Archive for the ‘Butchering Pork’ Category

Butchering A Pig – A How-To Video


Let’s be clear about a couple things. First, I’m no pro butcher. Nor am I suggesting this is ‘the’ way to cut a pig – I feel that boils down to how and what you cook. What it boils down to is this: I grew up butchering game meats, and one cold and stormy winter night, Charcuterie got it in my head that butchering a pig sounded AWESOME. Turns out, it continued to sound pretty awesome, but I didn’t have a venue to do it. Then I moved, about 2 years ago, and the pig cutting began.

First, I did a side. It took a long time, and resulted in some sore backs. So I built a work bench at 38″ [tables are often 30"], bought a few cheap knives. That side didn’t last long. Pork is versatile, tasty, and appeals to many. That next spring, I did 2 whole pigs, with a friend. That fall, we did 3 pigs, with another friend. I’ve got it figured now: a pig doesn’t last us a year. So prior to this coming order of 2 more Berkshires from Irvings Farm Fresh [that'll be side #14 from them in 2 years], I figured I’d do another side to get us through the fall and into the winter. So I made arrangements for a side from Nature’s Green Acres [check out how they raise their pigs here], and in an effort to dodge some inconvenience on their end, and help some folks out, I did the whole pig, and sold half to some friends at my cost: $2.30/lb or so, about 40% of retail.

Long have I wanted to post some video on this to de-mystify cutting your own meat. It’s not rocket science, and I feel that it is a practical way to get ethically raised, local meats into peoples’ homes for roughly the cost of what one would pay at a box-store – you just have to be willing to get your hands dirty. We now cut most of our meats into large ‘roasts’, as if we want steaks/chops/stew/whatever, they can all be cut from the appropriate roast. Saves time, keeps it flexible in the kitchen. We also leave our pig skin-on, fat-on. Both are very useful products, and are too often wasted. This is simply how we currently tackle it – enjoy.

Porkonomics – Nature’s Green Acres 2010


I do this math, every time. And the way I see it, this is some of the most important information I can make public: How much does it cost to buy a pig? What does it work out to for weight? How much per lb? How much work is it? Why bother? These are all barrier-to-entry questions, so I feel they’re important to answer – over, and over, and over.

How much meat? The whole pig in this case: 200 lbs. I think most people think this would take multiple deep freezes to accommodate, but it does not. It hardly half fills our average chest freezer. And that includes skin-on cuts, fat reserved for rendering, bone-in hocks, ribs, and head. It does not include the spine, leg bones, shoulder bones, or offal [wasn't provided this time around]. This was a big pig. But it still fit in my Corolla. Most of our Berkshires have been closer to 140-160 lbs of meat or even less.

What does it cost? Nature’s Green Acres charges $2/lb for the hook-weight of the animal. Hook weight means killed, gutted, and hanging at the slaughterhouse on a hook – and there’s a lot of weight in the guts and organs. This animal was about 238 lbs on the hook. Because they don’t normally bill with the head and skin on, the farm excluded that from our weight, resulting in a total of $420 for the pig. The ‘kill and chill’ charge from Tofield Packers was $57.75. Total pig cost this time: $478.60. Price per lb of meat & fat on this one: $2.39/lb. With Irvings Farm Fresh’s Berkshires we’ve had cheaper pigs [$325 all-in last time], but that’s simply because those pigs were smaller and on a price per pound basis it they work out to about the same. Nature’s Green Acres’ may be about $0.25/lb more. Negligible, in my mind, in the larger scheme of things.

How much work is it? As a video will soon attest to, I’m no pro pork-cutter. We started at 9ish, finished a side around noon, had lunch, and finished the other side between 1-3 or so. Last year, we did 3 whole pigs in about 8 hrs with 3 people. So it’s not a full day, but it’s a tiring day. The good news is that fresh pork roast and a glass of wine taste exponentially more satisfying after a day of this kind of work.

Why bother? $2.39/lb is about 40% of the retail cost of Nature’s Green Acres cuts – at about $6/lb. I’ve done the homework - this puts it cheaper than box-store-industrially-raised-hormoned-drugged-pig. The ‘I can’t afford the ethically raised, hormone-free, drug-free, grass-fed stuff‘ rationale for buying industrially raised animals just doesn’t wash with me anymore. Sacrifice one day on one weekend once a year, and you get the good stuff for the price of the worst. ‘I don’t know how‘ objection = youtube. 2-3 years ago, I didn’t know how either. I’ve done 12 sides of pork since. Also important – you get to cook every part and enjoy it for what it is, you get to cut the meats exactly as you’d like [many cuts I do you simply can't buy], nobody will cut it with the care that you will, you get to enjoy stuff like crackling, you get to appreciate how much utility and nourishment can come from an animal, you get to render the high-quality fat for baking and frying [ethically raised animal fats are expensive - $8/lb for organic butter, for ex. this makes my rendered fat at $2.39/lb seem like a bargain], and you can have a relationship with the farmer and see for yourself how the meats you eat are raised. There are more reasons, but those should do.

So please. If you’re into meats, talk to your local farmers. Buy direct from them. Save yourself some money. Deepen your connection with your food. Do it yourself.

