Are you a passionate DIYer? Do you love meat and want to be a home butcher?
Here’s just the thing to get you started.
You can butcher meat at home with just two tools. A boning knife and a handsaw. And you could get away with just a boning knife at a push.
But if you want to do it with some finesse and skill, you will need a bit more kit. The extra equipment will make it a lot easier to cut and prepare meat and it will look so much better as well. If you are a hunter and want to get the best from your catch or you buy a large primal cut and want to do some butchering yourself, the right equipment will make the job a lot easier.
Let’s look at some butchery equipment options.
A word or two about safety
Try to keep knives, cleavers and saws out of your immediate work area. Just brushing a bare hand against cutting tools will draw blood. Work safely. Work smart.
Butchers will tell you that a dull knife is the most dangerous. Because it’s not sharp, you will apply more pressure, and that increases the chances of the knife cutting you. Keep your knives sharp at all times.
- Always cut away from yourself.
- Never try to catch a falling knife. Let it drop. But learn to move your feet out of the way when it drops.
- Don’t store knives in a drawer with other utensils.
- Wear cut-proof gloves or chain mail gloves (see below) until you become used to using sharp knives.
Work safely. You can’t buy new fingers.
Use a knife block or a magnetic holder.
There are many brands, sizes, and shapes of boning knives and your choice will depend on your personal preferences. Straight or curved? Rigid, flexible, or semi-flexible? Wooden or plastic handle? Stainless steel or carbon steel?
Using wooden-handled knives and cleavers is discouraged by most health authorities these days because they consider wooden handles to be porous and therefore will harbor bacteria. Likewise, they are against carbon steel because it rusts easily if not washed, dried, and oiled after each use.
Plastic handles usually have a slightly textured finish, which makes the grip safer when they are wet or slippery. Stainless steel won’t rust, but the steel is softer than carbon steel.
You would probably find it difficult to buy a wooden-handled carbon steel knife except in a secondhand store. Besides, modern knives are relatively cheap, so there’s no point in going backward hygiene-wise.
I use a 5-inch semi-rigid boning knife most of the time and can do most tasks with it. Also useful, at a pinch for filleting fish.
A bone saw is essential if you are to do any real butchery at home in comfort. There are various sizes from 17” to 30”. You will be best off with a 20″ or 22” meat saw. This will cover all the bones you will encounter in beef, lamb, pork and deer carcases. Wash and dry all tools after each use.
There are 2 types of butcher’s steak knife, bullnose and cimeter (scimitar) and 2 sizes, 10-inch and 12-inch. I use a 10-inch bullnose butcher knife, but I have used all the other variations and they all have their good points. I have a Victorinox 12 inch butcher knife that is over 30 years old. It has never been on a grindstone, only a whetstone or an oilstone. (See sharpening stones below). Try a few types of knives to see which you prefer. A chef’s knife could be used but butcher’s knives are designed specifically for cutting meat.
A breaking knife usually has a blade about 8 inches long and is useful when breaking full carcases. It can also trim fat from primal cuts. It is like a butcher’s steak knife, albeit shorter.
You can use it as a butcher knife and is not absolutely necessary for butchering at home
In the first photo above there are three cleavers
The large black-handled meat cleaver is for beef bones and is fairly weighty.
The yellow meat cleaver I use for pork or lamb chops.
The small one, also known as a Chinese cleaver, is a wide-bladed knife and is perfect for poultry.
Cut resistant glove
Cut proof gloves are a very useful addition to your toolkit. Made of a fabric with thin wire strands running through it, these gloves will save you from small nicks and cuts, but won’t withstand a slash with force from a very sharp knife. Washable, and comfortable, they are best worn under a vinyl glove to keep them as clean as possible.
Chain mail gloves
Essential if you are working on a busy production line at speed, they make these gloves from fine stainless steel links woven into a mesh. They can be quite uncomfortable if you are wearing them for long periods and most operatives wear cotton or vinyl gloves inside them for comfort.
For butchering at home they are not strictly necessary but buy one if you are nervous about working with really sharp knives.
A boning hook is a useful tool for many butchering jobs where the product is slippery and hard to grip. Essential for boning hanging beef.
This item has 48 very sharp blades, and they cut through the fibres of tough muscles and soften the meat up. Very important to clean the tenderizer thoroughly after every use. Unscrew the blades from the handle for cleaning.
- Allows for marinades to be absorbed deeper into the meat and increases absorption .
- Tenderizer has double sided razor-sharp stainless-steel knives
- Steak Tenderizer, Meat Tenderizer: Achieve better cooking results from less expensive cuts of meat with the original multi-blade hand-held meat tenderizer.
- Sharp knife blades cut through connective tissue that makes meat tough
Makes neat, round burgers every time. Make a ball of meat the size you prefer and lay it on a sheet of cling film. Place a layer of cling film over the ball of meat and press down with the spring-loaded burger press. Perfect burgers always.
Wooden cutting board
I am used to working on a butcher block that is six feet long and two and a half feed wide. For home butchery, you need nothing as big as that.
You can cut on nylon cutting boards, but they always end up with cut marks and can be difficult to clean properly. Cutting on metal or marble will ruin your knife. A wooden board 2 feet by one and a half feet is the perfect home cutting board.
Easier to clean than nylon, they will last a lifetime. After use, dry off with kitchen paper. Then wash down with a 10% solution of Milton and water and allow to dry naturally. If there is a layer of fat on the board, use a paint scraper to remove it before washing.
Wash and dry your cutting surface in between species and particularly after cutting cured meat. The salt from cured meat will discolor everything you put on the board.
This is essential for cleaning wooden blocks and cutting boards that have had heavy use. The metal tines scrape off a fine layer of the wood and when you sterilise with a mild bleach, you will have a food safe surface again. Requires an element of elbow grease.
