Cheapskate carnivores, listen up. If you've been spending your hard-earned money on grocery store meat with questionable origins (and quality, freshness, appropriate pricing, etc.), there's an alternative approach you might be able to explore. If you've been curbing your cravings for thick-cut, juicy bacon and grabbing turkey bacon instead just because it's cheaper, you can stop that criminal behavior immediately. Look into buying a whole hog. It's not as daunting of a process as you may think.
I've been buying meat from local farmers for more than a decade. I've even raised my own pigs, cattle, and meat chickens to fill our freezer, but that's an entirely different story. With a family of six, buying whole hogs from local farmers feels like a given. We're going to use it, so we might as well stock up and slowly chip away at our supply rather than constantly replenishing at the grocery store no matter what inflation is doing to the price of pork.
And let's not forget other blatant benefits of higher-quality meat. When I purchase meat from a local farmer, it's often someone I know, so I know the conditions they raise their animals in, what they feed them, and so on. Locally sourced meat also means the meat is fresher, which is extremely important to me.
Having done this for so long, the process feels second nature to me, but for first-timers, the whole idea of buying local meat might be daunting. Never fear, folks. I'm here with all the tips to get you started on the most hog-wild, meaty money-saving ride of your life.
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It's Not an Overnight Process
You can't just dial the number of a farm near you and say, "Hey, I'd like to buy a pig, and I want it in my freezer by the end of the week." Instead, you call around and find a farm that has unclaimed hogs. Important: Not all farms will have hogs that haven't already been claimed by someone else, so you might end up calling more than one place.
Once you find an available hog, you'll ask the farmer what the cut date is, and which butcher shop the pig will be sent to. You will then work out payment to the farmer for the animal.
After that, your next point of contact is the butcher shop. The farmer will provide your contact information and, once your pig arrives, the butcher will call you to ask for your cut list (more on that below). They'll call again to tell you it's time for pick up and when you pick your meat up, you'll also pay the butcher shop for processing services.
Understand Your Cut List
There are two different weights you'll hear when you have a hog butchered: the hanging weight and the final cut weight. The hanging weight refers to how much the pig weighed after slaughter. According to Jerome Country Market in Jerome, Michigan, where I got my last hog from, customers can anticipate about 75% of the hanging weight winding up in their freezer.
When the processor receives the pig, they will call you to review your cut list. You can choose different flavors of ground sausage, get links or patties, bacon, roasts, ribs, chops, pork steaks, brats, ham ... you name it. If you don't understand the options with the cut list, ask the butcher to break it down for you.
Some options might be pricier (like having your sausage turned into links or patties instead of getting it ground into packages). If you're not into pork steak, you can have that cut ground into sausage instead. Or maybe you don't want roasts, so you get those smoked and turned into ham slices. It's customizable, and you'll definitely want to take advantage of that. Don't be afraid to ask questions.
Pickup Plans are Paramount
Have you ever gone to grab groceries and found that the back of your vehicle was packed full of crap, so you had to play Tetris to get everything to fit? There's virtually no room for that mistake when you venture off to pick up your pork. Make sure you take a vehicle with plenty of space in the back because there will be several boxes full of heavy frozen meat.
You'll also want to pay attention to how far away the meat processor is from your home. If you have a long time to travel, you might want to bring coolers to keep the meat in so it doesn't thaw out.
Buying your meat from a local farmer is probably the freshest way to get meat in your freezer aside from raising it yourself (which isn't for the faint of heart, trust me). Still, keep in mind that when you go to pick your meat up, it will all be frozen.
Make sure you have enough freezer space ahead of time, and if you don't already have a separate freezer designated specifically for meat, you're probably going to want to invest in one. Because that cute little drawer under your fridge might be big enough for Popsicles and pizzas, but it's not gonna fit an entire porker. Trust me.
Is It Worth It?
I think I showed my hand early on when I said I've been buying meat this way for more than 10 years. It's absolutely worth it. I bought an entire hog from a farmer for $175 and then spent $231 on processing, which landed me around 163 pounds of meat from ground sausage to bacon and pork chops. Deals that good make me so happy I could snort. No joke.