Buying a Side of Beef: Everything You Need to Know

From The Butcher
Angus Steaks on a Butcher Counter at Heatherlea Farm Shoppe in Caledon.

Thinking about purchasing a side of beef? Here is everything you need to know!


We’re covering it all; including what a side of beef is; how many meals you get from it; what size of freezer you need; and even knowing the lingo when you talk to your butcher or farmer.


There are many reasons people choose to buy beef in bulk.  First off, it’s a great way to stock your freezer from your favourite farmer.  This gives you the benefit of having the cuts you need readily available for your next meal (it’s convenient!).  Secondly, you are saving when you buy in bulk.  And lastly, you get to CUSTOMIZE your cuts! Keep reading, there is more on that later.


What is a Side of Beef?

A side of beef or half cow is one half of the animal after it has been “dressed”, which means it has been trimmed to remove any exterior non-meat. The side of beef is then divided into larger pieces called primals (chuck, rib, loin, round, brisket, shank, plate, and flank) and further into sub-primals and individual cuts.

Side of beef, dry aging at a butcher shop in Caledon, Ontario

What Cuts are in a Side of Beef?

Front Quarter Cuts


Chuck: Chuck is flavourful and perfect for slow cooking. It is typically made into roasts, stew beef or ground beef.


Brisket: Brisket is best left whole (or in smaller roasts) to use on the smoker. It can also be made into stew or ground.


Rib: The rib has tender and juicy cuts known as ribeye steaks, prime rib steaks and prime rib roasts. 


Plate: The plate contains short ribs and two kinds of steak: hanger and skirt steak.

Butcher Cutting a Front Quarter

Hind Quarter Cuts


Short Loin: The loin has some of the most popular cuts including Porterhouse, T-Bone, and Bone-In Striploin OR Tenderloin Steaks and N.Y. Striploin Steaks.  Note that if you request Tenderloin Steaks, you will automatically get the other side of the steak (Striploins) OR you can request T-Bone and Porterhouse Steaks that contain a portion of Tenderloin on them.


Top Sirloin: The Sirloin is flavourful and makes for great steaks, roasts or stir-fry.


Round: The Round offers various options including roasts, stew, stir-fry, grind, or steaks. The Eye of Round and the Rump Roast are popular cuts from the Round.


Flank: The Flank Steak is well-known as a marinating steak.  There is only one flank steak per side.


Front & Hind Cuts


Shank: Shank is available on both the hind and front quarter.  Shank can be enjoyed as a whole roast, a boneless roast or shank slices (or Osso Bucco).


Marrow & Knuckle Bones: Beef bones are great for making your own beef stock or roasting the marrow bones as an appetizer.


Organ Meats: Organ meats may include liver, heart, and tongue.

T-bone steaks Heatherlea's butcher shop in Caledon.


What Cuts Are in a Quarter of Beef?

Quarters of beef are sold as the front (chuck, rib, plate) or the hind (loin, rib, flank).  Sometimes you will find mixed quarters which has a variety of cuts from both the front and the hind.


How Many Steaks Will I Get in a Side of Beef?

The amount of steaks you get will depend on how thick you you request your steaks to be cut. Thinner steaks would yield a higher quantity of steaks in your order, however we don’t recommend going any less than 1 inch thick for steaks.  Thicker steaks are juicier and don’t run the risk of being overcooked – watch for our upcoming blog post on the importance of steak thickness!

We’ll lay out roughly how many steaks you will get in a side of beef if you cut them at approximately 1 inch thick:

  • 8 T-Bone Steaks*
  • 2 Wing Steaks (bone-in Striploin Steaks)*
  • 2 Porterhouse Steaks*

*if you prefer Tenderloins/Striploins instead of T-Bones than you can expect approximately 12-14 Stiploins and 12-14 Tenderloins.

  • 10 -12 Ribeye Steak (or you can choose from Prime Rib Steak, Tomahawks, or Prime Rib Roasts)
  • Secondary cuts: Flank Steak (1 per side) and some bavette and skirt steak.
Secondary beef cuts included in a side of beef are flank, skirt and bavette.

How Much Ground Beef is in a Side of Beef?

LOTS! And that’s great news because ground beef is amazingly versatile. The options are endless with pasta dishes, meatballs, meatloaf, burgers, stuffed peppers and more!  A side of beef will give you approximately 90 lbs of ground beef.  This will change depending on how lean you request your ground beef.

