Archive for the ‘Butchering’ Category

The Untold Stories – Black Bear [Pt 1]


Gutting a Black Bear w/ Pocket KnivesWhen we started to take a look at the 2014 production schedule of From The Wild, it was clear that there were going to be some epic memories captured on camera. One of those was the haul-out of the black bear in crotch-deep water, then walking a mile or two in sloshing boots and soaked jeans with a bear carcass soaking the guys in blood. What I didn’t expect as an outcome of the project is the crazy, hard to believe true stories that simply wouldn’t or couldn’t make the episode edit for a variety of reasons – in the case of the bear haul-out, it was far crazier than shown in the edit, but I had to tame down the gore if we were going to have any chance at a broadcaster touching it. So that’s one memory left out of the edit – the intense gore associated with the project. We’re constantly debating the merits of sanitization of food content.

Another is the simple lack of time to spell everything out – an example being the bear skull below that did appear in the final shot. It’s the actual skull from the sow harvested in the episode. We’d taken a few days between the hunt and the post interviews, and in that time Trevor had boiled, peroxided, and painstakingly cleaned the skull – including gluing in any teeth that had fallen out during the process. No small task. I’m still impressed. Didn’t have time to mention the context of the skull in the show though.

Also didn’t have time to mention what’s happening in the photo top left. I laughed. We were prepared, and well equipped, with all field dressing gear in my vehicle. Except that evening we’d hopped into Jeff’s vehicle as it was far more capable in the mud holes we were going to need to get through in the area we wanted to check out. When it came time to gut the bear: no field dressing knives. Trevor happened to have a couple crappy pocket knives he’d been handed by a relative earlier in the week – still in his pocket. So the boys got to it with horribly qualified tools. These are two pro butchers who, side by side, kill and gut a dozen or two animals every week at work, struggling to gain every inch through the hide. Then Jeff says ‘no problem, I’ve had to gut an animal with my Durango key before’. Dodge Durango. Couldn’t believe it. #superhero

Worst of all though, is having to omit ‘that which might be misunderstood‘. This episode has an intense story attached to it that one day may make ‘Part 2′. Maybe.

My takeaway: for all the epic adventure we can capture and show on camera, there will always be so much more to the story. It’s a piece of the legacy of the series that’s becoming dear to me - an unexpected treasure.

Black Bear Skull

Why I Need an Annual ‘Charcuterie Day’


Charcuterie Day - Sausage and Bacon It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that an annual ‘Charcuterie Day‘ marathon immediately following the annual ‘Pig Day‘ is in my future for a long, long time. Here’s why.


Beyond bacon [reason alone], I’m not concerned with the possibility of trichinosis in my extremely high quality bush-raised-and-handled-by-me pork and skipping right past freezing and into to curing and dry curing. Purists prefer this approach to frozen meats. I’m happy to have it an outcome of pragmatism. Having spent a few hours breaking down the pig, I have fresh in the brain a host of ideas for the delicious possibilities in front of me, and can save myself the following steps: bagging, butcher paper wrapping, hauling to freezer, energy required for freezing, taking it out to defrost, throwing out of packaging, handling of post-freeze sloppy wet meat [fresh is nicer to work with]. I also avoid the possibility of neglecting a cut deep in my freezer, and the worry of having to inventory it to figure out whether that is the case or not.

So I spent a relaxed 8 hour day putting it all up. Both entire sides of the pig went into various forms of bacon – some plain, some spiced with chili, white pepper [deep gratitude to John at Oyama Sausage for the hook-up], and fennel before getting hot smoked. No more ‘when are you going to make bacon again?’ from the family for this guy. It’s done. I also put up the 2 pig faces into guanciale, and a kilo or so of back fat into lardo. In this year’s case, I’d just shot a deer a week prior, so taking fresh deer trim and making 15lbs or so of best-I’ve-ever-made sausage with fresh pig belly seemed sensible. Salted a whole back leg for its long fate of air drying.

I acknowledge that it’s super handy to have cold storage that is my cellar setup to handle the volume of meats so that they’re not consuming my entire fridge. If that was required though, it’d be worth the bother. A big change for me is that I to finally caved on my ‘no energy input‘ purism about my wine/cider/charcuterie cellar and actually put a heater and humidifier in there to create the conditions necessary for dry curing. I’m going to say though [read: justify to myself] that the energy my humidifier and heater consume are a saw-off for the freezer energy, time, and packaging I won’t use for the dry cured items. So while I used to have a 2-3 month natural window [Jun-Aug] of optimal temp and humidity in my 6x6x8′ dry curing chamber, I’ll now have it rolling year round.  Gearing it up is a bit challenging as substantially all of what others have done and shared online relates to the constraints of a repurposed fridge. Still trying to figure out the best way to tweak out my space. A happy problem.

