When people think of meat, they think about the end product: the slice of steak, the pigs in blanket, or the bacon sandwich served front of them. Yet behind the finished product, lies the task of meat processing. At its core, this is the task of turning livestock animals into meat ready for human consumption.
If you’re already in the business of raising livestock, meat processing is a great way to increase your profit - you’ll typically earn more selling meat to customers directly rather than selling your animals at the market.
So, if you’re looking at getting into meat processing, the primary task you'll be undertaking is the creation of manufactured meat products prepared from the edible portion of animal tissue. Whilst this sounds like a convoluted and intricate procedure, with the right knowledge and equipment, you can make the leap into the world of meat processing with ease.
Before going further, know your meats:
Within the industry, classifying meats is often based on what animal the meat comes from. Firstly, the most common types of meat are red and white.
Typically, white meat comes from poultry, again taking its name from its lighter shade prior to cooking - whilst seafood at times comes under the umbrella of white meat, typically it retains its own category.
Getting started with meat processing:
So you have familiarized yourself with the subcategories of meat you’ll be dealing with. But before you go swinging a blade away at your animal like a madman, you’d best read up on the various cuts of meat you’ll be dealing with first. There is a wealth of content available online for getting to grips with meat cuts, so I won’t bore you with a comprehensive list today as you're here for the processing basics.
The name of the game when it comes to beginning your food processing is space. As you’ll find out in this article, there is a solid amount of equipment involved - so before going any further it's certainly worth considering where you’re going to fit it all.
Proper butchering requires proper knives. Meat processing involves having to slice through some firm muscle. For that reason, it is essential that you go into it with the right knives for the job.
First off, a knife worthy of a mention is the skinning knife - one of the most common knives you’ll find at any meat processing facility regardless of size. This blade has the first job when it comes to meat processing, and it’s typically used to remove the animal’s pelt. As the name of this blade indicates, its job comes at the act of skin removal so it's essential for getting to the muscle underneath. Typically, this large blade will have a very sharp edge along with a dull point which will allow for longer slices whilst minimizing any potential damage to the muscle.
Next up is the chef’s cleaver. This blade really is essential for meat processing, and you’ve likely come across this knife before with its instantly recognisable flat and wide blade. In a stark contrast to other knives, a cleaver comes with a fairly tough edge - the reason being because it needs to to withstand repeated, consecutive blows to often very firm pieces of meat.
The cleaver’s strong blade is also capable of cutting directly through bone – and it’s for these reasons, that this knife has a place in any meat processing facility. If you’re looking to spend a bit more, another option is a bone saw. If you’re on the market for a more time-efficient alternative to dealing with raw meats on the bone, a saw may be just what you’re after.
So, I’ve given a mention to both skinning knives and meat cleavers. But there also lies the category of preparing poultry. Since chickens and turkey are both hugely popular choices for consumers nowadays, the plucking machine is well worth a mention.
By now - largely thanks to its descriptive name - you’ve probably figured out what this item is, this automated machine performs the task of removing the feathers from your poultry livestock. This procedure is done through the application of high force to remove the feathers, the bird will typically be spun or slightly thrown at high speeds. This is usually done without causing damage to the skin.
If you’re already in the business of raising chickens then you’re probably not at all surprised to find this product mentioned here - a good quality plucking machine can save you literally hours of valuable time when it comes to getting to the meat of your poultry livestock. Plucking by hand is becoming a relic of a bygone age now thanks to modern technology.
If you’re thinking about a plucking machine for your meat processing facility then it's worth considering how much you’re going to invest. There’s a lot of different plucking machines out there, but regardless of what model you end up going with most will remove the feathers in approximately one to six minutes.
The slower models towards the latter end of the one to six minute spectrum may seem initially unappealing from a timesaving point of view, yet remember to consider that the faster plucking machines are more likely to miss a few feathers here and there. Whilst this may not be a total nightmare for you, it is worth considering that a slower machine may produce better results.
I have covered the steps involved when getting to the meat tissue. Whatever the meat products it is you're looking to produce; this next item is a definitely a must-have.
Think of this stage of meat processing in the same way as you’d imagine slicing a boiled egg. While, on the one hand, you certainly could go about doing this free hand, this is not ideal. Why? Because if you were to slice your egg this way you would be left with slices of various sizes, along with a larger amount of waste product than if you’d used a proper hand-operated egg slicer.
Slicing meat is no different. For this reason, you’re going to want a proper meat slicer on your list of meat processing equipment. Whilst they are electrically operated and will incur some increase in energy bills, having one really is a no-brainer if you’re looking to produce high grade cuts.
Depending on how much you want to spend, and how big a blade you want on your meat slicer, it’s going to set you back anywhere between $200 and $400 for a decent piece of kit. Again, while these certainly aren’t cheap it is a must have. Now you’re interested in getting yourself a meat slicer for your kitchen, the next thing you’re probably wondering is what this piece of equipment is, and how it will benefit your processing setup.
Typically, on a meat slicer, you’re going to find a tray with a level attached onto a metal board with a rotating blade. So, you’ll take your chunk of meat and position it onto the tray. A huge benefit here is that you’ve traditionally got a clamp to keep the meat in place while you slice, so you won’t need to put your hand near any blades.
