A growing number of people are now buying their meat, “on-the-hoof”, as it were. This means they are selecting the individual cows, hogs, chickens, turkeys, etc…, direct from the person that breeds them. They can get a complete history of the critter, from birth to the sale. The consumer can take complete control over the quality of the meat they plan to cook.
But, what do you do with the animal after you buy it? Luckily for the squeamish, most livestock producers will kill the animal for you, and some may even process it for you, for a price. You can take it to a processor, but then you run the same risks as buying from the grocery store. Some processors will add water, dyes, etc…, and some won’t. A lot depends on the state regulations that processor has to follow, and what is legally allowed.
The best solution is to learn to do your own butchering. Butchering allows you complete control over your meat, especially if you also hunt and fish. In addition to significantly improving the quality of your food supplies, it gives you a great sense of empowerment. You no longer have to depend on only what is offered by the retailers.
However, butchering requires some special tools, in addition to having to master the skills involved. You will need a good set of butcher knives, shears, proper wrapping paper, a good scale, a deep freezer, and at least one meat saw, which brings us to the subject of this article.
Meat saws are specially designed for cutting meat and bone. There are those that have used regular hack saws, but the results are marginal, at best. You need an actual meat saw. There are some important differences between meat saws, and their hardware store counterparts, which we will discuss in the following sections.
|Meat Saws: Our Selections||Brand||Type|
|Arksen Electric Meat Saw||Arksen||Electric|
|Weston Manual Meat Saw||Weston||Manual|
What Is A Meat Saw?
As I said before, some people (including this author) have attempted to use regular hack saws and band saws to cut large pieces of meat. I can tell you from experience that should you attempt this, the results will be less than satisfactory. Unless you really like ugly steaks, and mangled meat, a regular saw will not work.
In Figure 1., you can easily see the difference between meat and hack saw blades. The reason hack saw blades do not cut meat well is that the teeth are small, and angled to cut on both the forward, and backward strokes. This allows them to be quickly clogged by meat fibers, fat, sinew, etc… It also causes bone to splinter, rather than be cut. Wood saws will not work either, because their teeth are designed to rip through tough wood fibers, rather than slice. Meat saw teeth are angled much more sharply, and are designed not to clog up from meat and other materials. They slice, rather than rip or abrade.
You may be thinking, “What difference does it make if my meat slices are not perfect? My family and I are the only ones eating it.” It makes a huge difference, for several reasons. One is that for meat to cook properly, especially on a grill, or in a pan, the meat sides have to be even so that it fully contacts the heating surface. Otherwise, you will get some areas of overly charred meat, and other areas that will be underdone. Uneven surfaces conduct heat unevenly, so even if you are baking, your meat will not cook well. Uneven surfaces will not allow the meat to sear properly, allowing the juices to escape, resulting in tough, dry meat. Another reason is that recipes are based on correctly cut meat. The pieces have to be right shape, size, and surface, or the result may be different than expected. Meat that is mangled, and improperly cut may not freeze properly, or thaw out evenly.
There are two types of meat saws, electric, and manual. In appearance, they resemble a regular table or hack saw. But in addition to the different blade style, they are also designed to operate at different speeds, be cleaned well, and sanitized between uses.
Some electric meat saws are also equipped with sausage stuffers. It’s a nice touch, and can be very handy at times.
Do you need a meat saw? And do you need an manual, or electric meat saw? That will depend on how many carcasses you intend to process, and how dedicated you are to using the very best ingredients in your cooking. Turkeys, chickens, and small game are not big enough to be worth using a meat saw on, at least if you obey the game laws on possession limits. But large fish that need to be steaked-out, and larger animals such as deer, hogs, cows, and big game are much better sliced with the proper tools, ie; a meat saw. For just one average-sized carcass at a time, a manual meat saw works fine. For several large carcasses, or mule deer, elk, buffalo, 20 ft. sharks, dinosaurs, mammoths, etc…, you will want an electric model. You’ll see why in the next section…
Use, Care and Safety of Meat Saws
Using a meat saw is not complicated in and of itself. It’s a saw, just like any other, and it is used the same way. The difference is just the style of teeth. However, to properly process a harvested animal, you need to understand both the anatomy of the particular critter, and the proper butchering techniques.
Different parts of the animal produce different cuts of meat, which differ in texture, flavor, and cooking properties. Some are more amendable to smoking than others, and cuts that are intended to be smoked need extra care and diligence to smoke properly. Also, different cuts require different procedures, such as sawing with the grain, against the grain, between joints, or across a particular joint of bone, etc… Each particular cut will also require it’s own special trimming to cook properly.
This article is not intended to be an instructional on butchering. That is beyond its scope, but there are many great resources for you to learn from, starting with YouTube. In no time at all, you can be butchering like a pro, with just a little learning curve.
Processing your own food creates an incredible sense of empowerment. You are no longer simply a target for retail sales campaigns. You don’t have to accept anything just because that’s the only way it comes. Maybe you like your steaks a little (or a lot) thicker than commercial ones. Maybe you like your own ham curing recipe better than Hormel’s. Maybe you would prefer to select your cow, pork, lamb, or whatever, while it is still on the hoof, so you can judge the health and quality of the animal yourself, and know it’s history. There are all kinds of reasons why someone might want to process their own meat. Besides, it’s just fun…..
