As soon as people find out I’m a butcher one of two things happens. Either they begin to edge away slowly, looking around for anyone else to talk to, or they ask me about my knives. Everyone loves cool knives these days, and people with these expensive implements love to talk about them. But really for the kind of work that butchers do, high-end knives don’t make a ton of sense. Hard forged steel is more difficult to sharpen (something I do daily, sometimes twice) and the beating that our knives undergo usually means a brand new knife, whether it costs $20 or $200, has about a one-year lifespan.
Probably the best possible knives made for butchers are Fibrox handled knives by Victorinox. Coming in cheap ($30!) but also strong and able to maintain an edge, these guys are the workhorses of not just professional butcher shops but also many big name kitchens. The steel these are made out of (x50CrMov15 for all you knife pendants out there) strikes a great balance between the really cheap material of lesser knives, and the harder-to-work forged steel of higher priced knives.
Lots of butchers, myself included, end up with a bunch of knives for specific purposes. If you’re just looking to get started you can do most anything with just two: a 6-inch for smaller breaking and an 8-inch for the big stuff and for cleaning muscles smoothly. Plenty of people will tell you that you don’t really need a cleaver. Which is certainly true, in the sense that you don’t really need a chainsaw or a big truck – but they do serve a purpose and are definitely fun to have around.
So you’ve got your knives; now it’s time to keep them nice and sharp. A butcher using their knives heavily will need to touch them up on the stone at least every other day. I like to sharpen mine in the morning before a day of heavy cutting (although I frequently forget and pay the price in fatigued forearms from exerting extra pressure to cut through meat). A tri-stone comes in handy because it has different levels of grit on the stones: Coarse for when you’ve really screwed something up on your knife and you need to grind it down; Medium for most general sharpening; and fine for polishing an edge razor sharp (or when you want to look busy).
Josh always tells the story of the time he was breaking beef alone in the shop when his knife slipped and he stabbed himself in the chest, close to his heart. It was a deep cut, and from that day forward everyone who cut at Fleisher’s had to wear armor when they were cutting. A chainmail apron protects most of the vital organs from cuts and stabs, and looks 100% badass while doing it. Fun fact: Niroflex, the company that makes most of the armor that butchers wear, also makes chainmail armor for renaissance festivals and reenactments.
Look, no one wants to talk about it, but it’s going to happen. No matter how great your knife skills are, no matter how focused you may be – one day you’ll cut yourself. It’s usually never that bad, but you want to be prepared with bandages on hand so you can get right back into whatever meaty project you’re working on. In this case, not just any band-aid will do. After years of “research” I’ve settled on what is unequivocally the best possible bandage on the market. The flexible fabric allows you a great range of motion once you’ve patched yourself up, and dries out quickly after getting wet.
The holy book for butchers, or really anyone interested in well-raised meat. Hugh takes the time to explain the different ways of raising different meat animals, along with what to look for when purchasing them from your local butcher. Beautiful photography and delicious recipes. It’s a must have for anyone wanting to expand their general meat knowledge, and is ground zero for many people’s passion for old school whole animal butchery – myself included.
Every group of friends has that one know-it-all who prides himself on esoteric factoids that most people find boring. If you can’t think of that person you know then it’s you. And if it is you, you need this book. Not in any way a how-to guide, the NAMP lists cuts by specific muscles and muscle groups. It’s one thing to be able to identify a cut and know how to cook it; learning muscle names and industry specs is taking that knowledge to a whole new level. Don’t you want to amaze your friends with the knowledge that a boneless Boston butt consists of Longissimus, splenius, semispinalis capitis, and supraspinatus muscles – with a small bit of pectorali profundi mixed in?
Danforth’s two books – one on butchering beef and another on poultry, rabbit,lamb, and pork – are great step-by-step guides to humane slaughter and breakdown of animals. The books cover everything from sharpening knives and tying roasts all the way to stunning and proper bleeding during harvest. They’re written in just the right blend of highly technical, yet accessible, language. Plus the pictures are breathtaking.
One of the challenges of whole-animal butchery is figuring out what to do with the leftover cuts and trim from the butchering process. Everyone loves a good steak, but not too many customers would willingly chose from a bowl labelled “Meat Scraps.” The solution to this problem is making sausage, a tradition practiced by butchers for thousands of years. Not only is this book home to detailed sausage making instructions but also has tons of great recipes to try out. The Marianski’s are traditional Polish sausage makers who incorporate old world European style with Asian and South American influences into their recipes.
This guy is nuts. The last of a dying breed of apprenticeship-trained British butchers, Maynard uses this book to tell his tales of coming up in the business, and the day-to-day aggravation of running a successful butcher shop. There are no recipes and no pictures, but this book is a must have simply because it’s so full of entertaining stories that people can relate to, whether in the industry or not. Plus it gives a glimpse into the grumpy-old-butcher future that awaits all of us in the meat business.
Nobody cooks like Fergus Henderson. While other chefs pay lip service to noise to tail cooking, Fergus makes it into his central mantra at his restaurant. Every part of the animal is celebrated and lifted up to it’s highest potential. I’d consider myself a a pretty adventurous eater, but before reading this book I’d probably have shied away from any recipe for Jellied Tripe or Deep Fried Calve’s Brains. Yet Fergus can make even these off cuts mouth-watering. At the end of the day, “whole animal” means “WHOLE animal” and if we truly want to be sustainable we need to start to explore a style of cooking that doesn’t mask what we’re eating, but makes it wholesome and delicious.
