Slaughter and butcher your own animals safely and humanely with this award-winning guide. Providing detailed photography of every step of the process, Adam Danforth shows you everything you need to know to butcher poultry, rabbit, lamb, goat, and pork. Learn how to create the proper slaughtering conditions, break the meat down, and produce flavorful cuts of meat. Stressing proper food safety at all times, Danforth provides expert advice on necessary tools and helpful tips on freezing and packaging. Enjoy the delicious satisfaction that comes with butchering your own meat.
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About the Author
Adam Danforth trained at the professional meat processing program at SUNY Cobleskill, one of the only such programs in the United States, before going to work at Marlow and Daughters in New York City. He’s also worked as a butcher at Blue Hill and teaches home butchering workshops at the Stone Barns Center for Agriculture. Danforth also works with individual farmers who are slaughtering animals for themselves, and because of that, he has a keen awareness of the needs of farmers, especially those who may be killing an animal for the first time. He lives in Ashland, Oregon.
Joel Salatin is a farmer at the forefront of the trend toward local food and grass-fed meat. His Polyface Farm has been featured in Smithsonian magazine, National Geographic, Gourmet, and countless other radio, television, and print outlets. When he was profiled on the “Lives of the 21st Century” series with Peter Jennings on ABC World News, his after-broadcast chat room fielded more hits than any other segment to date. Polyface Farm achieved iconic status when it was featured in theNew York Times bestseller The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and the award-winning film documentary, Food, Inc. Salatin is also the author of eight books, including Everything I Want to Do is Illegal, Holy Cows and Hog Heaven, and Folks, This Ain’t Normal.
Read an Excerpt
From Muscle to Meat
Prior to landing on your plate, the meat that you choose to eat began life as muscle, a highly organized and complex living system. Muscles, which are made up of tissues and fibers, perform many of the voluntary and involuntary actions in a body. Each muscle has a unique structure that depends not only on function and position but also on species and environment. As muscles are transformed into meat they undergo many physical and chemical changes. These changes are initiated by death but are influenced by many factors, including, for example, how the animal was handled before it was slaughtered and how quickly the carcass was cooled after slaughter. These factors and the chemical changes they cause can have an enormous effect on the palatability of the final cuts of meat.
As it turns out, the better you treat an animal while it is alive, the better the meat from that animal is. To create delicious meat, you should understand not only the physiology of muscles but also the types of favorable treatment that enable the production of a high-quality product.
Muscles are organized structures that enable movement. The heart, a muscle, pumps blood through the body; muscles move food through the stages of digestion; muscles in the legs allow an animal to stand and walk. Each of these functions, enabled by the contraction of muscle, showcases one of the three different types of muscles: cardiac, smooth, and skeletal. But first, we must explore the basic muscle structure.
Muscles are made up of cells called fibers; these are slender cylindrical structures that enable contraction. Muscle fibers are organized in bundles that are stacked together in one direction and bound by sheaths of connective tissue. Envision holding a bundle of dry spaghetti; the spaghetti is the muscle fiber, and your hand is the connective tissue. This pattern of spaghetti-style bundling continues for many levels, as bundles upon bundles are grouped together, level after level, with the final bundle completing the full muscle. The connective tissue holding the full muscle together is the silver skin (technically called the epimysium). Along with more connective tissue, the space between the bundles is filled with blood vessels and fat deposits. The visual grain patterns we recognize in meat are actually midlevel bundles called fascicles. These are most notable in cuts in which the grain is prominent, such as the flank steak.
At the most basic level of the muscular structure are sarcomeres, long threads of linked proteins organized into bundles. These threads initiate muscle contraction from inside the muscle fibers. The main two proteins in sarcomeres, myosin and actin, make contraction and relaxation possible. They're linked in an overlapping pattern that allows them to slide past each other. When the muscle contracts they overlap more, shortening and getting closer together, and when the muscle relaxes they overlap less, lengthening the long threads they make. These protein actions change the shape of muscles; this is evident, for example, when you move your leg or flex your bicep. In short, when a muscle contracts the action originates in the myosin and actin proteins. The action of these two proteins, shortening or lengthening, causes a chain reaction that repeats upward through every bundle: the fibers shorten, the fascicles shorten, and finally the entire muscle shortens for contraction, and vice versa for relaxation.
Fascicles are the smallest muscle fiber bundle that we can easily identify with the naked eye and with the palate. The size of a bundle and its interior fibers plays a large part in how we experience meat. The larger the fascicle, the easier it is to see and the tougher it is to cut through. This gives us the advantage of being able to identify tenderness visually. Fine-grained muscles are more tender than coarse-grained muscles; thus a tenderloin is easier to chew than a skirt steak. The reason for this is that our teeth do a poor job of cutting through bundles of fibers; they are much more effective at separating them from one another. (Imagine trying to chop your way through a truckload of logs instead of just pushing the logs to one side or another.)
In addition, muscle fibers typically toughen during cooking, drying up as the heat ruptures water-holding structures and causes evaporation. The result is a denser, more resistant structure. This is the reason we cut meat across the grain rather than with it. Cutting with the grain would leave stacks of dense, lengthy fiber bundles that we would struggle to split with our teeth. Instead, we let a knife do the work of shortening the fibers so our teeth can do the job of separating them, an effort that in some cases takes ten times less energy than splitting.
