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May 4, 2008 10:13 PM



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  1. You need to ask your supplier how the meat is cut. I know that when we buy a whole lamb, for instance, we get a choice of how we'd like the legs, chops, shoulder etc. How much is ground up, which bits are cut up for stew, etc., etc. With beef, in a quarter you'll get either a front quarter or a rear quarter. The rear yields more of the typically tender cuts - sirloin etc. The front gives you chuck, brisket - that kind of thing. You probably should first look at a diagram of a cut beef (meat is cut differently in the US, Canada and Europe, so make sure you're dealing with the right country) and then decide which bits you'll use most of. And how much hamburger you want compared to how much stewing beef because often they come from the same part, only treated differently.

    1. Oh heck.. you mean buying a dead steer.. I was all ready to advise you on the finer points of dairy cow selection! Well.. I guess you're not interested in what to look for in udder attachment or foot health!

      2 Replies
      1. re: fromagina

        Half or quarter of a dairy cow would be, well, kinda useless I think. I mean, for milk, that is.

        1. re: Nyleve

          LOL! The first time I bought a cow it came on the hoof with a working udder! We do buy a beef calf nearly every year and soupkitten's advice fits what we do, which is go over it with the butcher. My bible re. meat cuts is CUTTING-UP in the KITCHEN by Merle Ellis (1975, Chronical Books). I don't know if it's still in print but you might check e.bay or Amazon or your library. It would help you decide whether the fore or aft half would suit your tastes, and you'd get a good idea how to direct the butcher. Maybe other chowhounds know of more recent books on the subject.

      2. you can specify to some degree the cuts you would like (if you get more steaks than roasts, stew and ground, you'll pay a little more). often the farmer will give you a form to fill out, or the butchers will call you. make sure to remember to specify if you'd like specific parts, like tongue, tail, feet, or you may not get these.

        1. Many years ago jfood's local butcher whispered that he had some "extra" beef coming in (he's from NJ you figure it out). The butcher gave jfood a "hot" price for a 1/4 cow, so jfood wanted to help out (and it was not exactly offered in the form of a question, but a statement) so he gleefully agreed. It was a heck of a lot of beef. All nicely cut and wrapped in butcher paper and lasted for a real long time.

          You may want to ask how many pounds you'd be taking, how it would be cut and packaged and then make sure you have the storage space.

          16 Replies
          1. re: jfood

            The first thing this thread made me think of was that classic episode of I Love Lucy where she buys a deep freezer and two sides of beef then ends up trapped in the walk-in. Too funny!
            Then Jfood talks about his NJ butcher and it immediately reminds me of the scene where the woman in the butcher shop discreetly approaches customers in line and tries to sell them cheaper meat out of a baby carriage.
            Needless to say I hope your experience goes a bit more smoothly. In the past, my Pappaw has bought a half cow and got just that. It included everything, chuck, brisket, shank, sirloin, flank, round, ribs, organ meats, and some bones too. I'm sure there were probably more, but that's all I recall from organizing the deep freeze. I actually thought the inclusion of the bones was a mistake, but apparently they can be thrown into soup.

            1. re: ArikaDawn

              Hahahaha - the last time we bought a lamb we were out of town when it was delivered, so they just dropped the box into the chest freezer in the garage. When we got home there was this hysterical message from the person who we bought it from - apologizing profusely because when you opened the box of meat the first thing you saw was the head. A whole, skinned lamb head, complete with eyeballs. Fortunately I hadn't opened the freezer yet so I sent my husband out to deal with it.

              And what does he do? He brings it into the kitchen and puts it on the counter.

              Oddly enough, we're still married.

              1. re: Nyleve

                So.. how did you prepare that lamb's head? I like to marinate it in lemon juice, garlic (lots and lots), plenty of black pepper, marjoram, thyme, sea salt, and olive oil; then wrap it all about with rosemary branches, and roast it over indirect heat in the Weber.. baste often with the scalded marinade. The best part is fighting over the cheek meat. No.. I leave the eyes to the old men who love to gross out the kids.

                ademosst, are you getting at least half of the beef head and at least two of the feet? Great for head cheese.

                1. re: fromagina

                  I was just sorry that I didn't have anyone I needed to threaten by tucking that head under their bedcovers...

                  I can handle tongue - just. But the rest of the head contents are just beyond my comfort zone, eatingwise. I believe we buried it in the yard.

                  1. re: Nyleve

                    True story:

                    jfood was sitting in Commander's Palace last weekend and one of the dishes was "Sauteed Sheep Head with..."

                    What the heck is that, jfood thinking he would have his meal staring back at him like a Steven King movie. Then he learned that Sheep Head is a breed of fish in the Gulf of Mexico. And BTW - it was VERY good.

                    1. re: jfood

                      LOL.. That would be sheepshead, as in the bay in Brooklyn...


                      Sheep's head on a menu would more likely be Capozzelli, and it would have to be at a VERY Italian restaurant, or more likely, some one's home...

