When it came time to butcher our two Berkshire-cross pigs recently, we had a lot of decisions to make. Did we want to sell any of the meat? How much of it were we willing to sell? Would we butcher it ourselves? How would we butcher it? What cuts did we want? How would we make sausage? Or bacon? We did a lot of research, but eventually decided that hiring a butcher was the best choice for us. And I’m glad we did. Here are some reasons why:
When an animal is professionally butchered, it is hung in a refrigerator for a period of time before it is broken down into cuts. This hanging time is known as aging. As the meat ages, it begins to decompose, which breaks down the muscle fibers and makes the meat more tender. Small animals like chickens only need to age for a day or two. Large animals like cows need to age for at least 14 days. Pigs should usually be aged 3-4 days. We simply don’t have the refrigeration space for two grown pigs. We could have skipped the aging process, but it would have meant less tender meat. Some people do age their pigs by packing them on ice in large coolers, but it requires continuous supervision to make sure the meat stays cold. It also requires large coolers, which I do not have.
Lack of Space
While we have a lot of trees outside to hang a pig from, we have very little space inside to lay out a pig and break it down. While it wouldn’t have been impossible to break the pig down while it was hanging, it would have been more difficult to get the nice cuts I wanted, plus it would have increased our chances of cutting ourselves with our knives. Even cutting the pig into sections, then bringing those sections into the house would have been a daunting task. We would have to break down, package, and store the pig a section at a time. It would have taken a lot of time. That would have increased the chances of insects, bacteria, and predators getting to the meat still hanging outside.
Availability of Cuts
While culinary school taught me how to expertly break down a chicken, we didn’t get a lot of training on large livestock. We did study the parts of the pig and where the different cuts come from, but we never actually broke down a pig. I’m sure I could have done a decent job with my knife cuts, but my lack of experience would have shown. I also do not have a bone saw, which would make certain cuts like pork chops, shoulder steaks and smaller roasts nearly impossible. I really wanted the ease of going to my freezer, grabbing a pack of pork chops, and going on my merry way. Plus, we did plan to sell some of the pork to friends, so nicely cut and packaged cuts would make the meat more marketable. Then, there was the bacon. I know that bacon comes from the belly, but I don’t know how to cut that pork belly so I get a nice slab of bacon without a lot of extra fat. Plus, my butcher is letting me bring the bacon home, cure and smoke it, and bring it back to him to be sliced. I don’t have a slicer at home, so a butcher was the best way to get usable, thin slices of bacon.
Making sausage would have required equipment I didn’t have readily available. I want to get a meat grinder for my KitchenAid mixer, but I don’t have one yet. I could have borrowed a manual grinder from my neighbor, but it wasn’t an attractive option. Plus, grinding my own meat probably would have meant using one or more of my pork roasts. My butcher expertly used extra bits of meat from all over the pigs to make our sausage. He knew which parts of the pig made the best sausage. Plus, he already had the recipes to make good tasting sausage. We got 20 pounds of sausage without having to sacrifice any of our large roasts. We could have gotten more if I had let him use the ham hocks for the sausage, but I wanted them for making soup.
The only downside is that he didn’t have the ability to put any of the sausage in casing for us to make bratwursts or Italian sausages. It is something I would like to have at some point. I guess that’s more incentive for me to get my own meat grinder.
Selecting a Butcher
Probably the most difficult part about hiring a butcher is finding and getting into contact with a reputable one. In my experience, it seems as if the popular ones are too busy to answer the phone. Then there are the ones with reputations for selling some of your meat without your permission or not even giving you back your own meat. The best option is to ask other pork producers in your area who they recommend. I was lucky to have two families I knew who had their pigs butchered recently and could give me recommendations. If you don’t know anyone, you can also call your county agricultural extension office. If you live near Zephyrhills, Florida, I can’t say enough good things about Weicht’s Slaughter House. Their number is (813) 782-1878.
I’m really happy with our decision to hire a butcher to process our pigs. Yes, we paid money for a service that we could have done ourselves, but I think it was worth it. We will definitely be hiring a butcher in the future.