Tool of the Trade, Part 2 - Butchery
The most useful tool for a beginner or experienced is knowledge. How you obtain that knowledge is an important choice to make. Take time to learn before wielding a knife.
Books such as Meredith Leigh’s The Ethical Meat Handbook, Adam Danforth’s Butchering Poultry, Rabbit, Lamb, Goat, and Pork: The Comprehensive Photographic Guide to Humane Slaughtering and Butchering, and John Mettler, DVM’s Basic Butchering of Livestock and Game are all great resources.
For those who prefer video, there is a multitude of YouTube channels on butchering. Some of my favorites include:
The Farmstead Meatsmith’s On the Anatomy of Thrift (a 3 part series that covers not just the killing and butchery, but also the history and philosophy of providing meat to eat.) https://farmsteadmeatsmith.com/films/
Scott Rea’s How to Butcher a Pig (The Ultimate Pig Butchery Video) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXPmxWEXrRU
How to Butcher a PIG like Hand Hewn Farm. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLj6-wkp5Mc
Finally, learning via hands-on in group or individual instruction is available in many parts of the country. From paid classes, day-long workshops or weekends, to volunteering to help at the neighbor’s butcher day, get your hands involved.
So, the carcass is laying on your table. Did you choose a height that allows you to work easily without having to bend forward? Utilizing good work posture will help protect your back from stress and strain. I have a counter-height island in my kitchen that has a full coverage NFS cutting surface. This height works well for me and is about 4-5 inches below the level of my waist. It allows me to bear down when needed, without having to stoop forward. The island allows me to move the meat around to a suitable angle for cuts and keeps any spatter off of walls. The cutting surface is washable, can be easily sanitized, and can be resurfaced as needed. Work with what you can afford; a maple end-cut surface, though pricier, would be ideal. Determine the ideal height for you and make that happen. An injured back will not make that pork chop taste very good.
A skilled butcher can take a whole carcass to cuts with nothing more than a knife and cleaver. Hand meat saws allow cutting through bone rather than separating at the joint. Some folks may choose to invest in a meat bandsaw. The choices you make depends on your goals, needs, finances, and a bit of pluck and determination.
As stated in Tools of the Trade, Part 1, there are endless choices of knives, from brand, to type of handle, full-tang or not, forged or stamped blade, stainless or steel, and price.
My knives are all full tang (blade extends fully into the handle, end to end). I have several brands; some I found used, some I splurged on at a cutlery outlet in Missouri. Most are stainless steel, some are not.
Choose the best that you can afford. Excellent knives are a worthy investment.
And keep them sharp! Whether you utilize sharpening stones, an electric or hand held sharpener, or send them out for sharpening, keep them sharp! A dull knife is much more likely to slip and cause injury.
Knives that I keep sharp and ready for the breaking down of a carcass include:
• Breaking Knife – to break down primals into smaller roasts. The curved blade allows for single pass cutting and is key in separating joints.
• Boning Knife – has a sharp tip and a narrow blade for cutting along the bones to separate meat with little loss; available in straight or curved, rigid or flexible.
• Scimetar – large curved knife for cutting large pieces of meat.
• Cleaver and rubber mallet– to help cut and split bones.
Other handy tools include:
• Bone scraper – to remove bone fragments and fat particles after cleaving or sawing.
• Meat saw – to cut through bone (Not meat).
• Meat hook – to assist with holding large pieces.
• Cut-resistant gloves – to protect hands from cuts.
A great source for supplies is butcher-packer.com.
With these ideas in mind, find your preferred source to learn, gather your tools, set up your workspace, and enjoy the satisfaction of putting meat on the table!
American Guinea Hogs, the best hog to have from start to finish!
Becky Mahoney, previously published in The Curly Tails, newsletter for the American Guinea Hog Association.