Doug Katz, chef-owner Fire Food & Drink in Cleveland
Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman (click pic for her blog)

Doug Katz, chef-owner of one of the go-to restaurants on the east side of Cleveland, buys half a cow every two or three weeks from Aaron Miller, the farmer farmer profiled in the previous post. Doug believes in all the things Aaron and Melissa do—humane animal husbandry, local food, the elegance of grass fed beef—and he wants to encourage the Millers with his dollars.

“I was really nervous,” this, the most genial chef in town, said. “I was afraid I was going to get my ass kicked with this very special product.”

Here’s why it’s hard to buy even half an animal.  His half a cow gives him 1 brisket, 1 flank, 24 steaks (tenderloin, rib and strip), 8 pounds of short ribs, 100 pounds of ground beef, and 20 pounds of bones. Doug does 1000 covers a week and goes through about 100 steaks.  He’d need to buy four cows every week to fill steak orders, but this would leave him with 400 pounds of hamburger—more than his menu can handle no matter how ingeniously he put it to use and keep the menu balanced—and 80 pounds of bones.  The ratio of specialty high priced cuts to trim is too big to buy enough cows to cover the steak orders on a weekly basis, so he does what he can do.

But he came up with a great idea.  What made it all work was offering the specialty cuts on the menu as retail items. Sometimes Doug will run specials of these cuts, but mainly he advertises them on his menu; his customers become interested and they take strips home. This way he can educate his customer, sell them the best grass fed beef around, and support Aaron and Melissa’s farm. Yes, he buys his strips and ribs in the conventional way, but he’s also found this way to contribute to ensuring a continuing source of grass-fed beef.

When I was leaving the Miller’s farm on Monday, Aaron said to me, “I just need one more chef like Doug.” Cleveland chefs, any takers?

For now, you can find the Miller’s grass-fed beef at Fire, at Karen Small’s Flying Fig and soon Aaron will be selling it at the West Side Market.

Thank you Doug and Aaron!

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25 Wonderful responses to “Grass-Fed Beef, Part 2: Selling It”

  • Marcus

    I must be slow b/c I’m not getting it.

    He sells the steaks from the grass-fed as take-home retail items but doesn’t cook them for the menu to order. He uses the grass-fed ground beef on his menu and buys steaks for the menu in conventional fashion. Is that it?

    There is a farmer a couple hours away that I’m contemplating buying grass-fed beef from. But I need to figure out how to make it work. I don’t own a freezer but should be getting one soon (grandpa passed). I’m contemplating getting some folks involved and making a large purchase, maybe even figure out a way to resell some of it over time.

    Anyone, how long can I expect beef to stay good in a deep freezer?

    • Drew @ How To Cook Like Your Grandmother

      I’ve got the same question. If you meant he keeps the steaks and sells the ground beef, he might have just found another customer. (Is that what he’s selling at the West Side market?)

      And here’s an idea: Partner with another restaurant with a different menu, like a Mexican place that goes through a lot of ground beef. Maybe even approach Chipotle, they like to brag about the quality of their ingredients.

    • KellyG

      I bought a quarter of beef from the Millers this summer and was told it will easily last up to and over a year with no freezer burn – their butcher packages everything very well. If you’re inheriting a deep freezer it’s a fantastic idea. But it’s WAY more economical to buy the quarter or half, then just buying the individual cuts you want. And Aaron has told me a lot of his customers will order their quarter or half as ALL steaks and ground meat (i.e. probably the folks who have no clue what to do with short ribs, brisket, etc). I love to cook, but would encourage even folks who are not so handy int he kitchen to give it a shot – you can find recipes for ANY cut of meat online these days. I’ve cooked cuts of meat this year that i’d NEVER bought before in the store. They were all fabulous!

  • Lorraine

    Thanks for this series on pastured meat.

    Here’s another key to grassfed viability: Using the whole animal. For a recent magazine article on nose-to-tail eating, I interviewed several Hudson Valley chefs committed to buying pastured animals and eating every part of the beast–brains, noses, ears, innards, hoofs, et al. They render fat for cooking and baking, simmer bones for stock, use guts and odd pieces in charcuterie. Very labor intensive.

    Customers go along with varying degrees of enthusiasm: Pig tails and pork belly, yes. Spleen and brains–the chefs’ fave–not so much.

    Using the whole animal gets tougher on the consumer level. And it’s not just a matter of squeamishness. Issues of availability and distribution keep us from buying and eating pastured meat. To support farmers, the environment and humane animal husbandry we have to get used to the idea that we can’t get the exact cuts we want whenever we want them.

  • Ely

    I think that’s the key, making consumers aware of the idea that we can’t get everything we want when we want them. We’re so used to produce that never goes out of season that we lose touch with what’s locally in season. The same holds true for animal products. Because you WANT a burger tonight doesn’t mean ground beef is the best/freshest cut of meat at the store. If consumers could understand how to be more flexible, smaller producers of specialty items like the Miller’s farm could thrive, therefore lowering prices and increasing quality .

