ASF Blog

Animal Science and Forages > ASF Blog > Posts > Freezer Beef in West-Central Alabama


Freezer Beef in West-Central Alabama is becoming a popular management tool for parents that want to take care of their family’s health and know their food is being produced locally.  We as individuals have food choices that we did not necessarily have a decade ago.  Traditionally, the only way the general public could purchase meat from farmers was to buy the live animal.  This left the consumer with all the cuts that come from a carcass and not all cuts are preferred and consumed by all families.  Due to changes in federal law in the past decade we now have the ability to buy and sell beef and other meats like pork and lamb as retail cuts.  We should all be proud of the fact that the United States has the safest system of processing meat of anywhere in the world.  
            Many of our local farmer’s markets in West Alabama now have beef and other frozen meats as an option to be purchased from local farmers.  Extension gets many questions about this type of delivery system for beef.  Questions are raised about food safety, handling practices, quality of the meat and price. 
These questions have prompted me to address them in this article.  In addressing safety, I must tell you that USDA has roughly 7500 meat inspectors in the mid-west that inspects both the harvesting of our animals and the processing of the carcasses into retail products.  So what happens in Alabama where the meat for the farmer’s market is being processed into retail cuts? The meat at the farmer’s market has to be processed in a state or federally inspected packing facility.  This means that while the animals are being harvested an inspector is on-site at the facility.  In addition, the process of cutting the carcasses into retail cuts is monitored by the inspectors as well.  Remember, that your locally purchased meat has to go through all the same safety standards as the meat in the grocery stores.
 In addressing quality, what are we talking about?  When we talk about quality we are talking flavor, tenderness and shelf-life.  Flavor is going to depend on how much marbling is in the meat.  Marbling is intramuscular flakes of fat.  This means fat in the muscle.  To obtain intramuscular flakes of fat in the muscle, first the animal has to have the genetics to have this fat and second the animal has to be fed a diet that is high in caloric intake for a period of time for this fat to be deposited in the muscle.  A range of days would be 100 to 200 days on this type of diet to obtain the flavor that is desired by most consumers.  Tenderness of meat varies from animal to animal just like height varies among people. The beef at the grocery store has normally hung on a rail less than 72 hours.   A carcass hanging for 7 to 10 days after being harvested will solve most all of the tenderness issues with beef.  Purchasing a freezer beef from a local farmer or purchasing retail cuts at a local farmer’s market allows for a more tender eating experience when it comes to beef.   Our locally owned small processing facilities have the ability to let the carcasses hang 7 to 10 days.  Finally, shelf-life is important.  When purchasing freezer beef find a processor that will use vacuum packing versus wrapped in paper.  Yes, meat has been wrapped in paper for many decades with no problems.  However, vacuum packing meat will extend shelf-life in the freezer and limit freezer burn.
Price rules the day in many ways.  It can be cheaper to purchase your own animal to make a freezer beef.  However, this is only true if you are utilizing most all of the animal in your eating experiences.  It is hard to find a family that prefers to utilize all the retail cuts in a beef animal.  For example, I recently talked with a couple that had no children at home.  They purchased ½ of a beef and had it processed and did not want the ground beef.  Ground beef is roughly 1/3 of the meat from a carcass and ¼ of the total weight of the animal.  I am not sure that they came out on the low cost end of the beef purchasing experience.  However, they were happy with a guaranteed tender product that was locally raised.  If you only want certain cuts you may want to visit a farmer’s market and talk with a farmer that has the genetics and the feeding program that produces the type cuts that you want.  Most people will come out cheaper purchasing the individual retail cuts of beef or pork that they prefer versus purchasing the entire animal and having retail cuts that a lot of families do not want to cook or eat. 
If you have questions concerning raising meat for your freezer or you have an interest in purchasing meat and want to know more about the process, please contact Jonathan Gladney at 205-349-4630 or your local county extension office.



Steve Fraley

10/8/2012 1:48 PM
Home grown beef is unlike anything else. We love having a full or half a cow in our freezer at any given time. Thanks for sharing these important tips. We need to be aware of our safety of buying from farmers markets as well as grocery stores.