Using the Whole Chicken

Chicken Butchery Basics

by Meredith Leigh, author of The Ethical Meat Handbook

Learning to use the whole chicken (or other bird) is one of the most foundational things you can do to support ethical meat. Why? It ensures that the farmer can profit from the entire animal, eliminates processing fees from the equation, and contributes to a better kitchen economy in the home. You’ll benefit from better prices per pound when you use the whole bird, and you’ll get more meals from a purchase.

Below you’ll find basic a chicken butchery technique, excerpted from The Ethical Meat Handbook: A Complete Guide to Home Butchery, Charcuterie, and Cooking for the Conscious Omnivore. These simple cuts will boost your ability to work with the whole bird for any recipe – from roasting to frying, braising or smoking. For recipes, and more butchery techniques, such as de-boning, visit ethicalmeatbook.com to purchase The Ethical Meat Handbook.

 

How to Butcher a Chicken

Chicken is a great place to hone your cutting skills. We’ll cover the standard, eight-piece cut, and offer a slight variation, which will come in handy when you’re frying chicken.

Begin by removing the wings. Stretch the wing as far as you can and move the joint up and down to find the socket. Using a semi-flexible boning knife, cut the wing off at the shoulder, aiming for the space between the ball in the arm bone and the socket in the shoulder.

Pull on the wing to discover the joint, and remove.

Pull on the wing to discover the joint, and remove.

Variation/Confession: I’m not big on the stand-alone chicken wing, so I like to cut the wing off with a bit of breast meat to accompany. To do this, simply angle your knife at about 45 degrees from the wishbone and cut off part of the breast as you remove the wing.

To remove some breast meat with the wing, cut at a 45-degree angle, downward from the wishbone, and then remove at the shoulder bone, as if you were removing the wing only.

To remove some breast meat with the wing, cut at a 45-degree angle, downward from the wishbone, and then remove at the shoulder bone, as if you were removing the wing only.

Next, free the oysters. This will assist you in pulling the legs off intact. The oysters are the small, round, tender pieces of dark meat located on the chicken’s back, one on either side of the spine. You’ll find them right at the spot where the legs join the body, and this is where you’ll make the first cut, across the back.

You’ll see the oysters on either side of the spine. Use your boning knife to make small cuts close to the bone, undercutting the oysters and scooping them free. Leave them attached to the skin.

Cut across the back to access the oysters.

Cut across the back to access the oysters.

Freeing the oysters.

Freeing the oysters.

Now, flip the chicken back over so it is breast up, so you can remove the legs. Stretch each leg out at the hip and cut through the skin until you see meat.

Cut through the skin between the breast muscle and the leg to access the leg joint.

Cut through the skin between the breast muscle and the leg to access the leg joint.

Find the hip joint by gently wiggling the thigh to and fro, following accordingly with your knife. Pull back on the entire leg, peeling it away from the breast. You’ll eventually pull the hip out of joint, after which you can follow through to remove the oysters along with the entire leg.

Pull back on the leg to dislocate the hip. Then, you can easily complete the cut through the skin to remove the leg with the oyster attached.

Pull back on the leg to dislocate the hip. Then, you can easily complete the cut through the skin to remove the leg with the oyster attached.

Next, divide the drumstick from the thigh. First, identify the seam of fat at the joint, and begin your cut there. Once you’ve cut into the meat, you’ll be able to see the joint clearly, and cut directly between the bones for a clean break.

Separating the thigh from the drumstick.

Separating the thigh from the drumstick.

The next step is to remove the backbone. You can use poultry shears for this if you’re nervous, but it’s not that tough to do with your boning knife. Just come at the spine at about a 45-degree angle, making close, downward cuts parallel to the spine. If your knife gets too vertical, you’ll run into resistance, so as long as you keep that nice, slight angle, you’ll be fine.

Keep your knife at an angle to remove the backbone.

Keep your knife at an angle to remove the backbone.

Finally, split the breast. In between the two breast pieces is the sternum, or breast plate. I make straight cuts down either side of the keel in the breastbone and then start pulling the breast meat off of it with my hands, running fingers under the meat and close to the bone. Once you’ve exposed enough of the bone that you feel like you can pull it out, do it.

