Where did fall go? The last few days have been down right frigid in Boston, and now Thanksgiving is right around the corner. And in an early celebration of both family and food, I combined those two things to see if I could coax my inner butcher out into the open in time to carve the Thanksgiving turkey.
Yes, I did say butcher. Those of you who have read this blog for a while may remember my last visit to T.F. Kinnealey, the company founded by my great-uncle 74 years ago. T.F. Kinnealey serves some of the finest restaurants, hotels and country clubs from Northern Connecticut to Maine and out to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Some of my very favorite spots in Boston are Kinnealey customers.
Last year I had what I consider the first day of really hard physical work in my life there. They didn’t let me off easy just because I’m family. After that post, many of you complained that it didn’t include any pictures of me sporting a hairnet. So when my cousin Joe invited me back for an introductory lesson in butchery, I jumped at the chance.
I arrived in Brockton bright and early at 7:15 a.m., washed and suited up to head into the chilly production floor. There I was greeted with a warm hug from Wayne Tumber, Kinnealey’s production manager, and my teacher for the day. He helped me put a mesh metal glove on my left hand that resembled medieval armor. This would prevent me from injuring myself. He is a smart man.
Wayne has been cutting meat since 1969, so I was in very capable hands. We had a lot to do, so we got right to it. I rolled up my sleeves—metaphorically speaking of course, it’s actually too chilly in there to do that—and got to work. I must warn you all now; this work (and my pictures of it) may not be for everyone. My vegan and vegetarian readers may just want to stop here. Get yourself some tofurky and come back next week.
Wayne was an incredibly patient teacher. He showed me one step in the process, and then let me try, correcting and encouraging me as I went along. One of the keys to butchery seems to be to stick close to the bone. Bones help guide you through the animal. And additionally, if you hug the bone, you’ll do less damage to the meat you want to keep intact, and eat.
I found myself being very delicate with the meat, and tentative with the knife. Wayne and I joked that I needed to hold the knife like a serial killer, with a firm whole-hand grip, not as if I was politely cutting a steak at the dinner table. Wayne also reminded me that I could manhandle the meat, move it around to get a better angle or grip on it. “Remember, you can’t hurt it,” he said. “It’s already dead.” That it most certainly was. Eventually I got more comfortable, pulling pieces of the animal as I cut, and letting the sharp tip of my knife do most of the work.
I seemed to have the most trouble with ribs. I boned-out both beef ribs and lamb ribs. The lamb ribs were smaller and I had trouble keeping a good grip on them with my multiple layers of gloves (metal mesh for safety, cloth for warmth and then plastic for health). You run your knife up and down the ribs. Again, using the bones as a guide and removing all the meat on them. Despite my difficulty they looked really pretty when I was done with them, if I do say so myself.
For me, never a standout science student, it was really interesting to see that in terms of physiology, the animals are pretty similar. And by the third piece of meat, I was getting the hang of it. Wayne even trusted me enough to cut through the beef ribs with a motorized saw (o.k., that did make me a little nervous, my mesh glove was not going to save me then).
While there were some moments that were a little intense (pulling the ball and socket of the lamb’s hip joint apart), I wasn’t grossed out at all. It was like a biology class for adults, but instead of frogs, it was my dinner.
As Wayne and I walked into the meat locker, I asked him what he liked most about his job. “Everything,” he quickly said. He’s now a manager, so he doesn’t cut as much as he used to, but he enjoys the fact that every day is different. I said I could not agree with him more.
After I successfully processed my lamb and beef, Wayne packed it up for me to take home. After my visit last year people seemed surprised that I immediately wanted to eat meat after handling it all day. It was the same this time. I took my lamb home, browned it up in a pan and made a delicious lamb and lentil stew which I am still enjoying.
I really enjoyed cutting up those animals, and while I’m certainly not as fast or efficient as the experts at T.F. Kinnealey’s, I think this may be something I stick with. Maybe take another lesson and practice at home. It must be in the blood…the metaphoric blood of course, not the literal blood.
Who wants to come over for dinner?
Many thanks to Joe Kinnealey for allowing me to once again come down and learn another facet of the family business. Thanks also to Wayne Tumber who was brave enough to get really close to me while I was holding a very sharp knife. If you live in New England it’s likely, you have had T.F. Kinnealey meat at your favorite restaurant, but you can also visit their retail location at the Milton Marketplace, in Milton, MA. While I was not compensated for this post, Joe did let met take home some of what I cut, so I worked for my dinner, and it was delicious.