How to Butcher Beef: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

Butchering beef yourself can save money and allow you to use every part of the animal. While it takes time and practice to master the skill, following basic butchering techniques can help you break down a side of beef into roasts, steaks, and other usable cuts.

Benefits of Butchering Your Own Beef

Butchering beef offers many advantages:

  • Cost savings – Buying a whole animal is cheaper than purchasing individual retail cuts.

  • Quality control – You can select the exact grade and breed of cattle you want.

  • Sustainability – Using the entire carcass reduces waste.

  • Variety – You can cut steaks, roasts, and other items to your preferences.

  • Skills – Learn valuable homesteading skills for self-sufficiency.

With some basic equipment and training, you can enjoy farm-fresh beef for a fraction of the grocery store cost.

Beef Butchering Equipment

Proper tools make the job easier and safer:

  • Knives – Boning, breaking, steak, and trimming knives. Keep sharp.

  • Saws – Bone saw, bandsaw, or hacksaw for cutting through bones.

  • Cutting board – Large, sturdy boards to work on. Wood or plastic.

  • Meat hooks – Hang and move carcass sections.

  • Freezer paper – Wrap cuts.

  • Sanitizer – Bleach solution for cleaning tools and surfaces.

Also have a large table or scaffold to work on and containers to hold cuts. Wear an apron, closed toe shoes, and cut-resistant gloves for safety.

Butchering Setup

Follow these steps to set up your butchering workspace:

  • Hang the carcass – Use a gambrel to hang the half or quarter beef from a strong beam or tripod at about waist height.

  • Sanitize tools and surfaces – Use a diluted bleach solution to kill bacteria. Rinse.

  • Chill the meat – Let beef hang at 34-40°F for 7-14 days to allow enzymes to tenderize.

  • Sharpen knives – Use a steel or electric sharpener for razor-sharp edges.

  • Organize supplies – Place cutting boards, knives, saws, hooks, and containers within easy reach.

Proper sanitation and having your tools and supplies ready will make the process smooth.

Primary Beef Cuts

Beef is first divided into large primal cuts:

  • Chuck – Shoulder area

  • Rib – Rib cage section

  • Short loin – Contains the tenderloin

  • Sirloin – Hip

  • Round – Rear leg

  • Brisket and shank – Breast

  • Flank – Lower chest

Identify these main areas on the carcass. You will break them down further.

Butchering Steps

Follow these key steps to break down a side of beef:

  1. Remove flank steak – Slice this thin cut away from the lower chest.

  2. Separate short loin – Cut between the 12th and 13th ribs to remove the short loin.

  3. Remove brisket – Detach the brisket plate by cutting under the point end.

  4. Split rib section – Use a saw to cut the rib primal in half.

  5. Separate chuck and shoulder – Cut behind the 5th rib to remove the chuck.

  6. Remove round – Detach the hindquarter near the pelvic bone.

  7. Trim fat and cut steaks – Clean off silver skin and excess fat. Slice roasts and steaks.

Throughout the process, collect trimmings for ground beef. Chill cuts prior to packaging.

Cutting Steaks

With the primal cuts separated, you can start slicing steaks:

  • Ribeye – Cut from the rib section, ideally 1-1 1⁄2 inches thick.

  • New York Strip – Cut from short loin. Leave some fat for flavor.

  • Tenderloin – Trim whole tenderloin and cut into 1 inch filets.

  • Flank – Slice across the grain into 3⁄4 inch strips.

  • Sirloin – Cut 1⁄2 to 1 inch steaks against the grain.

  • Chuck eye – Similar to ribeye but with more fat. Cut 1-1 1⁄2 inches.

Always slice against the grain for tenderness. Use a sharp, thin-bladed knife.

Boning and Trimming

Removing bones and fat improves many cuts:

  • Brisket – Remove thick breastbone by cutting close to bone. Trim fat cap.

  • Short ribs – Cut between bones into individual ribs.

