Monday, April 8, 2013

Beef Packing

Had a busy day on Sunday. Got up at 6 AM (which is still night in my opinion) so we could be at the butcher shop by 7:00. Each half of a steer is owned by an individual. That individual makes all the decisions about how to process their beef. Steaks, roast, cube steaks, ground beef...the butcher doesn't care. He just wants to you be happy with what you get. This year I went first. I took some pictures but unfortunately not as many as I should have. When I wasn't making decisions, I was wrapping beef with freezer paper. Once decisions are made, the side of beef is broken down fairly quickly. My half of steer was cut, wrapped and boxed in an hour and 45 minutes. We started cutting and wrapping at 7:00, we were back at the house (a good 20 minute ride) before 2:30.

Here are some photos I took. Forgive me if I mess up a description. I'm getting better, but I'm certainly not an expert. The steers were quartered. Each quarter is hanging from a hook on a rail. There is an impressive track system in the shop. From the outer bay into the shop and then into a large walk in cooler.

Here you have chuck on the band-saw table, short ribs behind the chuck and a leg behind the short ribs.

The butcher's knife skills are nothing short of incredible. Basically no wasted movement. He also often uses gravity often and has a meat hook in his left hand. I don't have a photo of it, but watching him tie knots on a roast is also impressive. I'd love to follow him around and learn some of what he knows. I once watched him prep a deer for the cooler. I still can't believe how fast it was.

A brisket that will become corned beef pastrami.  Would you believe most customers grind the briskets? Skirt steaks too. Several years ago I saw him remove the skirt steak and surprised him by knowing what it was.

Large chuck roasts. Good for stews and pot roast. And if I run out of ground beef, I grind it myself.

Short ribs.

Large bone-in sirloin steaks.


 T-bones and Porterhouse steaks.

 Beef being ground. This is the second pass through the grinder. He does a double grind.

Another shot from a different half of steer.

The ground meat is put in this huge sausage stuffer with a customized tip. If you look just to the right of the meat saw, you can see the hip switch that runs the stuffer.

Using his hip, the butcher stiffs the ground beef into these red and white sleeves. He's fast. He's stuffing the sleeves, one of us would tape the sleeve closed with a little tape gizmo he had, and another would label the tube of ground beef and put it in a box. It didn't take the butcher long to get ahead of us. And when you weigh a sleeve...they are all pretty damn close to 1.4 pounds. Here's my box of ground beef. Probably about 80 pounds in there.

I kept the ox-tail. That's a weird shape to wrap with freezer paper. I'm curious to see how the oxtail comes out of the pressure cooker.

One thing that amazes me every is how white and smooth joints are. I guess it is the same in a chicken. These are just so much bigger.

Among the cuts not pictured: flank steaks, skirt steaks, eye round roasts, sirloin tip roasts, top round roasts and steaks, chuck eyes, London broils, cube steaks and probably a few others I am forgetting at the moment. When we were done, two chest freezers (one of the chest freezers is huge the other is a normal size) and the freezer of a side-by-side refrigerator were completely filled with beef.

There were a few hogs hanging in the walk-in. Maybe some day. I'd need another freezer.


  1. Excellent photo essay (both parts). I remember being a lad and having my father take me to our local slaughter house/butchering facility. IMO, a mandatory visit for all those who eat meat, and want to understand more about the process. Not an easy visit, but it certainly gives one a new appreciation of the cycle of life. Our sterilized world of styrofoam trays and cling wrap are far removed from reality.

  2. You sir, are a lucky man! I would kill for access to some good quality beef fat for my sausage making.

  3. -R. I agree. Participating in raising these steers has changed how I cook.

    Mr. Dave - Next year at this time I'll track you down and get you a year's supply of beef fat. Unfortunately from my experience, pork fat is better in sausage/salami. Although that could also be operator error.

  4. The Healthy Living Market is doing nose to tail butchery on site. They will have beef fat (and probably extra pork fat) that would be great for whatever nefarious purpose you have in store.