One of the primary skills you’ll need to tackle on the path to full self-sufficiency as a hunter, is how to process and butcher your own meat. Field dressing is obviously the first step when putting blade to hide, but actually butchering the animal requires a great deal more practice, patience and skill. A great way to amass such skill is by taking a butchering class, but what should you expect to learn in one, and what should you look for on the syllabus? Read on for a deep cut into butchering classes.
Different Types of Game
For a start, it’s important to know what sorts of game you’ll be dicing up. Planning on hunting the whole continent? You’ll likely want to take some classes on butchering each type of animal, so you can cast your net a little more broadly. Strictly an eastern whitetail hunter? You’ll want to choose your class with some care. While any sort of butchering training will be helpful, learning to cut up a boar will not yield nearly as much value as learning specifically on a deer. While this may sound like a simplistic reminder, I’ve known several hunters who signed up for a class assuming it was going to cover one sort of animal, and discovered otherwise walking in.
Butchering Class Skills
Once you’ve determined what sort of game you’re looking to butcher, you’ll be wondering what sorts of skills you’ll learn in a butchering class. While what kind of knife to use is important, as is how to handle it, prime on my list of skills is a solid understanding of muscle groups. While that may sound a little too medical for our purposes, hear me out; there are distinct advantages to learning an animal’s anatomy.
For starters, learning the muscle groups will give you a firm hold on where to start. Rather than simply hacking away at the animal, you’ll have a roadmap of what to remove first, and how to proceed through the musculature. Second, muscle groups have a more-or-less direct correlation to the cuts of meat you are already familiar with. Knowing what constitutes a sirloin, and where the flat-iron steak is located can pay dividends when making the jump from seeing a dead animal as a red mass of muscle, to seeing it as a divisible sum of its parts. Additionally, the connective tissues between the muscles often serve as excellent dividing lines for your cuts, making paring down the animal easier. Despite what preconceived notions you may have about the butchering process, the goal is actually to cut as little meat as possible, to leave the maximum amount for your grill and freezer.
Categories of Meat
The next thing a butchering class should teach you, is the attributes of different muscle groups. Which muscle groups are tender? Which are tough? Which ones lie somewhere in between? There is nothing worse than mistakenly tossing a good quality steak in the ground-meat pile, or conversely, grilling up a tough cut expecting it to melt in your mouth like backstrap. This will also prove beneficial if you move onto different sorts of animals–you will begin to be able to identify the tenderness of meat by color and texture.
Techniques and Methods
Finally, a butchering class should imbue one with actual, hands-on experience processing an animal. From how the workspace should be set up, to the necessary safety precautions, to the correct tools to utilize (put your bowie knives away, folks), a butchering class should give its students the opportunity to learn as they go while under supervision, and leave them with enough confidence to attempt the process on their own. Will you become a master butcher in one class? Of course not. But you should have the knowledge and skills to keep pursuing the practice. This future time behind the knife is where your skills will really be honed.
During these classes, you’ll also learn proper preservation techniques, the importance of vacuum sealing, and which equipment will do the job correctly. We have a full list of recommended equipment from one of our favorite companies, MEAT! Your Maker, listed here. After using these products for several years in the field and at home, we’ve seen great success and highly recommend them for your processing and preserving needs.
If you’re seeking a recommendation for a butchering class, look no further than one of Outdoor Solutions’ From Field to Table events. From butchering to cooking (as the name implies), the experienced chefs and hunters of From Field to Table will fully familiarize you with the process of preparing wild game, whether you’re an accomplished hunter looking to sharpen his skills, or a rank beginner. Check out what they have to offer here.