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Here’s How Much Freezer Space You Need for Half a Cow

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This article is part of our Raising Meat on the Homestead series.

If you eat beef regularly, you may have wondered about how much freezer space you need for a quarter of half a cow. Buying bulk meat can be a great way to be more environmentally responsible while supporting local farmers and reducing food waste.

The only problem is conserving your meat. Buying bulk meat can feel daunting as you consider how to store it properly. For most homesteaders, this means loading a chest freezer with meat from the butcher. You can also use your upright freezer if you calculate how much space you need and how much meat you want to buy.

This in-depth guide will answer all your questions about procuring and storing beef in bulk, whether you plan on buying a quarter cow, half a cow, or even a whole cow!

Sound good?

Then let’s talk beef!

How Much Beef Will Fit In a Freezer?

stacking ribs and meat inside the basement freezer
Buying bulk beef can be a great way to save cash. But how much meat will your freezer hold? It depends on your freezer. And how the beef gets cut! Our favorite rule of thumb is to remember that one cubic foot of freezer space can handle approximately thirty-five to forty pounds of packaged beef.

There are many things to consider to answer this question accurately. The main aspects, of course, are freezer sizes and the amounts of beef you plan to store.

But you should also consider how the meat gets packaged and what type of cut it is. Minced beef, for example, stores differently than a roast, steak, or sausage. The size and shape of the packaged meat will also affect how much you can fit, as will how you stack the pieces in the freezer.

Freezer Size (Cubic Feet)Beef Weight (Pounds)
Cubic Feet: 135 – 40 pounds
Cubic Feet: 3105 – 120 pounds
Cubic Feet: 5175 – 200 pounds
Cubic Feet: 7245 – 280 pounds
Cubic Feet: 10350 – 400 pounds
Cubic Feet: 14490 – 560 pounds
How Much Beef Can My Freezer Hold?

How Big of a Freezer Do I Need for a Side of Beef?

You can expect to fit between 35 and 40 pounds of beef per foot of freezer space. This amount can vary slightly based on how the meat gets packaged and how you stack it in the freezer.

Therefore, a five-cubic foot freezer is the tiniest recommended for a quarter-beef (it may more comfortably fit an eighth beef). Six to seven cubic feet may be better if you want extra space or plan to store other items alongside your quarter share.

Similarly, for half a cow, the smallest you want to go is eight cubic feet; however, nine to twelve cubic feet may be a better fit, especially if you intend to freeze other food.

If you want to go crazy and freeze an entire order of cow meat, don’t get anything smaller than a 16-cubic foot freezer. Opt for a 17-21-cubic foot freezer if you want reassurance that all your frozen meat will fit. Even if you’re not planning on storing other food items, a bulkier freezer may make it easier to keep your beef organized and avoid food waste.

Another thing to consider is the type of freezer you plan to use and how to keep it organized. Some chest freezers are about as simple as it gets: a large box with a single storage space. Others are more complex, with shelves, baskets, or other compartments for storing different types or cuts of beef. Many homesteaders prefer the latter because it helps them stay organized, keep track of their items, and use them within a set amount of time.

Remember that you can always get separate chest freezers for additional freezer space!

vacuum packed beef steaks on wooden cutting board
A side of beef usually weighs around 300 pounds. But that 300 pounds represent hanging weight. After processing, trimming, and cutting, expect your side to weigh around 250 pounds. Since you can expect your freezer to hold approximately 35 to 40 pounds of meat per square foot, you would need at least a seven-square-foot freezer to store a side of beef. (250 divided by 40 = 6.25.)

How Much Meat Is In Half a Cow?

When you purchase bulk meat from a farmer for the first time, double-check how much meat they include in half a cow. It can range from as low as 140 lbs to as high as 300, so it is vital to know what you are getting – both for your wallet and your freezer.

As a general rule of thumb, most butchers classify half a cow as between 250 and 300 pounds of meat. This measurement can vary depending on many factors, including the beef cuts and whether it is in the form of sausages, mince, or whole beef.

