When breaking down an entire carcass for meat, making your way through it cut by cut requires a fair amount of planning to ensure that you are maximizing your yield. It’s important to have a clear idea of how each primal will be divided so that portioning and proper storage can happen efficiently because it may take a couple of days to break down and properly package every cut from the carcass, especially if you are new to the process.
No matter how large or small the animal is, the best way to organize your butchering efforts is to use a cut sheet. A cut sheet is a simple concept but the most valuable tool for minimizing mistakes in processing. It is, in essence, a cutting directive: an obvious process of how to break down the carcass will arise when the required products are clearly laid out.
You can create your own cut sheet by simply going through each primal and writing down a list of what you want to produce from it. To prepare yourself, research the possibilities for the appropriate primal and which ones work will for you or your customers. Create your cut sheet a day or more ahead of when you plan to butcher to give yourself time to mull over the options and make any changes. Once you cut the meat, there’s no changing your mind, and what you cut first will determine what else you can cut.
One classic example is the short loin for beef: It contains the muscles for strip steaks, as well as the tenderloin; in combination they make T-bone and porterhouse steaks. Thus, if you want to cut porterhouse steaks you cannot also have tenderloin and strip steaks, and vice versa. Therefore, it’s important to understand the relationship between cuts when determining your cut sheet. Fortunately, butchering for yourself has custom advantages: You can cut a few porterhouse steaks off the sirloin end of the loin and then peel off the remainder of the tenderloin and cut strip steaks, giving you some representation of all three categories.
Below are cut sheets for beef, pork and lamb. Download and print them to help organize your next butcher day.
Beef Cut Sheet
Pork Cut Sheet
Lamb Cut Sheet
Excerpted from Butchering Poultry, Rabbit, Lamb, Goat, and Pork (c) Adam Danforth. Used with permission of Storey Publishing and Butchering Beef (c) Adam Danforth. Used with permission of Storey Publishing.