Meat Cuts 101: Trim


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Ground beef for days.

Okay, I’ll clear this up at the outset: “Trim” doesn’t really qualify as a cut of meat by even the loosest definition of the word.  Essentially, trim is just any bit of meat left over from the butchering process – as a steak is cut and shaped, trim is generated. Because trim is a necessary byproduct of the whole animal butchery process, it is just as important to eating sustainably as is a thick, well marbled Ribeye.  For me, how a butcher shop generates, processes, and sells their trim speaks volumes about not just their commitment to sustainability, but also to their own creativity, ingenuity, and passion about what it is they are selling. Yeah, it’s that important.

Think about it like this, when we get in a whole beef steer and break it down into sellable cuts, we usually end up with about 75% of the weight of the animal as “usable meat” – meaning anything that isn’t bone, fat, or waste (membranes and stuff you don’t really want showing up in your Sunday roast).  Of that 75%, half would be sold as whole muscles (steaks and roasts), and the other half would be trim.  To illustrate my point, let’s look at a beef chuck:

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Table-sized beef chuck waiting to be broken down.

That particular chuck (AUID: 226PS1, from a local PA farm – if you’re keeping track at home) weighed 143.8 pounds, and yielded 48.6 pounds of trim vs 52.4 pounds of sellable steaks and roasts – the rest of the weight going to bones for stock and fat for rendering.  Here’s how the cuts ended up looking:

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Chuck, deconstructed. The pile to the right is the trim generated from cleaning the muscles on the left.

If this is all getting a bit technical, the upshot here is that simply buying steaks from a sustainably raised animal may not be enough to support the system.  Plenty of my customers come into the shop looking for high-value middle meats: Ribeye, NY Strip, Tenderloin, and of course I’m happy to oblige.  But one animal may only yield 40 or so pounds of the big ticket steaks, while at the same time generating 150-200 pounds of trim.  As a whole animal butcher, dealing with trim becomes a paramount concern.  I’ve spoken before about sausage as a way to increase value and make something delicious.  There’s also much more obvious way for me to sell trim: grinds.

All too often grinds get the short end of the butcher shop stick.  It doesn’t matter if it’s ground beef, pork, lamb, beef&bacon, whatever, people’s gaze seems to slip right past these cheap and delicious alternatives to big hunks of meat.  It’s a shame really, because grinds are not just a sustainable way to utilize every part of an animal, they’re also a great way to stretch out an already over-taxed food budget.  One of the biggest complaints you hear about high-quality meat is that it’s too expensive – and that’s certainly true, meat raised without antibiotics or hormones out on pasture simply takes longer and costs more to get up to market weight.  But many times those same people are complaining about the $30 a pound beef tenderloin, while ignoring the $5 a pound ground beef right next to it.  Two pounds of ground beef, turned into something delicious like bolognese sauce, taco meat, or sloppy joes can easily and cheaply feed a family of five – no expensive tenderloin needed.

Working to ensure that every person, within every budget, has equal access to to sort of clean, well-raised meat that I sell is a passion of mine.  Just as working with small, local farmers benefits my community, feeding people who might not have the means to pony up for a $40 steak has just as much impact.  Ground meat is an excellent way for a butcher to sell a great quality product for a great price, while also utilizing every part of an animal who’s life he greatly values

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