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Cow Butchering

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 

Just this last Monday my chef and some of our friends brought a cow into the restaurant, already aged and quartered, to try our hand at butchering.  Needless to say we didn't have any of the proper equipment and we quite literally butchered it.  This was a 700 lb steer, free range, grass fed, and raised for its genetic line not it's meat.  It took us 7 hours to butcher this thing.  I should point out that this meat is intended for personal consumption and not use in the restaurant. 

 

All we had to go by was some simple little charts of primals and subprimals but really no idea how to go about things.  We got all the good pieces like the tenderloin, striploin, prime rib, brisket sirloin and some roasts, but where we got really lost was in the hip and the chuck.  Really didn't know what was going on in there and mostly just separated muscle groups then ground them.  Does anyone have any online resources or some good books I can get at?  We are doing this again in a few weeks and I would like to be a little better prepared.

post #2 of 22

I unfortunately can't advise on the butchering since I've had my angus processed by a great packager in our area. I can say that I imagine some of the chuck cuts, involved a fairly large band saw, since I've have some steaks that were so large unfolded that they covered an entire grill.

 

I am curious though, 700 lbs? Was that the entire cow? The last one we had processed was a black angus that resulted in almost 1k lbs of packaged meat. A lot of the meat does end up ground, and you really have to be selective about which cuts you want. For instance, if you want filets.. you aren't going to have t-bones.

post #3 of 22

GET A SAW

 

After that, except for taking esoteric steaks out of the round and chuck, it's more or less obvious.

 

BDL

post #4 of 22

The first one is the hardest.

 

If nothing else, you should have learned that all the major (and some not so major) muscles are separated and outlined by connective tissue, such as silverskin. Butchering becomes a game of following the dots, as it were. After that it's a matter of separating those muscle groups into the cuts you want.

 

For instance, when you removed the tenderloin it consisted of several parts. Your decision at that point is whether to leave it whole or to break it down into some or all of those parts.

 

Other than that, take BDL's advice. I can't imagine butchering a cow without one. But you specifically want a meat saw. A blade with smaller teeth will be a hinderance rather than a help. And, if you don't have them as part of the knife collection, I'd advise a couple of scimitars  as well, especially if you'll be doing this often. No, they're not absolutely necessary (in theory you could butcher a cow with nothing but a filet knife). But they make the job much easier.

 

While there's nothing wrong with grinding the "scraps" and small pieces, don't forget that there are other uses for them, particular for home use. Among them: stew meat; chili strips, minute steaks, slices for cheesesteak, and so forth.

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #5 of 22

I can tell you that what the 2 gentleman stated above is true. You must have a saw and not a hand saw, but a commercial automatic  band saw. Home I cut smaller secondary cuts and even at that I use an electric saber saw. The other factor is when you are in doubt about cutting lets say an  Arm Chuck or a  whole  chuck with brisket( as it falls) attached etc. Always follow the natural seam of the meat.

In many cases you do not even need a knife to do this just the pressure of your hand. 

As mentioned above you could break down a whole steer or cow with 1 knife but it would take even the most experienced person a long time. I would say minimum a 6 inch flex and  6 inch stiff boning blades. Don't try and use boning knives to cut steaks of any kind off any primal cut, they are to short.and you will not be able to cut straight. 

Take a Loin of Lamb, you only have to pick up a knife once and make 1 single cut to break it down into a rack, flap off for roasting. The rest is simply done with your hand.

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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post #6 of 22

I'd have to partially disagree, Ed. For somebody doing a whole lot of butchering, yeah, a bandsaw becomes necessary. But for the occasional animal, there's nothing wrong with a manual meat saw. It's more a matter of quantity than anything else.

 

I've probably broken down more than a hundred deer, for instance, and innumerable other game animals, with just a hand saw. But I'm only doing them one at a time.

 

To put a point on it, when I'm skinning professionally, and have as many as 300 deer whose legs and heads have to be cut off, and time is of the essence, that's when the power tools come out. And it goes without saying that the processor I work for uses a bandsaw for the actual butchering process.

