Help me chop up this meat.
June 8, 2012 1:47 PM   Subscribe

We're getting a quarter beef. Any advice on the butchering order?

The vast array of cut options is a little overwhelming! I'm diligently Googling and reading my cookbooks and things, but does anyone here have advice about what cuts to get out of a quarter?

What has worked for you? Any awesome exotic cuts I maybe wouldn't think to ask for? Any recommended guides online?
posted by thirteenkiller to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Make sure you get all the interesting bits. Tongue, oxtail, and so forth. Those are delicacies, but most North Americans don't know what to do with them, so as a point of policy many butchers often hold them back and sell them on the side.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:49 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My personal favorite cut of cow is Hanger Steak.

Skirt is in the same area.

Osso Buco (shank cuts) are neat, also see if you can get some Ox Tail, likely others won't be interested, but it's lovely if prepared in a gravy and served with rice and peas.

What are some of your options?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:51 PM on June 8, 2012

Best answer: Talk them into not counting the "interesting bits" as part of the allocation, since odds are high that that those aren't being sold to the other 3 buyers either. Also, if they ask if they should give you the random bits left over as stew meat or hamburger, pick stew. You can't ungrind the meat.
posted by Runes at 1:54 PM on June 8, 2012

Response by poster: Ah yes, we're planning to get everything we can, including organs and bones and tongues and tails. I don't really know what to do with the organs and I frankly find them sorta gross, but since we're paying for everything we might as well try it.

That's another Askme - how do I get over my visceral reaction to the idea of eating a tongue? Reading about "peeling" it was not so helpful to that end.
posted by thirteenkiller at 1:55 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Options:

Chuck - roast, ground
Arm - roast, brisket, soup bones, ground
Loin - rib eye, sirloin, t-bones or ny strips, tenderloins, flank steaks
Round - rump roast, sirloin tips, round steaks, cube steaks, tenderized steaks, ground

Short ribs, stew meat, patties
Organs, tongue, tail, bones

Smaller roasts or bigger roasts
Thickness of steaks

Also I think if there's something special I want that's not on the list but is possible with a quarter I can probably ask for it.
posted by thirteenkiller at 2:03 PM on June 8, 2012

Best answer: All the expensive stuff is in the loin. If you like steak and tender, quickly-cook roasts, get as much of that category as you can.

Chuck is great for hamburgers. If you have a meat grinder, just buy it as roasts and grind it yourself as needed.

Short ribs and the tail are wonderful for braising. Tongue is delicious, but I've never prepared it myself.

Everything else is good, too, but those are the parts I eat most frequently so that's what I'd get. Assuming that this will all be frozen, consider the size of your family and how big you want the packages to be.
posted by jon1270 at 2:14 PM on June 8, 2012

Best answer: Bones are awesome for stock. Roast them and you get all that brown, marrowy goodness.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:16 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'll ask the farmer guy this when we meet tomorrow, but are dog bones and soup bones the same parts? Probably, right?
posted by thirteenkiller at 2:20 PM on June 8, 2012

Response by poster: I have a hard time visualizing which cuts involve trade-offs from which other cuts. The dude will explain all this when we meet, but it would be nice to have it sorted beforehand.
posted by thirteenkiller at 2:31 PM on June 8, 2012

Best answer: If you don't have a meat grinder, you can grind meat in the food processor, if you have one.
posted by grouse at 2:37 PM on June 8, 2012

Best answer: If you don't mind me asking, how much did a quarter of a cow cost? I'm thinking about doing this once we get a larger freezer and I'm doing some initial research...
posted by rossination at 3:01 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Be careful about giving bones to dogs - you're best off with very thick-walled bones (like marrow bones) so the dog can't break off small pieces and get them stuck in his GI tract (ask me how I know!) - that said, there's a lot of controversy about this. Some people say that the thicker bones are bad for dogs' teeth and you should give them the thinner bones. Some say you shouldn't give dogs bones at all. I'd talk to your vet and/or do some research - it really depends on your dog.
posted by judith at 3:02 PM on June 8, 2012

Best answer: I've bought a lot of roasts over the past year, and while they're smaller, I much prefer the arm roasts over the chuck roasts or rump roasts. They have better flavor and texture.
posted by ThisKindNepenthe at 3:11 PM on June 8, 2012

Response by poster: Rossination - it will depend on the weight of the animal when it goes to slaughter next week - our guy charges $1.60 per pound live weight, which is based on current beef markets, and this animal should be around 1250 lbs. A quarter of that is ours, of which maybe half is actually take-home meat (blood and guts and hooves and heads and things are removed and discarded and meat is lost in trimming). There's also a fee paid to the butcher - ours charges 45 cents per pound (I think this is based on hanging weight, not live weight) plus a $26 butchering fee. Anyway, we should end up around $4 to $5 per pound, and we're expecting to pay around $500 to the farmer and $90 to the locker. This is a good price locally; we asked around from a number of producers and this was the best thing going. It's all grass-fed too.