You’ll be left with breast meat that has ribs attached. You can remove the ribs by hand if you like, or use your boning knife to separate them from the back of the breast muscles.

After making straight cuts along either side of the keel bone, begin pulling the breast muscles away from the bone, using your hands.

After making straight cuts along either side of the keel bone, begin pulling the breast muscles away from the bone, using your hands.

About the author: 

Over the past 15 years, Meredith Leigh worked as a farmer, butcher, chef, teacher, non-profit executive director, and writer,  all in pursuit of sustainable food. She has developed a farmer co-op, founded and catalyzed non-profit ventures, grown vegetables, flowers, and meats, owned and managed a retail butcher shop, and more. She’s a single mom, and,   the author of  The Ethical Meat Handbook: A Complete Guide to Home Butchery, Charcuterie, and Cooking for the Conscious Omnivore.  Says Meredith, “Above all, I am committed to real, good food, as a means to connect with people, animals, and plants, learn new skills, create intentionally, stay inspired, and experience deliciousness.”

 

Consumer’s Pocket-sized Guide to Meat, Dairy and Egg Labels

Consumers-Guide

At CFSA, we’re on a mission to bring local, organic food to your table from farmers who share your values. To make it easier to shop your values and understand all of the label claims out there for meat, dairy and eggs, CFSA has created this handy pocket-sized guide that you can fold up and carry in your wallet!

>DOWNLOADPocket Guide to Meat, Egg and Dairy Labels

Join CFSA to ensure the farmers and food you want are more and more available – now and for future generations.

Food Labels 101: Organic, Cage-Free, Grass fed, Natural

What exactly do all these terms and claims really mean, and how do you know which ones are trustworthy?

by Callie Casteel,  Animal Welfare Approved certifies and supports independent family farmers raising their animals to the highest animal welfare standards, outdoors on pasture and range. AWA is a program of A Greener World.    

Chickens

In general, unless the claim is being checked by an independent third party, the integrity of a food label is only as reliable as the individual or company making it. As a shopper, understanding what label claims mean—and don’t mean—will help ensure your expectations are met (and as a producer, that your products are appropriately valued).To help people make informed decisions about certification and food purchasing, Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) and our parent organization, the nonprofit certifier A Greener World (AGW), created Food Labels Exposed, a free guide to the most commonly used label claims (see below). Here are just a few examples:

ORGANIC/CERTIFIED ORGANIC is a verified claim with a legal definition. All products sold as organic must meet the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program standards. In general, organic production limits the use of chemicals, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and other inputs. However, it fares poorly when it comes to animal welfare, and does not strictly define production practices related to space per animal or outdoor access.

NOTE: USDA released final rules mandating stronger animal welfare standards for certified organic livestock farmers in 2016, but there are significant questions about when (or even whether) these rules will be implemented. Some of the specific provisions, include: Prohibits physical alterations that cause stress in livestock; Provides minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements for poultry; Redefines “outdoors” to exclude porches, covered areas attached to the poultry house and Offers specific standards for humane treatment during transport and slaughter. You can read the full rules here.

 

Photo submitted by Callie Casteel, AWA

Photo submitted by Callie Casteel, AWA

GRASS FED is legally defined by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), but actual production practices can vary greatly. Consumers should be wary of any grass fed label claim NOT verified by a trusted third-party certification. What’s more, unless it’s accompanied by an additional certification, a grass fed label refers only to the animals’ diet: It does not tell you if an animal was given routine antibiotics or hormones, or offer any other assurances about animal welfare or the environment. Although all grass fed label claims require official FSIS approval before use, a signed statement (affidavit) from the farmer is typically considered “sufficient documentation”—meaning many farms are never even audited. Certified Grassfed by AGW is the only label to guarantee animals are 100 percent grass fed for life and managed according to high welfare standards, outdoors on pasture or range, with annual farm audits.


CFSA is on a mission to bring local, organic food to your table from a farmer who shares your values. Join us!

