How to get the most from your grass fed beef on butcher day. When you're raising or purchasing your own beef, you want to make sure you're getting as most from it as possible, but many people don't know there are quite a few cuts of meat you should be getting right on butcher day.
We're starting our series on grass fed home raised beef for those of you who are raising your own beef or if you want to find a local farmer to purchase your beef from. We're going to walk through what you need to know about butcher day regardless if it's your own cow or if you're purchasing it from a farmer.
Recently I shared a photo on Instagram and Facebook of when we were picking up our beef for the year and many people asked questions about butcher day, what you need to know about your cut and wrap order in order to get the most out of your meat.
This is Part 1 of our series, for Part 2 Getting the Best Cuts of Meat on Your Cut & Wrap Order click here
Listen in below to the full podcast, Episode #214 Grass Fed Beef – What You Need to Know on Butcher Day of the Pioneering Today Podcast, where we don’t just inspire you, but give you the clear steps to create the homegrown garden, pantry, kitchen and life you want for your family and homestead.
I grew up raising our own beef having grown up on a cattle farm. My dad always raised our beef. In fact, when I was growing up our herd, at the peak, was about 120 cattle. Once I got married, for a short period of time, I just got beef from my dad. My husband and I quickly decided that we needed to raise our own beef. I was 18 when I married my husband and had never managed a household on my own before. You know, cooking and all that stuff that goes into having a house. So that first year we had gotten beef from my dad and I didn't realize that I should have been a little bit more conservative with how I was using our hamburger so we ran out way before butcher time.
When is the Best Time to Butcher?
Typically, most people will butcher in the fall because the cattle are at their fattest so they have the most amount of meat on them. They have the most fat on them and in times of old they would butcher in the fall because that was when the weather was going to be cold enough that they could age the meat and then it would keep through the winter. You can butcher anytime of the year, but most of your home growers and cattle ranchers and smaller farms still usually butcher in the fall. This is true for us because we don't have to feed those animals hay yet so they're on the gain. You want them to be on the gain as they're gaining weight. Whey you butcher, you don't want them to be losing weight before you hit that butcher date. You want them coming off those great summer pastures. This puts us butchering at the end of September, usually through October, and sometimes the beginning of November, depending on the year and the weather.
So if you run out of a certain cut of meat before butcher date, like I did with the hamburger that first year of my marriage, you may be tempted to go to the store like I did. Having been raised on home grown grass fed beef I had honestly never cooked anything else. I'd never cooked store bought meat. Now, we went to a restaurant or a friend's house or something like that, I had store bought meat, but I had never really cooked it and didn't eat it very often. So when I went and bought some hamburger for us and it was fine. There was nothing wrong with the meat. But, when I cooked it, I could not believe how much liquid came out of it. And it just had a weird odor and the taste was horrible.
We vowed then and there that we would never run out of homegrown beef again, especially hamburger. After that experience I got better about knowing how much we went through and how to plan out my cooking to make it last. We decided that we wanted to raise our own grass fed beef because there was no way we were eating that stuff from the store again.
Should You Butcher Yourself or Hire It Out?
We don't butcher our cows ourselves and there are a couple different reasons for that. One, we don't have cold storage space in order to let the animal age and to hang properly. I'll go into more on this because this is something you need to know regardless of whether you're doing your own butchering if it's your own cattle or if you're getting the beef from somewhere else. This is what you want to talk to the farmer or your butcher about in order to get the absolute best flavor as well as tender texture on your meat.
Where we live, we have a traveling butcher. They come out to our farm and kill and gut the cattle. They bleed it right on site. Then they take the hanging carcass in a large refrigerated truck to the actual location of the butcher. Whether you or the butcher does the actual kill shot, you want to make sure that the animal is in as a relaxed state as possible. That there is no adrenaline flood because it can taint the meat. A lot of people feel that it gives an off flavor to the meat so it's really important that your animals are calm.
This is one of the reasons that we have the butcher actually come to our location. If it's your cattle, start practicing feeding them in a round pen or where the butcher is going to be coming so that the animals are used to that enclosure. We don't want the butcher to have to chase them all over the field, especially if you have cattle that are not going to be butchered. You want to make sure that you have them separated out so that it's very easy for the butcher to just focus on the cows that are being butchered.
We begin feeding ours in the round pen about a week to two weeks leading up to our butcher date so that they're used to being in that enclosure and coming to their food. The day of butchering you'll separate the cows that are going to be butchered from those who will not. They'll stay where the feed its while the rest of them go out of the pen. The butcher will give you the approximate time that they will arrive so that you can be sure to have them separated. He'll then be able to do a quick kill shot so there's no stress on the animal.
What Will You Get on Butcher Day?
On butcher day, there are some cuts of the animal that you will get right then and there, the rest of the cow will go to the butcher to be processed later for cut and wrap.
1. Organ Meats
You will get the organ meats. This is true if you are purchasing the animal from a farmer or your own home raised cattle. If purchasing from a farmer, you'll need to ask for these cuts. So we're referring to the following:
The butcher may ask you if you want them, but if not, be sure to request them if you do want them. The organ meats can be a great source of iron and have a lot of great nutrients in them, but I have to be honest with you, I personally do not care how you prepare liver…I don't like it. We've tried soaking it in milk and fried up with onions. I don't like the smell of liver nor the flavor. Some people get it and they'll cook it up and feed it to their dogs. Totally your choice if you want to make sure you're using all parts of the animal, but from personal experience, we don't like to eat the liver so that's not one we get.
