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Planning for Butchering
Beginning with the warm carcass of a freshly butchered hog
or other meat animal, up to the time you are ready to cook
the meat weeks or months later, you are dealing with a
valuable and perishable food product.
Strict attention to correct methods, cleanliness in
handling the meat, the proper tools and equipment are all
very important. Indifferent methods, or lack of proper
attention to important details never helps you to turn out
high quality, cured meats that keep well.
A shed or building properly equipped for the job, a small
pen along side for penning up hogs before they are
butchered, a handy water heating arrangement with scalding
vat, a heavy table, a convenient means of swinging the
carcass with a block and tackle, heavy single trees and
gambrel sticks, and a good set of butchering tools make up
the initial equipment that will help you do the job easily,
quickly, and efficiently.
A good set of butchering tools should consist of a sticking
knife, skinning knife, boning knife, butcher knife, steel,
cleaver, bell scrapers, meat saw, and meat hooks.
Additional instruments that are very useful are a meat
pump, thermometer and meat needle, for sewing rolled cuts.
Pork is our most nutritious meat and produces a higher percent of edible meat products than any other meat animal.
There is no section of the country where hogs cannot be
profitably grown for the home meat supply. Hogs reproduce
faster and in greater numbers than any other meat animals
and most efficiently convert grain and other feeds into
edible meat products.
The table in figure 1 shows the weight of the different cuts
from a 225 lb. and 250 lb. hog. It also shows what percent
of the carcass the different cuts represent.
Selection of Hogs for Butchering
High quality meat with a sweet, rich, full-bodied flavor is
always worth a premium, and hogs that produce this kind of
meat should be the only ones butchered and cured for home
Good meat, of course, depends upon many factors, and one
important factor is the kind of hogs butchered. Thrifty,
properly fattened hogs, weighing from 180 to 250 lbs. and
from eight to ten months old are the best ones for home
butchering. Hogs of this size are more easily handled and
the meat chills out more quickly. They produce medium
weight cuts which are more suitable for the average family,
and medium weight cuts will cure quicker and more uniformly
than heavier cuts. Medium weight hams, shoulders, and bacon
are finer in texture and flavor and are of better quality
than those from older, heavier hogs. Non-thrifty shoats, or
heavy 400 to 600 lb. hogs do not produce the best type of
meat for home curing. Also, it costs more to produce each
pound of meat in heavier hogs than in lighter ones.
Care of Hogs Before Butchering
When does meat curing start—after the meat is cut up
and salted down, or before the hogs are killed?
Of course, the actual curing starts when the meat is salted
down, but, more broadly speaking, the result of the cure
begins with the live hog because the quality of the
finished meat depends a lot on how the hogs were handled
when butchered, bled, cleaned, and chilled.
Thousands of hams, shoulders, and bacon sides that could
just as easily have been high quality meat are often low in
quality. Also, actual souring has been brought about
through improper butchering. The prevention of meat
spoilage and also the foundation of quality meat begins
with the handling of the live hog. For this reason the wise
thing to do is to practically start curing the meat at the
time the hogs are killed—which, of course, means to
do every step in the butchering and curing job properly.
Hogs that are to be butchered should be confined in a small
pen for two or three days before butchering and for 24
hours prior to killing should be given no food but should
have plenty of fresh water. Hogs should never be butchered
when they are over-heated, excited, or fatigued, but when
they are perfectly quiet and rested. When the body
temperature is above normal the meat easily becomes
feverish. This is especially true of large or fat hogs or
hogs butchered in warmer sections. Proper chilling of meat
that was in a feverish condition when butchered is
difficult; and meat that is not properly chilled cannot be
properly cured. Also, this same feverish condition of the
meat can easily be the direct cause of souring or taint.
The primary cause of low quality meat and meat spoilage is
due to allowing the natural forms of bacteria to develop
The different natural bacteria which are present in the
blood and tissues of live hogs must be prevented from
multiplying and must be held in check until the meat has
taken the cure. Meat curing is a race between these
different types of bacterial action and the curing action
of the salt and other curing ingredients. Also the job of
cleaning is made much easier when the stomach contains a
minimum amount of food.