 

I think, too, that your point about hands being better tools than a knife for separating muscle groups cannot be emphasized enough. Beginners often do not realize that, and over-use their knives, sometimes to their detriment.

 

Don't try and use boning knives to cut steaks of any kind off any primal cut, they are to short.and you will not be able to cut straight. 

 

Very good advice. At minimum, a 10-inch slicer should be used. But, really, this is one of the places where the scimitar really shines. The one I use has a straight-line measurement of slightly more than 10 inches. Just guessing, but that would put the cutting edge at about 11 or a bit more.  If I were working with a lot of beef, I think a longer one would make sense though, because the primals are so much larger.


Edited by KYHeirloomer - 7/4/10 at 7:16am
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #7 of 22

I have been to the Sysco Buckhead Meat facility in Georgia. All of their Strip Staeks, Delmonicos, Ribsteaks etc are cut by Laser- Cut machine, Simply amazing.    Some times at work I take a boneless rib or strip and cut it on the meat slicer, the steaks come out very good and the machine can be adjusted as you cut for the varying size of the eye.

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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post #8 of 22

.....are cut by Laser- Cut machine.....

 

Aw, shucks. And here I am totally out of counter space.

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #9 of 22

For years, I've used either a 10" K-Sabatier au carbone slicer or a 10" carbon Sabatier "Canadian" slicer (currently residing with my daughter).  Both are extremely accurate, make very straight cuts, and may be adjusted by eye.

 

In all seriousness, even though I didn't mention sharpness when addressing the OP's question we all should have done.

 

It makes life somewhat easier to have knives of appropriate length and profile.  On that front, you can certainly do everything you need to do to break a steer with a meat handsaw, a chef's knife, a slicer, and a "petty" and/or "boning" knife.  I'm not saying specialty butchering knives like "cimiters" and so on don't protect your knuckles and make some things easier... but they're not going to make a heck of a lot difference compared to having regular straight knives.

 

Sharpness, on the other hand, does.

 

You want your knives sharp.  And by sharp, I don't mean "as sharp as they were when they were new," I mean very sharp -- and that's sharper than the barely sharp that comes OOTB.  They don't need a highly polished edge like you'd want for cutting fish or onions.  A little scuff on them is fine.  But you do want VERY SHARP.

 

In terms of bench stones, something in the neighborhood of hard Arkansas/aoto would be ideal.  However a little rougher (fine India or 1000# Japanese waterstone), a little finer (black Arkansas or 6000# JIS), and of course anywhere in between would be just fine.  But please understand... VERY SHARP.

 

Making a cut should feel like like the meat is getting out of the knife's way, and take almost no effort.

 

In addition to coming to the party sharp, nearly all knives will require steeling at least a couple of times during the process.

 

One of the good things about butchers is that they generally get the whole concept of sharpness.  Cooks, even professional ones, are a lot more iffy.  VERY SHARP doesn't mean using a Spyderco Sharpmaker, or running your knife a few times down a medium steel four months after its last sharpening.

 

VERY SHARP means, among other things, a fresh, new edge. 

 

BDL

post #10 of 22

Good point, BDL.

 

I think we sometimes put blinders on ourselves, and assume certain things as a given. But it's good to be reminded of them.

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #11 of 22
Thread Starter 

Thank you for your posts.  Definitely need to get a good saw.  Our electric one broke on first contact and we were relegated to using a 12 inch wood saw.   

 

Eastshores, the cows are small because they are raised for genetics and breeding, not the meat. 

post #12 of 22

to using a 12 inch wood saw.   

 

Which is a really good way of incorporating bone dust into the meat. Make sure you've cleaned the meat well before packaging.

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #13 of 22

By the way, in the trade, steers aren't called cows.  They're cattle, steers or beeves.  If you're going to be a cook, you might as well learn the jargon.

 

BDL

post #14 of 22

Actually, if you want tenderloin filets you won't end up with any porterhouses.  T-bones have such a little bit of tenderloin on them, I think that you're basically getting the tail end of the whole tenderloin muscle.  This is just my observation from growing up in Iowa and seeing/being told how it is.

