How should the butcher prepare my cow?

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My wife and I are in the process of buying half of a cow, and it's some great beef. The people who process it are quite flexible, but I don't know the language to advise them with.

I've got a couple of concerns: I've heard that cold-aging or dry-aging -- whatever it's called where it hangs in the meat locker -- is really good, but I don't know how long to ask for. And I don't want to lose anything good to the cutting room floor. I want to be able to experiment with tongue and cheek and things that you've talked about like that on the show before. I do a lot of braising, so I want to maximize roasts for braising.

What do I say?

-Gary in Dubuque

Gary,

First of all, you want the meat aged for about 3 weeks, and not in plastic. A lot of times they'll take the primal cuts, the big cuts of the steer, and they'll just put them in Cryovac and tell you that the meat has been aged. Aging dehydrates the meat and gets enzymes going to make it taste delicious. You want it hung. And if they do any kind of aging at all, they're going to know it.

Now, you're going to lose some weight with that, because they're going to have to trim off mold. Crustiness develops, and it's not harmful, but they have to trim it off. You're going to pay for weight and then it's going to be lost. 

If the animal is divided from nose to tail, you want them to keep for you the hanger steak, the skirt steak, the flank steak, the belly and the short ribs. You also want the shanks; the best stew comes from the leg of the animal, so you don't want them to skip giving you the shanks. You want those cheeks, the tongue and the liver. And the other thing is that you want to ask them to cut the chuck (the shoulder) into a seven-bone pot roast, a chuck arm roast. These are things you're going to cut up to make burgers, or you can just cook them whole. 

Then what you want them to do is dress out the entire top loin, because the top loin is where the great steaks come from. Dress out means to cut that top loin as a solid piece of meat with no bone in it, because then you have the option of slicing it into steaks or treating it as an entire roast, which could be stunning. If they're going to be freezing it, you want them to cut that into steaks 1 1/2 inches thick. Nothing thinner than that.

The rib area is the other area that's utterly prime -- you can have part of that cut as a rib roast, which could be a holiday treat. Then you could have the rest of it cut into thick steaks.

And you do want the bones. You want the shank cut into 2-inch thick slices across the bone. That is going to give you some of the most phenomenal stew you'll ever eat in your life -- the bone, the marrow and the meat. And you want the neck, because the neck is also going to give you phenomenal stew meat. 

-Lynne

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