If you would prefer less ground beef, we suggest ordering more stew beef.


How Many Meals Are in a Side of Beef

A side of beef has approximately 110 – 150 meals for a family of 4 -5 people.


How Long Will My Side of Beef Supply Last?

A side of beef will supply you with beef meals for about 35-50 weeks when enjoying beef 2-3 times per week as a family of 4-5 people.


What Size of Freezer Do I Need for a Side of Beef?

A general rule is about 1 cu. feet of freezer space per 35-40 lbs of cut and wrapped meat.  You will need slightly more space for odd shaped packages, such as bones.  Plus, you will want to leave some space if it’s not a dedicated freezer.  Therefore, a side of beef will need about 10-12 cu. feet of freezer space to be safe.

Freezer Beef Buying Guide


Buying a Side of Beef: Know the Lingo

You may hear the term “dressed weight” or “hanging weight”. This is the weight of the side of beef when it is first hung to begin aging.  Like all beef producers, we sell our beef by dressed weight.

As the meat ages and tenderizes, some weight it lost due to the evaporation of moisture in the meat.  Weight is also lost during the trimming and cutting process when some fat and bones are discarded. 


A typical side of beef weighs around 300 – 400 lbs.  Once the butcher ages, trims and cuts the meat, the final weight is reduced due to the loss of moisture and discarded bones and trim.  These processes result a reduction in weight up to 40% or more.  The final individually wrapped meats for a side of beef may weigh approximately 165 – 220 lbs (this is referred to as the cut weight).


Keep this weight reduction in mind when placing an order for beef.  This is how the beef industry works, and the pricing of a side of beef is set knowing there is a weight reduction.

Hiring butchers and meat cutters at Heatherlea Farm Shoppe

Questions to Ask Your Farmer or Butcher

Your farmer/butcher is knowledgeable and there to help you! Feel free to ask questions about how long your beef is aged for and what breed of cattle they have available.


Does Breed Matter?

Yes!  Talk to your farmer/butcher about what breed of cattle they have available.  Angus beef is known for its excellent marbling that is finely and evenly dispersed throughout the meat. The marbling of Angus beef creates a more tender, juicy and flavourful meat than other breeds.


Does Dry Aging Help with Flavour and Tenderness?

Yes! Dry aging is the process of hanging meat to allow some moisture to evaporate which concentrates the flavours of the beef.  This process also enables the naturally occurring enzymes to breakdown some of the fibres, creating very tender beef.  Dry aged beef is typically aged for 21-28 days.


Dry aging is not common practice everywhere so be sure to ask if it’s available.

Caledon Farmers, Don & Gord McArthur at Heatherlea Farm Shoppe.

What’s The Best Method to Package Meat for the Freezer?

Our recommended method is to use butcher paper.  It is excellent at locking out moisture and air, protecting your meat for long periods of time (6 months – 1 year+).  Butcher paper isn’t transparent like plastic so it blocks out light which can discolour your meats over time.


How Do I Order a Side of Beef?

Your farmer or butcher will often have a cut-sheet for you to fill out.  This form gives you options to choose from such as:


  • How long you want your beef aged for (21 days, 28 days, or more)
  • Steaks thickness (typical is 1 – 2 inches)
  • The number of steaks per package (usually 1-2 steaks per package)
  • The preferred weight range of your roasts (typical is 3-5 lbs each)
  • The package size of your ground, stew and fast fry (typical is 1 – 2 lbs per package)
  • How you like your ground beef (medium, lean and extra lean –fattier ground beef equates to more pounds you receive in ground beef)
  • You will also need to let your butcher know how you want each cut processed (do you want each cut turned into steaks, ground or roasts?).
Thick Steaks of Angus Beef at Heatherlea in Caledon

If this is your first-time ordering, we recommend having a chat with your farmer or butcher about the cut-sheet. Let them know the size of your family and what you enjoy eating so that they can help guide you in filling out the cut-sheet to suit your family’s needs. 


Check out Heatherlea’s Cut-Sheet as a sample.


Most farmers will charge a deposit fee to reserve your side of beef.  Since your side of beef is customized to your liking, you may have to wait a few weeks before your order is ready for you.


Learn more about Heatherlea’s sides of Angus beef.

Knowledgeable butchers at Heatherlea

More At Heatherlea