Butchering a Cow, Beef Cuts and Processing
Brisket is not the only Beef Cut you can BBQ. All of it is fair game. Knowing the cuts is important to knowing your options.
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Butchering a Cow, Beef Cuts and Processing
A butcher is a person who may slaughter animals, dress their flesh, sell their meat or do any combination of these three tasks. They may prepare standard cuts of meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish for sale in retail or wholesale food establishments. A butcher may be employed by supermarkets,grocery stores, butcher shops and fish markets or may be self-employed.
An ancient trade, whose duties may date back to the domestication of livestock, butchers formed guilds in England as far back as 1272. Today, many jurisdictions offer trade certifications for butchers. Some areas expect a three-year apprenticeship followed by the option of becoming a master butcher.
Butchery is a traditional work. In the industrialized world, slaughterhouses use butchers to slaughter the animals, performing one or a few of the steps repeatedly as specialists on a semiautomated disassembly line. The steps include stunning (rendering the animal incapacitated), exsanguination (severing the carotid or brachial arteries to facilitate blood removal), skinning (removing the hide or pelt) or scalding and dehairing (pork), evisceration (removing the viscera) and splitting (dividing the carcass in half longitudinally).
After the carcasses are chilled (unless “hot-boned”), primary butchery consists of selecting carcasses, sides, or quarters from which primal cuts can be produced with the minimum of wastage; separating the primal cuts from the carcasses using the appropriate tools and equipment; trimming primal cuts and preparing them for secondary butchery or sale; and storing cut meats. Secondary butchery involves boning and trimming primal cuts in preparation for sale. Historically, primary and secondary butchery were performed in the same establishment, but the advent of methods of preservation and low cost transportation has largely separated them.
In the rest of the world, it is common for butchers to perform many or all of the butcher’s duties. Where refrigeration is less common, these skills are required to sell the meat of slaughtered animals.
Some butchers sell their goods in specialized stores, commonly termed a butcher shop (American English), butchery (South African English) or butcher’s shop (British English). Butchers at a butcher shop may perform primary butchery, but will typically perform secondary butchery to prepare fresh cuts of meat for sale. These shops may also sell related products, such as food preparation supplies, baked goods and grocery items. Butcher shops can have a wider variety of animal types, meat cuts and quality of cuts. Additionally, butcher shops may focus on a particular culture, or nationality, of meat production. Some butcher shops, termed “meat delis”, may also include a delicatessen.
In the United States and Canada, butcher shops are becoming less common because of the increasing popularity of supermarkets. Supermarkets employ butchers for secondary butchery, but in the United States even that role is diminished with the advent of “case-ready” meat, where the product is packaged for retail sale at the packinghouse or specialized central processing plants.
A primal cut is a piece of meat initially separated from the carcass during butchering. Different countries and cultures make these cuts in different ways, and primal cuts also differ between type of carcass. The British, American and French primal cuts all differ in some respects. A notable example isfatback, which in Europe is an important primal cut of pork, but in North America is regarded as trimmings to be used in sausage or rendered into lard. The primal cuts may be sold complete or cut further.
Cuts of beef are first divided into primal cuts, pieces of meat initially separated from the carcass during butchering. These are basic sections from which steaks and other subdivisions are cut. The term “primal cut” is quite different from “prime cut”, used to characterise cuts considered to be of higher quality. Since the animal’s legs and neck muscles do the most work, they are the toughest; the meat becomes more tender as distance from hoof and horn increases. Different countries and cuisines have different cuts and names, and sometimes use the same name for a different cut; e.g., the cut described as “brisket” in the US is from a significantly different part of the carcass than British brisket.
The American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote in the American Anthropological Journal of the American Anthropological Association, “cultures that divide and cut beef specifically to consume are the Koreans and the Bodi tribe in East Africa. The French and English make 35 differentiations to the beef cuts, 51 cuts for the Bodi tribe, while the Koreans differentiate beef cuts into a staggering 120 different parts.”
The following is a list of the American primal cuts (in boldface), and cuts derived from them. Beef carcasses are split along the axis of symmetry into “halves”, then across into front and back “quarters” (forequarters and hindquarters). Canada uses identical cut names (and numbering) as the U.S.
