How do you know how much meat to buy when you go to the grocery store or buy from a local farmer? There are two main ways that meat is sold: hanging weight and cut weight.
Hanging weight is the weight of the meat after it has been slaughtered, and all of the unusable parts have been removed. Cut weight is the weight of the meat after it has been trimmed, packaged, and labeled.
Then, of course, there is live weight – which is the weight of the animal before it has been slaughtered.
So, which should you buy? In this blog post, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of each method and help you decide which is best for you.
What is Live Weight?
When buying meat, it is important to be aware of weight. Live weight refers to the total weight of the live animal while it was on the hoof, before it has been slaughtered and processed.
This number can tell you a lot about the quality of the meat you are purchasing, as well as indicating how much meat you will actually be getting for your money.
Generally speaking, animals with higher live weights tend to have more marbling and higher amount of fat, which gives their meat a richer flavor and texture. Those at a lower weight might have less fat or fewer bones.
Livestock that has lessened in size due to illness or stress may have inferior meat quality as well, so it is always important to pay close attention to this metric when choosing your next cut of beef or pork.
Live weight is a term that’s generally used to describe cattle and pigs. The average live weight of a pig is 250 to 325 lbs. With a cow, the average live weight is 1100 lbs which will get you 660 lbs hanging weight.
Whether you’re looking for a premium steakhouse experience or simply want something tasty for dinner, live weight is key in determining the quality and quantity that you can expect from your purchase.
What is the Difference Between Hanging Weight and Cut Weight?
The terms “hanging weight” and “cut weight” are often used to describe meat products, but what do these terms actually mean?
At first glance, they might appear to refer simply to different amounts of meat, with the hanging weight being the total weight of a whole animal carcass and the cut weight being the portion that is later chopped up and sold in smaller cuts.
However, there is more to these terms than meets the eye. In fact, they refer to two very different measures of meat quality.
Hanging weight refers to the total weight of an animal carcass after various processing steps have been performed.
These include a variety of slaughtering or butchering techniques that remove certain parts of the animal in order to provide specific cuts for sale. For example, the head, heart, blood, lungs, viscera, hooves and the hide may have been removed.
Because hanging weight can be quite variable depending on how much meat remains after processing, this measure should not be used alone when comparing the quality of different types or cuts of meat.
Going back to the numbers I referenced above, for a pig with a live weight of 250 to 325 lbs, you’ll get about 70% of that in hanging weight – meaning 175 to 228 lbs.
After that, you’ll get about 75% of that in carcass weight, or about 130 to 194 lbs of meat to take home and put into your freezer space. For a cow with the 1100 live animal weight and 660 lbs hanging specified above, you’ll get about 396 lbs of packaged weight.
That last number does vary, though, because how you choose to have the animal cut impacts how much meat you come home with.
For example, if you have more of your meat made into more boneless cuts, ground into sausage or ground beef, or cured, you’ll only yield about 65% or 114 to 149 lbs of take-home cuts. Fat trimming, bone removal, and any additional processing will result in less take home- product.
Something else that impacts the hanging weight vs cut weight, or take home weight, is how lean the animal is. If an animal is overly fat, the hanging weight to packaged weight yield is lower because more fat has to be trimmed off.
Why Do Farms Charge by Hanging Weight?
When you purchase a whole or half hog from a farm, you’re usually charged by the hanging weight of the carcass, not the live harvest weight.
But why? Why not charge by cut weight or by live weight when that’s what’s going into your cooler or what the farmer has to start with?
Hanging weight is the weight of the carcass after it’s been butchered and cleaned, but before it’s been cut into individual pork chops and bacon strips. It’s an important number for farmers and ranchers, because it helps them to determine how much meat they’ll be able to sell from each hog.
There are a few reasons why farms charge by hanging weight rather than by the final weight of the meat. For one thing, it’s more accurate.
Because fat is trimmed off before the meat is packaged, the final weight can vary quite a bit, even for hogs of the same size. Hanging weight, on the other hand, provides a more consistent measurement.
Another reason that farms prefer to charge by hanging weight is that it allows them to pass on some of the processing costs to customers.
These costs can add up, especially if the farm uses a custom butcher. By charging by hanging weight, farmers can ensure that they’re getting compensated for their efforts.
In most cases, it doesn’t make sense for farms to charge by the live weight unless you, the customer, will be taking care of the animal processing and related fees. You’ll be paying a lot more of the variables that are harder to control.
Other Things to Know
When you have your pig or cow cut up, the butcher will ask if you have any special cutting instructions or customers request other options besides the basic retail cuts.
You can identify whether you want to have certain parts of the animal processed into things like roasts, chops, steaks, grind, etc.
You can often specify the portions per package and the ideal thickness, too, so it’s important to take your family’s p[references into consideration. That way, you can get the most “bang for your buck” when buying meat.
Keep in mind that many states have regulations in which customers are charged by the live weight of an animal and the hanging weight – not the boxed weight.
That can be confusing and disappointing,but it doesn’t mean that you are being scammed. It’s simply the way things must be done, in some places.
Always ask the farm or producer you’re buying from about how they charge their prices. Most will be very upfront about this. Remember that most slaughterhouses charge extra for additional processing (things like extra sausage and such).
Quick and Easy Calculations for Shopping Beef
It’s easy to get wrapped around the axle and overtaken by details and figuring when shopping for beef. There are certainly plenty of variables to keep track of!
But if you are blessed with an abundance of suppliers in your local area, and don’t want to spend an entire afternoon figure-figuring which has the best deal for you, you can rely on a couple of simple formulas when making your first pass through your shopping list.
