I almost put this question in pets & animals.
November 13, 2007 7:08 PM   Subscribe

How do I make a cutting order for a half of a side of beef?

My long-awaited quarter of a grass-fed cow (or half of a half, as the rancher calls it) will be ready in a couple of weeks, but I have to decide what sort of cutting order to put in with the processor within the next few days. I have no idea what I should ask for. How do I figure out what cuts of meat I want?
posted by sugarfish to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Do you get to pick, or do they just chop it lengthwise and then widthwise? My (2nd hand) experience with bulk food-animal purchase (1/2 pig, whole lamb) is that they just bring you the animal and you take a hacksaw to it yourself...Now I'm wondering if my friends are just really hardcore.

My point is maybe you don't get a choice. Otherwise everyone would be asking for just the prime cuts.
posted by Stewriffic at 7:22 PM on November 13, 2007

(p.s. JEALOUS!)
posted by Stewriffic at 7:23 PM on November 13, 2007

Every cow has one onglet, "butcher's tenderloin" or hanger steak. Cross your fingers that you can get it. There's a reason why you will never see one on display in a butcher shop.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 7:35 PM on November 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

I also know that with the pig they used some kind of video or DVD to help them in the cutting up process. Something like this, I think. That's not a recommendation; I don't know which home-meat-processing video they went with.

(And forgive me if they're doing the bulk of the processing for you)
posted by Stewriffic at 7:35 PM on November 13, 2007

I would talk to the processor about this, actually. They'll be able to guide you through their process a lot more smoothly than we can.

If they are doing small custom work like this, they'll be used to having their customers ask questions.
posted by davey_darling at 7:38 PM on November 13, 2007

Best answer: Your title has made my night. I, too am jealous. What you have is an embarassment of riches.

A lot depends on how good a cook you are. Anyone can make a fillet, but a great brisket or flank is a challenge. Are you the kind of person who can prepare a tongue? It's good eatin', but I can't make it myself.

Here is a chart of what parts of the cow are called once they are on a plate. Ordinarily I would worry about being so graphic, but your title has put me at ease.

Here is a guide to preparing meat.

Need more advice on what to ask for?
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:45 PM on November 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When we tell the butcher how to cut our side of beef, we just indicate what we want more of and what we want less of. There is a certain amount of meat in a side that can be made into steaks (i.e. that can be cooked by dry heat) and a certain amount that can be hamburger, stew, or roasts. Then, there are certain portions that are in between and can either be good quality roasts or lower quality steaks. Of course, there is a certain portion that is good for nothing but stew or hamburger and a certain portion that can be ribs or hamburger.
What you need to tell your butcher is what you want within this context. Do you want only the best steaks, or as many steaks as possible? Do you want lots of roasts, lots of hamburger, or lots of stewing beef? Do you want ribs? Tell the butcher how big you want the packages to be (how much ground beef per package, how big the roasts should be, how many steaks per package, how much stewing beef per package). Tell him how thick you want your steaks. Tell him how lean you want your ground beef. Tell him if you want the soup bones.
Wikipedia has a not bad breakdown of the parts of a side of beef if you want to get more seriously into it, but if you have a copy of the Joy of Cooking around, you'll find a better diagram in there.
posted by ssg at 9:05 PM on November 13, 2007

Response by poster: Awesome, thanks you guys. I will talk to the processors but I wanted to have an idea of where the conversation would go beforehand.

Stewriffic, I think your friends are pretty damn hardcore. If I had to process the meat myself, well, it wouldn't happen.

ten pounds, I will mention hanger steak -- maybe it's a magic word or something.

gesamtkunstwerk, I consider myself a fairly good cook but I think some of the more exotic bits might stymie me. My mama's getting the brisket, as she can cook one like nobody's business.
posted by sugarfish at 9:15 PM on November 13, 2007

Best answer: Late to the party, but I happened across Ask The Meatman a few weeks ago when I was searching for a photo of a pork butt, and my goodness but there is a lot of good and interesting information there about the art of butchering.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:51 PM on November 13, 2007

Best answer: Exactly what ssg said. This is how I buy all of my meat, and the butcher really just wants to know if you will be wanting anything unusual -- some people have very specific cuts that they want, or want bigger/smaller packages than usual. I have always just said "do it the regular way, with smaller rather than larger packages of meat" and have been happy with the results. Each time the results are a bit different -- I think it depends on who is working that day, and what the side of beef looks like, and so on -- but I've always been happy with what I get.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with going and talking to the butcher and telling them that this is your first time, and asking what the options are -- they may have more possibilities than we are suggesting here. (For example, the last time I bought a part of a pig, I found out later that I could have asked for part of it to be turned into sausage. No one told me because they assumed I knew, but I didn't think to ask.)
posted by Forktine at 1:55 AM on November 14, 2007

It has been around for a while, but my mother uses this book when dealing with primal cuts of meat. It is a good reference if you plan on doing this again.
posted by TedW at 4:54 AM on November 14, 2007

The hanger steak is one of the best cuts on the cow, but any butcher that you smile at and whose kids you ask after will be glad to special order it for you. My butcher even butterflies and deveins it for me. The best part is that it's cheap: $6 CAD/lb. It's perfect for tartare.
posted by jon_kill at 5:05 AM on November 14, 2007

I find the NAMP Meat Buyer's Guide helpful when dealing with these sorts of questions. In addition to the very detailed pictures, it has standard reference numbers for cuts you can ask for which are supposed to eliminate some uncertainty in naming conventions (although I've yet to try this).
posted by Caviar at 7:47 AM on November 14, 2007

I happened across Ask The Meatman a few weeks ago when I was searching for a photo of a pork butt, and my goodness but there is a lot of good and interesting information there about the art of butchering.

Thanks for this- we're actually picking up our pig portion this Saturday (woot!), and this website looks extremely helpful.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:59 AM on November 14, 2007

Best answer: I used to be a butcher, not a break down side of beef type, but more quarters and larger pieces. Just familiarize yourself with the layout of the animal. The neck and front shoulders are the chuck meat. These tend to have more fat and gristle but are good and flavorful slow cook roasts. Then you have the loin meat: new york/strip, tenderloin and rib. Make steaks out of these. The back shoulders and rump are referred to as round meat (much leaner)and can be cut into steaks, roasts and stew meat. There is more to it but those are the basics. If you get a side of beef you will get all of these cuts. The butcher will probably already have a system and just wants to know any special requests, ie. how much burger meat/stew. Good purchase and good luck.
posted by Odinhead at 4:16 PM on November 14, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! When I called today, it was much less of a painful process than I expected -- mostly the size of the packages, etc. I also found out that I do not have to take the tongue, heart, liver or oxtail, thankfully. Also, forktine -- thanks for mentioning that about the sausage. We're getting a pig in January or February and definitely want sausage on the menu.

Locally raised meat ftw!
posted by sugarfish at 7:21 PM on November 20, 2007

OMG you gave up the tongue! That is the best part!
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:57 PM on November 21, 2007

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