Where’s the Beef (and Lamb)?

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.

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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.

My protective mesh glove

My protective mesh glove

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.

My lesson with Wayne begins

My lesson with Wayne begins

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.

Where we started

Where we started

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.

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Lots of ribs

Lots of ribs

Boneless lamb loin

Boneless lamb loin

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).

Really concentrating while using the saw to cut through the ribs

Really concentrating while using the saw to cut through beef ribs

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.

Look at that happy girl with her lamb leg

Look at that happy girl with her lamb leg

What would become my stew

What would become my stew

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?

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My yummy lamb and lentil stew

My yummy lamb and lentil stew

 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.

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The Family Way

I mention my family from time to time on this blog. Whether it’s learning about my forbears while trying out life as a genealogist, or tagging along as my mother tends to wounded birds, you have gotten a taste of my family. Now you will get a slightly more literal “taste” of them. We’ll start at the beginning:

In 1939, my great-uncle Tom Kinnealey had just moved home to Boston after graduating from Notre Dame. At that time his brother, my grandfather Arthur, had a produce business in a stall at the Faneuil Hall Market Place. Arthur brokered an introduction for Tom with one of the nearby butchers. Tom apprenticed with this butcher, but soon realized he could do things better. With an investment from Arthur ($500, quite a sum in those days), Tom started T.F. Kinnealey Company. In the years to come, his brothers Joe, Frank and Bill joined him. The company grew from that small operation in Faneuil Hall, to supplying the Army with corned beef during World War II, and eventually providing the best quality meat to restaurants and hotels across New England.  The company outgrew Faneuil Hall, and then a series of other locations around Boston.

My great-uncles Tom and Joe ran the business throughout my childhood, and they have been succeeded by their sons. Tom and Joe were two of my favorites: Tom hosted and played in our annual Thanksgiving football game well into his 80’s, usually without gloves, despite freezing temperatures. I can remember him darting inside between plays to run his hands under hot water, before dashing back out as to not miss more than a few plays. After my own grandparents passed away Joe and his wife Harriet were like surrogate grandparents to me. To this day my holidays and family birthday dinners are spent with their children and grandchildren. I am a very lucky girl.

Today, located in Brockton, MA, T.F. Kinnealey’s serves some of the finest restaurants from Northern Connecticut to Maine and out to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.  Some of my very favorites spots in my South End neighborhood are Kinnealey customers. Cousins now run and work at the company (even more during vacations and breaks from college). I am not one of them, so when my cousin Joe suggested I “get bloody” for this blog, I jumped at the chance to get a first-hand look at what generations of my family have done. Besides, I suspected that I would look ravishing in a hairnet!

I arrived early one morning, although not as early as Joe who is up and at work well before the sun comes up. I had not been to the Brockton plant before, which they moved into in 2008 (although I remember my uncle Joe letting me play in the meat lockers on visits to the old plant on Mass Ave.), so cousin Joe gave me a tour and briefed me on the safety and health procedures before I got started. While keeping my coat on (it was chilly in there), I was outfitted in a white jacket, apron, gloves, plastic sleeves, and yes…that hair net I so badly wanted.

Katie Kinnealey, my mentor for the day

I joined my cousin Katie on the floor and was immediately grateful that I would be learning from someone I knew — and someone who couldn’t get that mad at me if I was really bad at this. Katie and I were working on vacuum packing meat that was headed out the door and would likely be on someone’s dinner plate that night or the next. This took some serious attention to detail in terms of setting all the meat in the machine correctly, and I also had to arrange that meat quickly as to not back up all the orders that were in line. Plus, while the machine was doing it’s thing (sealing) I was packing up more orders. Katie was so patient with me.  And I must admit, I felt a little bit like I got stuck in that chocolate factory episode of “I Love Lucy.” Please note, I did not eat any raw meat, nor did I stuff it down my shirt like Lucy did.

I also spent some time loading pieces of meat into a tenderizer, which uses tons of needles to tenderize meat all at once. After several minutes of layering the meat on a belt that took it into the machine, a kind cohort came gave me a very important tip: I didn’t have to be so careful. These truly are words (for me) to live by. I guess I had been taking a lot of time situating the meat on the belt just so to allow for equal surface area per piece. Who me? Imagine that.  After receiving that sage advice, I picked-up the pace and put the meat on the belt in a slightly less precious way.

Katie packing before we vacuum pack

Halfway though my day I realized that I was in the middle of my first day of real physical work. Ever. There was that one summer at The Top of the Hill Farmers Market, but carrying watermelons (and making a lot of “Dirty Dancing” jokes) does not a hard day of work make. All my jobs have been pretty cerebral, demanding mental push-ups, not physical ones. This was an interesting perspective to gain at this (relatively late) point in my life. It seems that a “hard day’s work” is often judged differently depending on where you’re coming from. My day working at Kinnealey’s was one of the most exhausting days I have ever had; demanding not only physical stamina, but also mental. The proof was in the pudding: the next day I was sore all over especially my back and arms.

Joe had wanted me to try all the aspects of the process, but I stayed with Katie the entire day because a piece of equipment was not working well, so I was actually useful. This made me feel amazing. Instead of being the weak link (well, let’s be honest, under any circumstances I was bound to be the weak link), I was a help. I was also working with a certain zeal because I was genuinely happy and excited to be there. Towards the end of the day, Wayne, the production manager, said he liked my work ethic. I took this as an extreme compliment seeing that I was doing something I had never done before and was taking a great deal of pride in it. He then asked me if I would be with them all week. I said that, sadly, I had to go back to my normal job the next day, but I told him I would come back. And I will, Theo still has to teach me how to cut!

After being elbow-deep in meat all day you would think I would want anything but steak for dinner, but as I drove back to Boston, that was exactly what I was craving. I stopped at the East Milton Market and picked up the makings for a perfect dinner: a Kinnealey steak.

Many thanks to my cousins Joe and John Kinnealey for letting me “get bloody,” with all the wonderful people at Kinnealey’s. Thanks also go out to Katie Kinnealey who showed me the ropes during my day in the meat locker. It’s likely that many of your favorite Boston-area restaurants serve Kinnealey Meats, but you can also visit their retail locations and cook up your own feast at home.  I was not compensated in any way for this post.

Theo, one of my new friends

Annie and Francis

Katie hard at work