"Let your butcher be your meat-Yoda, and you'll surely come away with a better dinner."
More and more meat purveyors are offering seminars where you can watch beef butchering in action. It makes sense—they're going to be carving regardless, so why not let us watch? It's both good marketing for them and informative for us non-butchers. Plus, it's a pretty weird way to spend an afternoon.
We recently went to a butchery demo at Dickson's Farmstand Meats in Manhattan with owner Jake Dickson and butcher Adam Tiberio.
The class began with a quick walking tour of the Chelsea Market shop's back-end. Quarters are tight in there so we didn't see any shockingly huge equipment or dozens of dangling sides of meat, but we did see a carving block, vacuum sealer, cooking area, loading dock, and walk-in freezer, as well as a large meat grinder and the more mysterious-looking emulsifying machine. Dickson's bandsaw looked, aside from its modified bed, just like the one I used in junior high shop class.
The butchery seminar got to the meat of the matter (sorry) when Jake walked out of the freezer bear-hugging a quarter-cow. After he hung our subject matter from a hook, Adam began butchering, pausing for some discussion, while Jake narrated the process.
I was struck by Adam's range of motions: sawing, slicing, yanking and ripping the meat apart. He must use both gravity and brute force. But it was more than a show of force: he knew exactly where and how to start a cut, like a seamstress who nips fabric with scissors, then make a huge precision tear.
Once he liberated a rough section from the dangling carcass, his motions changed entirely. He pared away excess fat and tossed the scraps into a bin. Next the meat would be roughly shaped, and waste from this goes into the "hamburger bucket." Finally he trimmed an individual portion, tied up the meat, and set it aside. Soon there was a growing, impressive range of cuts.
They started sampling fresh tartare and Carpaccio. While most people dug in, I've got to admit, it was a little weird seeing it go straight from cow to plate. Perhaps we were just not hungry enough to be interested, or perhaps this is a bridge we're not quite ready to cross. I don't think we'll be taking Andrew Zimmern's job anytime soon.
I didn't walk in with huge expectations, but left with a real appreciation for the knowledge that great meatmen, like Jake and Adam, hold. I've sworn to become a better buyer and ask my local butcher more questions. Let your butcher be your meat-Yoda, and you'll surely come away with a better dinner.
About the authors: Bryan Petroff and Doug Quint are the two guys who run The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. In their spare time they like to eat meat.