If shopping for grass-fed beef, one easy way to calculate the yield is that the hanging weight will be 60% of the live weight of the cow and the cut weight is 60% of the hanging weight. This lets you easily plug in and he quoted numbers and get down to brass tacks.
So for instance, let’s say you have a 1,000 lb live cow. That will break down to a 600 lb hanging weight and a 360 lb cut weight. The formula looks like this:
- 1,000 (live weight) x 0.60 = 600 (hanging weight)
- 600 (hanging weight) x 0.60 = 360 (cut weight).
It’s just that easy.
Always Check References if You Have Any Doubts
Let’s face it: although the idea of being able to trust your local farmer or other supplier implicitly is nice, that just isn’t reality in most places.
Farming and butchering is still a business, and like all businesses some cheating or dirty pool goes on in order to make sure profits stay where they need to be, one way or the other.
You should be suspicious of any supplier that is playing fast and loose with the numbers. Some variance is to be expected for convenience and due to unforeseen circumstances, but you don’t want to get taken to the cleaners when buying meat in bulk.
Make it a point to look around and get references from other people who have purchased from the supplier you are considering. Searching online in various local forms and groups should help.
Also, don’t hesitate to ask for references. People who deal honestly and have a good, above board of business are usually more than happy to steer you toward referrals but make sure you actually vet these referrals.
Consider any evasiveness, offense or other churlish behavior to be a warning sign. Again, an upright business person knows the consumers are smart to be cautious in this day and age.
Failing to do your due diligence could result in a serious case of sticker shock at best, or getting ripped off for a small quantity of low quality meat at worst. I’ll tell you all about my experience buying in bulk in the next section.
Hanging Weight vs. Cut Weight: My Experience
We bought a quarter of a cow today from the farmer up the road. It ended up being a lot less meat than we’d expected though; about 97 lbs.
If you’re like us, that just doesn’t sound right does it? A beef animal weighs like 800 lbs or something, how could a quarter of it only be 97 lbs?
Well, it’s because of the hanging weight vs. cut weight issue, which we didn’t really understand before we made our purchase, and so we ended up paying more than we’d expected per pound.
This means that when you calculate the end result with the price per pound that you paid, it will end up being much more per pound.
In our case, the farmer charged us $2/lb hanging weight, which ended up totaling $382 (thank goodness for a tax refund!).
But when we calculated how many pounds of meat we actually brought home it ended up being about $3.90/lb.
It was definitely a good deal for locally raised, grass-fed whole beef, but still much more than we’d expected to pay. We had actually planned on splitting the meat (and the cost) with some friends. But what we have isn’t enough to share.
Honestly, I can’t complain though. I’ve looked around, and the average price I’ve found for grass fed beef ranges from $3-$4/lb hanging weight, so you’d end up paying almost double that for the cut meat.
Plus, this includes pot roast, round roast, London broil, chuck roast, sirloin steaks, sirloin tip roast, ribeye steaks, t-bone steaks, and short ribs. Not to mention tons of ground carcass beef, and some soup bones.
So, we are still pleased with our investment. But it’s good to know what to expect next time we plan on buying beef in bulk like this. And hopefully this lesson has been helpful to some of you as well.
Estimating How Much Meat to Buy For Your Family
When it comes to estimating how much meat to buy for your family, there are a few factors to consider.
First, think about how often you eat meat meals and how many people will be eating. If you typically have two meatless dinners and one meat-based dinner per week, and there are four people in your household, you’ll need about 1.5 pounds of meat per week.
If you eat meat more frequently or have more people in your household, you’ll obviously need to buy more. Another factor to consider is the type of meat you’re buying.
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are generally smaller than bone-in chicken thighs, for example, so you’ll need to buy more chicken breasts to equal the amount of chicken thighs.
When in doubt, it’s always better to err on the side of buying too much meat rather than too little – you can always freeze any extras for another time. With a little planning, it’s easy to make sure you have just the right amount of meat for your family’s needs.
How You Can Save Money on Meat by Purchasing it in Bulk
When it comes to eating meat, many people think that they have to choose between spending a lot of money or eating low-quality meat.
However, there is a third option: buying meat in bulk. By purchasing meat in larger quantities, you can save money without sacrificing quality. Here are some tips for how to save money on meat by purchasing it in bulk.
Look for sales. Many farmers will offer discounts on older animals or at the end of the season, when there’s more product to offload.. This is a great way to get high-quality meat at a discounted price.
Join a CSA. Community Supported Agriculture programs allow you to purchase shares of meat from local farms. This can be a great way to get access to fresh, humanely raised meat at a reasonable price.
Again, buy whole animals, or fractions of a whole animal. When you buy a half cow or quarter cow, you can often get a significant discount since a round portion is being sold. Plus, you’ll have the added benefit of being able to use all parts of the animal, rather than just the cuts that are typically sold in stores.
If you don’t think you’ll use the entire animal, consider going in on one with family and friends. Buying an entire cow or pig will yield you greater savings than even buying a half pig or quarter beef share.
By following these tips, you can save money on meat without compromising on quality. So next time you’re at the grocery store, consider buying in bulk!
So, what have we learned? When buying meat in bulk, always go by the hanging weight. This will ensure you get the best price per pound and that you’re getting as much meat as possible.
Have you tried this strategy before? What tips do you have for fellow meat-buyers? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!
Do you buy beef by the quarter or half a cow? I’d be interested in knowing what you pay per pound hanging weight!
A city girl learning to homestead on an acre of land in the country. Wife and homeschooling mother of four. Enjoying life, and everything that has to do with self sufficient living.