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You are here: Home arrow Articles arrow Cooking, preserving and home brewing arrow Butchering half a pig


Butchering half a pig

Written by Bebo

1. Make sure you have your cutting area cleared and all the equipment you need ready to hand. Ideally youíll have a large butchers block or table that you donít mind getting cut up a bit Ė I would suggest something of around 4ft long, much smaller and you are going to struggle.

2. Equipment suggestions:

  • Boning knife(ves) Ė i.e. long narrow and slightly flexible blade

  • Cutting knife(ves) Ė I use a long slightly curved bladed knife that widens towards the tip (called a steak knife I think)

  • Scoring knife Ė a clean Stanley knife will do or you can use the boning knife but I find it a bit too bendy

  • Meat saw Ė Iíve seen it suggested that you can get away with an ordinary hacksaw, but the proper meat ones arenít horrendously expensive (have a look on if you need one)

  • Chopper Ė you can manage without, but chops are tedious with a saw

  • Plastic bags, labels and a permanent marker

  • Butchers string

  • Bin to put off cuts in to throw out

  • Large bowls / containers to put the trimming that you want to keep for mince etc in.

  • If you are going to make sausages, bacon, hams etc there are other bits that youíll need, but for now Iíll restrict this to getting it cut up into pieces.

3. Make sure you get the abattoir to split the pig in half lengthways Ė itís a nightmare trying to do this at home without the proper equipment to hang the pig up by its back legs.

4. Take your half pig, with head on, and lay it cut side down on the block. Using your large cutting knife, cut around the pigs neck right through to the backbone. Cut fairly close to the head, otherwise you leave meat behind that would go into your rolled shoulder joint, and make sure you cut through all of the flesh. You should then be able to twist the pigs head and it should come off (if it doesnít come off fairly easily then check to make sure you have cut through all of the flesh). Put the pigs head in the fridge to deal with later.

This is the point at which I take the leg off

Cut here to remove the trotter

And here to divide the leg into two joints

This is what you end up with

5. Turn the pig over so it is cut side up. The next thing I do is take the leg off. To do this I look for the bone (I think it is part of the pelvis) that is exposed. The exposed part is long and narrow and curves slightly at either end. I aim to cut about a fingers width above this bone and straight across to take the bottom off the backbone off. To line the cut up it helps to stand at the foot end and lay your knife across where you want to cut. The leg should look like an isosceles triangle (a bit). Try to imagine that once youíve made the cut you could stand it up on the cut face and it would balance evenly (not sure that makes sense but thatís how I do it). Mark across the cut line with your knife and cut through until you hit bone (will be quite a shallow cut). Then take your meat saw and saw through the bone. Once you are back into flesh, finish the cut all the way through with the knife. (It took longer to type than it will actually take you to do it).

6. Next take off the trotter. Feel along the shin with your thumb, working up from the foot. You will find a dent in the shin where there is a joint in the bone, close to where the leg starts to get some meat on it. I cut just above this joint. Cut through the skin and flesh (what there is of it) then use the saw to go through the bone. Finish off with the knife once you are through the bone. You now have a pigís trotter. Bag it, label it and freeze it (if you donít like trotters they come in handy for using in making stock or you could make your dog happy and give it to them).

7. Now for the leg. If you feed a lot of people at once you could leave it whole, but itís a lot of meat. I tend to cut it into two joints. Feel along the shin again working up from where the trotter was. You will find another dent which is the next joint in the bone. Again I cut just above the joint (about a finger width or two). Follow the same procedure for cutting (knife, saw, knife) and you will have two leg joints. Score the flesh, bag, label and freeze or if you are intending to cure them put the in the fridge while you deal with the rest of the pig.