- The chuck is the source of bone-in chuck steaks and roasts (arm or blade), and boneless clod steaks and roasts, most commonly. The trimmings and some whole boneless chucks are ground for hamburgers.
- The rib contains part of the short ribs, the prime rib and rib eye steaks.
- Brisket, primarily used for barbecue, corned beef or pastrami.
- The foreshank or shank is used primarily for stews and soups; it is not usually served any other way because it is the toughest of the cuts.
- The plate is the other source of short ribs, used for pot roasting, and the outside skirt steak, which is used forfajitas. The remainder is usually ground, as it is typically a cheap, tough, and fatty meat.
- The loin has two subprimals, or three if boneless:
- the short loin, from which the T-bone and Porterhouse steaks are cut if bone-in, or strip steak (New York Strip if served without the bone, and Kansas City strip if bone in).
- the sirloin, which is less tender than short loin, but more flavorful, can be further divided into top sirloin and bottom sirloin (including tri-tip), and
- the tenderloin, which is the most tender, can be removed as a separate subprimal, and cut into filet mignons, tournedos or tenderloin steaks, and roasts (such as for beef Wellington). They can also be cut bone-in to make parts of the T-bone and Porterhouse loin steaks.
- The round contains lean, moderately tough, lower fat (less marbling) cuts, which require moist or rare cooking. Some representative cuts are round steak, eye of round, top round, and bottom round steaks and roasts.
- The flank is used mostly for grinding, except for the long and flat flank steak, best known for use in London broil, and the inside skirt steak, also used for fajitas. Flank steaks were once one of the most affordable steaks, because they are substantially tougher than the more desirable loin and rib steaks. Many modern recipes for flank steak use marinades or moist cooking methods, such as braising, to improve the tenderness and flavor. This, combined with a new interest in these cuts’ natural leanness, has increased the price of the flank steak.
- Asado: the large section of the rib cage including short ribs and spare ribs
- Asado de tira: often translated as short ribs, but also sold as long, thin strips of ribs. Chuck ribs, flanken style (cross-cut).
- Bife de costilla: T-bone or porterhouse steaks
- Bife de chorizo: strip steak, called NY strip in US
- Bife de ojo: ribeye steak
- Bola de lomo: tenderloin
- Chinchulin: upper portion of small intestines
- Colita de cuadril: tri-tip, or the tail of the rump roast
- Cuadril: rump
- Entraña: skirt steak
- Falda: naval
- Lomo: tenderloin
- Matambre: a long thin cut that lies just under the skin and runs from the lower part of the ribs to belly–or flank area
- Mollejas: sweetbreads (thymus gland)
- Pecho: brisket
- Riñones – kidneys
- Tapa de asado – rib cap
- Tapa de nalga – top of round roast
- Vacío – flank, though it may contain the muscles of other near cuts
- Acém: neck
- Alcatra: top/bottom sirloin
- Contrafilé: tenderloin
- Coxão duro: round (upper)
- Coxão mole: round (lower)
- Filé mignon: part of the tenderloin
- Lagarto: round (outer)
- Maminha: botton sirloin/flank
- Patinho: confluence of flank, botton sirloin and rear shank
- Picanha: rump cover or rump cap
- Cupim: hump (zebu cattle only)
- Fraldinha: confluence of short loin, flank and botton sirloin
- Paleta: chuck/brisket
- Gerdan: neck
- Antrikot: rib steak
- Kontrfile: Steak
- Bonfile: fillet Steak
- Sokum: rump
- Nuar: round of beef
- Kontrnuar: the lower left side of nuar
- Tranç: the upper left side of nuar
- Kürek: shoulder
- Kol, incik: mutton leg
- Döş: brisket
- Pençata: flank
- Yumurta: the section between kontrnuar and pençata
- Necks & clod
- Chuck & blades
- Thick rib
- Thin rib
- Shin and leg
- Thick flank
- Feather blade
- Tenderloin – Considered to be the premium cut, highly prized. It is called ‘ossenhaas’ in Dutch. It tends to be cut slightly smaller than its American counterpart.
