Archive for the ‘Butchering Beef’ Category

Episode 59 – Beef Workshop


Pork workshop [Ep 50] went so well that there wasn’t much question about whether there would be more. This time around: beef. The kill was an old cow whose new destiny laid in Jeff Senger’s family’s freezer, while the cow we cut was a beauty of an organic cow from a local farmer. So the day: kill, skin & gut, break down into primals, cut into retail cuts, afternoon of charcuterie, followed by dinner and wine. Epic days, they are. And yes, we ate thinly sliced raw heart sandwiches for lunch.

Had lots of positive feedback about the pork butchery music track by the AwesomeHots, so this one features a shiny new track of theirs: Wayfaring Stranger. I love the vibe – really well tracked piece – and it gives this edit a somber side that made some of the gorier footage work in editing. If it’s too gory for you, blame Daniel Klein over at the Perennial Plate – he advised I go for it. Yeah, that’s a massive passing of the buck. Fact is, this is still tame relative to what goes down behind the scenes of a fast-food hamburger, say. Daniel’s work is extremely cool, btw, if you haven’t checked out his work, do. Here.

Just fyi, the trial of workshops this season was more successful than anticipated, but since my time doesn’t allow me to pursue it alone, I’ve teamed up with a bunch of rad people to start a company called Shovel and Fork. We’re essentially trying to do some good by offering folks a chance to engage with food in ways they wouldn’t normally get a crack at. These workshops will be a part of that. Should be a fun gig.

Beef Butchery Workshop 2012: The Details


After a successful first go at ‘Pork Butchery Workshop‘, and due to loads of demand, we’re now taking a crack at an inaugural ‘Beef Butchery Workshop‘. In case you’re wondering, I deleted the workshop page from my site because my inbox was getting inundated with inquiries. Still figuring out what to do about that exactly. In the meantime I’m posting details of coming workshops here.

Date: October 20th

Location: Sangudo Custom Meat Packers


8am. Kill a cow. Then, gut and skin cow, taking the necessary time to harvest and chat beef offal. Speed tour of the layout of the meat shop. We’ll then break down a side of certified organic beef and talk through your cut options with each primal. Eat some beef lunch. Spend the afternoon doing some beef charcuterie preparations, this time courtesy of chef Chad Moss. Then, we shall dine on beef and red wine. The end.

Everybody will go home with a minimum 5lb box of beef goodies – bones for stock, some fun off cuts and offal, etc.

Buy-in for this one’s higher because a head of certified organic beef costs the same as about 10 pigs in this case. That, and quite frankly the food and booze at pig day was largely donated, and we are trying to price this to be a financially sustainable endeavour. To keep costs manageable, we’re doing a price point of $250 for the whole day, meals and booze included, and you go home with the 5 lb box referred to above as a party favour. If you want in on the meat we’re cutting that day, which certainly would be a wise move, we’re going to be dividing a side into 10 equal boxes and you can take home one of those boxes [1/10 of a side of beef] for an additional $100, which is essentially at cost. So $350 w/ a meat share, $250 w/out. Up to you.

This one is a long way to selling out after a couple tweets that it’s going down, so if you want in, you’d better act quick. I’m taking registrations via email:

Deal will be the same as before: cash day-of. We’ll hold you to your word on you being there if you’re going to have us reserve a spot for you.

ps. a game butchery workshop is in the works too. november. elk.

Episode 28 – Bin Food


This is a follow up to Episode 27, the reaction to which I must pause to thank you all for. I was more than slightly apprehensive in the days just prior to shooting it, fearful that if it didn’t go well, it could reflect badly on the subjects of the story. Turns out the result has been an outpouring of praise, appreciation, and value for the transparency, respect, and approach. I’m very grateful for you all and for having a brilliant individual to interview.

This is far…lighter, although still a serious topic near and dear to me: food waste. I left that day with 60-70 lbs of off-cuts from only 1 of the 5 cows killed, and it wasn’t even all the off-cuts. 100 lbs of edible ‘waste’ from one cow might be a good rough estimate. I’ll repeat myself to death that it’s the consumer demand that drives this waste. I’ll lump myself in there. I didn’t grow up eating heart, tripe, kidneys, caul fat, oxtail, etc – so I’m still learning about all this stuff too. But I now render all my lard from our annual pig, and easily use it all up. And I thoroughly enjoy roasted pig head which I would never have considered a few years ago. Pig skin crackling makes a regular appearance in my kitchen. There’s still a lot of an animal that I could learn to use better. So in this one, you get to see me make a dish with a bin cut that quite frankly should not be.

