Buying subprimal cuts

Joined May 14, 2001
We've been discussing how to breakdown subprimal cuts this week at school. The chef is a big proponent of buying subprimals and breaking them down yourself. In his consulting business he says he always advises his clients to look at this and plan their menu around it to maximize profits.

But he also freely admits most places don't do this his opinion they are throwing money away...OK maybe but i'm thinking there's probably another side to this story.

Is it the cost of labor that keeps places from doing this? Or lack of butchering space? Or lack of knowledge in the labor pool in how to breakdown a full pork loin or chicken?

What's been everyone's experience on this out there in the industry?


Staff member
Joined Jun 11, 2001
Did you know that the best use of a bandsaw, other than for butchering, is for cutting frozen baguettes? If you're talking about true butchering, then I'd say I haven't seen anyone in a restaurant do it. It's difficult to train people to even clean PSMO's these days. I can do one in 5-8 minutes, but it gets boring if you're gonna be doing tons of them. 109's are easy enough for most people, but even then you're looking at possible waste due to apathy.

If you look at the price of say a PSMO, 6lbs at $8.00 a lb, that's about $50. Figure 30% waste if you take out the strap and your price is around $12/lb. Add 10 minutes of labor to that which is maybe four bucks and that's $13/lb. This is assuming only 30% waste and you have a competent guy cutting meat. If you're true to the book, which nobody is anymore these days, that is you break it down into chateaubriand, tips, tournedos, you're more SOL because you can't sell tips for the price of filet mignon.

I've seen guys in Chinese restaurants bone a chicken in two minutes. If you go to a Chinese grocer you can watch them break down a whole pig carcass, perhaps not into the traditional western cuts, but it's quite an experience to watch a good butcher bust the moves.

Joined Jan 5, 2001
We've been kicking this very topic around at work and at the local ACF meetings. I recently had a dinner for 300, serving stuffed tenderloins. I decided to check the difference between buying PSMOs and steak ready trims. PSMOs ran $7, steak ready's ran almost $13. By the time I figured in shrink, labor, loss of work space to the rest of the crew while I trimmed a case of PSMOs, it was much cheaper to go with the steak ready's. I do believe every cook should know how to break a sub primal or better yet break a whole carcass.
I do however always cut my own chickens, it's just too easy, fast and cheap to do poultry yourself, and there is little or no waste.
I just got done teaching a poultry cutting class at a local high school culinary program, and am convinced it is a necessary skill in any kitchen.
Joined Aug 11, 2000
There is at least one chef in town making charcuterie and breaking down whole piggies, lambs and beef halves. His places have the most glorious pates...
I just taught 2 lamb classes in north missouri, the processer did a number on one of the lambs, didn't separate the chops, too much fat in the ground, did not cut the shank off the leg....HOW hard can it be????And the guy makes $40 to break down a 65#lamb.
NOTHING like boning out a leg of lamb with part of the pelvis still connected...especially in front of vet school professors.
Joined Feb 11, 2002
I agree with Kuan and Camp Chef - unless you're a hotel or specialty steak/meat house, breaking down your own - most places don't have the space or time.We try to order our fish and certainly our poultry whole- they're much easier to break down. But with meat - what does your menu hold- can it support a subprimal cut? How much meat are your customers eating? (I guess it depends on what your market is).
Butchering knowledge IS a necessary tool - especially when dealing with your meat purveyor- if you work with a good one, you can visit the plant , see how they're cutting, and know how to order for your specific needs.

But everybody's got to be able to breakdown a chicken. Bones for stock and all that lovely fat...mmmnn!!!


Latest posts

Top Bottom