Updated: Dec 16, 2021
I remember being intimidated about butchery when I first started hunting. I would marvel at my Uncle's meat shop complete with band saws and mixers and grinders and hanging rails. Those types of setups are expensive and complicated. Along with the machinery involved, how exactly do I take a whole carcass and make it into parcels of food for the freezer? Even now, the idea of it is a little daunting...and I have a post-secondary certificate in retail meat cutting! But here's the thing, it is so easy and so intuitive and there's really no wrong way to do it. And you don't need a meat shop.
Mankind has been cutting chunks of meat off of animals since just after finding pieces of broken obsidian.
Of course there IS a right way to do this butchery thing at retail or restaurant quality standards. But, that's why meat cutting is a profession, and has certification programs. This isn't a race either, you can take your time levelling up over the years. That being said, Mankind has been cutting chunks of meat off of animals since just after finding pieces of broken obsidian around a recent kill. Mammoth rotisserie wasn't a thing without at least some degree of meat cutting process being accomplished. My point is that this isn't rocket science, but it is enjoyable to achieve proper meat cutting skills and outcomes. Today there are so many methods for learning new skills. I haven't looked, but I'm betting that there are myriad youtube videos on dealing with different primal cuts of different animals.
The bottom line though is that you are attempting to do one thing. Break down the entire animal into manageable, or cookable, pieces. The bones can be left in the cuts or taken out. The purpose of butchery can be to get the animal into the freezer as soon as possible, or create oven-ready trussed and trimmed cuts that look amazing. It is completely up to you which of these processes or combinations you want to perform. Personally, I opt for the former most of the time. The biggest thought process I have going through my head while home processing my game is: how am I planning to cook this piece? Steaks or roasts or braises? Pan fried or grilled over tamarack coals in camp? How many people will I serve this to? It is kinda fun to pre-plan a meal for each cut...you can even write the plans on the butcher paper before it hits the freezer so you remember what you were thinking mid-October of last year.
There is almost no limit to the level of expertise to which you can aspire. Additionally, we aren't talking about sausages and ground meat items here either. Those items, however, aren't out of the realm of possibility without grinders and stuffers. It will just take longer. In a recent episode of From The Wild (S7E7 Desperation in a Sad Place) we ate Pronghorn burgers. Jeff Senger hand minced the venison into a burger quality "grind"...and it didn't take him long at all. As far as stuffing sausages go, that's not hard either. A kitchen funnel, your fingers and some casings are all that's needed. Here's a video on that!
I really love seeing folks who perform amazing butchery. There are always some beautiful examples of stuffed and tied roasts, steaks and charcuterie on Instagram and Pinterest. But it is good to remember that there is a starting point to those levels of meat artistry. Starting at the beginning, using your imagination and creativity is good advice that applies to any number of self-projects, not the least of which home meat cutting.