Pork Butchering 2010 – Nature’s Green Acres


This fall, I’m going to be butchering 4 pigs from 3 different local farms – Irvings Farm Fresh, Nature’s Green Acres, and Peck N Berry Acres – all in my garage. 1.5 of them will be for my family, the rest for folks that are cutting meat with me – and a first this time around:  for a few close friends who were keen at a chance to get some high quality local meat at a fraction of the cost they’re used to. We needed a side, and had agreed to buy one from Nature’s Green Acres. They’d even agreed to have it brought to Tofield Packers, my favorite place to date for having pigs slaughtered as they leave the skin on, head on, and they kill, gut, chill, de-hair, inspect, and store the pig in cooler for a day or two – all for about $45-55/animal. Bargain. That left Nature’s Green Acres with half a pig to deal with at a place that doesn’t normally process their pork, so to save them some hassle I opted to take the whole pig, cut it all, and offer a half up to friends at cost. A little butchering-philanthropy, one might say. [as a point of clarity, the AARD has okayed my butchering with friends and them paying for their share of the meat cost. I'm not 100% sure how they'd see the situation if the individual whose share it was did not participate directly [ie, watched my toddlers so that I could be cutting meat in this case, rather than having a knife in hand]. My understanding is that it wouldn’t be a problem, but I’d call them before doing this again, just to be sure, and have their number if you’re curious yourself]

So off I went to Tofield to pick up my pig. I can tell you that they look at you a little funny when you pull up in a Toyota Corolla to pick up a pig. Trust me, you can fit a pig in a sedan – even a big pig. Just make sure you have poly or a clean tarp or something. To date, I’d only cut Berkshires, so this Danish Landrace was unfamiliar. First, it was HUGE. Especially chunky around the shoulder.  Secondly, for the size, it was relatively lean. And one lovely surprise was the shockingly beautiful quality of the back fat – it had a quality to the texture that I’d simply never seen before. I’m assuming the fat-beauty is feed related, but it could be breed related.

I had long been looking forward to this opportunity to shoot video throughout the process so that I could put together a how-to video to hopefully inspire the odd person to tackle cutting meats themselves. That footage has been shot, thanks to my friend Andrew who served double duty as cameraman and proficient meat wrapper. He was also a highly vocal and passionate eater of pork – the dish below was our lunch, a break between sides of pork. The choicest of fresh pork loin chop with yard-food: leek, apple, garlic, onion, and shaggy parasol mushroom. Certainly one of the tastier pork dishes I’ve knocked out in a while.

More to come on this adventure…

Pig Butchering, Fall 2009

A long awaited day – ‘PIG DAY’ – has come and gone. A couple friends and I had ordered 3 pigs from Irvings Farm Fresh – a local Berkshire pork producer. They’d raised the hogs a few weeks longer than normal as per our request to size up the pigs, and fatten them up a bit – as is evidenced by the mostly vertical white stripe of back fat cutting the photo above roughly in half. It was an ass-kicking long day of work, but wrapped up with a dinner of pork shoulder roast tossed in early in the day with sage, garlic, salt, and pepper – washed down with this fall’s apple wine that’s just reaching a nice dose of american oak. Despite being ridiculously tired, it was a very blissful moment of payola.

All-in, our pigs were $325. We got roughly 140+ pounds of cut meat per pig. That works out to $2.34/lb. However. We also harvested 7.7kg of fat – mostly leaf lard, and were lucky enough to be handed a large bag of offal the farmer hooked us up with. We saved about 7kg of liver and heart. So all things considered, our cost per lb ended up closer to $2 and change. I’ve done my homework and posted about it before. Superb value for money, if you’re willing to get your hands dirty.

I broke the animals and cut loin and belly, one guy cut joints and deboned hams and shoulders, and one lady wrapped as we went. All-in-all, a good strategy – but my body certainly would have liked me better had we had more hands. We had more hands near the end, and it helped a lot. A couple people per pig is likely a far wiser way to share the load. Grinding as we went at the end of each pig was certainly a smart way to handle the ground pork. By far, the biggest error of the day was simply getting started late – hoping to save some km driving by meeting the farmer half-way to the slaughterhouse. Next time, earlier start. It took 9 hrs. Finishing when you’re nearly ready for bed is neither fun nor smart.

I must give some pretty major props to this website. It guides you through cutting pig without a bandsaw. There’s a lot of great videos on youtube on butchering pig – but they generally involve the use of a bandsaw.

More to come.

My First Pig – Berkshire


My first pig. Ah, how I have longed for this – ever since reading ‘Charcuterie‘ for the first time so long ago. Now, settled into our new home, I have space to butcher, capacity to freeze, and soon the cellar conditions to dry cure the many products I wanted to, but could not produce before. Saucisson sec. Sopressata. Salt cured ham. Smoked salami. The list is very, very long, and the charcuterie tags in this blog are about to explode.

My adventure in pig aquisition began long ago at our local markets, frequently turned off by the overly high prices the farmers were charging for their sides. But on a chance stop in at the city market in September, I ran into Alan Irving of Irving Farm Fresh Meats, who was selling charcuterie products from his Berkshire hogs. I asked about the price for a side of pig, on the hook. $130. Sold. Good price? No idea. Remains to be seen based on the quality of the product – but it was a price I was willing to pay, we set a date, and Friday that day came, finding me in a meat cooler in a small town an hour from here, pulling a side of Berkshire off the hook, and loading it into my car.

Under the advice of this excellent website, we started breaking down the pig into primals. Then into chops, rib racks, ham roasts, shoulder meats for sausage, belly slabs for bacon and roasting, jowl, tenderloin, loin roasts, etc. Fantastic. I’m one of those seemingly rare folks who actually buy most of these cuts anyway, so to have such diversity of inspiration awaiting is very exciting.
So soon enough, I will have yet another ingredient in my pork products: pride. Butchering your own animal gives you tremendous choice, flexibility, control over quality – but even more importantly: satisfaction. My prize possession of all the cuts? The shoulder and fat – dry cured sausages, here we come.