying a “quarter cow” or a “half cow.” A quarter is 25% of the cow's boxed weight. An average quarter for us is around 125 pounds. You may do a quarter if you have a small family or only eat beef several times per month.
A half cow is 50% of the cow's weight. This can be the better option if you have a large family, several teenagers or eat beef daily.
If you pay $6 per pound, you might pay the following for a quarter or half:
- Quarter Cow: $750
- Half Cow: $1,500
If you can splurge and have the freezer space, getting a whole cow can give you a lot of beef. A lot.
Once again, you can get the following cuts for one flat fee:
- Ground beef
Your farmer or butcher may let you complete a “cut list” that lets you request specific cuts of steak and roast. For example, you may request filet mignon or a beef brisket.
If you like organs or making beef broth from the bones, the butcher may give these to you for free. Our butcher usually throws these away. Once again, be prepared to get a lot of bones that you'll need to find freezer space for.
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 peace 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 for bulk beef:
- 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. You can also check Facebook Marketplace or the clearance section of your local hardware store to see if there's a deal.
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 the hang weight is 100 pounds, about 70 to 80 pounds of it is consumable.
Our Real-Life Example of Estimating Butcher Weights
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 Meat Chickens
You can buy organic and free-range chickens (these are two different types of diets), in the store. You can expect to pay up to $8 per pound (or more) from a local farmer depending on where you live.
We don't have a local meat chicken source at the moment so we go to the store. As a result, we don't buy uber-healthy chicken often. Instead, we look for brands we trust that have minimal processing, antibiotics and exercise humanitarian farming practices.
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. But prices can be closer to $5-6 as chicken feed is costly.
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:
Josh founded Money Buffalo in 2015 to help people get out of debt and make smart financial decisions. He is currently a full-time personal finance writer with work featured in Forbes Advisor, Fox Business, and Credible.