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Friday, January 20, 2012

Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats Talks Whole Beast Butchery

Posted By on Fri, Jan 20, 2012 at 10:00 AM

Whole Beast Butchery: The Complete Visual Guide to Beef, Lamb, and Pork by Ryan Farr and Brigit Binns, $40 (Chronicle Books)
  • Whole Beast Butchery: The Complete Visual Guide to Beef, Lamb, and Pork by Ryan Farr and Brigit Binns, $40 (Chronicle Books)

In the more than two years since Ryan Farr and his wife, Cesalee, founded 4505 Meats, the artisanal butcher has achieved nationwide fame. He has been called a "rock star butcher" by the New York Times and recently appeared on the Martha Stewart Show.

In Whole Beast Butchery, Farr provides step-by-step pictures and instructions for butchering cattle, lambs, and pigs, as well as tips on tools, techniques, meat storage, and master recipes.

In preparation for his talk this Saturday at Omnivore Books, SFoodie had the opportunity to chat with Farr about his experience working on the book.

SFoodie: Who is the book intended for?

Farr: Initially I created this for myself. My background is as a chef, and I have always felt there was a need for a book like this. There weren't any other good references out there when I was learning, so I decided to make one myself. The book is geared toward anyone -- from the professional tired of ordering cuts of meat in a bag to the adventurous home cook who wants to learn how to butcher or simply become educated on where cuts of meat they buy come from.

Ryan Farr, with pig.
  • Ryan Farr, with pig.

Why a picture book?

I'm a visual learner. I like to see things done. This is something that was missing from the available butchery books. I began my blog as a document board, and it got people interested. I don't contribute to the blog anymore, but it is still on our website. You can type "beef tongue" into the search box and find a step-by-step guide to corned beef tongue with pictures.

How many cows/pigs/lambs did you have to cut up for this?

We butchered one cow, one pig, and two lambs over a period of two 14-hour days. It was an amazing experience. Ed Anderson, the photographer, took more than 2,000 pictures. It was difficult to pick the 500 shots we used in the book. I could have done a 500-page book on each animal, so it was challenging to narrow it down.

What do you think most cooks attempting whole-beast butchery get wrong when they start out?

Not having a plan. Meat is perishable, so you have to have a plan and know the direction you are going. The book has five recipes per animal. Each recipe is picked for a reason, and different techniques (braising, roasting, sausage-making) are used to target different types and cuts of meat. A sharp knife and cold meat are also very important.

What do you do with all the trim? Extra lamb and beef fat?

We use everything. Edible trim and fat get used in sausage. We use quite a bit of lamb fat in our merguez sausage. Pork skin gets used in chicharrones. We fry chicken and potatoes in beef fat. We even make dog food.

Have you had interest from home cooks who want to break down a steer themselves?

Yes, definitely. There is a lot of interest. People want to get closer to the farm-to-table process. We (4505 Meats) do offer a whole beef class, which is limited to only five students. Each student walks out with 100 pounds of beef. We spend nine hours together. It is a very intimate experience.

Where's a good source for a bone saw, and are there special knives needed for butchering whole animals?

I'm a fan of F. Dick knives, which I get at Town Cutler in the Tenderloin. My favorite bone saw is the one that Wusthof makes. It has a nice handle and thick blade. It cuts cleanly.

For those interested in Ryan's hands-on classes, which cover topics such as butchery, sausage-making, foie gras, and knife skills and are open to both home cooks and pros, visit the 4505 Meats website.

Ryan will be making an appearance at an event this Saturday, January 21, at 3:00-4:00 p.m. at Omnivore Books, 3885 Cesar Chavez (at Church). Cost: Free.

Marla Simon is a San Francisco-based chef, food stylist, and food writer.

Follow her on twitter at @Marla_Simon

Follow us at: @sfoodie, and like us on Facebook.

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Marla Simon


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