                      1. re: ChefBoyAreMe

                        Actually used two words and agreed it sounded like the Brooklyn 'hood. There used to be a pretty good fish restaurant in Sheepshead Blyn that the waiter clung to the utensils like the dickens.

                    2. re: Nyleve

                      A sheep's head under the covers is a warning from whom? Maybe the Basque mafia?

                      So you missed out on the joys of being an immigrant's grandchild? When I was still a toddler, I was scrubbing the grass out the teeth in beef heads so Grandpa could make head cheese. I remember being the one who had to clean out the robins and meadowlarks the old Russians had netted, because my hands were small enough. By the time I reached the age where other kids had learned to say "EEeeeewwwww" I could peel and slice a tongue. I finally learned to say "eeewww" when I tasted lungs and spleen cooked together! Not much else phases, though!

                    3. re: fromagina

                      fromagina, I think it is sad when people by and large can no longer experience the joy of roasting a whole goat/cow/hog head and then sitting around consuming slices and picked out parts of each delectable part! To me it is the ultimate respect for the animal we consume... and so good, so varied, .......

                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                        Very few people have a chance to experience what you have, Sam. At least those of us who live in suburban localities. I wonder how any of this translates to us.... who do not have access to global travel.

                        Is it a shame that more people don't seek out a varitey of ethnic food to eat?

                        1. re: Gio

                          Oh, Gio, please don't get me wrong! I'm responding to people who have confronted/had the opportunty to do something with a perefectly good head, but have rejected it and quickly buried it in the garden instead.

                          I gather from CH that there are many of us who, in suburban America, would toss out an OP saying, "My SO (that jackass!) just stayed up all night in a poker game and brought back his winnings, a complete cow's head. What should I do?"

                          My sentiment is let us help each other in really enjoying such foods

                        2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                          Oooo - no no no - I am not the grandchild of an immigrant. I am the child of an immigrant. Hungarian. So many memories of embarassing school lunches (mashed eggplant on rye bread, red peppers and cream cheese on pumpernickel); so much cold jellied carp; sweet and sour tongue; pecha (jellied calves feet with lots and lots of garlic); lung - yes, lung. I don't know exactly how she made it but there was this chopped up lung dish in a sort of sauce...Did I say ewwww? Not until I turned into a teenager and discovered what a freak I was compared to all my "normal" American friends who were happily feeding on Rice-a-Roni and cheeseburgers. My father had a vegetable garden in the back yard where all the other kids dads had a barbecue pit. So the sheep's head? My mother would have had that thing cooked in a second. Me - not so much. I think it's the eyes. And the brains.

                          1. re: Nyleve

                            Wonderful! My mother was the first generation "American" who loved her headcheese on black bread until she started school and had to deal with the "eeeewwww"s; then she begged her mother for Devilled Ham on white bread. I must have been a throwback to my peasant roots because I adored and still adore my "real" food. Oh.. that mashed eggplant on rye bread, red peppers and cream cheese on pumpernickel is making my mouth water! Yes.. I can see where those exposed eyes could disturb.. I think I was exposed at such a young age that it never phased me.

                            1. re: Nyleve


                              You owe it to yourself to try some barbacoa de cabeza (lit. barbecued head) one of these days. No eyeballs, tongue, or brains, just slow-cooked meat neck, cheeks, etc. Served on a taco, there's no indication what part of the steer was involved. But the taste is inimitably delicious.

                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                If someone else cooks it, and it no longer stares out at me, and I could be persuaded to eat it. I am not particularly squeamish, and fromagina, I now totally appreciate the peasant foods of my parents but when you're in grade 3 and everyone else is eating "American" food, it's hard to be different. My own kids probably cursed me at that age too. I fed them "healthy" foods and refused to cave in to the culture of plastic-wrapped, over-processed crap that all the other kids had in their lunch boxes. Now, of course, they are good cooks and adventurous, conscious eaters. It's all a cycle.

                                And Sam - I wish I had known someone to whom I could have given that lamb's head. Next time it I get one I'll let you know!

                            2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                              When I had my little goat cheese dairy we had many a goat roast with happily stuffed friends drinking the last of the homemade wines and greasy-faced children running from the dogs that wanted to clean their faces! We always saved the bones for a lovely stock. Then the bones were roasted in a pit fire and ground into bonemeal for the garden. When I butchered and wrapped the kid goat for the freezer, I always put it's name on the package so we could thank it personally.

                    4. You're going to be getting all different kinds of cuts, just differing amounts based on how much of the cow you purchased.
                      You'll probably get different steaks, roasts, and an awful lot of ground beef. If the operation is large, you probably won't be getting cuts from 'your' cow, just a certain volume amount.

                      Some advice: make sure you trust the provider - there are some not so great options out there - my parents bought half-cows yearly when I was growing up and it was wonderful. My in-laws bought a cow a few years ago and shared with us and it was not so great. (probably Iowa cow vs. S. Dakota cow, go Iowa!)