Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Kitchen Basics - Butchering Larger Cuts of Meat & Saving Money

I try to be savvy when shopping for groceries; I know when the local grocery store ads come out (on Wednesdays,!) and I check them online. I use a store rewards card whenever possible. I pay special attention to meat prices, as the difference between two well-known grocery chains around here is amazing; sometimes it is a difference of over $1.00 per lb! 

One of the easiest ways to save money on meat is to buy a large cut of meat and butcher it yourself. All it takes is a little knowledge, a good knife, and, of course, room to store the meat. A local butcher shop offers monthly meat deals on large cuts of meat, and, if you have a freezer, you can really rack up the savings. 

I recently purchased a boneless pork loin at Sam's Club, and, after viewing some videos online, butchered it down into multiple cuts. From a loin weighing just over 6 lbs, at just under $2.00 per lb, I was able to butcher my own thick-cut chops than run anywhere from $4.00 to $5.00 per lb here in the stores, in addition to a roast, thin breakfast chops, butterflied chops for stuffing, and some cubed pork meat. For only a few minutes of work, I saved a LOT of money. 

This video, from, taught me everything I needed in order to butcher the loin:

How to cut up a whole pork loin Tip from FireCooker on Vimeo.

First, I unwrapped the meat and carefully inspected it to decide where I wanted to make my cuts. It helps immensely to know the anatomy and various butcher cuts of meat; this knowledge will help you understand the differences between cuts and help you determine the best method to cook them. Understanding the ways the muscles were used and realizing that fat=flavor will give you the ability to look at a cut of meat and know immediately if its best suited for a slow braising or a quick pan-searing.

The pork loin is the cut between the shoulder (Boston Butt) and the leg (ham). Between the blade and the sirloin is a single, tender muscle known as the center loin. This loin is boneless; the ribs were trimmed away and not included. 

Partially freezing the meat will make it MUCH easier to slice.

First, I cut out a center roast from the center of the pork loin. Since this is a boneless loin, I didn't need a special knife - I used my favorite chef's knife.

The roast is at the top of this picture. To the left is the blade portion, to the right is the sirloin.

I then cut several thick-cut pork chops from the sirloin. Technically, because the loin is boneless, these would actually be called "cutlets" instead of chops. 

Whenever pan-frying pork with a "fat ring", score the fat in a few places to prevent curling.

I carefully butterflied several of the thick-cut sirloin chops by cutting the pork nearly completely in half, starting from the fat and down through the meat.

Butterflied chops are perfect for stuffing. 

From the blade end, I cut thinner chops, often referred to as "breakfast chops". Again, these should actually be referred to as "cutlets", but most stores still market cutlets as "boneless chops". 

A cut this thin requires a good, sharp knife. This is also where partially freezing the meat REALLY helps.

I cut cubes of pork from the remaining blade; this can be used later on in stir-fries, stews, or in kabobs. 

Finally, I vacuum-sealed all of the different cuts for easy storage in the freezer. A vacuum sealer is wonderful since it removes all of the air from the package, preventing freezer burn. If you don't have a vacuum sealer, you can wrap your meat in plastic wrap, then wrap it again in plastic wrap, before finally wrapping it in foil, making sure to squeeze as much air from the packaging as possible. 

I never freeze meat in its original packaging. I will often break down a family pack of meat as soon as I get home from the store, and re-package and seal it. It takes an extra few minutes, but I never have to waste food or money by throwing away meat with freezer burn.

I LOVE my vacuum-sealer.

This entire process took MAYBE 30 minutes, and most of that time was spent washing up to take photographs. I now have 6lbs of pork, butchered into various cuts, all for the incredible price of $12.00. Next time I go to the store, I will note the prices of the different cuts and update this post, but I can say with great confidence that the total will be WAY more than $12.00.


  1. Thank-you! I just bought one from Sam's club and couldn't remember how to cut it!

    1. Hello I bought one two weeks ago cut it in half froze half. I used my dry rub mixed with brown sugar. I grilled it using indirect heat Charcoal grill and let it slow cook. I then basted it with homemade bbq sauce. Cooked to 145 interior let it rest then sliced thin on nice buns just like a bbq briskett .Adding more sauce on the bun. OMG wow turned out wonderful!

  2. I use my Best Vacuum Sealer constantly. I can buy meat at low prices in those huge packages, then come home and separate it into portions we will really use, without worrying about freezer burn. I use it to freeze berries in summer, so I can make jam in the winter, rather than during the worst of the heat.
    Produce from my garden gets blanched, flash frozen, and then Best Vacuum Sealer. Likewise dried fruits and berries. I freeze soup in three cup portions in a low sided plastic dish, then knock the block of soup out of the container and vacuum seal it for long term storage