How did it taste? The flavour was intense and outstanding, and the mouthfeel unparalleled. For stews, I’m not sure there’s a better cut of beef. If the local restaurants don’t scoop this reject cut, I might, it’s that good. And for those that ‘don’t have the time’, please note how long it took to prepare.

Episode 27 – The Kill Floor


When I buy sides of pork and beef from local farmers, it is quite plainly illegal for them to be killed in an un-inspected environment. Consequently, farmers bring their meat animals to one of the local meat processors/abattoirs and for a very reasonable fee, the processor does what’s called a ‘kill & chill’. Under supervision of a provincial meat inspector, they do the kill, gutting, skinning [or scraping for pigs], and chilling of the carcass. It’s important work, and I’m guessing it’s work that most retail customers are oblivious to, for a variety of reasons. You don’t want to know. Industry doesn’t want you do know. I think we should know.

In the poultry industry, kill plants have been shut down by increasing regulation over the years such that producers must now drive their poultry to the plant in St. Paul to have their birds processed – even if it takes hours and hours to drive there. The result is highly-stressed birds and significant loss of life in transit. Ask your local poultry producer about it. For whatever reason our local red meat processors have [thankfully] not met that same fate. We need to keep it that way. We need to better understand their role in our local food supply chain. We need to support these people that do our dirty work for us – and make no mistake, it’s the consumer that demands the dirty work be done.

Another theme I wanted to address is the amount of food that goes in the bin at the processor – by request of the consumer. Stock bones, oxtail, heart, liver, tongue, kidney, caul fat, tripe, pig heads, and loads more go in the bin because we don’t want it. It’s wasteful, disrespectful, and I think we’re due for a culture change in this regard.

This episode is graphic and not for everyone, so don’t watch it unless you want to see how a cow gets killed and processed. It’s a far too uncommon look at a critical part of the process of delivering meat to the table. I will be moderating the comments liberally.

Beef Butchering 2011


Beef butchering is over for another year. My cellar is empty of hanging quarters, once again, only having been empty a day between elk and beef. All that’s left as evidence of the beef is the reducing pot of stock on my stove and the high population of magpies in my back yard cleaning up the remaining bones. Two things are top of mind for me about this experience this year: quality, and economics.

Quality. This cow is this year’s calf, having fed on milk and grass only, so the meat nearly looks like pork when cooked it’s so light in colour. The copious fat has an exceptionally clean flavour. I harvest moose at this same age, and find similarities in that nearly every cut is tender and delicate in flavour. This stuff’s a joy to work with.

This is a drug-free cow. A cow that actually grazed on grass rather than having eaten trucked corn or some other feed it’s not built to eat. It wasn’t stressed by being trucked around to auctions and feedlots prior to slaughter. I’ve spent a good amount of time in the pasture where this cow lived, and know the farmers well. I’m not sure what else I could ask for when it comes to quality of product.

Economics. Here‘s my beef-onomics from last year. This year, same asking price from the farm per pound of hook weight: $3. Worked out to $2.40/lb for front quarter, $3.51 for hind quarter. 81 lbs front, 95lbs hind. A big difference this year is that they used a different processor and rather than $76.13 for kill/chill cost, it was $26.25/quarter. My all-in cost for the front quarter was $220.66 for 81 lbs, or $2.72/lb hook weight. Last year’s numbers were $263.63/75lbs = $3.51/lb. I had to look at that math a few times…23% lower cost. Most of that is simply lower processor fees, but part is due to an error in assuming 50% of the side was front quarter, when in fact this year it proved to be 46%.

Weight of wrapped/packed cuts: 64.4 lbs. $220.66/ 64.4lbs = $3.43/lb, not including bones. Including about 5 lbs of stock bones, the total’s about $3.18/lb. Substantially less than last year. Interesting. Yay for lower processing costs.

