The local food movement is all the rage, but you will need an extra freezer to be a true “locavore” and enjoy a good steak. You can grow your own vegetables and even chickens in some cities, but your neighbors might not appreciate you raising cattle in your backyard.
Local-food advocates say the next best thing is buying meat from your local pasture-based farm. But that often means literally buying a cow — or half a cow at least. Chances are that means buying a meat freezer.
Here are some tips on freezing meat, and buying a meat freezer.
Buying Meat to Freeze
One cubic foot of freezer space can hold about 35 to 40 pounds of cut, frozen and wrapped meat. The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service estimates that a side of beef weighs about 300 pounds, but about a quarter of that is lost to cutting and trimming. Of the remaining 225 pounds, only about 25 percent can be cooked as steaks, and 25 percent in roasts, leaving 25 percent waste and 25 percent ground beef and stew meat. The OCES suggests that buying a side of beef is only cost-effective if your family plans to use all cuts of meat.
The OCES also recommends buying USDA-inspected beef from a clean, dependable supplier. Also have the meat quick-frozen in a commercial freezer. Slower freezing at home can create large ice crystals and rupture the meat fibers.
Choosing an Energy-Efficient Freezer
Of course, whether you are buying a meat freezer to save money or go local, it pays to save on electric bills and buy the most efficient model available.
If you have a freezer made before 1993, you could save $35 per year on utility bills by replacing with a new model, according to the US Department of Energy. The savings will double if you replace a 30-year-old freezer.
Chest freezers are more energy efficient than upright freezers because they chest freezers don’t let as much cold air escape when you open the door. Chest freezers also typically keep food colder for longer if the power goes out.
The automatic defrost feature can also double the energy use of a freezer. However, the tradeoff is that you need to defrost other models periodically. The general rule of thumb is to avoid frost buildup of more than one-quarter inch.
Finding the Best Freezer
Freezers, like many appliances, are notoriously hard to comparison-shop, with hundreds of models on the market. However, different models and even different brands are often the same freezer. Three companies make most freezers — Frigidaire makes Frigidaire, Gibson, Kenmore and GE freezers; W.C. Wood makes Amana, Magi Chef, Maytag, Danby and Whirlpool freezers; and Haier makes GE Kenmore, Maytag, Amana and Haier models.
Here are some recommended models:
• Perhaps the most efficient full-size model is the Whirlpool EH151FX, a 14.8-cubic-foot chest freezer. Energy Star estimates that it costs about $29 to run. It has a temperature alarm and a keyed lock that children will have trouble opening accidentally.
• Kenmore makes a 24.9-cubic-foot chest freezer, the largest Energy Star-approved model.
• If you want an upright freezer but don’t need much space, consider the highly rated Frigidaire FFU12F2HW. It has 12.1 cubic feet of storage capacity and costs about $400.
• If price is not an issue, consider the top-shelf Whirlpool EV209NBTQ, a 19.6-cubic-foot model that costs more than $700.
• Finally, for a more unusual choice, SunDanzer makes super-efficient solar-powered chest freezers. They run on DC power that can be hooked up to a small dedicated solar panel.
Find local grass-fed meat in your area, and learn more about the health and environmental benefits of small-scale pasture-based farming.