A reason NOT to do a ‘Charcuterie Day’ immediately post ‘Pig day’? It’s a busy time of year typically, and there are many another food thing to tend to. I’m over that one. Or perhaps you don’t have your own ‘Pig Day‘ to follow up. That, my friends, unless you have a religious/cultural justification, needs to be rectified.

Charcuterie Day - Venison Sausage

Gone Butchering…


I dearly wish I had the time to edit video at the moment, and will as soon as I can afford an evening, but the bottom line is when there’s a carcass hanging, priority one is getting it dealt with. And from the time you pull the trigger to the time it’s all in a freezer involves a WHOLE lot of steps, and a fair jag of time.

Because I’m picky with game cutting – no connective tissue [it doesn't break down like pork or beef], bones [they stink when cooked imo], sinew/silverskin [unless you like slimy snot, even post cooking], cartilage, or anything other than simply ‘meat’ for that matter is allowed – it’s a pretty time consuming task. With a cow or pig, you can make cross-muscular cuts into large sections, leave bones in, etc.  I’ve seen guys break down beef with a band saw in a few minutes. With game, it ain’t like that: every muscle is separated from its neighbor and cleaned thoroughly. At least that’s how I do it.

So that is what I’m doing.

re video: I shot a From Local Farms episode at Irvings Farm Fresh prior to my hunt, as well as footage of butchering of an antelope. Then I have this hunt video, and possibly a ‘how to butcher a moose’ video. I’m going to be busy for a while…

Rendering Lard – my new bff

Why, oh why, have I never done this before? I’ve cut 10 sides of pork in the past 13 months, and never, not once, did I render lard. Stupid. I will forever and ever, from this day forward, consider the leaf lard in the pig a very valuable piece of yield. Not only is it excessively easy to harvest – lightly attached on one side around the tenderloin area – it is the choicest of fats for making pastry dough. Or frying potatoes [ok, duck fat and beef tallow have good reps here too]. Or frying, say, pork. Or, well, anything, really. So why didn’t I try it? Stupidity. Only saving grace is that it wasn’t wasted – it was simply ground before. Never again.

The process is simple, and has been well documented here and here. I did about half of my stash at 120C in the oven, it took 8hrs give or take, and the smell made me want to barf. I don’t understand. It’s cooking pork. Creating a product – lard – that is very neutral in general. Some people do it outside, and I don’t blame them. I’ll likely stick to the oven for the heat control, and I found that any nausea is quickly forgotten once you’ve gotten on with using the stuff.

I found a lot of methods of storing the stuff. Many use jars, which unless you have a straight sided jar seems like an annoying idea to me when it comes to trying to get lard out. I also have had bad luck breaking jars in the freezer. One cool idea was muffin tins to get individual portions. But I swooned when I read about pouring it into a cake pan of some kind, so that it can be cut into butter-like sticks, and wrapped in convenient portions – which is what I did, illustrated in the photo top left.

So thank you, lard, for filling a void in my life I did not know existed.

Butchering Moose 2009

I truly wish I could provide a play-by-play of butchering a moose for those out there who are interested in how to tackle it – or rather, how I tackle it. This was the second bull to butcher of the year, and the reality was this time around that I was on duty trimming and cutting for 6 hrs and just wanted to be done with it. So no photos. Maybe next year I’ll line up a volunteer to shoot some of the specifics.

In an effort to not be totally useless, some general items that apply:
- Any dried out exterior is trimmed until all that’s left is fresh meat. My least favorite part of the process.
- All muscle groups are separated and connective tissues removed, no exceptions. Generally my job.
- Muscles are separated by type: tenderloin, loin, blade, round, rump, etc. Also generally my job.
- About half the animal ends up in burger, much of it from the front quarters. Luckily, I hunt with people who like to eat mostly burger. We take most of the rest. We have a home-built heavy-duty grinder to do the job – and it’s a time consuming job bagging and wrapping it. A young bull might yield 100-120lbs of burger.
- The hind quarter is rich in what we call ‘cuts’ or ‘anything-that-isn’t-burger’. All cuts combined including heart, tenderloins, etc generally add up to about half the meat yield [other half burger].
- Once each muscle is trimmed, it generally left whole, as we like to choose in the kitchen what we want to do with it. Didn’t grow up cutting this way – ended up here as I got more serious in the kitchen.
- All of our meats are bagged in plastic, then wrapped in butcher paper, labeled by broad muscle group. Tried and true method of avoiding freezer burn. The only meats we’ve had freezer burn have been single wrapped from a butcher.
- The consensus in our broad group of hunting friends is that no butcher [at least none that we've tried] will produce an end product as good as you can do yourself. IF a butcher does game, they’re slammed at this time of year, and short on hands. Understandable. IF you get your actual animal back [say you shot a calf moose, and get bull moose back - not understandable], it’s usually single wrapped and prone to early freezer burn, and vastly more likely to have nasty crap in it [including hair, none of which is acceptable]. And IF you get the animal you shot back, and it’s not full of clot, hair, and nasty shit, then sometimes you end up with 80-90% burger and a few roasts. Speaking from experience. There’s a reason we do it ourselves.

