Filling out.a cut sheet lets your butcher know how you want your animal processed and packaged. Credit: Julia Bayly / BDN

If you bought locally raised meat on the hoof this year, you are likely getting a call right about now from the farmer letting you know your cow, pig or lamb is ready and on the way to the slaughter house. Once it’s there, you are probably going to get a call from the butcher asking you to come in and fill out a cut sheet. This may be a bit confusing if this is the first time you’ve heard of a cut sheet or never have had to do one before.

Here are a few things you should know to complete your cut sheet.

What is a cut sheet?

Simply put, cut sheets are directions for butchers on exactly how you want your animal processed.

“The cut sheet specifies to your butcher how you want your animal carved up,” said Colt Knight, state livestock specialist with University of Maine Cooperative Extension. “If you are new to this and don’t know what cuts are available, you should research what is available from your animal and how much there is of each cut.”

It’s not all steaks

The unfortunate fact is, according to Knight, that no meat animal is 100 percent top grade prime tenderloin.

“When you are buying a whole animal, or a side or even a quarter that animal is made up of different cuts,” Knight said. “There are only so many T-bones in a beef steer.”

In fact, only 8 percent of a beef steer — the short loin section — is used for T-bone steaks. Porterhouse and club steaks also come from that section. The rib section accounts for another 8 percent of prime meat. It produces standing rib roasts, rolled rib roasts, ribeye steaks and delmonico steaks.

A typical cut list will include every cut available for your animal. You will be able to indicate how much — if any — you want of a specific cut, how you want it cut and how many pounds of that cut per package.

Know your animal

A steer raised for beef will provide meats suitable for steaks, but the meat from a culled dairy cow may be more suitable for hamburger. Before filling out that cut sheet, take into account what breed of animal the meat is coming from.

“With pigs you have even more choices,” Knight said. “You can do chops, ribs, roasts and then a variety of sausages and smoked products.”

Bacon is very popular, Knight said, but there is only so much of a pig that is used to cure and smoke for bacon. However, if you know your cuts, you can get some pretty good alternatives.

“There are other cuts that can give you a similar product to bacon,” Knight said. “The jowls can be cured, smoked and sliced, or you can take the shoulder and have it turned into a similar product called ‘cottage bacon.’”

Be honest with yourself

As you start to fill out your cut list, take some time to honestly evaluate the eating habits of your household. The image of a whole cured ham on Christmas morning might be attractive, but if there is no way your family can consume an entire ham, you may be better off having that cut sliced into individual ham steaks.

There are also financial considerations to the cut sheet. You will get a bigger bang for your buck by having more of the meat ground into hamburger, which can be used in a variety of recipes that will stretch your food dollars farther.

When in doubt, you can also talk with your butcher before you fill out your cut sheet. That way not only will you have a better understanding of how to portion out your animal for your household, you will avoid giving your butcher any surprises.

“There are people who go online and find some sort of gourmet cuts and then ask for them,” Knight said. “Some of these cuts the butchers have never even heard of [and] they hate that.”

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.