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05/25/2024 09:36 pm GMT

What Do You Get With Half a Cow?

So when you buy half a cow, what does that mean, practically? In other words, what kind of meat will you get, and how will you be able to use it?

As mentioned above, half a cow usually comes to roughly 250 lbs of beef. Of this, about 100 lbs will be ground beef. The rest will be mixed beef cuts, including steaks, roasts, brisket, stewing beef, and organ meat. Some farmers will let you choose more of one cut than another or opt out of a type altogether (some people don’t like organ meat!). You may even be able to get bones for soups and stews.

Depending on where you get the meat, you may also have the option of choosing T-bone steaks, flavored sausages, hamburger patties, bratwurst, and other items.

cow cutting diagram from your favorite butcher shop
Here’s an excellent beef cow butcher diagram to help showcase what you might expect from a half-cow. Loin and rib cuts are usually the most desirable – and include our favorites like T-bone steaks, porterhouse steaks, tenderloin, rib roasts, rib eye, and top sirloins. (Click here to view the beef cut diagram in full size.)

Do You Get More Freezer Space Side by Side?

The amount of meat you can fit into a freezer depends in no small part on how the beef is packaged and stored. Scour the internet! You will find many different recommendations for storing packed meat in the freezer to fit as much as possible.

People also wonder whether the best way to freeze meat is in a side-by-side freezer (alongside your standard kitchen refrigerator) or a chest freezer. While it is true that a side-by-side model offers more space than a bottom freezer, you might want to look into a separate freezer altogether — depending on how much beef you’re planning to store, of course.

For many homesteaders, an upright freezer may be a good choice. These freezers hold large amounts of meat while keeping them organized and easy to access. They are also more space-efficient and make it easier to store bulk beef in a compact space.

premium dry aged marbled steak in vacuum packs ready for freezer
Packing a freezer with beef is much easier when everything is neatly processed and in small bags. But getting a half cow is a bit of a wild card. You might get meat cuts of varying sizes and shapes – including brisket, shank, roasts, sirloin steaks, T-bone steaks, rib-eye steaks, and round steaks. The size might fluctuate more than you expect. That is why we say having extra freezer space is always wise.

How Long Does Meat Last In the Freezer?

A good freezer maintains a temperature of 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below. That means it can safely store highly-perishable items, including meat, for a long time! This number will vary depending on who you ask, but generally, the rule of thumb is that meat lasts about one to two years in a freezer.

This duration takes optimal taste into account!

You can safely eat frozen beef for much longer – but quality usually lasts up to two years. After a year, the taste and quality of the meat may begin to decline and get freezer burn (although it is still fit for consumption).

It is important not to overbuy, especially if you are new to buying bulk meat. You will need to consider how abundant your freezer space is. And don’t forget the size of your family and how often you eat beef. 

And when all else fails – talk to your favorite butcher or rancher. A knowledgeable farmer can also help you calculate how much meat you can store and consume within a reasonable timeframe.

frozen beef strips thawing from the freezer
We’ve read from several reliable sources that frozen food at zero degrees Fahrenheit stays safe indefinitely. That said – frozen beef quality degrades over time. Ground beef usually maintains quality for three or four months. Steak and ribbed beef stays fresh for longer – around one year.

Read More!

Conclusion

Thanks for reading our guide about how much freezer space you need for a half cow!

We love stocking up on T-bone steaks, rib roasts, and more ground beef than we’ll need all season.

We also realize the stress of not knowing if your freezer will have enough space!

What about you?

  • Are you going to buy a half-cow or quarter-cow soon?
  • What beef cuts do you intend on getting?
  • Will you store the beef cuts in your freezer?
  • If so – how large is your freezer? How many square feet?

We’re beef-storing fanatics and would love to hear about your experience.

Until then – have a great day.

And thanks again for reading!

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