The important factors in butchering and curing meat in
order to have high quality meat without souring or taint
are as follows:
1. Hogs that are quietly handled.
2. A thorough bleed.
3. Quick and efficient chilling.
4. Cleanliness in handling the meat.
5. Proper application of the salt.
6. Overhauling during the cure.
7. Proper washing, drying, and wrapping.
Sticking is the Most Humane Method of Killing
To butcher by sticking only is the most practical,
efficient method of killing hogs, and also the most humane.
It is best not to stun or shoot a hog before sticking.
With hogs in a small pen and a block and tackle with
hoisting arrangement nearby, loop a chain around one hind
leg and draw the hog backward through the gate of the pen
and up for swinging. The chain should be looped between the
hock and the hoof in order not to bruise the ham shank. The
most satisfactory bleed can be secured when a hog is swung
head downward when stuck.
If an arrangement for swinging the hog is not convenient,
then roll the hog on its back and stick on the ground. One
man stands straddle of the hog and holds the forefeet while
the other holds the chin down and sticks. Whether the hog
is stuck from a hanging position or on the ground, the
principle and method of sticking are the same. The diagram
above shows the principle of proper sticking.
A short incision is made in the throat in front of the
point of the breast bone (see figure 2). With the point of the knife
against the under side of the breast bone as shown in
position No. 1 in the diagram, the knife is inserted to
position No. 2. This severs the large branching vein and
artery which lie immediately beneath the point of the
breast bone. The knife movement is made downward and
forward. Finishing the stick, as shown in position No. 3,
keep the knife squarely in the center when sticking and do
not twist it, If the knife is twisted, it will result in
shoulder sticks and necessitate heavy trimming when the
carcass is cut up. The knife should not be inserted too far
back (see figure 3) or it will enter the chest cavity which will cause
internal bleeding and blood clots.
Do Not Try to Stick the Heart
Very often when sticking hogs someone will make an effort
to stick the heart. This should not be done as the heart
should be left uninjured in order that it may continue to
function properly and pump out the blood as rapidly as
possible. To reach the heart the sticking cut would have to
be made very deep, which is almost sure to result in
internal bleeding. To prevent internal bleeding the
sticking should merely sever the large vein and artery well
in front of the heart (see figure 4). A quick and thorough bleed is one of
the foundation steps in putting up high quality meat. Too
much emphasis cannot be placed on the importance of a good
bleed. Shooting or stunning before sticking should always
be avoided unless the hog is very wild. A good bleed is
difficult to obtain when hogs are stunned or shot.
Good equipment helps make the job easier, and a part of the
equipment should be a scalding tank (see figure 5) with a fire pit
underneath for heating the water, and a heavy table for
scraping alongside the tank. Where this type of tank is not
available the next best arrangement is to heat the water in
a large open kettle and use a barrel for scalding. The
barrel should be set at about a 45° angle at one end of
the scraping table, or if a hoist is available the barrel
may be set upright under the hoist to save lifting.
Plenty of hot water at a temperature of about 150° and
a little lye or wood ashes added make scalding easier. In
very cold weather water should be about 160°. Keep the
hog moving while in the water and remove as soon as the
hair slips readily. By using a good thermometer you can
always know when the water is at the correct temperature,
which not only makes scalding easier, but eliminates the
chance of setting the hair.
It is good practice to scald the head first (see figure 6) while the hind
legs are dry, then reverse the hog and place the hook in
the lower jaw and scald the hind quarters (see figure 7). Where z large
number of hogs are to be butchered and scalded at the same
time a water heating tank with a fire underneath will be
found very convenient as more than one hog can be scalded
Bell scrapers are the most satisfactory tools for scraping
hogs. A good quality bell scraper pays for itself in work
and time saved many times over. The head and feet should be
scraped first as these parts cool quickly. The scraping
strokes should be made with the lay of the hair and it will
come off easier. As soon as the hair is removed, pour some
hot water on the carcass and place the bell of the scraper
flat against the skin and move the scraper in a rotary
fashion. This will massage out much of the dirt and scurf
from the skin. A stiff bristle or wire brush is handy in
cleaning up the carcass. Remove stray bristles with a
little hot water and sharp knife or singe.
