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Lessons From My Butcher: Breaking Down a Hind Quarter of Beef (Part 1)

Today, I’d like to take you through a tutorial on breaking down a hind quarter of beef! We’ll do this in two or three parts.  Over a year ago, I had the chance to have an afternoon of butchery lessons from my local butcher-friend, David.  He showed me how to break down a pig, and it was fun and fascinating.  I also really enjoyed the conversation that ensued in the comments about the ethics of eating meat.
Beef Hind Quarter Part One
As a former vegan, I take a sober view of eating meat.  I believe that it’s a moral responsibility to source our meats from humane, sustainable farmers.  I do not want to participate in the cruel factory production of meat.  This is also why I am excited to be able to share lessons from my butcher– the more involved we can be in our own food production, the more humane and ethical our own food system will become.
IMG_1516Aside from the philosophical aspects of a project like this, I have to tell you that butchery turns out to just be something I really, truly enjoy.  I think this has something to do with being a body worker, and getting to work with meat and bones helps me to understand human anatomy better.

And now for the advisory: From here on out, there will be knives, bones, blood and a crazy lady beaming about holding slabs of meat.  If you don’t want to see those things, just stop here and enjoy some winter farm beauty at Wyken Vineyards instead.

Alright, let’s get started.

Breaking Down a Hind Quarter of Beef

This hindquarter weighed 127 kilograms.  It’s a lot of work to heft something like that around– and I’m glad I did not have to do myself.
David pointed out that the fat on this cow is nice and yellow– indicating a solid grass-fed diet.

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The first thing we did was to remove the flank.

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We started at the seam under the soft cod fat, and then cut under the skirt muscles, through the fascia– not cutting into muscles.

IMG_1602As far as depth goes, we cut down to the tip of the hip bone.

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Once we reached the tip of the hip bone, David found the halfway point of the eye muscle to draw the horizontal line across the ribs, which joins to the hip bone tip.  This is where I started cutting through muscle– across that line, until I reached rib bones.

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After that, I used the saw to cut through the bones (only until I passed through bone!) then completed the cut with a knife to sever the flank completely from the rest of the hindquarter.

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IMG_1623This would be broken down into skirt steaks and flank steaks later.

Next, we removed the fillet (British term) or tenderloin.  We had to cut away a bit of channel fat to find the point to start carving from.  Then we used a narrow knife to begin to free up the base from the hipbone.

IMG_1627IMG_1628Once the base was pulled away, we carefully carved it out bit by bit from along the spine, working around the contours, until the muscle comes free completely.

IMG_1630IMG_1633Taa-daa!

Breaking Down a Hind Quarter

To remove the sirloin, we had to start by getting out the bone saw again.  We sawed through the first lumbar vertebrae.  (Just a tip on sawing– the muscle of the action goes into pushing the saw away from you, then no pressure is applied when you pull it back towards you.)

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I stopped when I passed through the bone, and finished the cut with a knife.

IMG_1643What you now have is the short loin section.  It is out of this section that you can get porterhouse, t-bone and strip steaks.

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On the other side is the sirloin section.  You remove the muscle from the bones by trimming it off of the rib bones, cutting behind the bones. We did not do this part, but if you do, when you get to the middle of the rack, turn it around, and start cutting along the ribs at the other end, towards the middle, and making sure to cut only along the ribs and not penetrating the muscle. Cut around until you can completely dislodge the muscle, then trim off any gristle.

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IMG_1645OK, so at this point we have removed the flank, carved out the tenderloin (or fillet) and separated the short loin from the sirloin.     This is where we’ll start up for part 2, hopefully tomorrow!

Are we having fun yet?Lessons From My Butcher Breaking Down a Hind Quarter of Beef (Part 1)

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9 Responses to Lessons From My Butcher: Breaking Down a Hind Quarter of Beef (Part 1)

  1. shackep February 5, 2014 at 3:24 pm #

    Thanks for doing a write up! I have told Amanda that we need to break down a steer/bull next.

    • ariana February 6, 2014 at 8:58 am #

      It’s definitely even more of a workout! It was pretty gratifying for David to see me work up a sweat doing just a fraction of what he does on a daily basis!

  2. Joanna February 5, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

    Looks interesting. I see you have a chain mail glove on. Hadn’t thought there might be something like that.

    What would your butcher says is the basic equipment for cutting up an animal?

    • ariana February 6, 2014 at 9:00 am #

      I’ll have to ask him, Joanna. I know we used two different knives (narrow and one that was broader at the end) and a bone saw, plus the sharpening steel, which was inconstant use throughout. That glove was WAY too big for me (you’ll see it hanging off my fingers in upcoming pictures) but definitely made me feel safer– it would be so easy to cut off a finger this way.

  3. Luanne Shackelford February 6, 2014 at 12:07 am #

    Really interesting! I loved seeing all this, thank you and thanks, David! 🙂

    • ariana February 6, 2014 at 9:01 am #

      Yes, it was a fun afternoon! I hope we can do another session soon, and hopefully a couple of videos.

  4. Kurt Smithson August 8, 2014 at 5:07 am #

    Being a butcher myself I must say there are a few differences in thr technique I know (I was taught by a Dutch butcher) but nothing discerning. A set of knifes one for boning and a steak knife (some call it a scimitar) both well sharpened, a good meat saw a steel and yes a wizard glove. This should get you started when deboning and cutting a hind quarter. It you need bone in steaks done take them to your local abatior. Band saws are very dangerous and should be left.to the more experienced.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Lessons From My Butcher: Breaking Down a Hind Quarter of Beef (Part 2) | And Here We AreAnd Here We Are - March 4, 2014

    […] my lesson in breaking down a hind quarter of beef, or read some of my thoughts on eating meat, see part one. Alright, so we left off at OK, so at having removed the flank, carved out the tenderloin (or […]

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