A Guide to Basic Meat Butchering Techniques for Home Cooking

In this guide, I’ll go over some basic home butchering techniques that you’ll need to know to prepare your meats for a great home-cooked meal. You’ll learn how to perfectly tie and butterfly primal cut meats into roasts, as well as learn how to trim off the fat and cut meat into cubes to use in stews.

Finally, you’ll understand how to clean a whole tenderloin in your own kitchen that your purchase from the local supermarket, ensuring that you’re using the best quality, freshest meat possible, and you’ll be able to do all this without the help from a butcher.

Basic Home Butchery and Preparing Meat for Cooking

One of the things I’ve learned along the way with meat as I taught myself how to cook was that purchasing good quality USDA inspected wholesome meat is the first and most important step of cooking a delicious meal. After several steps in between purchasing your meat, you will need to know before cooking, which can have a detrimental effect on your finished recipes.

Essential Equipment for Home Butchery

I’ve listed below some of the basic equipment pieces that you’ll find very useful when cutting and preparing meats in your kitchen.

  • Chef’s Knife
  • Paring Knife
  • Boning Knife
  • Knife Sharpener
  • Cutting Board
  • Twine

Simple Butchering Techniques

Below, I will explain the butchering Techniques for butterflying smaller and larger roast, tying roasts, cutting stew meats, and cleaning (peeling) a beef tenderloin.

How to Butterfly Smaller Roasts

Step 1: Begin by holding your chef’s knife parallel to your cutting board, keeping your other hand on top of the tenderloin to steady the meat. Make your first cut halfway up the roast’s side.

Step 2: With gentle, saw-like motions, keep cutting through to the other side of the tenderloin, but stop about one-half-inch away from the meat’s edge to keep the halves attached. Using your hands, open the roast up flat onto your cutting board, then use your chosen recipe’s directions as suggested.

How to Butterfly Larger Roasts

Step 1: Just as you did with the pork loin, keep your knife parallel to your cutting board and use the other to steady the tenderloin. Make the first cut about one-half-inch from the meat’s bottom.

Step 2: With gentle, saw-like motions, keep cutting through the meat, but stop about one-half-inch from the meat’s edge. If you need to, you can peel the meat back as you always work to see where your knife is going.

Step 3: Open up your meat, then keep cutting through it again. Stop about one-half-inch from the meat’s edge. You might need to make some more cuts depending on how large your cut of tenderloin roast it. Do this until you reach the roast’s end, then open it up flat onto the cutting board and use your chosen recipe directions as suggested.

Tying a Roasts with Twine

There are several different types of twine available, my favorite is cotton.

How to Tie a Roast with a Surgeon’s Knot

I’m describing the easiest way to tie your roast, which uses one-inch intervals.

Step 1: Take a long piece of your kitchen twine and run in under your tenderloin widthwise. Stop around an inch’s distance from the farthest end. Make one loop, as if you’re starting to tie your sneakers.

Then, run the end of your piece of twine underneath the single loop again. Pull it down forcefully. Your second loop will help the twine remain in place tightly.

Step 2: While holding the first loop where it should stay, make another knot with the twine, then pull it taut against your tenderloin roast. Use some scissors to cut the twine ends, but leave a tail about a half-inch long.

Repeat this process, creating spaces with the loops of twine about an inch apart until you get to the roast’s end.

How to Tie Roast with a Butcher’s Knot

This knot is a little more difficult. It’s an adjustable slipknot that requires less twine than the previous method.

Step 1: Run the twine length under the roast widthwise, stopping about an inch from the farthest end. If you’re right-handed, keep the twine ball on your left side, which will be called the standing side (and vice versa).

Step 2: Now pass the twine’s right end under the standing side and through the little loop. Pull the right end of the twine to make a knot. Pull and adjust the twine until the knot rests snuggly on the roast.

Step 3: To lock slipknot in place, tie a simple knot, and then trim the excess away. If you’re working with the whole ball of twine, twist a loop on the standing twine, pull the right end of the twine through, and pull down tight.

Trim excess twine and repeat down the roast at 1-inch intervals (or according to recipe instructions).

How to Cube Stew Meat

The best cut for stew meat comes from the shoulder of the animal.

Step 1: Separate your roast into smaller pieces of meat by pulling the tenderloin apart along the fat lines that run through the larger piece. There will be a long fat line that separates the roast’s muscles; you can pull the muscles apart with your hands.

If it becomes too difficult using just your hands, you can cut the pieces away from the fat lines with a chef’s knife.

Step 2: With your boning knife, remove the hard pieces of fat and the silver skin. These parts of the tenderloin will not be able to break down when they’re cooked. The softer fat can remain on the meat because it will melt when the meat is stewed and become a delicious, rich sauce for your roast.

