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Why I butcher my own meat

Sandy Smith is a food writer, editor, recipe developer, and pastry chef. She lives in New York's Mid-Hudson Valley with her awesome family of painfully honest, unfailingly supportive taste-testers.

Get thrifty, green and gratified

Why are more women learning how to butcher their own meat? Maybe it's the influence of the late, great Julia Child, who made no bones (pun!) about the fact that women should be able to deal with their own protein -- finned, feathered, and furred.

Raw meat

Or perhaps it's due to the surging popularity of buying farm-raised meat that must be broken down into smaller cuts by the home cook. Possibly, it's because we'd like to know exactly what's going into the hamburger patties we're putting into our mouths, and the mouths of our children.

My first experience butchering an animal was intimidating. On the table in front of me, my half of a split lamb carcass had been laid out on a sheet of butcher's paper. I scanned the meat, searching for a part I could recognize.

Four hours later, I had replaced that skinned carcass with piles of chops, shanks, stew meat, boneless leg roasts, ribs, ground meat, and a few other identifiable cuts, all neatly wrapped in white freezer paper and carefully labeled. I was exhausted and intensely satisfied. And I was smitten.

Why butchering matters

In the proverbial "old country," my grandmother butchered her own chickens and rabbits, and it wasn't too long ago that every self-respecting housewife knew how to debone a leg of lamb or dress a roasting chicken properly. Conveniently packaged and even precooked meats have made meat-fabrication skills nearly obsolete for the home cook. But in spite of this, women's interest in butchering is clearly on the rise.

For me, it was all of these things, plus a growing need for accountability. I enjoy meat and don't feel guilty about eating it, but if something has to die to nourish me, shouldn't I at least take some responsibility for that sacrifice? To me, acknowledging it is necessary as an act of good stewardship, which is difficult when all that's required is removing cellophane.

So, like a burgeoning number of other women, I made the decision to get in touch, literally, with my food. And that's when I sought help from a class, "Behind the Meat Counter," at the Culinary Institute of America. The composition of the class was about 3 men to each woman, but the women were every bit as enthusiastic and capable as the men.

Butchering benefits

Purchasing large cuts of meat, whether from a farmer's market or a wholesale club, and cutting them down to portion size is economical and gratifying. To know that you will pay bottom dollar for pork chops of custom thickness, to know exactly what's in your ground beef, and to be able to preside at the table where guests exclaim over your expertly frenched rack of lamb is the reason more and more women are donning aprons and sharpening their boning knives.

If you're interested in boning up on your butchering skills, check out some of these classes.

Learn to Butcher

Culinary Institute of America, Behind the Meat Counter

Culinary Institute of America, Poultry: From Roosters to Roasters

Fleisher's Grass-fed and Organic Meats, Butcher Training

The Brooklyn Kitchen, The Meat Hook

Avedanos, Butchery for Adults

Ryan Farr, Butcher Classes

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