Having just picked up a new piece of meat from the butcher, the possibilities are endless. However, without the right knowledge of butchery basics, you may find yourself struggling to translate the cut of meat in your hand into dinner. Whether you are a novice who needs a primer on the essential skills of butchery or a DIY enthusiast looking to hone their craft, this article will provide you with a comprehensive overview of the essential meat cuts and butchery techniques. Read on for an introduction to butchery basics.
1. Introduction to Butchery Basics
Butchery is an important skill when it comes to making sure the meat you buy not only tastes good but is also nutritious and safe to eat. Knowing the basics of butchery can help you save money and make sure you’re getting the most out of your meat. Here, we’ll cover the basics of butchery to give you a better understanding of different types of meat cuts and the techniques used to make them.
When it comes to butchery, the process starts with the types of cuts that you can make from the raw meat. The size of each cut will depend on the size of the animal, from large sides of beef and pork to smaller cuts like venison and rabbit.
- Primary Cuts: These are the basic, easily identifiable cuts, such as the shoulder, leg, shank, and loin.
- Secondary Cuts: These cuts are a little more intricate and require more skill to make, such as the tenderloin, brisket, and chuck.
After the primary and secondary cuts, the butcher will use a variety of tools and techniques to further divide and shape the meat into usable cuts. The most common tools used in butchery are a knife, saw, and cleaver. With these tools, the butcher can make smaller, more specialized cuts, such as steaks, mince, sausages, and more.
Butchers also use different levels of pressure to shape the cuts. This is known as tenderizing, and is done to make tougher cuts of meat more palatable and easier to work with. The pressure used can range from gentle to heavy, depending on the meat and its intended use.
Finally, the butcher will need to know how to properly trim the meat. This involves removing any excess fat, bone, or cartilage, as well as any other unsavory bits. Trimming is key to ensuring the desired texture and flavor of the meat after cooking.
2. Different Types of Meat Cuts
It can be intimidating to learn the that a butcher might use but, with the right knowledge, it doesn’t have to be so difficult. Once you know how the meat is cut, you can choose the best pieces for the ideal meal. Here, we discuss the common meat cuts and the techniques used to process them.
1. Beef Cuts
- Steaks: The section of the animal used for steak cuts is the loin, which is from the back of the cow. Steaks include ribeye, strip steak, and tenderloin cuts.
- Roasts: These cuts of meat are from the round and the chuck portion of the animal. Chuck roast, brisket, round roasts, and eye round are all common roast cuts.
2. Pork Cuts
- Steaks: Pork steaks are a leaner cut of pork than roasts, as they come from the shoulder and loin area of the animal. They can be grilled, pan-fried, or oven-roasted.
- Roasts: These are taken from the shoulder, leg, or loin sections of the pig, and are typically slow-roast or braised. Common cuts include picnic shoulder, pork-belly, and crown roast.
- Spareribs: Spareribs are taken from the pork chest area and need to be cooked slowly over low heat with a squirt of liquid to keep them moist. This makes them ideal for grilling, smoking, or barbecuing.
3. Lamb Cuts
- Steaks: The section of the animal used for lamb steak cuts is the leg. These cuts are easy to prepare and are usually prepared by grilling or pan-frying.
- Roasts: Rib-lamb roasts make up the majority of lamb roasts. This cut is taken from the rib section of the animal and should be roasted with the bones in place.
- Ground: Ground lamb is an economical way of enjoying the flavor of the animal without having to pay for expensive cuts. It is usually prepared by pan-frying, grilling, or baking in a casserole.
4. Chicken Cuts
- Legs: Chicken legs are typically cooked by roasting, grilling, or baking. They are typically prepared with the bone in, as this helps to keep them moist while cooking.
- Breast: This is a lean and versatile cut of meat and can be cooked in a variety of ways. They can be grilled, pan-fried, or poached.
- Thighs: These are taken from the upper-leg area of the bird and are generally cooked with the skin on for increased flavor. Thighs can be roasted, grilled, or pan-fried.
- Ground: Chicken ground can be used in a variety of dishes. It can be formed into patties and is ideal for casseroles and soups.
3. Cutting Meat Safely
Using the Right Tools
Using the right tools to efficiently and safely cut your cuts of meat is key. Whether it be a carving knife, a sharpening steel, or a cleaver, it’s important you use the right tool for the right job. An electric meat slicer can help with heavy-duty tasks, as well as make delicate slices with uniformity.
The Main Cuts
The four main cuts of meat are chuck, rib, short loin, and sirloin. Once you’ve identified your cut of meat, before beginning the butchering process, it’s important to have a good feel for the internal composition and texture of the meat by touching, feeling, and flexing it.
Preparing the Cut
When it comes to your cut, be sure to trim any large tendons and fat with a sharp knife. Removing excess fat can help reduce the amount of time it takes to cook the meat, which is important. After trimming, use a hack saw or cleaver to cut the meat into sections according to the size and amount you need.
Slicing meat can be tricky, and the type of cut determines the best way to slice it. For example, boneless steaks can be cut into thinner pieces, while extra-thick steaks can be cut into larger pieces. Generally, thicker cuts of beef should be seared before slicing them very thin.
Mincing meat usually involves cutting the meat into smaller cubes and then smashing it with the flat side of your knife to make it into a paste-like texture. Mincing is a great way to prepare meat for kebabs, hamburgers, and other dishes. To do this, hold the meat in one hand and use your other to hold the knife evenly, cutting the cubes as evenly as possible.
Boning meat properly can be challenging, but it’s important if you want to ensure the best cut and texture. To do this, start by slicing along the bone, keeping your knife as close to the bone as possible. Follow the length of the bone cautiously, angling the knife to make sure you don’t cut through the bone, as that would remove both the meat and the bone. If the meat has a tough texture, use a hacksaw or a cleaver to make cuts.