Working out the Tendons
Make a deep cut up the center of the hind legs from the
foot toward the hock. In each incision three tendons will
be found. Work these out with the fingers and hook over the
gambrel stick or over the hooks in a short singletree. A
block and tackle or chain hoist for swinging hogs makes
butchering much easier. After swinging, wash the carcass
clean with hot water and scrape. Then wash with cold water.
Before making any of the cuts or opening the carcass be
sure that all knives are clean and well scalded. Butchering
tools that are dropped should be rescalded before using.
Removing the Head
Removing the head first gets it out of the way and is an
aid to rapid chilling. It also permits the complete
drainage of blood from the carcass. Make a cut just above
the ears (see figure 8) at the first joint of the backbone and all the way
across the back of the neck. Sever the gullet and windpipe
to let the head drop, then pull down on the ears and
continue the cut around the ears to the eyes and then to
the point of the jaw bone (see figure 9). This lets the head come free but
leaves the jowls on the carcass. The head should be washed
and trimmed as soon as possible. This method of taking off
the head is very practical. It makes a neater job and helps
get a better chill.
Opening the Belly
Score the belly by making a slight incision from a point
between the hams to the sticking cut in the throat (see figure 10), but be
careful and do not cut through the belly wall. Now place
the knife in the sticking cut at the throat with the point
against the backbone. Cut upward, using the knife as a pry
to split the breast bone (see figure 11) and divide the first pair of ribs.
Be careful in splitting the upper portion of the breast
bone not to cut into the stomach. This portion is thin and
the stomach lies immediately beneath. With older or heavier
hogs a saw may be needed to split the breast bone. The
blood that, has accumulated in the chest cavity will drain
out when the breast bone is split and you can tell -whether
you did a good job of sticking by the amount of blood in
the chest cavity when the breast is opened. If the hog was
swung before sticking and the vein and artery severed well
in front of the heart, very little blood will be left in
the chest cavity to drain out. Getting a good bleed is very
important as meat can not be properly chilled and cured
without being properly bled.
After the breast bone is split, make a short incision in
the abdominal wall near the top. Then place the hand
clasping the knife handle inside the abdominal wall, with
the blade pointing out (see figure 12). Let the fist that grips the handle
drop down until the knife blade slants upward. The cutting
is done with the heel of the blade and the fist crowds the
intestines away from the outer edge as the ripping is
continued downward. When the belly wall is cut through, the
intestines will fall forward and downward, but the attached
muscle fibre will not let them fall far.
This method of ripping the belly is the safest and quickest
way to do it and you can work without fear of cutting the
intestines. It is awkward and slow work to try to rip the
belly with the point turned inward as the slightest slip of
the knife can easily slit one of the intestines, and cause
Splitting the Aitch Bone
Make a cut in the lean part of the meat squarely in the
center between the two hams (see figure 13). When the aitch bone is
reached, the point of the knife is placed against the
center seam of the bone. By striking the butt of the knife
handle with the palm of the hand the seam of the hitch bone
is split quite easily.
Another method is to bear down with a straight cut with the
point of the knife in order to split the hitch bone (see figure 14). Either
method is good. With older hogs it may be necessary to use
a saw to split the aitch bone.
Loosening the Bung
Grasp the bung gut just below split in the aitch bone and
loosen upward toward end of bung (see figure 16). Then start in the front
and cut completely around bung end. Securely tie the end
with a cord and pull bung out and down, cutting around it
where it does not pull loose.
Removing the Entrails
When the bung gut is worked down toward the entrails, the
entire mass of entrails should be worked outward and
downward leaving as much fat as possible along the
backbone (see figure 15). The kidneys are left in the leaf fat which
surrounds them. The stomach will be found on the left side
and the liver on the right side.
Take a firm hold on the mass of entrails and roll them
forward along with stomach and liver. When this is done,
the diaphragm, which separates the chest from the body
cavity, will be exposed. Through the center of the
diaphragm the gullet will be found leading to the stomach.
It should be severed at this point permitting the entire
mass to come free (see figure 17).
Place the mass of entrails on a table or in a tub. Cut off
the liver and trim out the gall bladder. Wash the liver in
clear, cool water. Next remove the spleen or "melt."
Covering the stomach and attached to its outer border is a
thin layer of "web fat." This should be trimmed out, washed
in cold water, and hung up to chill as you may want to use
it for lard. The stomach should be cut loose and tied off.