  • Chuck roll – Remove shoulder blade bone, trim and tie into a roast.

  • Round – Remove major muscles whole for roasts.

  • Flank – Lay flat and trim away exterior fat, membranes, and glands.

Aim for uniform cuts with fat trimmed to 1⁄4 inch. Save excess fat for rendering into tallow.

Packaging and Storing Beef

Properly store cuts to maintain freshness:

  • Chill thoroughly before wrapping – Meat should be 34-40°F.

  • Use freezer paper – Wrap each cut tightly in 2-3 layers of freezer paper.

  • Label packages – Include name of cut and date.

  • Freeze for long term storage – Most cuts last 9-12 months in the freezer.

  • Refrigerate for short term – Store for 2-4 days in the fridge before freezing.

With practice, you can break down an entire cow into steaks, roasts, and ground meat for just pennies per pound. Enjoy the pride and satisfaction of utilizing the entire animal.

Butchering Mistakes to Avoid

Steer clear of these common butcher blunders:

  • Not chilling meat before cutting – Leads to messy, inaccurate cuts.

  • Using dull knives – Causes ragged cuts and requires more force.

  • Cutting across the grain – Results in chewy, tough meat. Always slice against the grain.

  • Leaving too much fat – Excess fat leads to waste. Trim to no more than 1/4 inch.

  • Rushing the process – Take your time and focus on precision.

  • Forgetting to label packages – Mystery meat is disappointing. Always label with name and date.

  • Freezing before chilling – Causes freezer burn. Chill meat before freezing.

With careful attention to detail and proper technique, you can avoid these mistakes.

FAQs About Butchering Beef

What tools do I need to butcher a cow?

At a minimum, you’ll need a boning knife, breaking knife, handsaw, hooks, cutting board, freezer paper, and sanitizer solution. A bandsaw also helps tremendously for sawing through bones.

Where should I start when butchering a side of beef?

It’s best to start at the flank end and work toward the round. Remove the flank steak first, then work through separating the brisket, chuck, ribs, short loin, and hindquarter.

What’s the easiest beef cut to butcher?

The flank steak is the easiest since it’s just a matter of slicing off the thin flank muscle. Brisket and round are also fairly simple primary cuts to separate.

Can I butcher a cow by myself?

While challenging, it is possible for one person to butcher an entire cow if you have good tools and setup. However, it’s much easier with two people, so find an experienced partner if possible.

How long does it take to butcher a whole cow?

Allow 8-12 hours for a full side of beef. Experienced butchers can get it done faster, while beginners will be on the slower end of that range. Give yourself plenty of time.

Whether you want to save money, reduce waste, or just learn a valuable skill, butcher your beef at home. Use the right approach and tools to turn a whole carcass into steaks, roasts, and ground beef for your family.

How to Butcher a Cow | ENTIRE BREAKDOWN | by The Bearded Butchers!


How long before a cow is ready to butcher?

Growth hormones, antibiotics and a diet of corn or other grains quickly fatten cattle for market. Today, it takes as little as 12 or 14 months to grow a beef cow to slaughter weight. That’s about half the time it used to take.

How old should a beef cow be to butcher?

American beef comes mostly from steers and heifers slaughtered between 18 and 24 months old. Young cattle are prized for their tenderness and mild flavor. The more highly marbled—meaning the more white dots of fat within the lean, red meat—the better.

What are the steps in butchering meat?

Slaughter: stunning, bleeding, skinning, eviscerating, and cleaning; end products are carcass halves or quarters, which go into a cooler for immediate chilling. Edible and inedible offal are separated and enter various streams (rendering, compost, tanneries, trash, etc.);

How many cuts of meat do you get from a cow?

There are 8 main primal cuts of beef: chuck, rib, loin (consisting of the short loin and the sirloin), round, flank, plate, brisket, and shank. Divided by groups of muscles, the meat from each primal has its own unique flavor, texture, and level of fat and marbling due to how hard the muscles were worked.

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