Some meat joints need to be rolled and twined and to get a tight roll you would use wooden skewers. Don’t use undue pressure on the skewers or they will break, tighten the joint in stages before twining.
Butchers twine is used to roll deboned meat into usable joints that look good and hold together during cooking. It is strong and food safe and has many uses in butchery. I use Rayon No. 5 or 4.
Mincer / Meat Grinder: manual
If you only occasionally grind meat, a hand-operated mincer might be your best option. Very useful for grinding meat and using up any trimmings to make meat products for burgers, sausages or meatloaf. You can use even tiny meat pieces in making minced meat (ground beef) or sausages and avoiding the waste of nutritious food.
Mincer / Meat Grinder: electric meat grinder
An electric grinder is useful if you have a large quantity of meat to process. It does it quickly with the minimum of effort from you. It increases the scope for producing meat products.
As with all electric food machinery, you need to balance the time and effort saved by using a machine against the time spent washing and cleaning the machine’s parts afterwards. And food machinery must be scrupulously cleaned and dried after every use if you want to avoid contaminating the next batch of meat you put through it. Food poisoning is not funny.
If you need to mince some meat and you don’t have a mincer, a mezzaluna can be useful. Mezzaluna means half moon, and the shape is well suited to this type of work. Perfect for beef tartare, where the meat is not ground but finely chopped. Cut the meat into small cubes and then with the mezzaluna roll the blade over the pieces until they are finely chopped.
If you make burgers and sausages or are curing any meats, you need to be consistent with your ingredient quantities. A digital scale will be very useful for weighing ingredients so you will have the same result every time. Very useful for portion control too.
Sausage stuffer – manual
If you want to make your own sausages from the meat you are working on, you will need a decent stuffer. This is a hand-operated machine that will take 5 pounds of meat. Fill with ground meat that you have added your seasonings to. Thread the casing over the nozzle, making sure there is no air in the casing. It is best to have someone turn the handle while you fill the sausage. You need both hands to do that properly
Sausage stuffer – electric
If you are going to make a lot of sausages, you might need to consider an electric filler. They are not cheap, but for larger quantities of sausage, they save a lot on elbow grease. A foot operated control leaves both hands free to control the filling. Again, needs scrupulous cleaning after use.
If you are making sausages at home, you can use natural or collagen casings. Personally, I prefer natural, but collagen are easier to work with. The natural sausage casing makes a better sausage texture-wise, but you can pick the one you prefer. Natural casings are sold packed in salt and need to be soaked in lukewarm water for 10 minutes before using to soften them up and to remove excess salt. Natural casings can also be bought spooled. They come on a plastic tube that threads them onto the filler nozzle in one move, saving you time. They are pretty expensive, so if you are only making sausages for your own use, you don’t really need them. Collagen casings are easier to use and take less time to thread onto the stuffer nozzle. Keep collagen casings dry before using.
A good steel is essential to maintaining a fine edge on your knives. When you are boning a piece of meat, your knife’s blade is running up against bone and the fine edge is moved off center. A few strokes with a good steel will re-centre the edge. A steel doesn’t sharpen a knife, it resets the edge.
A whetstone when used properly can put a really fine edge on a knife. Soak the whetstone in water for 5 or 10 minutes or until the bubbles stop, and stand it on a damp cloth on a flat, stable surface. Place the knife blade at a 15-degree angle and rub the blade up and down or round in circles on the stone. Do this for 20 strokes, then turn the blade over and repeat on the other side. Reduce the strokes by 2 each time you change sides until you have achieved a fine edge. If the whetstone dries out just splash a little water on it as needed.
A stitching needle is not something you would use often at home, but when you need one, it is a very useful piece of kit. If you were boning and rolling a turkey, or preparing a suckling pig, a stitching needle will finish the job neatly for you. Thread the twine through the hole near the point with about an inch trailing. Push the needle into the two pieces of meat you want to tie together and out the other side. Pull the string out of the needle and repeat until you have laced it all up neat and tidy.
Now you have a set of tools that will let you deal with most butchery jobs you can do at home. If you have read this far, I reckon you are a keen meat fan. So, here are a couple of items you don’t need but would be great to have.
This is not essential, but for safety and convenience, I wear one all the time. My knives are at my hand whenever I need them and my knives are not lying around loose on the worktop. I have had many cuts over the years from other people’s knives being left on the block.
- high-quality insulated double-wall carbon steel construction
- stainless steel interior, and durable powder epoxy exterior
- 4 rack design allows smoking a variety of foods at the same time
- smoker is specially designed to accommodate 4 included racks;
- smoke turkey, chicken, ribs, brisket and more
- easy to clean and will not rust
So you’ve boned and butchered your primal, and you’ve got everything ready, wouldn’t it be nice to smoke some bacon or poultry? Or a nice brisket? A smoker is something you may not need, but it adds a depth of flavor to meats that artificial smoke cannot match. Smoking meat is also a preservative.
In fact, smoking began as a way of keeping meat from spoiling and the flavor aspect was secondary. There is a wide price range for smokers and if you are going to buy one you need to review what is available and what you actually need. You could make a temporary smoker out of a couple of cardboard boxes and a bag of sawdust if you wanted to. Total outlay is $1.
Or maybe you want a deluxe model with all the bells and whistles?
Enjoy your home butchering, and if you have any comments or questions, get in touch. [email protected]
As mentioned at the beginning, a boning knife and a bone saw will cover many of the butchery tasks, but the additional kit makes most of those jobs a lot easier.
Remember, keep all meats as cold as possible during meat preparation. Try not to have too much meat out of refrigeration at one time. Wash and sanitise hands and equipment often.
For information about food safety see safefood.eu
For information on butchery and meat cutting training online, go to butchercraft.com