To remove the heart and lungs from the carcass make an
incision through the diaphragm where the red muscular
portion joins the white connective tissue. This exposes the
heart and lungs, which should be pulled downward and cut
free from the backbone. The heart is trimmed up, washed and
If the intestines are to be run, this should be done while
they are still warm. The start should be made where they
leave the stomach. If the intestines are to be used for
casings, the end should be tied and the thumb and
forefinger of the left hand placed along the "ruffle fat."
With the right hand the intestines are torn from the
Only the small intestines are generally used for casings,
so when the large intestine is reached the fat is removed,
the small intestine tied off, and the large intestine
discarded. The ruffle fat should not be used for high,
grade lard but is good for making soap grease.
If the casings are to be used, the contents should be
carefully stripped out and the casings thoroughly washed.
Then reverse them by turning up a fold at the end of the
casings like the cuff on a pair of trousers, and pour warm
water into this fold. It is best to have one person hold
the intestines, one to pour the water, and a third to
"feed" in the intestines as the weight of the water
reverses them. To make the job easier cut the intestines
into several lengths. The mucous coat, which is now on the
outside after the intestines are reversed, can be scraped
off with the back of the knife blade, or scraped through a
sharpened notched stick by drawing the casing between the
notch and the thumb. To do a good job of cleaning this
operation should be repeated several times, and the casings
washed in lukewarm water. If the casings are not to be used
at once, they should be packed in dry salt until they are
to be used.
Splitting the Backbone
Split the hog carcass while it is still warm. This helps
hasten chilling as more surface is exposed. After washing
inside the carcass split it down the middle of the backbone
with a saw or cleaver (see figures 18 and 19). Leave about 15 inches of skin uncut
at the shoulders to keep the carcass from separating or
slipping off the gambrel or singletree. You will find that
center splitting is better because it gives you more useful
finished cuts (see figure 20).
Fising Out Leaf Lard and Facing Hams
Hold the end of the leaf fat with one hand and with the
fist of the other loosen the leaf fat by fisting upward (see figure 21).
The leaf fat is easily removed while the carcass is warm
and its removal helps the carcass chill out quicker.
For the same reasons, the hams should be faced while they
are still warm. Start the cut at the flank and continue by
following the curvature of the ham to remove the outer
layer of fat and skin from the inside of the hams. The thin
fibrous membrane next to the lean meat will shrink to it,
giving a smooth appearance to the hams after they are
cured. This membrane also protects the hams.
Chilling the Meat
The carcass is now ready for chilling. It is impossible to
do a neat (see figure 22) job of trimming if cutting up the carcass is
undertaken before it is thoroughly chilled out.
A quick and thorough chill is a very important factor in
turning out good meat. With the head removed, the hams
faced, and the leaf fat fisted loose and the carcass split
down the center of the backbone, you can readily see how
open it is for chilling. The air can circulate freely to
each part of the carcass. Thus the weather is used to full
advantage for getting a good chill. About 24 hours are
necessary for proper chilling, and a good rule to follow in
warmer sections is to kill in the afternoon and have the
cool night ahead for starting the chill.
For proper chilling the temperature in the center of the
hams should be lowered to around 33 to 35°. A
thermometer inserted into the center of one ham will show
you when the meat is properly chilled.
If the weather is not cool enough to insure a satisfactory
chill, the iced brine method of chilling is a good plan to
follow. By cutting each half of the carcass as illustrated (see figure 23) you can quickly separate it into a few major pieces.
Fill a clean barrel about a third full of water, stirring
in the water about three pounds of Morton Salt. Put in some
large chunks of ice and the pieces of meat (see figure 24). This iced brine
will be colder than ordinary ice water and will
satisfactorily chill the meat even in mild weather. Another
method is to place a layer of chipped ice on a clean
surface, spreading the carcass out on the ice and putting
additional chipped ice on top. The iced brine method in the
barrel, however, is more efficient and gives a better
Meat should not be cut up and put in cure until it is
thoroughly chilled and all the animal heat is out. A good
job of cutting cannot be done on warm meat. Neither should
salt be applied on warm meat. Very often home cured meat
has been made inferior in quality and actual loss caused by
cutting up and salting meat that still has the animal heat
in it. A good cure follows a good bleed and good chill.