Cutting and Processing Meats

Introduction to Cutting and Processing Meats

Learning Objectives

  • Describe the muscle and bone structure of meat
  • Identify suitable cuts of meat for various cooking methods
  • Identify primal cuts of beef, lamb, pork, and veal
  • Identify secondary cuts of beef, lamb, pork, and veal
  • Describe variety meats and offal
  • Describe cuts of game


You will remember from the first chapter of this book that meat is muscle made up of fibres. These muscle fibres are held together by connective tissue such as collagen and elastin. The amount of connective tissue contained in the muscle (or meat) has to be acknowledged before choosing the appropriate way to prepare the product.

A highly exercised muscle, such as a shank or shoulder area, will develop much more connective tissue and more coarse muscle fibres. This means they require a moist heat cooking method. If cooked with liquid, collagen breaks down at 80°C (176°F) into gelatin. This gelatin provides not only body to the cooking liquid but also, more importantly, moisture to the cooked meat and rich flavour.

A lightly exercised muscle will contain less connective tissue and more fine muscle fibres, allowing it to be prepared using dry heat cooking methods. Beef tenderloin is a perfect example of this type of meat.

Generally, four-legged animals use their shoulder and leg muscles the most; therefore, the cuts from these areas contain more connective tissues and are less tender. The back, rib, and loin sections contain muscles that are used less frequently, and they tend to be the source of the more tender, or choicer, cuts of meat. It is not surprising, therefore, that cuts from these sections tend to be higher priced and are featured more often on restaurant menus. Although the physical structure and names of the muscles in the three main species (cattle, sheep, and hogs) are similar, the cuts are named differently and regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

To further confuse the issue, meat cutters and cooks in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and other parts of the world may use different names for the same cuts of meat.

It is important to understand that meat cuts to be sold at a retail level must be labelled according to CFIA standards. The same rules do not apply to sale of whole muscles or restaurant cuts to be advertised on a menu. For a complete breakdown of retail labelling requirements, visit the CFIA website.

General cutting procedures and terms

Meat animals are generally broken down from large carcasses into primal and sub-primal cuts. These are large parts of the animal that are then further broken down into retail or restaurant cuts. In some cases, primals and sub-primals are cooked whole, but for the most part they are broken down into a number of different types of smaller portion cuts or fabricated cuts. These include:

  • Roasts – boneless or bone-in large cuts that are meant to be cooked whole and then sliced after cooking into portions
  • Racks – most common with lamb and pork, these are a special type of roast that contains the rib bones and has been trimmed to show the white portion of the bone. Bones which have been trimmed using this process are called frenched.
  • Steaks and chops – boneless and bone-in individual portion cuts that are cooked and generally served whole or sliced. Chops always have a bone, while steaks can be bone-in (such as a beef T-bone or pork shoulder blade steak) or boneless (such as a tenderloin or sirloin).
  • Cutlets – thin slices of boneless meat, usually from the leg, which can be mechanically tenderized or pounded. Small round cutlets from the loin or tenderloin are also called medallions or noisettes.
  • Stew or cubed meat – cubes of meat used for stews and other similar dishes
  • Thinly sliced or emincé – used for stir-fry and similar dishes
  • Ground – usually made from trim, ground meat is a mixture of lean and fatty trim that has been passed through a grinder. It can be graded depending on fat content, and can be finely or coarsely ground.
  • Cured and smoked – most common with pork, meat cuts that are cured using a dry or wet cure (brine) and then may be smoked


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Meat Cutting and Processing for Food Service Copyright © 2015 by The BC Cook Articulation Committee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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