Walking into a butcher shop is an intimidating prospect. We’ve been largely disassociated from our meat processing over the last few decades — with cellophane and polystyrene packaging showcasing cuts of meat, all trimmed and ready to go. Add to that a fairly narrow selection of cuts available in our grocery stores, and many of us are left with a limited knowledge of the depth and complexity of a full side of beef.
With food culture becoming such a large part of modern life, there’s been a push to “know your food” — including where it’s from and how it’s processed. Bon Appétit understood this impulse and released a comprehensive video to break down (literally) of everything you need to know about a side of beef.
The video spares no part of the butchering process. The class opens with master butcher Jason Yang heaving the round, loin, rib, and chuck onto his butcher block. Yang walks us through the breakdown of muscle, sinew, and bone of each of the four main sections on his half steer. Yang also offers a handy voice-over guide to some of the best ways to prepare the cuts in a general setting — as in, braising the shank a la osso buco or roasting the femur for its marrow. Besides a crash course in cuts, knowing how best to use those cuts is the most valuable part of the video.
What becomes shockingly evident immediately is the sheer amount of cuts and meat in a side of beef. The round alone produces eight cuts of meat. One of the most interesting is the often chef and butcher only cut — the Oyster Steak. Yang calls it a “very tender, juicy, tasty little cut that’s actually a nice butcher’s cut that we normally take home.” We know what we’re asking for the next time we hit the butcher.
Yang proceeds to trim and brace the cuts of meat so that they’re showcase ready for sale section by sectoon. By the end of the breakdown, Yang has 36 cuts of beef ready for your pot, grill, skillet, and barbecue. And now we’re hungry.
36 separate cuts of beef is a lot to remember. And that’s before you get into pork, lamb, game, and fowl. It’s probably best to study up with this handy video and then hit the butcher shop. Spend some time sampling the cuts until you land on a few favorites to add to your rotation of recipes. We’d also recommend focusing on free range and grass fed beef as much as possible.