There’s a point here beyond simply understanding what my food costs are when butchering it myself. The point is this: local, antibiotic and hormone free, stress-minimized, milk and grass fed beef bought from a farmer that sells at a farmers’ market can COST LESS than conventional box-store meat. People often tell me: ‘yeah, but‘ and cite the high cost of local food as a barrier to eating local. I have a ‘Save-On Foods’ flyer in front of me, beef outside round oven roast is $3.49 a lb for meat that is from ‘Western Canada’, conventionally raised and fed, likely finished at a feed lot, and shipped here and there. For the cost-senstive would-be-ethical-eaters [this was me at one time], the big question is this: do you care enough about the meat you eat to buy raw ag product from a farmer and process it yourself? If yes, welcome to the world of high quality AND lower cost. If not, please don’t complain to me that local food is expensive – it certainly can be if you choose, but doesn’t need to be.

Meat Law


I am not a lawyer. Did I mention I’m not a lawyer? Sadly, I feel apprehensive to discuss law as it implies somebody will misinterpret this, act upon it [ie, do something stupid], and point to me as the source of their lack of awesomeness. Yeah, don’t do that please. I’m addressing this topic to try to share some of what I’ve learned in the past week about butchering at home, and to have an open discussion about it.

I first will refer you to the Acts, as I was: the Meat Inspection Act and Meat Inspection Regulation are the relevant pieces of legislation. These would presumably be the last word on the subject,  but as if often the case with law even after a few reads it was far from clear where the boundaries were for home butchering. I sought interpretations from the investigator at Alberta Ag that is probably sick of hearing from me by now.

The conclusion I reached based on what I was told, was that one can butcher inspected pork, beef, etc at home without permit or license, but that said meat cannot be given or sold, and is only to be used for one’s immediately family. I can’t find the legal verbage in the Act to support some of this [especially the 'give' part], but as aforementioned, I’m not a lawyer, and am relying on guidance from the Regulatory Services Division of Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. One needs a Public Health Permit for the premises if one is processing for resale – makes sense. One cannot obtain uninspected meat direct from a local farm. [If I'm later told I'm misinformed about anything in this paragraph, I'll edit this immediately]

There is one clear exemption pertaining to uninspected meat – section 6.2(b) of the Meat Inspection Regulation clearly excludes wildlife as defined under the Wildlife Act. So I read the Wildlife Act. Section 62(1) says ‘a person shall not traffic in wildlife’, and although they go on to define ‘traffic’, it did not mention ‘give’. So I called a Fish and Wildlife officer to get an interpretation of ‘traffic’. First, he was clear that I could give away game meat. Note the difference – can’t give away inspected domestic meat, but can with game meat. I find that odd. Secondly, he was clear that any exchange for cash or other form of consideration could be deemed trafficking. I grew up knowing the sale of wild game meats was illegal – so this was not news to me. Reaching a conclusion on the wild game side was relatively easy – far easier than wading through the domestic meat side.

So at the end of the day, having burned a week of my time reading meat legislation and talking to those charged with enforcing those laws, I’m pleased with where my practices stand relative to the law. Which…I was before hand. Glad everyone’s happy. If you’re left unsure, contact Alberta Ag re: domestic animals and Fish and Wildlife re: wild game – they’ll be able to answer your questions better than I.

Beef Throw-Down: 14 vs 24


This past fall, some friends and I bought 2 head of cattle from Shannon and Danny at Nature’s Green Acres [details of the butchering of my quarter are here]. I picked up my quarter after 14 days of dry aging. My friends had theirs cut at the meat shop after roughly 24 days. A recent discussion with the farmer about our experience with each approach led to a taste-test of the two side-by-side. Today was the day for the throw-down. Was 14 day or 24 day better? That was the question.

We did two preparations: a plain meatball and a rib steak. Although there were significant variations between the two meatballs, they were deemed more attributable to a) the grind and b) the fat content. The 14 day was fattier as I included far more fat, and I ground it coarser. The 24 day was ground finer, far leaner, and yielded an extremely juicy meatball. Neither had a perceptibly different complexity of flavor on the nose or palate.

On to the steak. I figured if there was a difference in texture, it’d show up here. But again, our conclusion was that the thickness, and cut [although both rib steak, no two steaks on an animal are perfectly homogeneous] contributed to the differences in experience rather than the age. Did we find one more tender with a greater concentration of flavor? Not really. Certainly not significantly so.

