How to Buy Beef for the Holidays

A full guide from a rancher’s perspective and spoiler alert: we’re buying beef from the store. Read here to find out the how and the why.

Thank you to Beef It’s What’s for Dinner for having so much information for this blog post — a great resource!

I’m a Rancher and I Buy Beef at the Store

I know what you’re thinking, “but you butcher and stock your freezer with beef direct from your herd; why would you buy beef at the store?”

How Much of Whole Beef is Burger vs Steaks/Roasts?

We’ll start here: premium steaks represent approximately 6-13% of the live weight of a beef animal? This translates to around only 10-15% of the carcass weight after dressing. Meaning we get mostly burgers and roasts when we butcher, then we utilize the store to buy beef cuts we eat up first, such as steaks!

Why We go to Store as Ranchers.

Did I mention we like steak? We like steak! Since steaks are limited and cuts such as prime rib and tri-tip are extremely limited we eat those and then enjoy having them again before we butcher another animal. Purchasing these beef cuts at the store/butcher works well for us!

What I Look for in Store when Shopping for Beef as a Rancher. 

When I go to buy beef, I begin with color. Beef that has been exposed to air will change from a deep purple-ish color to a bright red. The longer it is exposed to air, the more the red color will fade.

Next, I look at marbling. This is how the fat flecks are distributed throughout the meat. FAT IS FLAVOR! We like fat and prefer it to be distributed in tiny flecks throughout the piece.

Finally, I take a look at grading when we have the option to choose between select, choice, and prime. This ultimately impacts the price of the cut and how I’ll prepare it.

When it comes to holidays, we like to take the time to prepare a fancier beef meal than mundane weeknights where we live off our usual rotation of favorites. For days such as these, we’ll find a way to make a higher quality piece of meat or fancy up a more affordable option to bring the magic to the table.

Wait, What’s Beef Grading?

“Beef grading sets standards for beef cuts. The grade of a cut is mainly determined by how much marbling (the flecks of fat within beef muscle) a cut has. Marbling provides the flavor, tenderness, and juiciness of beef that we all know and love. However, other factors such as animal age, color and texture can affect the grade as well. While this is voluntary process administered by the USDA many beef packers choose to pay for this service.

Prime – Prime beef is produced from young, well-fed cattle. It has abundant marbling, is produced in smaller quantities than other grades, and is often sold in hotels and restaurants. Prime roasts and steaks are excellent for roasting, grilling or broiling.

Choice – Choice beef is high quality and produced in highest quantity but has less marbling than Prime. Choice roasts and steaks, especially from the rib and loin, will be very tender, juicy and flavorful. They are suited for roasting, grilling and broiling. Less tender cuts are perfect for slow-cooking.

Select – Select beef is slightly leaner than Prime and Choice because it has less marbling. It can lack some tenderness, flavor and juiciness as compared to the higher grades. Select grade beef often benefits from slow-cooking or from marination prior to grilling or broiling.”

SOURCE: All information above on grading found on beefitswhatsfordinner.com.

example of choice beef grade on beef tenderloin roast

On this particular package, you can see where the grading is labeled as choice. In a grocery store or butcher shop with a large variety of selection you’ll find the option to choose select, choice, or prime. In other places, options can be limited without the full choice of three.

My Favorite Cuts

  • Tenderloin – I love tenderloins! They are extremely tender, hence the name, and incredibly lean. When we butcher, and from the store, I actually prefer getting the tenderloin as a roast rather than cut as a filet. Making the roast in the oven is so easy and the taste cannot be beat!
  • Tenderloin Steak – often referred to as filet mignon this cut is from the loin, and a surprising lean and tender cut as it comes from the least exercised muscle in a beef.
  • Sirloin Steak – This cut comes from the top sirloin of a beef and is a lean cut of beef. It can also be known as: Boneless Top Sirloin Steak ; Top Sirloin Butt Steak, Boneless; Top Sirloin Center-Cut Steak; Top Sirloin Steak Boneless Cap Off; Top Sirloin Steak Cap Off. It’s a lot, I know!
  • Tri tip – This cut also comes from the sirloin, but the bottom part of it. This is another lean cut of beef and is often found in steak or roast form. We only get TWO tri-tips from each animal so these are a special cut!
  • T-bone – Sourced from the loin of a beef and it’s name comes from the t-shape of the bone. It combines the strip steak and tenderloin steak into one cut with the bone in the middle. This cut is the same as a porterhouse steak, the difference between the two being the size of the tenderloin.
  • Strip Steak – from the loin of a beef this cut is often referred to as a “New York Strip” or “Top Loin Steak” and actually the same cut as the larger side of a t-bone steak!
  • Strip Roast – from the loin of a beef this centerpiece roast is tender, juicy and full of flavor.
  • Rib Roast – often talked about as “prime rib” which is a rib roasts that has received a prime grading. A rib roast and prime rib are the exact same cut of beef, with a potential different grading score.
    • Sharing my favorite recipe for this here.
  • Ribeye Steak – from the rib of a beef, this cut is simply slices of a rib roast.