 

PASTURED/PASTURE-RAISED is one of many label claims that do not have a legal or regulated definition. While it implies animals were raised outdoors on pasture, there is no way to know—unless it’s accompanied by a third-party certification that requires pasture-based management, such as Animal Welfare Approved. The perceived value of the pasture-raised claim makes it ripe for greenwashing by unscrupulous food manufacturers.

Without third-party verification to high-welfare standards or visiting the farm in person (and having the agricultural expertise to evaluate it), you’re probably still buying industrially raised products.

 

CAGE-FREE also has no legal or regulated definition. While it implies animals are raised outdoors on pasture, this claim is highly misleading: “Cage-free” chickens, for example, are often raised indoors in overcrowded, enclosed barns.

 

NATURAL/ALL NATURAL is one of the most misleading label claims. Consumer surveys show most people think it refers to how animals are raised. Yet a “natural” label has nothing to do with how animals are raised. As legally defined by the USDA, it applies only to how meat is processed after slaughter.

 

NO ANTIBIOTICS ADDED (for red meat and poultry) is legally defined by the USDA FSIS and used on labels for meat or poultry products on an affidavit (signed statement) basis to claim animals are raised without antibiotics. Yet there is no independent third party verification system in place to ensure it’s true.

A ban on antibiotics might seem like a good thing: The routine use of antibiotics for disease prevention in intensive food animal systems is leading to antibiotic resistance, where medically important antibiotics become ineffective in humans. However, even with the best pasture-based, high-welfare management, animals can fall ill and need treatment. Farmers selling into “premium” antibiotic-free markets face the difficult choice of withholding treatment and maintaining market premium, or treating the animal and losing money. It’s also worth noting that every farmer who uses antibiotics must observe a legal “withdrawal period” before slaughter or selling milk. So when antibiotics are used appropriately, there should never be antibiotic residue in your food. Increasing awareness of this has led to criticism that “antibiotic-free” production is more marketing gimmick than public or animal health benefit. The best way to address antibiotic resistance is to use these medicines responsibly only to treat actual sickness in high-welfare, pasture-based systems that do not depend on routine antibiotic use. Only two food labels ensure this: European Union Organic and Animal Welfare Approved.
NON-GMO/NON-GE New USDA FSIS rules mean food manufacturers can only make non-GMO claims if the product is audited by a third-party certification body with clear and transparent non-GMO standards. This is a good thing for consumers who want assurances the food they buy really is non-GMO. However, buying “Non-GMO” labeled food does not necessarily mean you’re helping the environment or improving animal welfare. The only third party label that currently offers a Non-GMO assurance and addresses these wider animal welfare and environmental concerns is Certified Non-GMO by AGW.

 

HUMANE claims are widely used by food manufacturers to convince consumers they are supporting higher welfare farming practices. But there is no legal definition or minimum agreed welfare standard for the term “humane,” and this claim is increasingly found on products where animals are raised on dirt feedlots or indoors in confinement systems. In a recent New York Times review of animal welfare certifications, Consumer Reports said “the only [label] we have any confidence in and think gives you value for your money is Animal Welfare Approved.” Without third-party verification to high-welfare standards or visiting the farm in person (and having the agricultural expertise to evaluate it), you’re probably still buying industrially raised products.

 

FLE pic Food Labels 101

Want to know more? Looking to buy food that’s good for people, animals and the planet? Check out AGW’s searchable directory to find Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Grassfed by AGW, or Certified Non-GMO by AGW products near you.

Use our free Food Labels Exposed guide to help navigate common claims and terms used for the production, marketing and labeling of meat, dairy, eggs and other farmed products—available for download and from the App Store and Google Play.

Interested in certifying your farm or products? Reach out to your Regional Farmer & Market Outreach Coordinator.

 

(M)eat Local

How Two Women Passionate About Feeding Their Families’ Humanely Raised Meats Are Connecting North Carolina’s Pasture-based Livestock Producers with Local Food Lovers, Restaurants, and Retailers

by Jennifer Curtis, Firsthand Foods

Jennifer Curtis and Tina Prevatte, the founders of Firsthand Foods

Jennifer Curtis (right) and Tina Prevatte (left), the founders of Firsthand Foods

Hi!  We’re the owners of Firsthand Foods, a women-owned Durham-based meat business specializing in local, pasture-raised beef, lamb and pork. 

