It’s State Fair Season – What Does That Mean for Meat?

It’s State Fair Season – What Does That Mean for Meat?

In the case of food, like any other industry, buying in bulk translates to better prices.

Take beef jerky for instance. If jerky makers were paying the same price for beef that you pay at the grocery store, the price they’d be charging customers to just break even would be cost prohibitive.

That doesn’t mean that hobbyists shouldn’t have fun making jerky at home. But if you want to get the best tasting jerky at the best prices, you have to go to a trusted source like BULK.

Of course, large companies in the food industry don’t pay retail prices for beef. They buy entire carcasses in mass.

But don’t sit around feeling jealous. Buying an entire side of beef is actually something that the average consumer could realistically pursue. And to do that, there’s nothing like buying a prize-winning cow at the state fair and having it butchered at the local meat processor of your choice.


The very first state fair in the US was the New York State Fair held in Syracuse in 1841. It has run continuously since then and still draws faithful crowds every year. The second state to roll the dice on a statewide agricultural show was Michigan. The Michigan State Fair was held in Detroit beginning in 1849.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic that shuttered much of the country, some states held their fairs in recent years as virtual online events. The point being, that state fairs are a celebration of the community. Therefore, the community will figure out a way to make it happen. It’s civic pride.

By way of definition, a state fair is a gathering of people from around the state to engage in competitions and recreational events. Typically, the exhibits and competitions are geared heavily towards agriculture.

Over the years, entertainment has become a prime fixture at state and county fairs. Headlining recording artists are brought in for concerts, while carnival rides keep kids actively engaged in having a good time.

The highest attendance on record for a state fair was 2,514,637 visitors at the 2019 Texas State Fair. Meanwhile, the Minnesota State Fair has the largest average per day attendance of just a hair below 200,000 people per day.

One mainstay of the state fair is the livestock show. Here individual animals are judged based upon criteria specific to their particular breed.

Livestock shows typically include categories for:

  • Cattle
  • Pigs
  • Sheep
  • Goats
  • Horses
  • Rabbits
  • Chicken
  • Geese
  • Ducks
  • Turkeys


In general, livestock judging at a state fair is the process of measuring different attributes of the animal and comparing them to a commonly accepted ideal standard.

The ideal standard for a market steer has a weight of 1,100 – 1,300 pounds. Heavy muscling is indicative of a prime animal that will result in high-priced cuts of beef.

For the Wisconsin State Fair, market cattle are judged on their readiness for immediate meat production, correctness of their body proportions relating to a set standard, and how closely their characteristics match the desirable traits for their particular breed.


In 2014, the Illinois State Fair saw the purchase of a 1,330-pound steer for $100,000. This ushered in an era of big money for premium beef.

In 2021, the state record was broken, with Governor JB Pritzker’s wife paying $105,000 for the Grand Champion Steer.

Wisconsin is known as the Dairy State thanks to its heavy population of cattle ranches and dairy farms. Every year, exhibitors at the Wisconsin State Fair show around 1,100 dairy cattle and 500 beef cattle. In fact, the Junior Dairy Cattle Show is the largest in the country.

In the 2021 Wisconsin State Fair, the Grand Champion Steer was purchased by Kenosha Beef for $47,500.

Texas is also known for its prized cattle. The 2021 Texas State Fair Grand Champion Market Steer captured a $126,000 winning bid.

According to information published by Montana State University, the five-year average for 4-H auction sales demonstrate a live weight price-per-pound of $3. This is based on a five-year live weight of 1,200 pounds translating to a live weight cost total of $3,600.

Now you might be wondering at some of the butcher terminology. To break it simply:

  • Live Weight is the weight of the cow prior to being butchered.
  • Hanging Weight is the weight of carcass after the blood, hide, and inedible parts are removed. This is usually about 61% of the live weight.
  • Finished Weight/Cut Weight is the weight after the cow has been fully processed, cut, and aged. This is usually approximately 45-35% less than the hanging weight.


Utilizing data culled by the University of Maryland Extension, a 1,300-pound beef animal will translate into approximately 600 pounds of usable meat.

The breakdown of the cuts of beef from the Front Quarter:

  • Ground Beef (110 pounds)
  • Chuck Roasts (20 pounds)
  • Rib Roasts (12 pounds)
  • Rib Steaks (5 pounds)
  • Short Ribs (4 pounds)

The resulting meat from the Rear Quarter:

  • Ground Beef (57 pounds)
  • Round Steaks/Roasts (47 pounds)
  • Porter House Steaks (10 pounds)
  • Sirloin Steaks (8 pounds)
  • Strip Steaks (8 pounds)
  • T-Bone Steaks (5 pounds)
  • Tenderloin Steaks (4 pounds)


In the article “How Much Does It Cost to Butcher a Steer? Is It Worth It?” by, we discover that butchering involves a series of charges.

Butchering a market steer comes with the following costs:

  • Kill Fee – this is typically $40-$80 per cow.
  • Skinning & Gutting – this can range from butcher to butcher. Many don’t charge a skinning fee as long as they don’t have to take precautions to save the hide. Butchers that do charge a skinning and gutting fee usually ask for $40-$60 per animal.
  • Cut & Wrap – this fee varies dramatically based on location. In rural farm communities, the processing fee will be in the $0.46 - $0.65 per hanging pound weight. Meat processors closer to large cities see prices as high as $1 per pound hanging weight.
  • Shrink-Wrapping – while some butchers automatically shrink-wrap the individual cuts of meat, the average cost is $0.50-$0.75 per pound of final weight.
  • Transport Fee – if the butcher requires you to have the cow transferred to their location, expect to pay $0.50-$1 per mile.


A family buying a side of beef is going to have to plan for how to store it. 

Depending on how it’s wrapped, a side of beef will require freezer space that can accommodate 35-50 pounds per cubic foot.

According to a designated chest freezer can run from $300 to over $1,000. On average the price for a mid-range model will run from $500-$700.

Back in the days before there was electricity and home freezers, meat was stored by salting and drying it. You guessed it – beef jerky.

Beef jerky has come a long way since it was being made by cowboys on the plains of the Old West.

Now you can get a wide variety of types of beef jerky ranging from Traditional Western Beef Jerky to Black Pepper Beef Jerky to All-Natural Teriyaki Brisket Beef Jerky.

All it takes is going to, and with the click of a button or two, your shipment of the country’s best beef jerky will be on the way for you to enjoy.

Your love of steaks and burgers doesn’t have to be replaced by your affinity for beef jerky. If you’re a big-time beef consumer, consider celebrating the state fair season by purchasing a market steer. Add a chest freezer in the garage and you’ll be stocked with meat for the rest of the year.

Back to blog