Some places price based on hanging weight instead of live weight. Hanging weight is around 60% of live weight.
posted by thirteenkiller at 3:24 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: And the reason we decided to go for it - we don't really NEED all these fancy steaks and roasts and things - but it actually comes out cheaper than the $5.99/lb we pay for grass-fed ground beef at our grocery store. Even if we don't count all the bones and tongues and things the price is less than that.
posted by thirteenkiller at 3:35 PM on June 8, 2012

Best answer: Seconding the stuff about the "interesting bits" - it's got some of the best nutritional profiles of not just any meat, but any food, period.

Suet is another thing that you should ask the butcher to save for you. Quite often they will just throw it out by default, but it's a very healthy and vitamin-rich cooking fat.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 3:57 PM on June 8, 2012

Best answer: Ooh – have the spinalis dorsi removed whole from the ribeye! This is the strip of beautifully marbled very tender muscle that wraps around the ribeye steak – you know, the part you save for last... or eat first! But now you can eat it all at once!

(I would roll it up with a little transglutaminase meat glue and cut it across the grain into round steaks to sous vide, but I got a copy of Modernist Cuisine for my wedding so it's getting pretty molecular around here.)
posted by nicwolff at 5:03 PM on June 8, 2012

Best answer: How do I get over my visceral reaction to the idea of eating a tongue?

Remember that tongue and heart are muscles and taste like the rest of the do lungs; IIRC they've lifted the ban on them in the US.
posted by brujita at 4:18 AM on June 9, 2012

Best answer: How do I get over my visceral reaction to the idea of eating a tongue?

You treat it like deli style roast beef, and make a ruben sandwich out of it, and then you freak the fuck out is how. Seriously though, tongue is just like any other roast, treat it as such. Just remember to remove the outer 'skin' on it.

I would also suggest to get as much as you can as whole cuts or roasts, and invest in a small meat grinder if you decide to make ground beef. If you already have a kitchen-aid mixer, they make a wonderful (albeit low-volume) attachment for it. Then you really get to dictate what you get.

Even though they're a bit more pork-oriented, I would shoot an email over to the wonderfully nice, super helpful, and very smart folks that produced the Anatomy of Thrift videos. They might have some insight to interesting cuts at the expense of your traditional American style side butchery.
posted by furnace.heart at 1:14 PM on June 9, 2012

Best answer: Chuck is going to be your workhorse. This is a medium-fat cut. The roast is your basic pot roast though it can be cubed for stews, ground for burgers.

Arm is for braising or slow cooking. You'll definitely want bones for stock. To arm bones, add some knuckles and tail bones for extra richness.

I don't need to tell you what to do with a steak, but here's something fun I've discovered; skinny steaks. I buy mine at the Mexican grocery store, but if you could get them cut, that would be great. A 1/4 inch T-bone or ribeye comes to a pretty reasonable portion, and you can cook the steak in a skillet at about a minute a side for medium rare.

Organs I would want include heart, sweetbreads, and liver. Some would add tripe, but if you're weirded out by tongue, I won't even try to sell you.

As you can tell, I'm like a kid in a candy store with this question. Sounds like a lot of fun.
posted by Gilbert at 4:26 PM on June 9, 2012

Response by poster: Gilbert, it's so fun! We did this before with a half lamb, but beef is a whole different animal! We met the rancher today and ended up ordering as many roasts as possible - chuck roasts, arm roasts, rib roast (rather than ribeye steak), rump roast, eye of round, brisket, flank, skirt. Miscellaneous round and scraps will go into grind and stew meat, and we got steaks from the loin. We're getting the entire oxtail because none of the other customers wanted it, and we're getting heart and liver and soup bones and dog bones (which we might also use for soup - need to investigate safety) and tongue. And short ribs.

You can't ungrind the meat was the mantra for this order. We can make our own stew meat or grind from a roast if the need arises.

The answers here were very helpful in thinking this through, and River Cottage Meat Book was helpful, and this flyer, and this webpage. I'm so glad I was able to speak to this guy intelligently about all this, because I hate to look like an idiot in front of a farmer.

Our steer dies on Wednesday and will hang for around two weeks and then we'll pick up the meat from the butcher. We're gonna eat filet mignon first.

We've reserved a half pig for this fall sometime, so stay tuned for the pig butchering askme.
posted by thirteenkiller at 8:56 PM on June 9, 2012

Best answer: I almost forgot completely, but another way to embrace the nasty bits (which I say in all loving respect to said nasty bits...) is to start eating, then making Phở. The broth is really simple, and it's a good way to use up all your tripe, tendon & neckbones. Phở was developed out of a cuisine of necessity of using every part of the animal, and it does a wonderful job of making all that stuff tasty, and even desireable.

The stock is pretty easy, even though there are a few variations. This has been my favorite. It freezes very well, and we usually make up 2-3 gallons at a time, and eat it for months on end. Finding Thai basil might be a bit difficult, depending on where you are, but it's worth tracking down as a garnish; everything else can be found at a halfway decent grocery store. We eat Phở for breakfast.
posted by furnace.heart at 4:00 AM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's all grass-fed too.

Dropped back in here after checking recent activity and noticed this. If it's all grass-fed, it's going to be leaner and less marbled than the grain-fed you're used to. As a rule of thumb, low and slow cooking techniques will work better than hot-and-fast. It will taste "beefier" too, so factor that in to broths and stews (as in you'll need less of it).
posted by Runes at 4:45 PM on June 12, 2012

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