Cut Name: Tri-tip
NAMP Guide Number: 185C (with fat cap) 185D (with fat cap removed)
Bone in/Boneless: Boneless
Other Names: Newport steak, Triangle steak, Triangle roast, Corner cut, Knuckle cap, Sirloin butt Aiguillette baronne (france), Pastorenstuck (Germany), Rabillo de cadera (Spain)
Best Cooking Method: Hot and fast, loves a dry rub.
Tensor Fasciae Latae. This small muscle, which plays a supporting role in walking and running is perhaps the most enigmatic of all beef cuts. Almost perfectly triangular and shot through with fat, it’s one of the more distinctive looking cuts, yet no one seems to be able to agree on one specific name. Depending on who you ask it could be known as a Newport steak, triangle steak, corner cut, knuckle cap, sirloin butt or Santa Maria steak. Infuriatingly it’s occasionally known by both sirloin bottom and sirloin top. But it might be most well-known as tri-tip
The muscle itself is located on the sirloin, on the inside of the hip. Consisting of a coarse, open grain structure similar to eye round, tri-tip can be almost shockingly well-marbled. It’s not particularly tender but has a ton of a great flavor and takes to a marinade very well. Tri-tip usually weighs in around 1.5-2 pounds. Normally cut in half when the loin and round primal are separated, a butcher who wants to take the time to remove the tri-tip whole can yield a whole muscle twice as big, and perfect for roasting.
Like so many cuts of meat that find themselves in vogue today, the “discovery” of tri-tip by Otto Schaefer was actually more of a rediscovery. There is a long history of tri-tip being employed as a pot roast in Europe, especially in Germany. When Pennsylvania was originally settled by Dutch and German immigrants in the late 17th century they brought this tradition with them. Known as Dreieckichbrode, or “three cornered roast” the Pennsylvania Dutch would marinate and then steam or roast the whole tri-tip. Today, customers coming into the shop recognize Tri-Tip instinctively as something their mother or grandmother would roast and serve at family meals. It may have taken some 300 years, but the tri-tip is finally back in style.
You don’t need to fly in some West-coast logs to make a delicious Santa Maria tri-tip though, it will preform just as well over charcoal or even on a stove top. Just season liberally with a California beef rub, sear for 4-5 minutes each side, and then finish in a 350 degree oven until it’s your desired temp (you do have a thermometer, right?)
California Beef Rub
(Adapted from the recipe by Kim Severson)
2 tbl fine ground coffee
1.5 tbl kosher salt
1.5 tbl granulated garlic
1 tbl coarse ground black pepper
1 tbl brown sugar
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp sumac
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Really lard has what you might call a branding problem. There’s nothing wrong with it inherently, but with the push towards leaner meat, fat and fat byproducts are looked down on. Lard has a higher smoke point than butter, coconut oil, or vegetable shortening. Is also composed of 45% polyunsaturated fat – the good fat. Lard has a higher melt temperature than butter, but softens easily at room temperature making it just a joy to work with. Last but not least, lard has less moisture content than butter which leads to excellent flaky-pastry applications.
Lard not only makes delicious savory pie crusts, it also can be used as cooking fat and even spread onto toast for a porky snack.
Leaf lard is a soft, visceral fat from inside of the pig’s body cavity. Whereas other fat on the pig (and there’s certainly a lot of it) is primarily subcutaneous – meaning located between the animal’s skin and muscle – leaf lard occupies the area inside the cavity surrounding the kidneys and extending up towards the tenderloin. There is very little leaf lard to be had in each animal, one 200 pound pig may only yield 3-4 pounds. Clearly it’s a precious commodity.
1. Trim any obvious bits of meat or discolored fat and cut the leaf lard into small cubes. Protip: if you can get your butcher to grind it for you ahead of time it will save some time and spare you a wrist ache.
2. Put the cubed or ground fat into a heavy bottom stock pot over low heat. Add a tiny splash of water to the bottom.
3. Keep on eye on it as it renders, stirring occasionally to prevent anything from sticking to the bottom and adding a burnt taste to the finished product.
4. You’ll know it’s done when the lard has turned a golden brown color and all of the cracklings have settled to the bottom of the pot. Protip: Eat those, they’re delicious bits of slowly fried protein. If you have access to a good digital thermometer (and you should) you can also check the temp for doneness. When it reads 255 you’ve got yourself some rendered lard.
5. Strain through a cheesecloth and let cool to room temp in a glass container before refrigerating. It will keep up to a month, or a year in the freezer.
Making pie crust with rendered leaf lard puts a slightly savory twist on what is traditionally an all butter recipe. Because leaf lard has a much lower moisture content compared to butter, there is less water present to bind dough particles together, and with less water it has the additional benefit of shrinking less as it cooks. This coupled with the fact that lard forms very large fat crystals leads to a phenomenally flaky dough which has a deep, savory, but not quite porky flavor to it.
Leaf lard pie crust
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt (This is one situation where I wouldn’t use kosher, I think finer table salt dissolves better)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
4 tablespoons rendered leaf lard
3 tablespoons water
Mix flour and salt in a food processor and then add the leaf lard and butter.
Pulse mixture until it forms pea sized dough-pebbles
Mix in just enough water to get the dough to come together, then wrap in plastic and refrigerate before using.
Adapted from Melissa clark’s golden standard leaf lard pie crust recipe.