8. Thatís the leg taken care of. Now for the rest of the pig.

Next I split the loin from the belly. Cut through the shoulder joint with a boning knife

Mark where you want to cut with the saw with a knife

Then pull side over the edge of the block / table and start to saw

Carry on sawing until you cut through all of the ribs

Once you are through the ribs, use your knife to cut through the flesh underneath and you end up with the above

Inside the loin is the fillet. Run your boning knife along the inside of the backbone to start

Keep working along the inside of the ribs with the tip of your knife until you have removed the fillet completely

Once removed trim off fat / sinew to get to this

9. I now tend to split the pig, loin from belly. The first thing to do is split the shoulder joint. You can do this with your boning knife. Itís a little bit tricky to find the joint, but it separates easily once you do find it. If you look at the shoulder below where the bone is visible near the top of the pig there is a kind of dip before it rises up to the front leg (donít think I explained that very well but hopefully youíll see what I mean when youíve got it in front of you). There is often some very dark red meat and fat in this area (itís close to where they bleed the pigs out after slaughtering). Try to trim this out a bit (you donít need to take too much) so that you can see a bit better. Itís then a case of cutting in with the point of the knife to try to find the ball and socket joint. If you canít find it easily make the cut a bit bigger and have a poke around with your fingers. Once youíve found it, cut through the flesh above it and then slip your boning knife through the cartilage in between the two bones to separate them. You should now be able to continue your cut through all of the meat below this to fully separate the shoulder at the top and the front leg (known as the hand) at the bottom). Stop when you get to where the ribs start as your next task is cutting through these.

10. Next job is to cut through the ribs and the rest of the flesh along the length of the pig. With the tip of boning knife mark as line from where you have separated shoulder and front leg along the ribs right down to the other end of the pig. When you make it bear in mind that the ribs cure upwards and in the loin you want about the same length of rib all the way along. This means that the line will curve slightly. Once youíve marked where you want to cut, stand at the back end of the pig and pull it over the end of your table until the ribs are resting on the edge (it means youíve got the meaty bit at the back hanging in the air). This pushes the ribs outwards and allow you to work along them with the bone saw. Youíll probably need to move the pig a could of time to do it, but cut along the line that youíve marked until all of the ribs are cut through. Lay the pig back on your block and following your saw line use your knife to cut through the flesh all the way along. You should now have a belly and hand in one piece and a shoulder and loin in another piece. Give yourself a pat on the back.

11. Belly and hand next. Lay the belly and hand skin side down. First thing to do is to remove the hand (front leg). Find a point between two ribs that will let you take the knife through just missing the back of the elbow on the pigís front leg. Cut through. You should be able to take the whole thing off with a knife but sometimes there will be a stubborn bit of bone that you will need to finish with the saw.

12. Youíll have to decide what to do with the hand. I use it in mince or sausages (Iíll tell you how to trim it up for that later) or I gather it can be bones and rolled (I wonít tell you how to do that as I havenít done that before). For now put it in the fridge.

13. You now have the belly ready to deal with. This is the way I do it, but you could leave the bones in use it as a roasting joint if you want to. You will see a layer of creamy white fat inside the belly. This can be peeled off quite easily with your fingers (you might need to make a little cut to get your fingers under it to start with). Take it all off and you can render it down for lard if you want (or bin it or use it for extra fat in your sausages). Next you will see a strip of flesh running diagonally across the belly sticking out, just above the ribs. Trim this off and put to one side to go into sausages. Next use your fingers to identify where the bottom of the ribs are and where they run to. Once youíve worked this out run your knife along just beyond where the rib bones are to produce a shallow cut, effectively freeing the ends of the ribs. At the narrowest ends use your boning knife to run underneath the first little rib to separate the bone from the flesh underneath. Pull the bone upwards and then use you boning knife to run along the next rib, keep doing this until you have worked all the way along and you have a rack of ribs separated from the belly. Cut between each rib using you big knife to get separate them, bag them up, label and freeze, while looking forward to bbq ribs at some point in the future.

14. You can now cut the belly with a knife into whatever sized pieces you want depending on what you want to do with it. You will notice that one end of the belly is much thicker than the other. Some people roll the thick end and use it as a roasting joint. You could do this and then cut the rest into strips, or larger slabs. Or you can use it in you sausages if you arenít keen on belly pork. Or you could leave it in larger pieces and cure it for streaky bacon. If you are going to use any of it to roast, donít forget to score the skin. Choose what is right for you and youíve finished with the belly.

15. Now for the loin. Firstly you want to remove the kidney. Just work around the fat that surrounds it with your boning knife and itíll come away cleanly. You can freeze it or you can put it in the fridge ready for a little post butchery treat of devilled kidneys or kidneys in sherry (my personal favourite).