Now, the tongue makes excellent sandwiches. It does look like a tongue and you do have to skin it and then prepare it. Cook it and then slice it thin and it makes great sandwich meat. Then there is the heart. One that we don't usually use and keep is the brain. The brain can be sauteed, pan fried, boiled…it has a lot of nutrients in there. But it is not one that we personally use here on the homestead. You obviously want to make sure that it does not have mad cow disease. Now, with your home grown using good grass fed practices that's not something you're really gonna have a problem with, but I wouldn't purchase brain just from the store if you don't know how the animal was raised. Brain is also high in cholesterol.
So these are the most commonly known cuts that people are familiar with that you'll be getting on day of butchering. You'll want to have some type of container to put them in. We just take out a couple of large stainless steel bowls. The butcher puts them right into our bowls and we take them into the house to put them in the fridge or prepare right then and there, depending on what we're doing. If you're getting your beef from a farmer, they'll put it in some plastic bags.
2. Hanging Tenderloin
One of the cuts that people aren't familiar with that you get on butcher day is called the hanging tenderloin. We call it the hanging tender. It can also be referred to as the hanger steak. This is one that you're going to want to get and you do have to request it on butcher day. It's a connective muscle and it's where the last rib and the spine connect to the diaphragm of the cow so it has good flavor. It's probably a stronger flavor than you're used to in most of your steak and beef cuts, but i'ts really good. In fact, it's one of our favorites. We really enjoy it and you only get one of these per animal, kind of like the organ meat.
We prefer to grill ours to about a medium. When we pull it off the grill we put some butter on it and cover it up and let that butter soak in. Then slice it thinly along the grain. It's a little bit chewier than a regular rib steak or a New York or even the tender side of a T-bone steak, but it is really a good flavor so I highly recommend getting that. It's usually large enough that we get two meals out of it. Obviously the is dependent on the size of your family. Most butchers don't automatically ask you if you want this cut; you have to tell them that you want the hanging tender.
You definitely want to take the oxtail. It has a decent amount of meat on it, but it makes the best bone broth and then soup you'll ever have. This is a cut that a lot of people don't ask for or don't use and it's such a shame.
Soup Using Oxtail
Put oxtail in Instant Pot with:
any herbs you would normally put in for making bone broth
Use high pressure for about one hour. Let it release the pressure naturally. Pull out the oxtail (it's definitely a fatty cut, but it's delicious because of this) and let it cool down enough to handle it. Strain the broth. Discard the vegetables.
Remove the meat from the fat, connective tissue, and bone. Save the meat and toss the rest.
To make the soup:
herbs such as rosemary, oregano, and sage
Put vegetables and herbs in the bone broth. Simmer until the vegetables are soft.
Add the meat and any other seasonings, like salt and pepper, smoked paprika, and a tiny pinch of chili powder.
If you don't have an Instant Pot you can do the same thing in a slow cooker or a large stock pot on the stove, but you'll need to simmer it on low for a lot longer in order to get all of the good collagen and the gelatin and the flavors out of that oxtail and for the meat to be fully cooked.
This is one of the best soups I've ever had. It's fabulous. When I had members of the Pioneering Today Academy at my home this fall I made a big pot of soup so that everybody could taste it. A lot of them hadn't had it before and were so surprised at how delicious and flavorful it was. It's a great overlooked piece of meat that you definitely want to get.
Dry Aging Gives the Best Flavor
So those are the cuts you can get the day of butchering. The rest you want to make sure that the beef is dry aged in cold storage for a long period of time. Ideally at least 21 days, which is three weeks, provided the animal has enough of a fat layer on it. Sometimes when you're doing grass fed beef, they don't have as much fast as a lot of the grain fed commercially raised. This is fine with me as I don't want a grain fed raised animal. If you're buying your beef from a local farmer you want to make sure that it is grass fed and that it's grass finished. Most small local farmers do this but there are some that will do grass fed but then as it comes closer to butcher time they finish them on grain.
In order to get the best flavor, you want it to be dry aged. Some butcher shops will do seven to 14 days.We always specify, as long as they have the space, that we want it to go as close 21 days as possible. But you want a minimum of 14 days hanging time for that cool dry aging. The reason for that is that there are enzymes in the meat and as it ages the enzymes break down the meat making it more tender. And the flavor is much improved.
When people say that they tried grass fed beef or home raised beef and didn't like it or thought it tasted gamey, my guess is that it was not dry aged correctly or for long enough. You'll want to double check with the farmer or butcher that they are aging that beef for at least two, if not three, weeks.
Why Buy a Cow or Raise Your Own?
One of the beautiful things about buying your beef this way is you'll either get a whole beef or a half a beef, some farmers will even do a quarter. What you buy will depend on the size of your family and how much you need to get through a year. It is extremely economical because you are paying the same price per pound for all the cuts of meat so you're not paying more for those prime cuts and it's usually always been cheaper. Anytime I have ever priced meat it has always been cheaper to go the home grown route, even if you're purchasing it from a local farmer.
Then you're only going shopping once or twice a year and you'll have a freezer full of meat. We put most of ours in the freezer but there are some cuts that I definitely can up.
One of the questions I get a lot is how much freezer space do I need to hold this much meat? I have a fabulous free freezer space guide for meat chart here Click here to download It has not only beef but many other types of meat and gives approximate cubic feet space requirements for whole, half and quarter of beef.
On our next episode in the series we'll be getting into the nitty gritty of calling in your cut and wrap order to the butcher and learn what the different cuts are so that you can make sure you're chosing the best cuts for you and your family. We'll also go over what you need to tell them you want that they necessarily won't just give to your that you'll need to request.
Preorder the Family Garden Plan: Raise a Year’s Worth of Sustainable and Healthy Food and all the bonuses to grow your own food here . You’ll learn cold frames and season extenders, composting, and so much more!