Many people, including Kansans, have turned to their local farmers and ranchers this year, either to cope with food shortages or to seek healthful alternatives to the grocery store experience. Eating locally is an excellent way to enhance the nutrition and flavor of your diet.
That said, eating food grown closer to home does present some challenges. For one thing, you have to learn to eat seasonally. For another thing, there is the storage issue.
Storing meat is one of the more challenging dilemmas that locavores (and those who raise their own meat) face. It’s especially tough when you are storing a large part of a large animal, like a beef steer.
Here are some tips for storing bulk beef for safety and optimal freshness:
- Use a stand-alone freezer. The freezer/refrigerator combination simply does not have the capacity for this job. If cost or space prevents you from getting a separate freezer, you may only be able to buy an eighth share (or split a quarter with somebody else). Need a more precise guideline? Plan on one cubic foot of freezer space for every 15 to 20 pounds of meat.
- Keep a thermometer in your freezer and check it periodically. Beef can be safely stored at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. However, it will maintain optimal flavor longer if kept close to -10 degrees.
- Maintain good seals on your freezer. Older seals may need to be checked from time to time, and possibly replaced.
- Keep the freezer closed during a power outage. This will seal the cold air inside. According to the CDC, as long as the door is kept shut, all food in a half-full freezer will be safe for 24 hours without power, while if the freezer is full it will remain safe for 48 hours.
- Keep raw beef by itself. Raw meat may have bacteria on the outside of the packaging, so keep it away from other foods. Also, if your beef is all piled up together, it will stay colder longer in a power outage.
- Consider vacuum-packing a portion of your purchase. You don’t have to pack all of it, but if you have purchased enough beef for a year, you will probably enjoy the flavor better if you seal up the last two or three months’ worth to protect it from oxidation (freezer burn).
- Learn how to cook unusual and low-end cuts. As you work through your supply of beef, especially the first time around, you will probably find that you go through the ground beef quickly while items like soup bones linger around. There are many wonderful ways to cook sirloin, brisket, stew meat, and rump roasts, so arm yourself with some good cookbooks that use these cuts. (Hint: Everything turns out good in an Instant Pot.)