How To Draft a Cow

It’s fantasy football time, but instead of burying yourself in NFL stat books, prepare to recruit the ultimate dinner—for the entire season


Illustration by Todd Detwiler

A number of small California cattle ranchers are offering the better part of a steer directly to home cooks. Bulk buying means you can sidestep the odious factory farm supply chain and save about 20 percent on high-quality, sustainably raised meat. But you can’t expect to eat the whole thing yourself. Taking a few hints from the virtual pigskin game, you and a few friends can apply a draft system to stock up on meat that will last through the play-offs.

Step 1: Find a Cow
Santa Ynez Valley rancher John “DeyDey” de Bruin ( raises his hormone-free herd on grass. For about $1,500 he’ll deliver a half steer butchered into some 170 vacuum-sealed frozen steaks, roasts, ribs, and more. 

Step 2: Assemble a League
The more participants, the lower the per-person cost, but your take will be lighter, too. We suggest between 8 and 12 players.

Step 3: Be a Scout
Do your homework. Knowing there’s only one hanger steak per cow is your clue to snag it early. And bone up on how to cook the stuff. “A guy tried to return short ribs after he threw them on the grill,” says Erika Nakamura of the butcher shop Lindy & Grundy. To avoid mistakes, she suggests reading Deborah Krasner’s Good Meat

Step 4: Set Up the Field
When the meat arrives, spread the haul on a large table. Make sure your supplier provides an inventory list and the price of each cut; distribute that info to the league. There will be dozens of packages of ground beef. Set those aside to divvy up later. 

Step 5: Know the Rules
Pick numbers from a hat to determine the draft order. Each player takes turns selecting one cut per round until the meat is gone. At the end the competitors calculate their share of the total cost based on their selections. 

Step 6: Kick Off
Everyone will reach for the hefty bone-in rib eyes, New York strips, and fillets, but resist the urge to spend your early picks on these blue-chip steaks unless you’re ready to pay for them. Make a run on sleepers like skirt or flatiron steaks. Nakamura loves top round, a lean muscle from the hindquarter. “You can cube it and put it in a stew or do a braised chili,” she says. “You can also cut it into big honking steaks that can go right on the grill or cook it long and slow like a roast beef. The top round has mileage.” 

Step 7: Manage Your Team
You have your meat; now put it in the freezer—the game’s not over yet. Say you end up with three osso buco shanks but you’re planning a special dinner for four. Time to negotiate a trade. Or challenge one of your rivals to a “burger-off” with all that ground beef. Did you skimp on steaks during the draft? Invite one of your steak-rich pals to a special barbecue, with this caveat: They bring the rib eye; you buy the wine. Everybody wins. 

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