A Butcher Shop – WARNING: this post is not recommeded for vegetarians

Last Thursday, I knocked off one of the items on my ‘bucket list’. I have wanted to learn about the art of butchering for years. I know – a little weird – ya gotta know me to love me…

It’s one thing to read about butchering, quite another to actually be in a butcher shop with a great big knife in your hand!

Blaine Henderson, owner of Dean’s Meat in the Saint John City Market, was kind enough to allow me to spend the morning at his shop while he and his staff butchered half a cow. This is the last chance for my vegetarian and vegan readers who ignored the title of this post!

When I arrived, Blaine had my uniform [ a long white cotton  butcher  coat with red apron ] ready for me to wear. I suited up and into the meat cooler, we went.

Most local supermarket meat departments bring in ‘block-ready’ meat. Block-ready meat has been portioned into large sections leaving the meat cutter with only the final portioning. Dean’s Meat uses the traditional ‘swinging’ technique. Blaine explained that he hangs his meat for 21 days before it’s butchered to make sure it has sufficient time to allow the natural enzymes to breakdown the hard connective tissue in meats and for water to evaporate away concentrating the flavor. You can use your own power of deduction to determine where the term ‘swinging’ comes from!

We started with the shoulder which was turned into blade roasts. The bone and cartilage is massive therefore requires the strength of a band-saw. I have to admit, my heart stopped several times as I watched the butchers using the saw to portion the meat. Strict adherence to safety is paramount.

Once the blade roasts were finished, we were back in the cooler ready to move on to the next part of the cow, the rib section. The rib section has ribs 6 though 12. A full 7-bone rib roast, or a whole standing rib roast, can tip the scales at more than 16 pounds!

The band saw is used to remove some of the chine bone.

I learned how to tie a butcher’s knot.

A small notch is cut into each bone to hold the butcher’s twine in place while the roast is being tied. The roast will be left on the bone unless the customer asks for it ‘rolled and tied’. This is how I ask for my prime rib roasts because I want the ribs for flavour but like the ease of carving after the meat has been removed from the bone.

Next, we cut the porterhouse and t-bone steaks which are found below the ribs.

The tenderloin is carefully removed and trimmed. The tenderloin sits just under the spine, so it gets no exercise and is the most tender piece of beef you can buy. Tenderloin come with an incredibly thick layer of exterior fat and a sheath of thin membrane.

As it is the most delicate and expensive part of the cow, it will be kept whole until a customer requests individual steaks. I prefer to roast tenderloin whole, then portion it into steak size servings. This technique only works, if everybody at the table likes their beef cooked to the same doneness.

We ended my lesson with the hind quarter. There was a lively discussion about where the tastiest part of the cow is found. The older butchers liked the less expensive cuts for flavour. ‘but you have to know what you are doing in the kitchen’!. Ain’t it the truth…

We cut bottom round, top round and eye of the round roasts. These cuts make up a big part of the local restaurant deliveries. These cuts have little waste giving them attractive profit margins for chefs.

The rump was deboned, tied and hung back in the cooler.

Dean’s Meat has been in the Henderson family for well over 50 years. The meat shop has earned the wonderful distinction of being a Saint John tradition!

This butcher’s block is proof of a long history of the art of butchering.

Spending the morning with Blaine and his staff was fantastic – a culinary dream fulfilled – THANKS GUYS!

And thank you for reading.

  • Pauline

    How very interesting…and easy to read. This wasn’t on my bucket list but now I have been there with you! Thanks for sharing this experience.

    • It was such an interesting time. Thank you so much for reading!

  • i don’t think this was a weird post at all! I think butchering an animal helps bring us closer to our food and helps us honor the animal we are about to consume. Good on you!

    • Thank you – I was a little concerned…