French vs. American Butchery

After visiting the farm and pouring over the details (quality of beef, cost, transportation etc), we finally decided to purchase a whole cow with three other families. One of the great things about this arrangement is that each family can choose to custom butcher their 1/4th if they want to. We often attempt one of Julia Child’s French steak recipes with the wrong cut, because we cannot find it in any American store. So, this could be our rare chance to get some French cuts and some American ones (the best of both worlds?)  – that is, if we can figure out what we are doing. Now that our cow order has been placed, TM has done a bit of research and I am left with my own butchery homework to do as well. I thought you might enjoy what we found on French vs. American beef butchering styles, taken from the D’Artagnan blog. I feel like the two very different ways of butchering a cow very much reflect the cultural differences of these two countries. See if you agree!

Watch Tom Mylan’s knife-skills meet Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec’s:

If you cannot view the video, here is a summary on Ariane Daguin’s cultural observations:

American beef butchery:
Focus on efficiency, conserving time and labor.
Make the meat as affordable as possible.
Customer is looking for the density of the meat.
Customer wants and talks about the much sought-after “marble”.
USA known for some of the best cattle breeders in the world.

French beef butchery:
French meat is already expensive, so there isn’t a focus on trying to make the meat cheap.
Customer wants to purchase exactly the specific cut with that specific texture and not get anything else.
Customer wants a muscle that has the same texture all the way through.
Butcher exposes each muscle and highlights each one to achieve a specific taste, texture.
French known for some of the best butchers in the world

Beef cuts side by side:

1. chuck; 2. flanken-style ribs; 3. rib; 4. back ribs; 5. short loin; 6. Porterhouse steak; 7. tenderloin; 8. sirloin; 9. round; 10. boneless rump roast; 11. round steak; 12. hind shank; 13. flank; 14. flank steak rolls; 15. short plate; 16. brisket; 17. fore shank

1, 2. collier (neck); 3. basses-cotes; 4. jumeau for grilling or frying; 5. jumeau for stewing; 6. macreuse; 7. plat de cotes decouvert (uncovered rib); 8. plat de cotes couvert (covered rib); 9. gite de derriere; 11. entre-cote; 12. hampe; 13. poitrine; 14. faux-filet; 15. filet; 16. bavette for grilling or frying; 17. bavette for stewing; 18. flanchet; 19. romsteck (rump steak); 20. aiguillette baronne; 21. rond de tranche basse; 22. tranche; 23. gite a la noix; 24. queue (tail)

Of course, I couldn’t stop there. Out of curiosity, I had to do a quick google search for Chinese cuts and Argentinian cuts, all of which slightly vary from the cuts specified above. I am sure there is some cultural reflection to be made about their butchering styles as well. As always, these things totally fascinate me!

Lou Messugo

17 thoughts on “French vs. American Butchery

  1. wow interesting post !
    My husband would drool over how big the meat is in the US ! comme quoi t’es jamais satisfait avec ce que t’as 😉
    et c’est clair que c’est pas donné ici !
    I hope you have a big freezer! that is a really cool idea !

  2. Interesting post! – I didn’t want to watch the video though. Who’s going to take care of the cow’s death when it’s time? Is this something you can control since you’re the owners? Where’s she staying?

    1. The cow is currently grazing the fields but I hate to say that she (he, actually) will be giving his life shortly for the sake of our nutrition. We know he will be dealt with in a humane way, just like he was treated to the best organic diet known to cows during his lifetime. I think it is really important for our family to have this experience of knowing the time the cow will be butchered…it brings the distance between the farm and the plate so much closer and the reality of what must be done in order for us to be fed protein like this. It teaches us to be intentional about not wasting, about how we want our animals to be fed, treated and when necessary killed etc. Buying a steak in the supermarket or a fish in the market makes us take this for granted sometimes. Even fishing in Mexico made me feel for these fish, many of whom were pregnant (we noticed when they were cut open), just looking for food. And we humans ended their life. Believe me, I didn’t want to waste any food at that point!

  3. I love your take on cultural differences as reflected by the way we butcher meat… Totally not something that would be on my radar but so interesting. We have been getting our chicken from a Ft. Collins farm and we’ve been soooo happy with the quality and we love knowing it was treated humanely.

  4. This is absolutely fascinating and a really interesting cultural observation. I use a lot of British recipes when cooking and they call for different cuts of meat to what I can find in French butchers but I muddle through. These illustrations could actually be very useful. I used to live in Vietnam and the way animals were butchered there was so completely different it was the first time I was really aware of this cultural difference. I am so pleased you persevered with the vaguaries of the little blue button and managed to get this linked up to #AllAboutFrance! Thank you!

  5. What an interesting article! I don’t really use beef much (more lamb in Persian cooking) but have on the odd occasion used beef mince to make lasagne or even tried diced beef in a Persian casserole. It certainly has a different flavour and I find it more leaner than lamb in some respects.
    LOVE the French terms for the cuts, this is certainly very useful for me with my studies 🙂

  6. This is really interesting: thank you. As a British person I have noticed that the French are far less squeamish than the English are about butchery (chickens with heads and legs, for example), and that butchers will not let you leave without making sure how long and at what temperature to cook the cut that they have given you. I hope you will provide some updates on this project.

  7. Hi. I found my way to your blog through the #AllAboutFrance link-up — and I’m glad I did.

    The difference in butchery techniques extends to other animals, too. The expat community in Clermont-Ferrand has for at least 20 years organized an annual Thanksgiving feast. In the early years, as our French chefs were “getting to know us”, we found the turkey on our plates in odd-shaped “chunks”. Over time, they have evolved into something more recognizable.

    Thanks for sharing this info!

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  9. As a Canadien Francais , living in Quebec , but with a cottage in Vermont and now soon to be moving to Ontario, I found your article , but MOSTLY your picture of the various cuts of beef in America vs France . I BBQ , as in using a wood fired grill and cooking a low temps , A LOT. Reading American Recipes and then going to a French speaking butcher in Montreal and having to translate the cut is extremely difficult. Now I’ll just print the pictures and POINT !! Merci encore pour l’effort que vous avez mis a nous éduquer sur les différences VIVE LA DIFFERENCE !

  10. Looks like the French get much more out of a side of beef. However, I question the American diagram sinbce it includes only chuck–no shoulder roasts, church roasts etc. so it is not a direct comparison.

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