  • Pat

    I buy split halves of beef from the farmer down the road, and keep it in my basement freezer at -5. You can expect frozen meat to keep for at least a year, and probably two, in the butcher’s freezer wrap at that temperature. Many farmers who sell beef will help you out with finding other people who don’t want the entire half. Our split half came out to about 180 lbs of assorted cuts, which will last the two of us quite a while.

    It took a little adjustment realizing that we can’t have all the tenderloin filets we want for grilling, but soon you discover how to cook the other cuts, and you know what – they taste good too! I’ve even managed to convince my fussy SO that ribs are yummy.

  • Gary G

    There is a group of restaurant owners here in NC that have a take on this — they formed a buying co-op and take different parts of the animal. I know another chef getting whole animals but I don’t know how he’s apportioning or using it — I can ask.

  • Paul

    I have a hard time believing that a creative chef cannot have specials on the slow nights that draw people in with great prices and inventive dishes (or even comfort dishes) and use the less desired cuts.

    • Matthew

      400 pounds of ground beef is a lot of ground beef. That’s, like, 800 mains or 1600 apps, or something like that, at a restaurant that only does 1000 covers a week. As for the bones, sheesh, 80 pounds of bones would make, I believe, on the order of 15 gallons of beef stock, which is a ton, not unusable but limiting. There might be a way to treat the meat differently so that he doesn’t end up with as much ground beef, but it’s still a huge amount of beef for a restaurant of that size to go through in a week.

  • former butcher

    Sadly, there is no way a restaurant can buy whole or half carcasses of beef and turn a profit. The ratio of Grilling, Roasting, and Braising cuts makes it prohibitive. I don’t care how inventive the chef is.
    And while it’s a great idea to retail cuts of meat from your purveyor to your patrons, I’m willing to bet that the only thing they’ll be interested in buying will be steaks. So much for selling the other cuts.
    I dealt with this issue for many years. As a small meat processor, with many other customers, I had no time (and no inclination, truth be told) to go out and market some grower’s product to restaurants. And all the growers could sell to them were steaks, some roasts (top rounds and prime ribs), and some hamburger. Briskets? Bottom rounds? Anything from the chuck? Don’t even mention organ meats! Usually these cuts would sit in my freezer, taking up valuable space until I had to say “Come get this stuff or I’ll have to start charging you rent.”
    Even so, they could never compete with the Syscos and US Foods of the HRI trade. But that was all long before the “local” or “organic” winds began to blow; so maybe there IS hope. But restaurants have a slim margin, finicky customers, and lots of competition.

  • Laura

    Heart cut into steaks and cooked quickly is so good. What about the ox-tails and the tongue? For the ground beef, all I can imagine is to open a burger joint next door to use the beef to make fancy burgers. I like the idea of a restaurant using the whole animal. I guess he could put a meat case in somewhere and sell the rest to curious cooks and eaters.

    I can’t wait until I get my hands on some of those “variety meats” when I have the opportunity to buy a share of one of these grass fed animals. Wow!

  • martha

    I try very hard to buy locally grown and raised produce and meat. There is an organic farm and dairy three miles from us in Lawrenceville, NJ (we live in downtown Princeton…not the mansion-rich outlying township. We buy local produce as soon as its available in the spring, well into the late fall, adjusting our menu according to what’s in season. We try to buy pork at the dairy farm- their ham steaks are wonderful. But- grass-fed beef, raised organically is simply out of our budget. I have two teenage boys and a husband to feed along with myself and the only way to do it is to limit beef to twice a month. Perhaps that’s what’s called for anyway. However, until my blue collar brothers can buy grass-fed beef that fits into their Walmart or A&P budgets it seems to me to be destined to the same category of “specialty” olive and nut oils… they taste great, but the generic Italian brand still do the job at a quarter of the price. When your health benefits package has gone up more than $200/month “specialty” beef is not on the menu.

  • Kathy

    What an interesting dialogue! I hope the restaurants don’t give up on this idea. I also don’t totally understand what the chef is offering. If the meat tastes better or is more tender, couldn’t he offer speciality dishes using this meat for a little more $? And advertise on the menu what it is? Maybe the area chefs need to have some sort of organization where they get together periodically and pool ideas about this kind of thing. Michael, you could start it at your house and feed them. Even chefs need a decent meal cooked by someone else occasionally. :-) Love your blog….

  • Amy

    400 lbs. of ground beef sounds great to me. I buy from the Millers and the steaks are the last thing in the freezer in our house. Ground beef goes quickly, as does organ meats, fat and bones, then eventually roasts and steaks. I bet families with young children to cook for would love to work out a way to get some of the ground beef.