Step 3: Cut the roast into thick slices, anywhere from and one-half-inches to two-inches thick, with a chef’s knife.

Step 4: Continuing to use your chef’s knife, cut the slices into cube shapes. These cubes do not need to be perfectly symmetrical since your roast is not one perfect shape, but it helps keep the size as consistent as possible to ensure even cooking across the pieces.

How to Trim Whole Beef Tenderloin for Roasting

Step 1: Locate the line of hard fat and sinuous muscle, also called the “chain.” Under one end of the “chain,” insert the blade of your boning knife and cut through the meat to the closest end. With that little flap, pull the “chain” away. If need be, you can use your knife for assistance as you pull the meat.

Step 2: Place the tip of either your boning or paring knife barely under the fat line to create another small flap, then tug on this flap to remove the surface fat on your roast with ease. This will also allow you to remove fat without removing any of your meat. If it is too difficult for you to pull the fat away, use a knife to cut the fat without removing the meat carefully.

Step 3: Just under the silver skin’s surface, work your knife’s tip and hold the meat flap while using it to remove the patchy pieces of silver skin. If you leave this silver skin on the roast, it tightens as it cooks and pulls your roast into a curled shape.

Step 4: Remove the chateaubriand with your chef’s knife, located in the tenderloin center, weighing around two to two and one-half pounds. If desired, you can use a ruler to make sure that your roast will fit well in your skillet for browning it.

Take a chef’s knife and use it to cut through both ends of the roast. These steps will leave you with three separate roasts: the tail, the chateaubriand, and the butt tender.

How to Clean Silver Skin off Meats for Roasts

Just under the silver skin on a piece of meat, insert the tip of your paring or boning knife. Cut through enough to make a slit that is one-inch wide. At the same time, holding your knife almost parallel to your cutting board with its blade facing away from your hand holding the roast.

Put the knife tip underneath a piece of the silver skin. Cut through enough to make a slit about one-inch wide.

Using gentle, saw-like motions, cut barely under the sliver skin’s surface. Point the knife away from your hand, holding the meat until you come to the end of the silver skin. You will have created a flap.

With your hands or paper towels, pull up on the small flap and turn the knife, so the blade’s edge faces in the opposite direction. Keep cutting through until the other side, and repeat until all silver skin is gone.

How to Freeze and Thaw Meats

Overall, meat tastes better when it has not been frozen. Freezing in your kitchen’s freezer is a slow process that makes large crystals of ice form. These ice crystals break the meat’s cell walls, which are the tools that allow juices to release from meat when you cook it.

If you choose to freeze meat at home, be sure to wrap it well with plastic and put it into freezer bags, squeezing out all air.

Use your frozen meat within a few months of placing it in your freezer. Thaw your meat by putting it on either a plate or a baking sheet in your refrigerator. Do not thaw your frozen meat on your countertops!

The U.S. Department of Agriculture states that frozen food that has been refrigerator-thawed can safely be refrozen if raw. But this is not recommended because it only furthers the moisture-loss issue.

How to Rinse Meats

Do not rinse raw meat of any kind; rinsing spreads bacteria around your sink instead of rinsing everything down the drain. Brined meats, however, need to be rinsed before cooking them, so make sure you bleach your sink and the surrounding countertops after rinsing the meat. Blot the moisture on your meat with dry, clean paper towels before cooking because excess moisture prevents the meat from browning well.

How to Season Meats

Properly seasoning your meat is a crucial element to making sure it tastes best. Meats should always be seasoned before the cooking process using salt and pepper. You’ll want to make sure you taste the meat before you serve it, adjusting the seasonings levels if you need to. Use pepper with caution after cooking your meat since heat tempers the spice level.

With salt, you can use it for flavor just before cooking the meat. You can also use some salt (and a good bit of time) longer before cooking the meat to better its texture. See the section on “Salting Meat” for more information on that. Personally, I brine leaner pork cuts most often.

How to Salt Meats

I use two different methods to season meat, either salting or brining. Salting is far more convenient (you do not need to put a vat of salted water in your refrigerator), and it does not get in the way of a nicely-browned crust on your meat. This is because no moisture is added to the exteriors of your meat. However, salting meat is a slower process than bringing.

When salt is put onto raw meat, the meat’s juices are pulled to the meat’s surface. Later, the salt dissolves in the liquid that is exuded. This forms a brine, which the meat eventually reabsorbs.

The salt also restructures the meat’s muscle proteins, which allows them to retain more natural juices. Relatively juicy meats or well-marbled meats are optimal choices for salting.