We run a mission-driven business that was built to help North Carolina’s pasture-based livestock producers thrive. In a world where commerce is dominated by global supply chain arrangements, small-scale producers are often denied access to market opportunities. Our aim is to change that by building out a robust market for locally sourced, humanely-raised meats while keeping our core values of transparency, equity and community at the forefront.

 

We first connected as business owners around a shared passion for using business as a tool for generating social and environmental good. We’re also moms, whose kids love to eat meat. When we met eight years ago, we were disheartened by the lack of local, sustainably-produced proteins available where we like to eat and shop. So we rallied around that problem and today you can find our meats at numerous area restaurants and natural foods grocery stores in the Triangle and Triad, as well as being offered by multiple home delivery services.

 

meat

The biggest hurdle for livestock producers who want to sell their meats locally is what we like to call the “whole animal utilization” challenge.  A good way to lose money fast in the meat business is to slaughter an entire beef animal for the ribeyes and have no market for the ground beef. So we buy whole animals from producers so they don’t have to worry about finding a home for all the parts. The 65 producers in our network get to focus on what they do best – raising animals humanely outdoors on pasture without growth-promoting antibiotics or added hormones.

 

While sustainable production practices are essential, meat quality and consistency are equally important.  It doesn’t do much good to raise an animal with utmost care if the end result isn’t pleasing to the customer.  Producers make decisions every day that ultimately impact meat quality – forage management, sire selection and breeding, nutrition and feeding considerations.  But in the conventional meat industry, producers rarely if ever get feedback on how their management practices influence meat quality.  Their animals are shipped off to feedlots or massive slaughter facilities and never discerned from the countless other animals moving through those systems. That’s why we work closely with our producers to provide feedback on size, marbling, color, and other qualities that result in a great eating experience. We want to build their capacity as producers while we build market opportunity for their products.

 

The 65 producers in our network get to focus on what they do best – raising animals humanely outdoors on pasture without growth-promoting antibiotics or added hormones.

To work with Firsthand Foods, farmers drop their animals off at one of three cooperating USDA-inspected, Animal Welfare Approved small-scale meat slaughter plants. These family-owned businesses based in rural counties are key partners for us. They do the hard, and often under-appreciated, work of slaughter and meat fabrication. They create the meat cuts and value-added products that our customers desire. We currently purchase 8 beef, 18 hogs and 4 lamb per week and sell most of our meats fresh to restaurants, retailers and food service accounts. It takes about 80 different wholesale customers on a weekly basis to utilize all the parts of these animals.

 

Geoff and Jane Glendhill of Cedar Grove Windy Hill Farm raise beef for Firsthand Foods. Photo from Firsthand Foods' Facebook page.

Geoff and Jane Glendhill of Cedar Grove Windy Hill Farm raise beef for Firsthand Foods. Photo from Firsthand Foods’ Facebook page.

 


CFSA is on a mission to bring local, organic food to your table from a farmer who shares your values. Join us!

 

A few highlights from the Triangle:

From Firsthand Food's Facebook page

Steak from Firsthand Food Farmers at Lantern Restaurant in Chapel Hill. From Firsthand Food’s Facebook page

  • Pork neck bones and feet are the basis for ramen broth at Dashi,
  • Beef shoulder goes into burgers at Bull City Burger and Brewery,
  • Top round becomes roast beef at Lucky’s Deli,
  • Lamb necks become a braised dish at Garland Restaurant,
  • Pig ears are featured at Pizzeria Toro,
  • Ribeyes are dry-aged at The Durham Hotel, and
  • Beef cheeks find a home at The Eddy.

And of course, without our retail partners, we’d be hard pressed to sell all of our sausages, ground beef and ground lamb.  Indeed, on the average, about 60 percent of an animal ends up as a ground product!

 

Our Evolving Ethic – Eat Less, Pay More

Our goal as business owners is to help build a supply chain for local meat that creates healthy delicious products, compensates everyone fairly, takes care of the planet, and reinvests in our community.

 

Gerald Miller from H&H Farm Photo from Firsthand Food's website.

Gerald Miller from H&H Farm, one of Firsthand Food’s farmers.
Photo from Firsthand Food’s website.