  • Janet in Maine

    We bought half a beef and I discussed the cutting of it in depth with the butcher. They raise the animals and then have them slaughtered humanely elsewhere and then the farm butcher does the cutting. We had a very wide variety of cuts as I told him that I like to cook from scratch so I could really use all the different cuts. A lot of people like to get a big majority of the meat made into hamburger. Our beef has lasted over 2 years and it is still very good. I don’t ask for the tongue back but most of the other parts. If we don’t eat them, I cook them up for the dogs and they love them. It’s wonderful meat but it is also nice to know how it was raised and cared for and very convenient in planning meals. I also can get fresh chickens from a friend and our other friends are raising a pig for us that will be ready in January. Looking forward to fresh pork again. I wish more restaurants would work out the details on getting this type of meat and we would go out more often. I just don’t do well with thinking of eating meat raised at the end of their lives in those horrid stockyards. I am a meat eater but I care about the animals foremost.

  • Elise

    I am sitting 100 yards from this year’s calves for market next year. Don’t ask me how many, only my husband knows. They produce some absolute great beef, no matter the cut. We just had our half put in the freezer; we usually take eighteen months to eat all of it with no quality problems. He sells to anybody who contacts him and yes there are many different families who go together. This is a plus for the families, our area is known as I have posted before with very little variety and quality problems. I would like to “thank” IGA and Walmart. No one ever has had negative responses and are thankful for the cost in the long run.
    As for commercial interests, it would be hard for chefs and restaurants but I applaud him for getting the word out to the quality that occurs with humane conditions for the livestock.

  • Gael

    Where does the 100 lbs of ground beef come from? Because I haven’t found a cut of beef that is unusable yet.

  • Jerry

    I would love to buy this way, but for the most part I’m the only one in my family that eats beef (except for tacos and chili). For the most part I prefer the mythical “cheaper cuts” that don’t seem to be cheaper anymore, like short ribs.

    Would live to find a high quality pork supplier in the Souther Ohio region that I could get a half or quarter pig from. My wife does like pork, and I would love to get my meat grinder out and do sausage (I can’t find a good smoked sausage here, it is all too lean) but finding things like pork belly (unsliced) and back fat is hard here. And the one farmer I did find that sells pork raises them too lean and only sells it in small quantity ground and in chops.

  • Richard

    That’s a whole lot of hamburger to be ground up, no wonder they can’t make any money selling it. There are a lot of roasts and steaks from the chuck (flat-iron steak, cube steaks, pot roast, anyone?) that can be sold, you just have to have a butcher who knows how to fabricate those cuts. My parents usually get a 1/4 of a show steer, and it usually averages out to about 200 pounds of meat. They only get about 40 pounds of ground meat. The rest is all custom cut roasts and steaks. Maybe they need to take the higher-priced steaks off the menu occasionally to sell some of those other cheaper cuts. It can be done, you just have to be creative in marketing the whole animal. Maybe do a “the rest of the critter” where you cook all the roasts and steaks customers wouldn’t normally purchase.

  • Eastern Washington

    Terrible butchers will make wonderful cuts such as tri-tip, flank, skirt and brisket into ground product. I order half a beef every other year and it keeps well. I use little ground beef so I make sure my butcher gives me whole muscle rather than ground. I was raised this way of buying product from farmers. I also purchase a pig and 2 lambs each year to go with the animals I harvest such as elk, deer, pheasant, duck and quail. Now I do realize most people may have “space Issues” I use 2 chest freezers to keep product as well as a vacuum sealer. Good butcher use vacuum seal and it keeps very well. It is much more economical to shop this way than it is to go to a grocery store weekly. It also helps if you have a variety of ways to cook product. I use all sort of traditional methods of cooking but have found a charcoal grill and a pellet fed smoker (traeger) really help! I am yet to find something that is not edible. A chuck roast smoked at 250 degrees for 4 hours is melt in your mouth. Find a good butcher and they can help hook you up with someone who raises beef or other whole animals and price out the cost and you will save in the end.

  • The Salt Pig

    We raise grassfed/natural beef, pork and goat for sale in coastal Maine. I spend alot of time with customers discussing cutting instructions on the beef and pork. We sell 1/2 and whole animals. We have a couple of customers who split it up in smaller portions and share with others. We are a small operation but could easily see how restaurants could partner to use the whole animal. (steaks etc to one place, roasts, burger etc to others) it would be some time involved but could work.
    The key is KNOWING WHERE YOUR FOOD COMES FROM

    Tom
    Wriggins Hilltop Farm

  • Daniel Turgeon

    I am the former Chef of St. Andrew’s Restaurant at the CIA. I was responsible for changing the old curriculum to a sustainable model that supprted local food producers.

    We only purchased whole hog, lamb and steer. The menus has to be flexible. We always had a burger on the menu becasue of the volume that came from the cow but the main proteins on the menu were constantly changing. The menu was also vague in its wording.
    If we had a beef cut it would state: “Meiller Farm Grass-fed Beef, Roasted RSK Farm Fingerling Potatoes and a Millbrook Pinot Noir Jus”.

    No cut was metntioned nor was the cooking method mentioned. So when we ran out of steaks (possibly in the middle of service) it would move over to a braised shortrib with the same accompaniments.

    The server would simply verbalize the neceesary informatin to the customer.

    It all worked seamlessly. But it was more work and very cost effective.