Muscle Function and Age Determine Size
The size of muscle fibers is partly the result of muscle function. The more power a muscle needs, the shorter and fatter the sarcomeres within the fibers. More power requires more contractile proteins (actin and myosin). This in turn requires stuffing more proteins into the same connective tissue casing. (Imagine, for example, filling a balloon to capacity with water.) When more proteins are created to produce more power, this causes the sarcomeres to fatten. As sarcomeres fatten, so do the fibers, the bundles of fibers, and the bundles of bundles throughout the entire muscle. Muscles requiring short, powerful bursts of energy — such as those responsible for an animal's fight-or-flight response in reaction to sudden danger — have the thickest fibers. One example of this is the breast muscle of birds that fly only when threatened, such as chickens. (You may be saying to yourself, "But the breast meat of a chicken is so tender." Muscle fiber size is not the only factor in determining tenderness; see here.)
Age also contributes to muscle strength and therefore fiber size. In general, the older an animal is the larger it gets, and the longer it has lived the more activity the muscles have experienced. An animal does not grow new muscle fibers; rather, the fibers increase in size as they develop more contractile proteins. The muscles require more strength to support the growing size of the animal; as the animal ages, increased activity promotes muscle expansion. Larger muscles need more strength, provided by an increase in contractile proteins (actin and myosin). The more proteins inside a muscle fiber, the denser and wider the fiber, and the tougher it is to chew. This is one reason why older animals have tougher meat.
Connective tissue is made primarily of collagen, a substance that accounts for about one-third of the protein in the entire animal. Collagen is concentrated the most in ligaments, tendons, bones, and skin. The other notable component of connective tissue is elastin, which is named for its elastic properties and provides some of the stretch that connective tissue needs in order to change shape and move with the muscles and other body parts.
Connective Tissue and Structure
The structure of all tissues within the body, muscles included, is enabled by connective tissue. Muscle fiber bundles, and the bundles of bundles, are all wrapped by thin layers of collagen-rich connective tissue. Within these bundles, numerous strands of connective tissue fill the spaces between fibers. These strands weave themselves together, as in a tapestry, to form a complex structure. The strands are connected through a process called chemical cross-linking. The interior and exterior networks of a muscle's connective tissue all converge at either end to form tendons. When muscles contract, fibers tug on their respective connective tissue sheaths, causing bundles of fibers to contract. Through a chain reaction across the bundles of bundles, the muscle pulls the tendons and causes skeletal movement.
Collagen and Muscle Tenderness
More than any other factor, the main property that governs muscle tenderness is the volume and strength of cross-links between collagen fibers. Just as with textiles, the more threads and connections you have, the stronger the fabric and the tougher it is to cut through. Many factors contribute to cross-link development, including not only the function of the muscle but also the animal's age, nutrition, and breed. The hardest-working muscles, and those that get the most exercise, require a dense network of collagen to provide adequate structure and functionality. Density is achieved through the development of intense cross-linked collagen fibers. As a rule, the closer to the ground a muscle is, the harder it works to provide support to the body. This is illustrated in the copious amounts of collagen found in meat from the lower limbs of all animals, including beef shanks, ham hocks, and chicken drumsticks.
Age and Its Effect on Collagen
As an animal ages, the volume of collagen decreases but the strength increases. Aging of the muscle causes the development of more chemical cross-links between the collagen fibers that remain. Muscles are exercised, fibers increase in density and girth, and the collagen fibers respond accordingly by increasing tensile strength through the addition of cross-links.
To avoid harvesting meat with tough collagen, those who raise animals for the meat industry slaughter most of those animals before they reach adulthood. For example, consider the difference between an eight-week-old broiler chicken and a two-year-old laying hen. The tender broiler, with its relatively weak collagen cross-linking, is suited to any kind of quick cooking; the layer, on the other hand, requires long, slow cooking in order to break down the strong collagen fibers.
Breaking Down Collagen by Cooking
Fortunately, collagen and its cross-links can be broken down into gelatin through the application of heat and water, a process called hydrolysis.Gelatin is the sticky, unctuous substance that helps thicken liquids for sauces or desserts and provides the adhesive for traditional glues. In contrast to muscle fibers, which get drier and denser when cooked, collagen softens during a proper stewing, helping to turn otherwise tough cuts of meat like a beef shank into a succulent result. As a general rule, the tougher the collagen and the more cross-links it has developed, the longer it will take to break it down into gelatin. Thus, meat from an older animal will need more moisture and time to hydrolyze than meat from a younger animal of the same species.
Hydrolysis of collagen begins as the temperature rises above 122°F. The higher the temperature, the faster it happens. However, while higher temperatures increase the rate of hydrolysis, there is a trade-off. Once the temperature rises above 140°F the collagen also begins to shrink. The shrinkage begins to squeeze on the muscle fibers, causing them to expel liquid. The process is similar to twisting a wet towel: the more you twist, the more water flows out. The higher the temperature, and the quicker it rises, the faster and tighter collagen strands twist and squeeze out the moisture contained in muscle fibers. Hence, hydrolysis that occurs too quickly results in dense, dry meat.