Next up comes the truly handy part: through the adjustable blade you’re able to choose exactly what size slice you want to produce - and consistently get those cuts. This is ideal if you’re going to be slicing cuts to sell, as being able to get the same sized cut makes setting your prices much easier.
Once you’ve chosen the size of the slice you’re looking to produce, simply use the handle on the tray with one hand and repeatedly move the tray across. As it touches the blade you will produce a slice, coming off the back side of the machine - then using your free hand you can catch the slices in a tray as they fall.
Since their invention in the 19th century by German inventor Karl Drais, the meat grinder has remained an essential part of meat processing setups. If you’re reading from within Europe it is highly likely you’ve heard these addressed by a slightly different name, the meat mincer, but the product is the same either way.
The purpose behind the meat grinder is fairly simple, to take large pieces of meat, and grind them together to produce a meat product of uniform size and consistency. Just like the meat slicer, the grinder really is an essential feature in any kitchen. It opens the door to creating a far wider variety of meat products than simply off the bone cuts and therefore really should be included in your setup.
Again, this is another piece of equipment which can vary hugely in price depending on the model you chose to invest in. The cheaper side of things comes in at about $230, whereas if you’re looking to spend a bit more on a solid piece of kit, you can pick up the Maxima Meat Mixer 32 model for about $620.
The choice here is up to you. Speaking for myself, I’m often tempted to spend less on something to avoid that initial blow to the finances - only to be left disappointed when the quality doesn’t live up to what I was looking for. For that reason, when it comes to your grinder this is something that can potentially last for years and therefore might be spending that little bit extra on in order to secure the quality you need.
When it comes to what exactly this piece of equipment does, you’ll typically place the meat which you wish to grind into the top of the machine. Through the magic of modern machinery, the meat is then forced together and pushed through a metal plate which is dotted with little holes. This plate is interchangeable with others of the same size, each with varying sized holes which enable you to switch between different sized strings of meat depending on the consistency you require.
Once you have ground your meat into these small threads, this malleable product can be moulded into whatever it is you’re looking to prepare. The most common choice is hamburgers, ground meat is an excellent choice when it comes to preparing for the summertime barbeque. Alternatively, if you’re selling for trade, having a meat grinder goes a long way for turning what may have been unused cuts into a whole new product.
Next up we’ve got the meat tenderizer. Ever been served a cut of beef which is just way too chewy? It's a shame because the excess mouth-work involved with getting it down your throat really detracts from the flavour. If you can relate to that, the likelihood is that your meat was either poorly cooked or not properly tenderized. Tenderizing is an essential part of preparing high quality meat and is unfortunately overlooked by many amateurs nowadays.
So, when you prepare meat in your processing area you’re going to want to ensure that it's as tender as possible - whilst cooking plays a large part in this, correct preparation really will help it go that extra mile. A tenderizer can be purchased for roughly $200 with the main difference between models being the size of meat cut it’ll take at any one time. So, what is it you’re spending your hard-earned money on when you buy a meat tenderizer?
Essentially, this device works through twin rollers equipped with a number of small blades all over. As you turn the piece of meat through the tenderizer these blades will make small cuts into either side. These cuts allow the piece of meat to be cooked through much more evenly - therefore, whether your processing for sale or for personal consumption this piece of kit will be sure to maximise both flavour and consistency.
Sausages are one of the most popular meat products available to consumers in the modern world. Available in a wide range of varieties, they are a reliable product with a large customer interest. No doubt you’re keen on getting into sausage creation. Yet, as you can probably imagine, assembling sausages by hand is extremely difficult - not to mention very messy.
Setting you back anywhere between $100 and $820 depending on the size you’re looking for; a sausage filler is an essential addition to your setup if you’re looking to make sausages. If you’re struggling to decide between a larger or smaller variant of sausage filler, the best thing to consider is the quantity of sausages you’ll need producing. If you’re looking to equip a large-scale kitchen then it may be worth getting one of the more expensive models, as this will allow you to load a capacity of between 20 and 25 litres into the reservoir at any given time.
By comparison, if you’re looking to prepare your own sausages at home, or your restaurant’s kitchen is slightly less busy, then consider a smaller unit as you won’t need to make sausages as often. This piece of kit works in a similar way to the meat grinder, with meat from a large reservoir being pressed via the application of pressure through a tube. The pressed meat is then fed directly into your sausage skins which can be either real or artificial - all this makes the process of forming sausages quick and easy.
So, there you have it, the basic equipment required to get started with meat processing. Bear in mind this is not an exhaustive list, there is a huge range of equipment available for you to choose from out there. What you end up purchasing will largely be dependent on the meat products you're aiming to produce.
With all that said, meat processing can be hugely beneficial to any business: it removes that dependency to import your meat products, and therefore gives you total control over the cuts, and final taste, of the meat you serve.
With that in mind, I invite you to look browse around, and search for the equipment that will best suit the setup you wish to build. Enjoy your dive into the world of meat processing!