4. Basic Butchery Equipment
Having the right tools on hand when meat cutting and preparation is key to having a successful butchery setup. Although the type of meats you’ll need to work with will determine the exact equipment you’ll need, there are a few pieces of basic equipment that remain the same regardless of the type of meat you’re working with.
- Sharp knives – slicing, trimming, and portioning out meat requires sharp, precise cutting knives. Invest in a variety of knives to cover various tasks.
- Cutting boards – use beefy boards made from hardwood or synthetic material that won’t dull your knives quickly.
- Meat hooks – hanging meat on hooks to dry age or process is a key step in any butchery. Invest in high-quality steel hooks that will last.
- Work bench – look for a surface that is easy to clean and has a lip to prevent liquids from spilling over the edge. Some work benches come with a built-in knife sharpener, too, which can be very handy.
- Meat saw – these are great for breaking down large cuts of meat or slicing through large bones.
- Grinders – if you’re going to be grinding your own burgers, sausages, etc, then you’ll need an industrial strength grinder.
- Scale – weighing out pre-packaged meats and other ingredients is an important part of any butchery set up.
These are a few of the essential pieces of equipment you’ll need in a modern butchery. Using the best quality tools will help make your meat cutting, preparation, and processing a more efficient and enjoyable experience. Invest in good quality tools, and make sure your work surfaces and equipment are well organized and easy to use to make your life easier.
5. Different Types of Cooking Techniques
Grilling is one of the most popular cooking techniques when it comes to cooking and preparing meats. The main difference between grilling and other cooking techniques is that the heat source is above the food instead of below or inside. The key here is to heat the food quickly and to maintain even temperatures throughout the cooking process, while making sure to avoid flare-ups. The goal is to give the food a smoky taste without overcooking it.
Searing is a cooking technique that uses intense heat to brown or caramelize the surface of a piece of meat quickly. The high heat creates a hard outer crust that seals in the juices, giving the meat a crisp exterior and tender interior. In order to give the meat a flavorful crust and more tender interior, searing is often done prior to roasting.
Frying is a technique in which the meat is cooked in fat or oil, over the heat. This is different from sautéing or pan-frying, because in those methods the meat is cooked in a pan or skillet, without added oils or fats. Frying is often seen as a fast-cooking technique, since it does not require much time to crisp up the food and seal in the juices. When frying, it’s important to make sure the temperature of the fat or oil is high enough to cook the food without burning it.
Braising is a slow cooking method that involves submerging the meat in a flavorful liquid before cooking it on a low-heat for a longer period of time. The key is to keep the liquid at a low-boil, allowing the heat to penetrate the meat evenly. As the liquid evaporates, it creates a flavorful sauce that can be served over the meat. This method results in tender and juicy meats.
Smoking is a method that is used to slow-cook foods in smoke, typically on a low-heat. This method gives the meat a smoky flavor and a crisp exterior. The key is to maintain a low and consistent temperature throughout the cooking process, while avoiding flare-ups. Smoking is the perfect technique for meats that are obtained from the butcher, such as ribs, brisket, and pork shoulder.
6. Recommended Meats for Different Techniques
- Whole chicken
- Turkey legs
- Beef chuck roast
- Pork butt roast
Roasting is a classic method of cooking that yields juicy, flavorful meats. Roasting is a good choice for large cuts of meat like whole chickens, turkey legs, beef chuck roasts, and pork butt roasts since the gentle, slow cooking allows plenty of time for the flavors to develop. The dry, hot heat of the oven creates a browned crust that helps to seal in the juices.
Stews & Braises
- Beef shoulder
- Lamb shoulder
- Veal shank
- Pork shoulder
Stews and braises are ideal for tough, inexpensive cuts of meat that require slow, moist cooking to become tender and flavorful. Beef shoulder, lamb shoulder, veal shank, and pork shoulder are all good options for these methods as they are all very flavorful but need to be cooked low and slow to become moist and tender. The long cooking time also gives the flavors of the other ingredients time to combine with the beef for a fuller flavor.
- Flank steak
- Pork tenderloin
- Skirt steak
- Beef tenderloin
Grilling is the perfect technique to tenderize and char the surface of lean, tender meats. Flank steak, pork tenderloin, skirt steak, and beef tenderloin are all great choices, as their robust flavor will stand up to the high heat from the grill. These cuts also cook quickly, so be sure to keep an eye on them to prevent overcooking. Be sure to allow the meat to rest for 5-10 minutes after grilling so the juices can redistribute and the flavor can develop.
Butchery isn’t a daunting prospect and with the knowledge you’ve gained throughout this article, you’re now better equipped to break down a side of beef or pig into the specific cuts you need. You’ll be confident in knowing which cut of meat your guests would love, as well as the techniques needed to turn each cut from a tough slab to a juicy grilling steak or your personal favorite.
- Know your cuts: Familiarize yourself with the types of cuts and where they come from so that you can give your dinners the best possible helping.
- Understand knives: Equipping yourself with a reliable and sharp knife is essential for successful cuts.
- Be ready for tough cuts: Tougher cuts of meat require extra attention and will take a bit of extra time and effort.
- Safety first: Be sure to take extra safety precautions when handling a sharp knife and cutting up raw meat.
At the end of the day, understand that mastering the art of butchery takes time and practice. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes along the way but always remember that practices and techniques like breast to loin, eye of round and top round can transform your dish into something spectacular. Have fun and get creative with the cuts and techniques you use. Butchery isn’t for everyone, and it requires a lot of skill. But with the right knowledge and technique, you can become an expert at butchery in no time. With the basics of meat cuts and techniques outlined in this article, you are well on your way to perfecting your butchery skills. So give it a shot, and bon appétit!