6 April 2011

Saving money on meat - buying in bulk

It's moving slowly towards Winter here and soon the weather will call for hot soups and casseroles.  Hanno does a lot of our grocery shopping now but I was in the IGA supermarket the other day and nearly fell over when I saw a large leg of lamb priced at $40.  I thought it was a mistake, but looking at the other legs close by, I realised it wasn't - the smaller legs were $30 - $38.  I just checked online at Woolworths, they have a large leg of lamb, cut in two, for $13.00 a kilo or $36 for the leg. Lamb cutlets, that I grew up on, are now $36 a kilo!  That is just incredible to me.

This is how the meat arrived - in two large boxes, wrapped and labelled according to what cut it was.

After I was shocked by that IGA leg of lamb, I talked to Hanno about buying our next meat order in bulk.  We usually use a local family butcher, who is also a grazier with his farm in the mountains near us, so we know his meat is local, grass fed, excellent value, and he kills it himself.  Instead of buying our usual mix of beef, lamb, dry cured bacon and chicken (which usually averages out at about $12/kilo), we ordered a hind quarter of beef.  The girl on the phone, the butcher's daughter, told us the cattle would be slaughtered on a certain day, that dad would hang the meat for a week and it would be ready for pick up on Tuesday, yesterday.  It was two large boxes full and it cost us $308, or $7.80 a kilo.

When Hanno brought it home, we both washed our hands and started packing it away.  Hanno cleaned out the freezer and defrosted it yesterday, so it was ready to be filled.  I wasn't sure how much our freezer would hold so I got the small hind quarter, but when we packed the meat away, the freezer is only one third full. I was talking to Sarndra on the phone yesterday and told her about this and she was interested in sharing the next order. So the next time we do this, I'll order the entire side and share it with Sarndra and Sunny.  The meat will then be $6.80 a kilo.  We might also get a side of lamb then so we have a choice of meat.  I'll buy a few chickens to have on hand in the freezer too.  Sarndra recommended Aldi's free range chicken to me and when we had some at her place for lunch one day, I have to agree, it was very tasty.  And the next time we're down on the coast, we'll get some fish from the fish co-op.  That should give us a good selection of excellent quality meat to choose from, as well as the vegetarian meals we still eat.

It is much better to double wrap meat that will be frozen. With this mince (ground beef)  I divided the bag in two and instead of throwing the original plastic bag away, I use that for extra protection.  

The meat is rolled up in the original bag, then put in a clean bag.

The air is expelled and the bag is twisted, then doubled up on itself, to provide two layers of covering.

Then I expelled all the air, twist the bag again, and tie a knot.  It you don't have much space in your freezer, squash the meat down flat, so each bag can sit neatly on the others, taking up less space.

If you have a freezer and a good butcher nearby, I recommend this to you.  You have to be sure of the quality of the meat though, before you buy it.  Don't buy cheap meat just because it's cheap.  If it is good quality it is wise economy, if it is poor quality, it's a waste. If a new butcher is recommended to you, talk to him about the meat he sells, where it comes from, where it is slaughtered, how fresh it is and if it is grass fed or grain fed.  Grain fed beef is advertised as something special but grass fed beef is better.  Grass fed means the animal lived in a pasture and had natural feed.  Click here for more information on what that means.  Try a small selection of the new butcher's meat before you place your bulk order, just to make sure it's to your taste and is the quality you expect.

Any good butcher will ask you how you want the meat portioned and cut when you place your order.  We got rump - in thick slices and thiner slices, round - thinly sliced (I will stuff and roll it), eye fillet in one piece, three corned beefs, many T bone steaks - some large, some small, lots of minced steak (ground beef), many kilos of sausages, many kilos of diced beef and the bones.  The diced beef is the gravy beef and is one I'm particularly interested in.  When you see that gristle line through it, if you slow cook that, the gristle dissolves and releases natural gelatine - it's very good for you and the meat is delicious.  I'll use the bones for soup and stock, and Alice will also have a few. Make sure the butcher gives you the option of the bones.  Please take them and use them.

As soon as you get the meat home it must be frozen.  We use freezer bags and I use the large ones so I can put the meat in the botton of the bag, twist it around, and double the bag up on itself again - giving us a double wrapped package.  This protects the meat from freezer burn.  This giant order of meat is an investment for Hanno and I and it is my responsibility to look after it and not waste one ounce of it.  Make sure you label every bag.  We used halved stickers because the marker pen usually rubs off.

When you place your order, make sure you can eat the meat in the time recommended in these guidelines.  Frozen meat will deteriorate if left too long, so it's better to share the order with a friend or neighbour if it's too much for you to eat in that time period.  If you can find a good butcher with local, good quality meat, buying meat in bulk like this will help you put good food on the table for less.  It might take a while to find a butcher you trust, but when you do, there will be no going back.

ADDITION: I've had a couple of emails asking where our butcher is - here is his website.

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