If you want to save money and also save yourself some trips to the grocery, stashing a bulk amount of beef in your freezer is a great way to go.
Whether you’re slaughtering your own cow, or purchasing a side from your local farm or butcher, you’ll love the convenience and savings, I can promise you that.
But there’s just one problem: a side of beef takes up a lot of room! You’ve got to make sure you have enough storage space before you commit. So, how much freezer space do you need for storing half a cow?
You’ll need anywhere from 6 to 8 cubic feet of freezer space to stash a half-cow’s worth of beef. This equals anywhere from 170 to 227 liters of freezer capacity.
That’s a surprising amount of freezer space, but you might be even more surprised to learn that your average freezer compartment in a side-by-side refrigerator and some overhead freezers can manage that, so long as you don’t have anything else in there.
There’s more you’ll want to consider concerning your freezer space conundrum, so keep reading and I’ll tell you about it.
How Much Room is in an Average Freezer?
The first thing you should probably figure out if you’re ready to buy your side of beef is whether or not your freezer has the capacity.
This is easy to figure out if you’ve got the spec sheet or manual handy, and sometimes you can consult the tag or placard mounted on the inside of the compartment for more.
Most typical household refrigerator-freezer combos hold 4 to 7 cubic feet in the freezer compartment, or a bit more, depending on the model. This equates to about 113 to 200 liters of total capacity. (28.31 liters per cubic foot)
That means there’s a decent chance that your freezer can hold an entire side of beef if you commit the entire freezer to the purpose. This might not be the best or easiest solution, however…
How Much Meat Will a Cubic Foot of Freezer Space Hold?
Nominally, a freezer will hold anywhere from 35 to 40 pounds of cut and wrapped beef per cubic foot.
However, I’ve found through trial and error that the actual number is somewhat lower owing to irregularities in the shape of the cuts and also lost space due to packaging, shelving, and protuberances in the freezer box in case of standup fridge-freezer combos.
I like to use about 25 pounds per cubic foot as my personal guideline, and it hasn’t steered me wrong so far. It’s always good to have a little bit of extra space just in case…
|Yield of Beef||Typical Volume / Weight||Notes|
|Whole Cow||14 ¼ cubic feet / 440 lbs||Every processed cut from a whole cow.|
|Half Cow||7 cubic feet / 176 ½ lbs||A “side” of beef.|
|¼ Cow||3 ½ cubic feet / 88 ¼ lbs||Variable: usually a side split between two people.|
|“Beef Box”||1 ¾ cubic feet / 44 lbs.||Equals around ⅛ of cow.|
What Size of Chest Freezer Will You Need to Hold Half a Cow?
A medium-sized chest freezer will usually hold half of a cow easily. Look for a model that has a capacity of 7 cubic feet or a little bit more, or around 200 liters.
What Size Chest Freezer Will You Need to Hold a Whole Cow?
You’ll need a seriously large freezer if you want to hold a whole cow’s worth of beef. It’s actually a little bit more than double what you’ll need to hold a half cow, because remember you’ll be losing proportionately more space to packaging.
For this reason, you should choose at least a 17 ½ cubic-foot or 500-liter chest freezer if you want to hold an entire cow’s worth of beef.
The Cuts and Packaging Make a Difference in Overall Meat Capacity
As mentioned above, there are other factors that will affect whether or not your freezer can actually hold the side of beef as ordered. Irregular shapes lead to wasted space, especially if you want to organize your freezer in a way that’s easy to access and keep track of.
Yes, you can always jigsaw puzzle your cuts in there to minimize lost space, but then this means that you’ll have certain portions get buried and forgotten about, left to freezer burn.
Stacking your wrapped beef in an orderly way that is easy to reference and easy to draw from means you’re always going to lose some of your maximum listed capacity.
Another thing to consider is the packaging of the beef itself…
Vacuum-packed cuts will minimize wasted space, whereas traditional butcher paper wrapping, especially if it is done thickly to help protect the meat from condensation and moisture, is going to cost you some space also.
This is just one of the reasons why I always recommend you leave yourself some extra space. It’s possible to precisely measure your freezer and try to get your estimate dialed in down to the cubic centimeter, but reality will invariably get in the way of this plan.
Besides, you need to leave some room for sides and other frozen foods too!
How Long Will Half a Cow Last in the Freezer?
Technically, your beef will last indefinitely in the freezer so long as you take care to keep it absolutely cold and protect it from condensation and moisture which will lead to freezer burn.
That being said, assuming you are actually using your freezer and pulling foods out of it, a certain amount of freezer burn is inevitable and the quality of your beef will degrade significantly depending on the cut and the type of beef.
Per the USDA, your steaks, roasts, and chops will last and be of excellent quality anywhere from 4 to 12 months. Ground beef should be used within 4 months for best results. Cooked beef, of any kind, can be frozen safely but should be used within 2 to 3 months.
And remember to rotate your beef! The beef that went in first should be taken out first to keep it from getting too old.
That way, when you replace it with new cuts of beef, you’ll be sure to get maximum shelf life and quality from it.
Tim is a farm boy with vast experience on homesteads, and with survival and prepping. He lives a self-reliant lifestyle along with his aging mother in a quiet and very conservative little town in Ohio. He teaches folks about security, prepping and self-sufficiency not just through his witty writing, but also in person.
Find out more about Tim and the rest of the crew here.