16. You will also need to take the fillet out from inside the ribs at the back end of the pig. You should be able to see a long fillet of meat tucked up inside the ribs. If you run your boning knife along the top of this where the backbone is, keeping the blade pressed against the bone it will start to come free. You then need to pull the fillet away from the bone with the other hand, whilst using the tip of the boning knife to keep running along the join between bone and fillet. Do this slowly and carefully and you will end up with a whole fillet of pork. Once youíve got the fillet completely cut away, trim off the fatty bits and bag, label and freeze.

Then I take the shoulder off. Count four ribs up and cut between the fourth and the fifth

Shoulder removed and ready for boning (if that's what you want to do with it)

Move to the other end of the loin (where the leg was cut off) and use a knife to cut chops. Once the flesh is cut use a chopper to cut through the bone (or a saw it your aim is as bad as mine). I tend to take chops up until the start of the ribs and use the rest of the loin for roasting joints

Moving on to the belly, I start by taking off the hand

You can bone and roll it, but I always use it for sausages

Pull off the layer of fat inside the belly (you can render it down for lard)

Run your knife along the top of the ribs making a shallow cut to the depth of the rib bones

Work the tip of your knife along the underside of the ribs, lifting the ribs as you do so

Keep going until you have removed them completely. Cut up into individual ribs and save until its BBQ weather again

You are left with a boneless belly that you can cut into strips, stuff and roll or do whatever you like to do with belly pork

17. Move towards the shoulder end and lay the loin skin side down. If you count four ribs down from the shoulder (make sure you look very carefully as there is a very small piece of rib right up close to the shoulder joint) and cut between the fourth and fifth rib. Cut all the way through between the ribs and through as much flesh as you can. There will be a bit of bone at the top of the ribs that youíll need to use the saw or chopper to get through. Thatís your whole, bone in shoulder done. I tend to bone and roll it and then cut it into two joints.

18. Next I move to the other end of the loin, away from the ribs. I cut this bit into chops. Lay the loin skin side up, cut through the flesh until you hit bone and then cut through the bone using the saw or chopper. Cut them however thick you like your chops. Also cut them one at a time as if you cut through the flesh for a number of them and then go back with the chopper to finish them later they become more difficult to hold in place while you are sawing / chopping. For the first two or three you will need to use the saw as you are doing through the hip bone area, but beyond this you can just use a chopper (I tend to use a saw for most of it as I am rubbish at being able to hit the same place twice with a chopper). I cut chops until I get to where the ribs are and generally get around 10 from a side. Bag, label and freeze your chops.

19. You are left with the rest of the loin. If you are going to roast it, score the skin and then cut into however many pieces you want. Cut by putting it skin side down and running your knife between a pair of ribs, cutting through all of the flesh and then finishing with the saw. Bag, label and freeze you loin joints. Alternatively, you could bone the loin and make back bacon.

20. Thatís most of the work done. Itís just dealing with those pieces that you put in the fridge for later. Firstly the head. If you are going to make brawn I think you use the whole head (never done it as I canít stand the stuff). If you arenít going down the brawn route, you can take the cheeks off and either use them in mince or sausages or cook them as Bath chaps. To take the cheeks off use your boning knife to cut through the skin under the ear, running round under the eye, along the top of the snout and then down to the lip. You will also need to cut through the skin along the bottom jaw. Itís then just a matter of pulling away the skin and running the tip of your boning knife along the bone to free the flesh. The cheek bone is a bit of an odd shape so youíll have to fiddle around it to get the flesh away. You can also cut the ears off and use them, but I must admit I havenít bothered to do this myself.

21. The other bit that you put back in the fridge was the hand. I use this for sausage meat and am therefore not very careful about the way I bone it as itís all going to be minced. I cut through the skin until I hit bone and just follow the bone with the tip of the boning knife until Iíve got all of the meat away from it. If you are dicing for the mincer youíll need to trim all of the skin off as well as the worst of the sinew (fat is OK, especially if you are making sausages). A quick tip for getting the skin off Ė cut the meat and skin into strips, lay skin side down, cut through the flesh as far as the skin using your boning knife and then angle the knife to run it along the skin whilst pulling the other end of the strip with your other hand. If you wiggle the boning knife gentle whilst doing this you can get most of the meat and fat off without cutting through the skin. Chuck the skin away (or make pork scratching if you like).

22. Thatís the basics of how I break half a pig down into smaller bits. Next is the fun bit of deciding what to make with the bits, particularly if you decide to venture down the road of home sausage making, curing and smoking.