Where to buy good mid-price beef - Oakland
I am somewhat new to eating red meat, and initially I decided to only eat grass-fed beef from smaller farms, but that's leaving me only being able to afford ground beef (at $6-7/lb), and that's not working for me. I want to buy whole (unground, boneless) pieces of meat at that price point or slightly lower, if that's possible.
Where can I get decent meat at lower price points in Oakland? By "decent" I mean
-cows are treated reasonably well (i.e. following the sort of guidelines Temple Grandin might lay out for large farming operations to be more humane - I know I'm not going to get meat from cows that grazed in spacious pastures in the lap of luxury at this price)
-butchered by people who know what they're doing
Organic and grass-fed are NOT necessary/important.
I'm sorry, but I think your price point is too low, except for sausages, g. beef, and cuts like chuck steak/roast. We don't care for Niman sausages but they're popular with many. Maybe flatiron or hanger steaks if they're on sale. Beef prices are projected to rise this year as herd levels are at the lowest numbers ever - there's a NYTimes story on it today, in fact.
There are good butcher depts. at Piedmont Grocery, Market Hall in Rockridge, and Star Grocery (which is in Berkeley, but close to the Oakland border - the butcher that used to be at Market Hall moved over to Star).
We're talking, but it seems you are hearing something different.
I know several people who contract directly with ranchers for a whole, half, or quarter of beef, pork and/or lamb. They do so, not because they save $$$ - they know they don't - but because they feel assured that the animal was raised with good animal practices, and not shot up with antibiotics or hormones.
Let's look at Safeway (club card prices, btw), off their website. Their New York Strip Steak Bone In, is $6.99/lb, or $9.99 boneless. Both Porterhouse and T-Bone are a relative bargain at $7.99/lb. Filet Mignon is $13.49/lb., slightly less if you're getting a tenderloin roast.
Boneless top sirloin, a decent steak, is a mere $5.99/lb. Flat-cut brisket is also a bargain at $4.49/lb. Beef Chuck Top Blade Roast Boneless is surprisingly cheap - slow roast or braise it - at $3.99/lb.
Tri-tip is $5.49/lb. Cross-rib is $3.99/lb. Beef Chuck Pot Roast Boneless, which I use all the time for my ragu, is only $3.99/lb.
But Safeway's beef, although usually better than Lucky's, can sometimes be quite chewy, even on a rib-eye or T-bone. And shrinkage is considerable, especially with braising (hormone-raised beef is "watery"). The trimming is adequate but not great.
Safeway is one of the biggest grocery chains in the US. They have economies of scale way beyond the smaller markets.
Costco goes even further by only offering large sizes/portions of standard cuts.
How is a "humane" beef producer going to compete against these giants? S/he can't, at least not on an equal footing. The small business costs are higher. There's not enough economy of scale in the feed cost. Vets don't charge small independents any less for their services. Transport is expensive. It's hard just to contract with processing plants; there aren't many left in CA.
What the consumer has proven willing to pay for is organic and/or free-range. These are "magic words" in food advertising. We consumers know when we see these words, the price tag will be more - maybe a little more, maybe a lot.
Most ranchers, and probably most consumers, would define "humane" as free range and organic. So that's where the market thrust is, for small ranchers trying to provide an alternative to corporate feedlot beef.
As for the skill of butchers, just talk to them. It's pretty obvious who are the ones who are good. They'll talk your ear off if you ask them how to cook a particular cut! I've never yet met a good butcher that didn't love to cook - or least to eat a lot of meat, LOL!
I definitely agree about the economies of scale for chains vs independents but in my experience the prices for direct purchases from ranchers are always less expensive than what you will pay for the same quality retail. In fact, the meat that I get humanely, pasture raised rivals the price of the Safeway meat. However, bulk purchases are not for everyone, and there are logistics for pickup, butchering and storage to contend with. Truth be told, I've been completely surprised at the price the ranchers get for the animal even under glorified conditions. It is less than half the cost of the meat. The butcher/processor gets paid as much if not more. The small producers suffer from the lack of nearby USDA-approved slaughterhouses and it's the costs of shipping, killing, processing the animals makes their products much less price competitive as a result.
Don't go to Star Meats if you want a real butcher.
They have nice quality and very expensive meat...however the clerks working there are completely clueless on service and have zero butchering skills.
They are so bad that its both comical and sad.
(I love the employees that work in Star Grocery though.)
Piedmont Grocery butchers are all Union and are very professional.
And they don't give you a dirty look if you ask them to cut up a whole chicken.
I go to Piedmont Grocery for meat, but mostly because of the service available in the meat department. Their website suggests that their beef might meet your requirements, but I don't know about the price.
I'd go to Costco. While not specifically humanely grown, Costco tends to be above board on its products (don't think they'd tolerate bad PR of sick cows, etc.), and it's quality stuff and reasonably priced. The only issue is you tend to have to buy a large quantity.
They also carry vacu-packed beef, organic/humane/grass-fed,etc. and the prices are probably pretty good. Certainly better than a supermarket but again you have to buy a larger quantity.
Others are right, not going to find humanely grown stuff at that price point, or any really.
p.s. not in Oakland but San Leandro and Richmond
don't know about the treatment of cows part but restaurants go to
-allied pringle meats, 333 clay st. (510)763-6200
or walk into
United Grocers C & C, 400 oak st. (set up like a smart & final)
the former may fit your needs, they also sell to the public.
The best way to get good meat in that price range to buy whole animal shares via a meat club, but you have to commit to 30-40lbs at a time (fills up a regular freezer) or find someone to split with you. I get pasture raised, grassfed beef for ~$5/lb this way, all cuts. I also shop the sales at Whole Foods. They only buy from suppliers that raise their meat humanely.
Butchers "who know what they're doing" definitely include Star Market and Ver Brugge. We get our meat there--and Costco. I've never talked w/ the butchers at any of those places re the provenance of the meat--though the butchers at Star and Ver Brugge, at least, would surely be interested in and available for such a conversation.
This may not take the conversation in a direction that's useful to you--but the other way to think about this is to make dishes that aren't just a big piece of red meat, but that incorporate small amounts of red meet w/ lots of grains and veg. That way you can "have your red meat and eat it too"--which is to say, buy the pricey meat from happy cows, but in small quantities, so as not to break the bank. Bonus: healthier meals as well!
re: sundeck sue
Ver Brugge carries USDA Choice and Prime beef. The Prime is marked. The rest is Choice. I don't think their meat is of a particular provenance. These days provenance is such a selling point that if it's not not stated, I really doubt that the meat is from anything but a large ranch/factory farm. I've seen Prime short ribs there for ~$7-8/lb at times, if that's of interest. They do have good weekly specials because they have to move merch to keep things fresh, so check the signs on the window.