- Top sirloin
- Round – Mainly used for kogelbiefstuk (‘hip joint steak’) considered to be the basic form of steak in Dutch and Belgian cuisine.
- Chuck – Best cuts are used for stoofvlees, lesser bits are used in hachee.
The meat packing industry handles the slaughtering, processing, packaging, and distribution of animals such as cattle, pigs, sheep and other livestock. The industry is primarily focused on producing meat for human consumption, but it also yields a variety of by-products including hides, feathers, dried blood, and, through the process of rendering, fat such as tallow and protein meals such as meat & bone meal.
In the U.S. and some other countries, the facility where the meat packing is done is called a meat packing plant; in New Zealand, where most of the products are exported, it is called a freezing works. An abattoir is a place where animals are slaughtered for food.
The meat packing industry grew with the construction of the railroads and methods of refrigeration. Railroads made possible the transport of stock to central points for processing, and the transport of products throughout the nation.
In the early part of the century, they used the most recent immigrants and migrants as strikebreakers in labor actions taken by other workers, also usually immigrants or early descendants. The publication of the Upton Sinclair novel The Jungle in the US in 1906, shocked the public with the poor working conditions and unsanitary practices in meat packing plants in the United States, specifically Chicago.
Meat packing plants, like many industries in the early 20th century, were known to overwork their employees, failed to maintain adequate safety measures, and actively fought unionization. Public pressure to U.S. Congress led to the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and Pure Food and Drug Act, both passed in 1906 on the same day to ensure better regulations of the meat packing industry as well as better treatment of its employees working there.
In the 1920s and early 1930s, however, workers achieved unionization under the CIO‘s United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA). An interracial committee led the organizing in Chicago, where the majority of workers in the industry were black, and other major cities, such as Omaha, Nebraska, where they were an important minority in the industry. UPWA workers made important gains in wages, hours and benefits. In 1957 the stockyards and meat packing employed half the workers of Omaha. The union supported a progressive agenda, including the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. While the work was still difficult, for a few decades workers achieved blue-collar, middle-class lives from it.
Mid-century restructuring by the industry of the stockyards, slaughterhouses and meat packing led to relocating facilities closer to cattle feedlots and swine production facilities, to more rural areas, as transportation shifted from rail to truck. It has been difficult for labor to organize in such locations. In addition, the number of jobs fell sharply through technology and other changes. Wages fell during the latter part of the 20th century, and eventually, both Chicago (in 1971) and Omaha (in 1999) closed their stockyards for good. Historically, the other major meat packing cities in the United States were South St. Paul, Minnesota, East St. Louis, Illinois, Dubuque, Iowa, Kansas City, Missouri, Austin, Minnesota, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Sioux City, Iowa.
Though the meat packing industry has made many improvements since the early 1900s, extensive changes in the industry since the late 20th century have caused new labor issues to arise. Today, the rate of injury in the meat packing industry is three times that of private industry overall, and meat packing was noted by Human Rights Watch as being “the most dangerous factory job in America”. The meatpacking industry continues to employ many immigrant laborers, including some who are undocumented workers. In the early 20th century the workers were immigrants from eastern and southern Europe, and black migrants from the South. Today many are Hispanic, from Mexico, Central and South America. A vast majority today is also made up a large Peruvian community. The more isolated areas in which the plants are located put workers at greater risk due to their limited ability to organize and to seek redress for work-related injuries.
Current and historically significant meat packers in the United States include:
- Armour and Company
- Cargill Meat Solutions
- Cudahy Packing Company
- Foster Farms
- Greater Omaha Packing Company
- Hormel Foods
- Indian Packing Company, whose Green Bay, Wisconsin, facility was the namesake of the Green Bay Packers NFL team
- Lomen Company
- Perdue Farms
- Smithfield Foods
- Swift Packing
- Tyson Foods
Outside the United States:
- Imperial Cold Storage and Supply Company (South Africa)
- William Davies Company
- Maple Leaf Foods (Canada)
- Schneider Foods (Canada)
- JBS S.A. (Brazil)
- AFFCO Holdings (New Zealand)
- Poly-Pack (Ukraine)