One of the challenges to growing the market for local, pasture-raised meats is that the cost to the consumer is often twice that of confinement-raised meat products. Compared to indoor houses and crowded feedlots, local pasture-raised production is less efficient, takes more time and is best managed on a smaller scale. But its these more responsible production systems that a growing number of consumers are demanding – humane conditions for animals, a fair price to the farmer, eliminating routine use of antibiotics and added hormones, building soil quality and protecting natural resources.

 

In the past six years, Firsthand Foods has directed over $5.2 million in to our local food system.

In our journey into the local meat industry, we’ve gravitated toward an “Eat Less, Pay More” ethic.  It’s a cultural shift toward eating less meat overall so that we can afford “the good stuff.”  If we all eat less meat, we reduce the demand for mass-production.  And if we accept a higher per pound price for what we do purchase, we can pay farmers fairly for the work involved in raising animals humanely.  We’re proud to report that a full 75 percent of the revenues we generate every year go back to the farmers and family-run meat processors in our supply chain.  In the past six years, Firsthand Foods has directed over $5.2 million in to our local food system.

 

One way to make the “eat less, pay more” philosophy a practical reality is to consider using pasture-raised meats as flavor-enhancing ingredients rather than center-of-the-plate features. We’re in the process of developing recipe cards (see two below; also available in cooperating retailers and on our website) that feature our products as accompaniments, alongside hearty portions of beans and vegetables. A favorite is Lentejas, a Spanish lentil soup that features our chorizo sausage. And a recent addition to our collection is an Indian chili that features garbanzo beans and ground lamb. Of course there will always be special occasions worthy of splurging on your favorite steak or roast but week-to-week, it makes sense for meat to play a smaller role.

 

We invite you to try our pasture-raised meats and “eat less, pay more” philosophy. We’ve noticed that it has moved us in alignment with our core values. Eating less and paying more makes it easier for us to honor the hard-work and sacrifice involved all along the supply chain – the land, the animal, the farmer, the processor, the distributor, the restaurant, and the grocery store all make it possible for us to enjoy good local meats.

 

Less is More Recipes

FHF recipecard 5x3 indianlambchili FHF recipecard 5x3 indianlambchili FHF recipecard 5x3 lentejas FHF recipecard 5x3 lentejas

 

 

Home on the Range

Four Davidson County Ranchers Ruminate on Grass-fed vs. Grain-finished beef

by Ryan Jones   |   Photography by Grace and Cary Kanoy
Originally published in Davidson County Magazine

The Charolais cattle at Jeff Boyst’s BN Acres.

The Charolais cattle at Jeff Boyst’s BN Acres.
Photo by Grace and Cary Kanoy.

 

From the time they’re born until they reach full maturity, the cows on Jeff Boyst’s 100-year-old farm, BN Acres, graze on nothing but grass. Depending on the season, the herd of about fifty Charolais cattle enjoy a rotating crop of rye, millet, fescue, orchard grass, and sorghum-sudan grass.

 

“If you take care of the pasture you’re going to have good animals,” says Boyst, who took charge, after his grandfather’s passing in 2007, of the farmland at BN Acres. “It’s a delicate process to make sure we’re giving them the right grass for the right end product.”

 


CFSA is on a mission to bring local, organic food to your table from a farmer who shares your values. Join us!

 

Despite the careful attention given to his fields, Boyst said the meat his cows produce will still vary in taste based on several factors. “It depends on how sensitive your palate is. Grass-fed beef might be called gamey or wild, depending on what the animal has been eating and what foods they’re eating at different times of year. In the fall they may eat more leaves and in the springtime they might get into wild onions or garlic and you might taste that in the beef.”

 

The cattle at BN Acres are exclusively grass-fed.

The cattle at BN Acres are exclusively grass-fed. Photo by Grace and Cary Kanoy.

 

Beyond the subtle flavor differences caused by a wild diet, the most notable distinction between grass- and grain-fed meats has to do with fat content and composition.

