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.
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.
Aside 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.
The first thing we did was to remove the flank.
We started at the seam under the soft cod fat, and then cut under the skirt muscles, through the fascia– not cutting into muscles.
As far as depth goes, we cut down to the tip of the hip bone.
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.
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.
This 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.
Once 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.
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.)
I stopped when I passed through the bone, and finished the cut with a knife.
What you now have is the short loin section. It is out of this section that you can get porterhouse, t-bone and strip steaks.
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.
OK, 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?