 

Personally, I'd always go for the filets.  What does a porterhouse become without the tenderloin section?  And a T-bone?  Curious minds wanna know!

 

Actually, the comment about cows vs. steers is absolutely correct.  A cow is used to propagate the species and for milk.  When they get old, they go to the pizza sausage factory.  Same with old pigs.

 

You really don't want to eat bull meat because the testosterone makes the flavor funny.  That's one of the reasons they cut off their nutty balls to make them into steers.  Steer meat is the only beef I will knowingly eat.  The bulls are kept around to help propagate the species also.

 

tx,doc

post #15 of 22

What does a porterhouse become without the tenderloin section? 

 

Never seen it served that way, but wouldn't it be a bone-in strip steak?

 

FWIW, where I was brought up (i.e, NY), the only difference between a T-bone and a Porterhouse is thickness. Up to about an inch thick it was a T-bone, more than an inch was a Porterhouse. Served whole the bone was left in. If broken down, both parts were removed, with the small piece becoming a filet and the large piece a strip.

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #16 of 22

Good Eats just did a show where they were talking about the difference. USDA has rules regarding the amount of tenderloin measured in width, which if between a min. of 1/2" and 1 1/4" it can be considered a T-Bone. If the width is 1 1/4" or higher, it may be called a Porterhouse. I tried to find the actual regulation on the USDA site, but that place is not friendly to navigate, so unless someone can confirm that, it's just what I saw on good eats, and found via google.

post #17 of 22

Friend used to use a sawzall for the major cuts and a hand meat saw for the minor cuts. That was before he bought a band saw from a butcher shop that was closing. We would kill 6 steers, get them ready to hang and take them to the locker for 2 weeks. After that they came back to his garage that was turned into a butcher shop for a day. 4 families working at once it doesn't take long to break a carcass down.

post #18 of 22

Just to clear something up from higher in the thread. 

 

T-Bones and porterhouse come from the short loin and filets come from the part of the tenderloin that runs between the sirloin and top sirloin.  They don't really compete.  You can get a full set of t-bones, porterhouse and a complete filet from each side.

 

BDL 

post #19 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by boar_d_laze View Post

Just to clear something up from higher in the thread. 

 

T-Bones and porterhouse come from the short loin and filets come from the part of the tenderloin that runs between the sirloin and top sirloin.  They don't really compete.  You can get a full set of t-bones, porterhouse and a complete filet from each side.

 

BDL 


Not a complete filet as filets can be cut from either side of the chateaubriand. It's a pretty negligible amount of filet lost, though.

 

The spec on porterhouses and t-bones is confusing, as the USDA rule does say width (not thickness), but it states that the width of the tenderloin should be measured parallel to the length of the backbone. I think most people would call that thickness; maybe they meant perpendicular?   

Anulos qui animum ostendunt omnes gestemus!
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Anulos qui animum ostendunt omnes gestemus!
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post #20 of 22

maybe they meant perpendicular?   

 

No, Greg, it's what normal people refer to as thickness.

 

Envision this. The entire loin section is on a table, left to right. That direction would be the width, far as the gubmint is concerned. Moving away from you is the depth. And the distance from the board to the top of the meat is the height.

 

Now, make a 1-inch slice, but leave it in place. It is still interpreted as width, as in, width of the slice.

 

Normal folks like you and me would look at the steak in isolation to determine measurements. So it would be laying flat. We would call the part across the meat the width, and the height the thickness.

 

But nobody ever accused the government of being normal.

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #21 of 22

All I know is when I look at a steak I can tell if it's a porterhouse or if it's pretending to be a porterhouse.

post #22 of 22

Brisket,

Here is an on line resource I think you will find very beneficial. Take some time to peruse the site. It offers cross sectional views and lists the cuts as well as the numbers for each sub-primal. 

 

http://bovine.unl.edu/bovine3D/eng/ShowCrossecPrimal.jsp?primal_id=966278019

I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
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I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
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