Best Value Cuts

This is one of the most fun parts as a rancher when perusing the meat departments. What do different cuts of beef currently cost? There are certainly trends where particular cuts are always more/less expensive, but then we find surprising prices and great value on other cuts. What we’re looking for is paying for lean meat more than fat. How many people can we feed with this cut? Can we purchase a large cut and process it into smaller pieces ourselves? For example, purchase a prime rib and cut into ribeye steaks?

What Cut of Beef to Choose on a Tight Budget?

Start by comparing price per pound to see where the best value is to stretch your dollar the furthest. Then examine how much fat versus meat you’ll get here. Fat is flavor, which is good, but we also want to eat the meat so keep the balance. Roasts are a great way to prepare one large piece of meat and cut it thin to stretch it for all guests!

Ultimate Budget Friendly Beef Option

This will always be ground beef. It is the most plentiful “cut” on beef animals and also the most universal. Plus, there are numerous ways to make it fancy for special holiday meals while being simple to prepare!


Growing up, my mom’s family always served lasagna for Christmas Eve! It was a simple dish to set in the oven and come home from church with dinner ready to feed a crowd. I found this lazy lasagna recipe for those who want a simpler route, and this fancier version to dress up dinner a bit!


Meatballs are so versatile! They can be used in a classic spaghetti and meatball situation, or if you want to get fancier try this Baked French Onion Meatball recipe!


Meatloaf is a classic recipe and a crowd pleaser! This meatloaf recipe is a great option that can be scaled up for a crowd if needed!

Where Do I Find Beef?

It’s everywhere! We really are lucky to have a safe and ample food supply here in the United States. There are three main options when looking to purchase beef. Direct from a producer, grocery store, and a butcher shop. I’ve used all options and they each come with their own perks. If you’re looking for a beef producer near you, try contacting your state’s local extension service to see if they can point you toward a producer or ask your local butcher who they work with.

My Favorite/Only Way to Bake a Prime Rib: 

The night before, unwrap the rib roast and let sit in the fridge uncovered. This will dry out the surface, creating a nice brown color. For times I’m not that organized, I set the beef on the counter to come to room temperature then pat dry with a paper towel.

  1. Remove the roast from the refrigerator a few hours before you plan to cook it. This allows the roast to come up to temp.
  2. Preheat oven to 500 F about 30 minutes before you plan to cook.
  3. Prepare the Butter Crust by combining 1/2 cup softened butter, salt, pepper, rosemary, garlic and Thyme (thyme is my fave and we go heavy!). The crust really makes the roast, so apply spices generously!
  4. Place the prime rib fat side up on a roasting pan and slather the butter rub generously on the top and sides of the roast.
  5. Determine how long you need to bake the roast by taking the weight of the roast and multiplying pounds times 5. If you have an 8 lb roast (8×5=40) you will need to bake it for 40 minutes for a medium-rare prime rib.
  6. Place roast in the oven for however long you determined in step 6. When the time is up, turn off the oven and DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR for 2 hours. I repeat, do not open the door for 2 hours. If you are nervous about overcooking your roast, you can put a meat thermometer into the roast prior to baking. I love this wireless one, but I’ll link a few other options below.
  7. After 2 hours have passed, you should see that the internal temperature has reached 130 F for a perfect medium-rare. The ends of the roast will be more cooked if you have people at your event that prefer a medium cooked roast, but the center will be that perfect pink medium-rare.

Checking Degrees of Doneness

This will be a matter of personal preference, and I prefer medium rare. Great graphic below to see the difference in color that corresponds with temperature.


We usually pair our prime rib with mashed potatoes as steady staple or if you want a fancy alternative Kayla’s potatoes dish looks AMAZING and so pretty!

What to do with Leftovers?

Beef is so universal! I love making a larger portion initially then utilizing some of the meat for meals later in the week. Our spinning pizza maker and air fryer heats up steaks and beef wonderfully. It keeps the outside crisp and the inside juicy warm. Other favorites of ours are:


Roast Sandwiches

Beef Barley Soup

Shredded Beef Tacos/Burritos

My Holiday Cooking Essentials:

Linking a variety of price points to help you find what fit’s your budget! This post may contain affiliate links. Thank YOU for using them! Read more here. 

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Again, thank you to beefitswhatsfordinner.com for being an amazing resource for recipes, beef cut descriptions, information on beef, and a plethora of more knowledge in between. If you have questions, it’s a great resource to check out!

Also, thank YOU for choosing beef! Food comes from families. Families like ours. We appreciate you choosing our product in the grocery store, at the butcher shop, and with other producers. When you pick meat up from a grocery store or even at a restaurant there is a chance it came from my family, and we sincerely hope you enjoy your eating experience!

If you have questions about how to buy beef please leave them below.

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