 

Marbling refers to the amount of fat appearing in a cut of meat and is the basis for the United States Department of Agriculture’s grading system. Prime meat has the highest marbling content while Choice and Select meats have decreasing amounts of marbling, respectively. “A grain-fed product will have very white marbling. [Grass-fed cows] are naturally a leaner animal with a different type of fat deposit that tends to be more yellow due to the chlorophyll in plants,” said Boyst.

 

Proponents of grass-feeding tend to place less emphasis on this traditional system for measuring quality, preferring instead to focus on the perceived health benefits of a leaner product with increased Omega-3 fatty acids, lower levels of HDL (bad cholesterol), and higher levels of LDL (good cholesterol).

 

Cedar Creek Ranch

One of Cedar Creek Ranch’s Holsteins.
Photo by Grace and Cary Kanoy.

“We have a niche market, but it’s a good market,” explained Beth Phelps—she and her brother, Jeff Perryman, co-own Buck Creek Farm in Midway, N.C. “A lot of people don’t raise all grass-fed beef because it takes longer for the cows to mature (two years versus sixteen months for a grain-fed cow) and raising them is more labor intensive.”

 

“The extra time and effort is worth it,” Phelps said, “because there are always going to be people looking for a healthier option. We started this farm just for our family, not intending to sell products to other people.” She hopes to increase processing from around five Angus and Belted Galloway cattle a year to processing twenty cattle a year.

 

“Grass-fed beef may only be about fifteen percent of the meat market, but it will always be there because people will always choose it,” said Boyst, acknowledging that grass-fed will likely never overtake the grain-fed beef market due to profit margins. “[But] people who are health conscious will find us and seek us out. We continue to choose grass-fed products because we want to offer something the market doesn’t typically offer.”

 

The jury’s out on whether or not grass-fed totally trumps grain-fed finished beef. Most knowledgeable farmers and consumers are more interested in leaving it to personal preference than preaching about a superior product. “I’m a true believer that all beef is good,” said Chris Yokeley of Yokeley Farms in Wallburg, N.C. “My goal is to give people the best eating experience they can have.”

 

Yokeley Farms' Chris Yokeley Photo by Grace and Cary Kanoy

Yokeley Farms’ Chris Yokeley. 
Photo by Grace and Cary Kanoy

 

Yokeley started raising cattle when he inherited his father’s herd of Red Angus. His father ran Yokeley Seeding Company. Yokeley’s herd currently consists of about thirty Red Angus, Shorthorn, and Durham Red cattle (a cross between Red Angus and Shorthorn). They spend their entire lives in an open pasture eating grass, only receiving supplemental hay and corn for the last few months before they’re harvested. “We make all the hay we feed them; we raise all the corn and grind it ourselves,” said Yokeley.

 

“We wanted to expand to something a little different than just Red Angus, so we started researching by taste. I tried some Shorthorn filets on the grill with just salt and pepper. When I bit into the Shorthorn filet it just melted in my mouth. I knew from that moment, that was where we were going,” said Yokeley. He began crossing breeds for the Durham Red—“I truly think that breed is the best of both worlds.”

 

Dan Kurtz of Cedar Creek Ranch raises Holstein cattle, which are typically used in dairy production. Like Yokeley, he does not strictly grass-feed his cattle, but he does emphasize the humane treatment of his animals. His calves are bottle-fed and then given free reign of a pasture for the duration of their lives.

 

Dan Kurz of Cedar Creek Ranch.

Dan Kurtz of Cedar Creek Ranch.

 

Kurtz believes that knowing where your food comes from is more important than a grass-fed label. “One-hundred-twenty years ago everyone knew what agriculture was. They understood where things came from. Now we’ve got four to six generations removed from agriculture. If people read on a label that the product came from some place close to them, it makes them feel better.” Yokeley agreed, “You ought to know your farmer … visit farms and ask questions.”

 

“I don’t see competitors,” said Boyst. “When we run into each other at the store, we trade information. We network and work together. Our desire is to provide a good product to our community.”

 

As Yokeley says, “I don’t see the local food movement as a fad. It’s not going away. I think people are tired of preservatives and chemicals. People want to eat clean and feel good about what they’re eating, whether it’s produce, poultry, or beef. It’s just a great feeling knowing that when I sit down with a plate of food, everything on it came from a farm!”