Grinding pork


Better the spoon than my digits, no? The grinder has to learn to play with others.

A friend and I cut 3 sides of Berkshire hog yesterday, and one thing I was resolved to do was to grind my meats that day in one big shot rather than to do so each time I was making sausage, or needed ground meat for any other use. And I’ll be honest: I buggered up many a sausage/forcemeat/etc grinding pork with a hand grinder. The plate and blade would get full of sinew. So I’d use a larger size plate – which led to gross crunchy/sinewy bits in the sausage that was, frankly, disgusting. I was guided to grind pork cold – almost icy. Grinding cold back fat with a hand grinder ain’t so easy. I searched online about how to grind pork. I failed, over and over.

So I borrowed my dad’s monster grinder [modded w/ a powerful motor], and learned 2-3 things that are key to grinding pork. Things I wish I knew a year ago:

  1. pork sinew/connective tissue and grinders don’t get along. If the knife had a hard time with it, we trimmed it. We had to go through all our trim and edit. It added up to very little extra work, and very little trim loss – but made grinding possible without binding up the blade. Next time, we’ll simply lose the tough sinew as we go.
  2. the ring that tightens the die/plate to the blade needs to be tight enough so that crap can’t get behind it and bind stuff up. My theory is if you do point 1 well enough, this may be far less important.
  3. cold meat grinds better. This I knew. And was not as key as the other two items, but it helps.

So now, when it’s time to make sausage, I will pull a pack of fatty ground pork ready to rock, and save a heck of a lot of work. Should have done this last year. Live and learn.

Blamin’ it on Jamie Oliver

A little gross? Yeah, I know. But if Jamie Oliver can publish photos of a slaughtered lamb and a boar split in half in his ‘Jamie’s Italy‘ book, I figure I could post this with clear conscience.

Wild, sustainably raised, milk fed, finished on alfalfa and native grass, drug-free, free range, local, and harvested stress-free at its peak of quality. Looks pretty good on paper. Just not so much in the picture.

But the picture’s important – to me it is, anyway. It reminds me of the nasty bits associated with meat-making. And as much as nasty can become healthily normal with exposure, it’s still nasty. But it’s part of the deal, and somehow we’ve gone from a culture of a family member doing the slaughter, to having a butcher do it behind glass at a grocery store, to buying boxed, packaged, portioned, pre-cooked, pre-sauced meats at M&M meats. Yikes.

How to butcher an antelope.

How to butcher an antelope.

First, acquire an antelope. Mine arrived this morning at 06:30, wrapped up all nice.

Next, cut and trim as fast as you can before the temperature warms up and the wasps unleash their fury on you. This required that I start in the dark – a choice working environment when using knives. If the birds you attract look like they’re going to help you cut meat, thrown them a bone.

There, you’re done!

No more butchering posts, promise.


Today was the 5th big-game animal of the year, and I’m glad we’re done. It’s a lot of darn work. In the photo: calf elk cuts. Front to back: loin strips & tenderloin, then a pile of blade and shoulder, then a pile of round and rump, then a pile of sirloin tip and boneless shank. They were all laid out ready to be portioned, bagged, and papered so I figured I’d de-glove a hand and steal a quick photo.

By the end of this one, I was finding it fairly easy to recognize the cuts by looking at them. That’s new for me. Some are easy, but some are not-so-easy.

And I promise – no more butchering posts for many months.

Why is this relevant, you ask?


This is relevant because it is a nearly 7′ wide set of oil paintings of an area of Italy that is very dear to our hearts. It’s on the road between San Giovanni d’Asso and Montisi in Tuscany, and painted by the very talented Thaneah Krohn. For they who have been, the mountain in the back is Mont Amiata. This lovely piece now greets me as I write my blog posts, which also makes it relevant. It’s relevant from a foodie aspect as it is the ‘terroir’ that produces white truffles & pecorino. Okay, maybe that’s reaching. Maybe I’m just excited to finally have it!!!

I spent a good portion of my day butchering. That’s one tiring job – making me realize my day job is a breeze. We cut and packed two animals today. One left for tomorrow. So much butchering. But I dare not complain. Not only because I get to enjoy the results, but because it’s fleeting. Soon it will be over [tomorrow], and I will get to enjoy [not] the terrible cold, slippery roads, and loads of snow. I’ll try to enjoy winter more this year, honest.