Take a pork shoulder, for example. A pig's shoulder is heavily worked and therefore chock-full of extensively cross-linked connective tissue. Cooking this cut for a few hours at a high temperature, in moist or dry heat, will produce meat that is dense, dry, and a struggle to chew: the collagen has shrunk, squeezed out the liquid, and not been given adequate time to hydrolyze. Slow-cook it at a low temperature for many hours, and the muscle fibers will fall apart into the threads of meat characteristic of pulled pork: the collagen has been fully hydrolyzed, and the structure holding the fibers together turned into gelatin. With a longer cooking process, the transformation of collagen into gelatin provides a better mouth feel. Slow-cooked meat has still been squeezed by the collagen, though, so it will still benefit from the application of moisture such as a barbecue sauce.
Allowing time for hydrolysis is pertinent only when dealing with tough cuts of meat in which there is a substantial amount of connective tissue. Tender cuts have weak collagen and in small amounts. The generally preferred method for tender meat is quick cooking because there is not enough collagen present to make chewing difficult. Further, keeping the internal cooking temperature of tender cuts from many animals to 140°F or lower avoids collagen shrinkage and the resultant moisture loss. This is why a lamb steak cooked to medium-well at 150°F or higher will be a denser, drier version of the same steak cooked to a 133°F medium-rare.
Along with fibers and collagen, fat plays a distinctive role in our experience of consuming meat. Fats happen to be a unique form of connective tissue, primarily serving three purposes, in some cases simultaneously: to insulate the body, to protect the body and the internal organs, and to store energy. The latter function is responsible for many of the flavors that we associate with meat. To increase fat coverage, an animal does not add new fat cells but rather increases the volume of the cells already there.
Fat Cells and Taste
Fat cells store energy in the form of fatty acids but also act as a repository of any substance that is fat-soluble. (Just as salt is water-soluble, any compound or substance that will dissolve in fat is fat-soluble.) So, while an animal gathers energy from its food, it also stores other fat-soluble compounds from the food within the fat cells. Which compounds are stored depends largely on species and diet, while the concentration of those compounds is mainly a result of age. The older an animal is, the more time it has spent storing fat-soluble compounds in its fat cells and the more flavors and flavor-enhancing components are released during cooking. This accounts for the typically stronger flavor and aroma of meat from older animals, as is the case with mutton.
An animal that is raised primarily on pasture, relying on a varied diet of foliage, both fermented and fresh, will process and store a diverse array of organic compounds and fatty acids. Upon cooking, these assorted odorous substances will strengthen the flavor of the meat. In contrast, an animal reared with a diet composed primarily of grain will have less diversity in its fat stores. It is for this reason that meat from grass-fed and pasture-raised animals has a stronger flavor than meat from grain-fed animals.
Saturated and Unsaturated Fat
Within the world of animal fats there are two main categories: saturated and unsaturated. Fats are composed of carbon atoms linked together in chains. These carbon atoms like to bind with hydrogen, and in the case of a saturated fat, the carbon atoms bind with as many hydrogen atoms as possible. They are literally saturated with hydrogen bonds. Unsaturated fats are not. Instead, one or more carbon atoms are double-bonded to each other. Monounsaturated fats have a single double bond; polyunsaturated fats have more than one double bond. This double bond adds one or more kinks to the chain, changing its shape from clean and organized to a bit awry.
If you're good at organizing, packing a car, or stacking boxes, you know that things of a consistent shape fit tightly together. This is the case with saturated fats: the chains of evenly bonded molecules stack tightly together, forming stable fats that are solid at room temperature. Once there is a kink in the chain, those chains can't stack so closely, thus preventing them from forming tight, stable structures, often making them liquid at room temperature; the more kinks, the more unstable the structure. Animal fats contain mainly saturated fats, making them solid at room temperature. But the amount of unsaturated fats certainly comes into play. Chicken and pork fat have higher levels of unsaturated fats than beef, sheep, and goat fat, making them less solid at room temperature. (Vegetable fats, like olive and canola oils, are mostly unsaturated, and that's why they're liquid.)
Excerpted from "Butchering Poultry, Rabbit, Lamb, Goat, and Pork"
Copyright © 2014 Adam A. Danforth.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Joel Salatin
From Muscle to Meat
Pre-slaughter Conditions&General Slaughter Techniques
What People are Saying About This
"A pair of extremely strong guides to the humane slaughter and careful butchering of the most commonly eaten nimals in the United States. ... Great resources."
"An incredible resource for every farmer, hunter, sustainable butcher and professional cook. It is filled with the kind of information that is so hard to come by but so absolutely necessary—from the clear and detailed photos to the precise descriptions of butchery this is a book that should be part of the library of anyone who is interested in where their meat comes from."
"As consumers become more and more detached from their food, books like this share how it is possible to take another path, to grab hold of where your food comes from and confront it with compassion and expertise."
"This is the intelligent and comprehensive butchery book inquisitive cooks have been waiting for.”