My conclusion: as with the big game calves I hunt, my choice is for less dry aging for the following reasons. 1] the animal’s already tender as a calf, so further tenderization is not needed; 2] concentration of flavor is not a goal of mine in my meats – delicately flavored calf meats is fine with me, and 3] dry aging creates waste via trim loss, something I can’t get behind with such a marginal benefit on the experience end. I’m certain that older animals or different palates would see this differently, but this is how I currently see it. Another important conclusion: both the 14 day and 24 day were both fantastic.

Many thanks to a good friend who hooked us up with the 24 day, and the 1975 Margaux.

Nouveau Beef-onomics


Pork, then antelope, then pork, then moose, then pork, now beef. I’m at the point now that when finished cleaning down after butchering I lightly dread the next. Until I’m into the next one, that is – at which point it’s fun again. This one was particularly exciting as I’d long wanted to pick up a front quarter of top quality beef to appease my love for braised beef and big red wine – and Nature’s Green Acres nouveau beef, as they call it, is this year’s calf, harvested at the beginning of November – precisely how I prefer my game: largely milk fed, young, mild, and tender throughout.

What I paid. The price I agreed on was $2.50/lb for the hook weight [hook weight = killed, gutted, skinned, ready to cut] of the front quarter – which is cheaper than the hind quarter which carries the bulk of the prime cuts. A whole nouveau beef weighs in at 300lbs or so on the hook [vs 'on the hoof' = live weight], putting a side at 150lbs, and a front quarter at about 75 lbs [I'm awaiting final figures, will update numbers when I get them]. So I owe the farm $187.50 for my quarter. The balance is meat processing cost – namely having the butcher shop kill and chill the animal, which for beef is $150 at Forsetburg Meat Processing Inc. [farmer's choice of butcher] as well as the cost of dry aging the beef. Paying for dry aging is new to me, at a cost of $2.50/day which I’m fine with as cooler space requires significant capital and operating costs. Consuming the space also could limit their capacity to take on game animals at this time of year. Total processing cost: $76.13. All-in total for the quarter = $263.63.

What I got. I weighed out 14 lbs of ground, 37 lbs of roasts [blade and rib primarily], and 10 lbs of loin and rib steaks for a total of 61 lbs of cut and wrapped meat. A bonus to cutting  young beef is that the bones are optimal for stock, and I roasted them immediately and tossed them into a stock pot making 10L or so of stock. I didn’t weigh the bone yield, but will guess 10 lbs. Key to this deal for me is that I got milk and grass fed calf from a farmer whose practices I respect, and had the opportunity to cut it how I want, with me having the final call on quality control in the meat cutting department. I also got a really crappy 2+ hr drive through ice fog in -24C each way to go pick it up, which was not enjoyable. Thankfully the staff at the butcher shop were the best I’ve dealt with anywhere.

The bottom line? $263/61=$4.31/lb of straight meat cuts, not accounting for soup bones. Assuming 10 lbs of bones at their rate of $1.25/lb, I’d adjust the net figure to ($263-12.50)/61=$4.11/lb. Honestly, I was a bit surprised how high this ended up. With pork, a hook weight of $2/lb from the same farm resulted in an all-in cost of $2.39/lb – the net cost being 20% higher than hook weight. With the beef, that increase is 64%. Why the spread? With pork, a kill/chill costs $55 now/animal. That’s it. With beef, the kill chill is $150 [why the spread, I have no idea, as pigs require scald/scraping, and I'd think it be quicker to skin a beef], and the $2.50/day for dry aging for 14 days adds up to $304.50/animal. That’s a big difference. With pigs, my processing cost is 14% of the value of the animal. With beef, that figure’s 33% – quite significant.

So how is $4.11? They charge $14.91/lb for rib steaks, $7.12/lb for blade/chuck roasts, $8/lb for ribs, and $5/lb for ground. Some quick spread-sheeting puts what I got priced at about $525 if I were to buy the same stuff at the market ‘retail’. So my cost at the end of the day is very nearly 50% of market retail cost from the same farm. Not only that, the best bit is that the farmer’s not getting short-changed in the deal – quite the opposite. I’m buying direct and reducing the effort on their end – no middle men, reduced sales hrs per head, reduced transportation costs to markets, reduced freezer capital and operating costs, etc. Good deal.

Oh, and I know – there’s cheaper beef out there. But I’m a QPR guy [quality/price ratio], and in my mind, the quality here for the price is a bargain. Want a look at how my cow was raised? Watch the Nature’s Green Acres ‘From Local Farms‘ episode here.