Beginners guide to freezer beef processing

What’s the difference between a strip steak, a T-bone steak and a Porterhouse steak?

Strip steaks come from the short loin, just behind the rib and have the tenderloin muscle removed. The tenderloin happens to be the tenderest muscle on a carcass and if it’s removed, it can be made into filets (tenderloin steaks) or kept whole. The strip steak is actually the larger muscle from a T-bone or Porterhouse steak. A T-bone steak is required to have at least a ½ inch diameter of the tenderloin muscle and is a bone-in cut. A Porterhouse steak is required to have at least 1 ¼ inch diameter of the tenderloin muscle present and is also a bone-in cut.

What does this have to do with determining the cutting instructions for freezer beef? Simple, if you want strip steaks, you also get filets but T-bones and Porterhouses are no longer an option. One beef carcass cannot produce all the cuts.

Not only is it necessary to determine the cuts of beef but additional factors to consider are:

  • Number of steaks per package
  • Thickness of steaks (3/4 inch to 1 inch is standard)
  • Bone-in vs. boneless for certain cuts (ex. rib steak versus ribeye or standing rib roast versus rolled rib roast)
  • Cube steaks (steaks from less tender muscles that have gone through a mechanical tenderizer)
  • Roasts and steaks from the round, sirloin and chuck (can order some of each)
  • Weight of roasts (average is 3-4 pounds, some processors will cut 2-3 pounds)
  • Package size of ground beef (typically 1 to 2 pound packages)
  • Ground beef patties (many processors offer this service at an additional charge)
  • Size of ground beef patties (3:1 = 3 patties per pound, each patty is 1/3 pound; 4:1 = 4 patties per pound, each patty is ¼ pound)
  • Number of ground beef patties per package (3 to 4 is typical but may depend on the size of family)

Here are some additional cuts you may want to keep as well:

  • Flank steak (great for marinating and has many applications)
  • Skirt steak (great for marinating and has many applications)
  • Short ribs
  • Soup bones
  • Stew meat (typically cut into 1 inch cubes; also need to specify what size package)
  • Liver
  • Heart
  • Tongue

Some processors will have different packaging options, including traditional butcher paper wrapped meat or vacuum packaged meat. Vacuum packaged meat will stay fresher longer in a freezer with less signs of freezer burn but comes with the risk of becoming punctured with bone-in cuts or the seal breaking when they are moved around a lot. Depending on the processor, vacuum packaging may come at an additional cost. Typically, even paper wrapped beef will maintain satisfactory quality being stored in a freezer for 9 to 12 months.

Processors are very experienced at cutting beef and answering questions about what cuts to get. Do not be afraid to ask the person selling freezer beef or the processor for more information. The Beef Checkoff also has information and recipes about beef available.

Related Michigan State University (MSU) Extension News articles:

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