My favorite kind of salt to use for salting meat is kosher salt; it’s much easier to distribute kosher salt evenly. I include the kinds of meats I salt, as well as methods and timings for the process. Reduce the amounts of salt by a third if you’re using Morton brand Kosher Salt.

TimeKosher saltMethod
Lamb Chops, Steaks, and Pork Chops salt for one hour use 3/4 teaspoon for every 8 ounces of meat Apply the salt evenly over your meat and let it rest uncovered at room temperature.
Lamb, Pork, and Beef Roasts salt for a min of six hours and a max of twenty-four hours 1 teaspoon for every pound of meatApply the kosher salt evenly, wrap the meat tightly with plastic wrap, and let it rest in the refrigerator.

How to Brine Meats

Brining is very similar to salting; the sodium content in brine provides seasoning for the meat and protein restructuring, which reduces chewiness and keeps the meat juicy and full of great flavor.

Brining does work more quickly than salting and can create juicier lean cuts because it adds moisture, not simply assists in retaining moisture. It works especially well in pork cuts, such as tenderloin or center-cut pork chops.

I recommend brine pork meat because it has white, more delicate meat that will withstand cooking heat better with the brining. Brining does inhibit meat browning, and it also requires fitting a container for bringing in your refrigerator.

For brine, I prefer table salt because it dissolves easily. I include the cuts of pork I brine and amounts of water needed, and timing notes. When the table salt dissolves, add your meat to the container and put it into the refrigerator. Do not brine for longer amounts of time than directed, or your meat may become too salty.

TimeWaterSalt Four twelve-ounce, bone-in rib loin pork chops about one and one-half-inch thick brine for one hour1/2 quart of water3 Tbsp (see also ‘Grilled Double Bone-In Pork Chop‘).
One three to six-pound pork roastBrine for ninety-minute – two hours 2 quarts of water¼ c.

Stay Safe Learn How to Cleanup and Sanitize

When you’re working with raw meat in your kitchen at home, a crucial step is near the end of the process. This is properly sanitizing and cleaning up your kitchen! Cleaning up the correct way prevents bacteria contamination and foodborne illnesses.

Always Wash Hands Thoroughly

Keeping your hands washed is one of the most effective methods of limiting food bacteria spread. Wash your hands well before and throughout your cooking process, being sure to wash them after handling raw meat or raw poultry.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, commonly known as the FDA, suggests washing for a minimum of twenty seconds in water that is very warm and soapy.

Keep Work Sink Sanitized

Studies show that your kitchen sink harbors much more bacteria than your trash can! Your sink drain alone usually holds about eighteen thousand bacteria every square inch. Your handle for the faucet is a close second for most contaminated since it can transfer old bacteria back into your hands after you wash them. Microbes can live for up to sixty hours in your kitchen, depending on moisture levels, the temperature, and the specific strain of bacteria present.

I use scalding water with lots of soap to be the most effective at getting rid of bacteria in my kitchen. To be very safe, clean your kitchen with a solution of one quart of hot water and one tablespoon of bleach. Bleach will kill drain microbes as well.

How to Keep Sponges Clean and Sanitized

Use a paper towel or a clean dishrag to wipe messes rather than a sponge whenever you can. If you use a sponge to clean up raw meat, make sure that you properly disinfect it.

I experimented with microwaving, bleaching, boiling, and freezing my sponges to find the best method of disinfecting them after they’ve been used for a month in the kitchen. I wash them regularly by running them in the dishwasher or using water and soap, but a disinfectant-style cleaning is needed after bacteria contact.

The most effective disinfecting methods were boiling and microwaving; however, I found boiling for five minutes to be better since microwaves with high enough power can scorch sponges.

How to Clean and Sanitize Cutting Boards

Another important step is making sure your cutting boards are always kept clean to prevent harmful bacteria contamination. Bamboo boards have inherent properties that fight microbes, but cutting boards of any material became clean when well-scrubbed using soapy, hot water.

If you have cutting boards that are dishwasher safe, feel free to clean them by running them in the dishwasher as long as they are not wooden cutting boards.

More Gordon Ramsay How-to -Guides

Gordon Ramsay Lobster Prep (How to Deshell)

Gordon Ramsay Ravioli Filling and Pasta Dough

Gordon Ramsay Fresh Pasta Dough

Gordon Ramsay Beef Guide Buying, Preparing Roasts and Steak

A Guide to Basic Meat Butchering Techniques for Home Cooking

John Siracusa

Cooking, for me, has always been an "art" infused with traditions. My career was inspired by Hell's Kitchen, the West Side of Manhattan, which boasts one of N.Y. City's best independent restaurant communities, along with Gordon Ramsay's no-nonsense approach towards always being your best.

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