5 Helpful Butchering Tips for a Beginner
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Learning how to cut up a beef, or any animal, can be a daunting ordeal if you have no background. My husband took it upon myself to learn some of the skills associated with processing a beef. Here he gives some helpful butchering tips that he discovered through this process.
1. Find the proper tools
Here is a picture of the tools I used on the first beef and sheep I butchered. They are not professional grade by any means, but they do the trick. Starting on the left is a steel for sharpening your knife blade throughout the process. If you are learning you will hit bone every now and then, so you want a steel close by to hone the edges frequently. The very first thing I learned was how to sharpen a knife and it was a worthwhile investment. I clip the steel to my belt loop while I do the processing (hence the carabiner clip).
Next we have a meat hook that is used to grip the meat. This is really nice because it allows you grip and leverage when separating pieces of meat. I use mine extensively. My brother-in-law welded this one together for me, but you can buy them online for relatively cheap.
Next is a boning knife. This is pretty much the most important piece that I have in my basic set. You will want to look for a semi-flex blade with good steel that will hold a edge. Processing without one of these would be like riding a bike without pedals.
Next I have a Machete which I used for cutting through larger pieces of meat. The one pictured is from Amazon. While my machete is perfect for general use, I would like one with a blade about half the length specifically for butchering.
On the far right is a hand meat saw which is used to cut through bone. We also have a sawzall that we use throughout the butchering and a band saw that we for larger cuts during processing. They are pricey if you only plan to butcher a single animal, but a worthwhile investment if you plan to continue raising animals for meat.
At the bottom centre is a chain-mail glove. Mine has saved my hands from numerous cuts and nicks. If it even saves me from one bad cut then it’s worth every penny. I would highly recommend one for learning.
These are the bare bones (pun intended), along with a few extra things to make your life easier.
2. Decide what kind of cuts you want
Do you want steaks, hamburger, stew beef, roasts, ribs? Decide what you want and look up how to get those cuts. The information out there can get confusing, so if you know roughly what you want then it will make processing your animal much easier. You can go after the prize cuts with care and feel free to make exploratory cuts and mistakes elsewhere. You can always turn meat scraps into ground meat or stew meat. The one piece of meat I would always recommend you not turn into scrap meat is the loin. this piece runs along the top of the spine and is super tender. It normally makes high-value cuts.
3. Figure out how to stay organized
The first time you process a side of beef make sure you have adequate counter space, a number of buckets and some way to label the pieces of meat. I used pieces of paper and tacks to label the cuts. I found this useful for the first half, but was able to recognize the pieces by the second half. Yes, it was kinda a hassle, but it did speed up my familiarity of the pieces.
4. Recognize that everyone processes differently
When I was looking up steps on how to butcher online or in books it was helpful to remember that there is no one right process. Everyone seems to have a different method. I have found that no one breaks a side into primals completely before breaking it down into sub-primals and cuts. This makes sense if you are familiar with the process, but it can be very difficult when trying to learn. Try different ways of doing it.
The great thing is about having a whole carcass is you get to try everything twice. The more you play with the pieces the more familiar you will get with them. I found once I started to recognize pieces and knew where different cuts came from I could just go on autopilot and I stopped questioning everything I did (which is how I felt at first looking at a full hanging carcass).
5. Control the temperature of the carcass
This makes a BIG difference. The first beef half I processed was partially frozen. After fighting and struggling with the half for what felt like a full day, I managed to get most of it cut into smaller pieces that waited further breakdown. The next piece I took down and let thaw for a day in a slightly warmer (not freezing) room. (Most beef hangs for 18-21 days before being processed to help tenderize it. All commercial meat does this.) The second half took me less than a third of the time to process than the first and it was much easier to find joints and peel back muscles. Don’t try to cut a side when it’s completely frozen unless you have too much time to kill, enjoy being frustrated, and appreciate working with frigid hands.