A manual meat saw requires no set-up, other than really good cleaning and sterilization before use. This also includes your hands. Electric meat saws will require different set-up procedure, depending on the make and model. You should always follow the manufacturer’s recommended procedures every time you use their saw.
Most people reading this probably realize that there is a danger of being cut, or even accidentally amputating fingers, or hands. After all, you are working around an extremely sharp, sometime fast-moving blade. Most injuries with meat saws occur during cleaning, so exercise extra caution when cleaning and sanitizing your unit. The Number One cause of all slicing accidents, by far, is inattentiveness (this actually covers almost all kitchen accidents). Never let yourself become distracted when using meat saws. Send the children out to play (never let children operate a meat saw), throw the cats outside, chloroform the dogs, send the wife out shopping, put your cell phones on Airport Mode, or whatever it takes to avoid any kind of distractions. Just pretend you are a doctor doing critical surgery.
8 Safety Procedures While Using Meat Saws
There some safety procedures that are common to all makes and models of meat saws. They are:
- Never attempt to clean a meat saw unless it is unplugged.
- Never wear gloves when using an electric met saw. They won’t protect your hands, and can cause your hands to slip.
- Always keep the area around the meat saw clear of obstructions and slip hazards at all times when in use.
- Always turn the unit off when not actually slicing with it. This includes when reaching for another piece of meat.
- Always use a Pusher Plate when feeding meat into the saw blade.
- Always wear eye protection when slicing meat with an electric saw. I have had bones splinter, and meat juices spray into my face at times.
- Never force meat through the saw. Your hand could slip. You paid good money for that saw, so let it do the work…
- Never wear loose clothing or jewelry when operating a meat saw.
If you follow these safety rules, you will minimize the chances of any serious mishaps. No matter how good that fresh, custom-cut steak is going to taste, it’s not worth loosing a finger over
The Best Meat Saw: Arisen Dual Electric Meat Saw
- 550-watt, 3/ 4 horsepower motor
- Stainless steel construction
- Integral meat grinder
- Sliding tray
The Arksen commercial-grade meat grinder is equally at home in your house, a super-market, or a meat processing facility, The 5- amp motor easily slices through the toughest gristle and bone. The integral meat grinder has both course and fine grinding plates, and can process up to 44 pounds of meat per hour.
I checked out this model at a local meat processor, and I liked it’s performance. Looking at the assembly instructions, I was glad I didn’t have to put it together, because the manual is useless. But once it is up and running, it performs like a champ. It sliced through ham bones, beef shanks and ribs like they were made of butter. The sliding tray made it very easy to handle meat safety. The meat grinder did an outstanding job of evenly grinding meat chunks. It has a very large hopper, and fed the machine smoothly, with no hang-ups.
The only downside is that it is a little involved to take-down for cleaning. But it’s not enough trouble to be a deal-breaker. And once you get the hang of it, it’s really not a big deal.
Weston Manual Meat Saw Review
- All stainless-steel construction
- 22” stainless-steel blade
- Blade is easily interchanged and replaced
This is the manual meat saw I use. It is a simple, reliable, no-frills tool that never fails. I’ve had mine for well over 2 decades, and it still works like new. Replacement blades are readily available at places like Cabela’s, Academy Sports, and Sportsman’s Warehouse. The handle is easy to hang on to, and allows for plenty of leverage and maneuverability. Considering the price, this is one tool that will give you a lot of bang for your buck.
Whatever your reasons for wanting to process your own meat, you should get the best meat saw you can afford. I highly recommend getting an electric meat saw if you can afford one and have the space. They will make the work go much faster, and easier. On the other hand, manual saws can be taken into the field with you when hunting, so you can do some preliminary processing before you even bring the animal home, but be sure to check the game laws first. In many states, (mine included), it is illegal to do anything other than remove the organs and glands from an animal in the field, because the game wardens may have to identify the sex and species of your harvest at check stations.
The difference between different models of electric saws are mostly in how easy they are to disassemble for cleaning, and added features such as a built-in meat grinder, sausage stuffers, etc… It’s a good idea to check out customer reviews on the model you are thinking about before you commit to buy it. They can be found in places like Amazon.com, YouTube, etc….
Bear in mind that you will most likely have to assemble your unit when you receive it. Many times, the instructions leave a lot to be desired, especially units made in China. If you are not good with tools, you may want to line up a local handy-person who is good at assembling things to put your unit together for you.
Make sure you have an adequately-spaced area for your unit. A cramped space could cause accidents. It can be aggravating to spend a lot of money on something only to find out that it will not fit where you want it. Keep in mind that more than likely, blood and small particles of meat and bone can be slung during processing, getting on walls, floors, nearby shelves, etc…. Make allowances accordingly.
Many people keep meat saws in their garage, which works out well in many cases. The area can be easily cleaned up with a garden hose and squeegee’d out. However, the unit will still need to be completely disassembled, cleaned well, and sterilized after each use.
If you follow these basic guidelines, your meat saw will be a valuable addition to your culinary tools. Processing your own food is a very rewarding lifestyle.