Meet your butcher, Meet your meat

Calling all pork lovers!  I’m very happy to tell you that the collaboration between me and April Joy Farm has been hammered out and I’ll be taking on the cutting duties when they harvest their pigs in the fall.  What I am most excited about is an additional opportunity for you pork buyers to be there when your meat is being cut, wrapped and sausage made!

You will be able to ask questions, tell me exactly how you want your meat processed and if you’re so inclined I’ll hand the knife to you and give you a quick cutting lesson as well!

The farmers, Brad and April Thatcher, raise a small number of Tamworth heritage pigs for sale each year.  This year it’s about 20 and they tell me the orders from their participating families are coming in fast so if you’d like to add some of their pasture raised heritage pork to your freezer get your order in soon.  You can buy whole, 1/2 and 1/4 pig shares.

They have kindly offered to give Black Belt Butcher followers the same pricing they are currently offering their program participants.  This offer is good until April 15.

If you’re interested please email April at  She’ll send you all of the program details, pricing, payment schedule, etc.  Make sure you let her know that the BBB sent you!

April Joy Mama pig & piglets

April Joy Mama pig & piglets

April Joy Farm piglets

April Joy Farm piglets












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Filed under Butchery skills, Farm to table, Knife Skills, Meat Cutting, Nose to tail, Pig butchery, Whole hog cutting

A farmer, a butcher and 3 chefs walk into the kitchen…..

I know, sounds like the start of a good joke right?  No joke, last week farmer April Thatcher, Chef/Owner of Lapellah Restaurant, David Mork, Executive Chef Mike Campos, and Sous Chef Zach Burkett, showed up at my house with a 100 pound side of pig ready for a butchery strategy session.

David’s plan is to purchase April Joy Farm’s pasture raised pigs and then break them down in house giving his chefs control over the quality of the cuts and enabling them to add more variety to their menu. More porky quality and variety coming out of Lapellah’s wood burning ovens sounds like a winner to me!

The trick to making whole hog work in a restaurant is utilizing every scrap of meat which takes some strategizing before you ever put the knife in your hand.


We started the conversation discussing turning pork cheek into guanciale, continuing with whether we should start cutting at the 2nd and 3rd rib or should it be 4 and 5?…………


Zach Burkett & David Mork


Ok game plan set, knife action…… did we ever remember anything before cell phones?


Me, David Mork, April Thatcher, Mike Campos



Zach Burkett, David Mork, April Thatcher, Mike Campos



All the pretty pork…..



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The BBB joins Team April Joy Farm!

Recently my wife and I made a trip up to April Joy Farm. The 24 acre farm, located in Ridgefield, Washington, provides about 45 families with certified organic fruits and vegetables through their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program as well as supplying produce to some local chefs.

The Farmers, April and Brad Thatcher, also raise and sell heritage Tamworth pigs all Animal Welfare Approved and certified. Brad and April’s goal is to have their animals on the farm from beginning to end. That means conceived, born, raised, humanely slaughtered, cut and wrapped without ever leaving the gates of the farm. It doesn’t get any more farm to table than that!

April and Brad invited us to the farm to see their operation and to talk about the possibility of me taking on the cutting of their 20 or so pigs when they are ready in early fall.  I’m up for it but even more exciting to me is their idea to have the pig purchasing families get involved as well. They want to invite the families out to the farm to watch their pig being cut and allow them the opportunity to interact with me while I work.  I’d be able to talk to them about the variety of cuts available, the differences between them and the best techniques for cooking them.   And if anyone was game I could hand them a knife and give a quick lesson or two!

If you’re interested in a whole, half or quarter pig please contact April & Brad at April Joy Farm.


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Filed under Butchery skills, Farm to table, Knife Skills, Meat Cutting, Nose to tail, Pig butchery, Whole hog cutting

Raising the Steaks at Best Butcher Competition 2013

“Old School” Kicks Pork Butt!

On Saturday, September 21st eleven of the best butchers in the county went knife to knife in the “Best Butcher Competition 2013” in Portland, Oregon.  In the last few months over 3000 meat cutters have competed in local and regional competitions narrowing the field down to the final eleven, which included me!

Battle Ready!

Battle Ready!

Seattle 2013 - 2

Competition day was pleasant and mostly sunny, except for the 20 minute downpour right before our event started.  Wouldn’t be Portland without some rain in the day!  A few hundred people were gathered in front of the big stage in Director’s Park, live music and dancing going on, and Whole Foods vendors cooking up great food and drinks for the crowd to sample.  (note the large group in “Black Belt Butcher” t-shirts…yep…my posse!)

The BBB Posse

The BBB Posse

From backstage I hear them, local celebrity chef Adam Sappington, Jenn Louis a past Top Chef  Masters contestant,  and Top Chef winner Paul Qui.  They are revving up the crowd before our knife-fest begins.….then we’re all walking out onto the stage…..and the crowd goes wild for me!!!….I mean us…well me…being the hometown favorite let’s just say the crowd was generously seeded with my family, friends and co-workers who had instructions to go crazy with the yelling and screaming.  They made an awesome noise for Robert “Old School” Young and I loved it!

We take our stations; start sharpening our knives and then we’re off butchering a pork leg at top speed for the next 20 minutes.  I cut, sawed, tied, trimmed and then hands up I’m done.  Crazy fast but I had some good looking pork on that tray.

Best Butcher PDX 1

The judges go from table to table looking at the eleven presentation trays….they talk…they point….they take notes…they look some more….the competitors sweat….the crowd is quiet….and finally they are ready to announce the final 4 who will move on to the next round.   YES, I’m in the top 4!!

After some stage reorganizing the final 4 are brought back out and again the crowd goes crazy.  What a rush this is….if it wasn’t so stressful it would be fun.  Déjà vu all over again only this time it’s a beef leg on the table in front of us.  Three, two, one and the knives start to fly for another 20 minutes.

Again with the cutting, tying, sawing and trimming; did I mention sawing? Yeah, I sawed on that leg for what felt like forever.  I was sweating, breathing heavy and really slowing down…cut…keep cutting…cut some more…and then I hear the crowd roar with 3, 2, 1 and it’s over!

Best Butcher PDX 5

I look at what my competitors produced and its good; no slouches in this bunch.   I’ll be honest though, I was pretty sure it was between me and Hector “El Jefe” Yedra from San Francisco.  The impressive volume of meat on his tray had me rethinking my strategy of doing less common and more intricate cuts.  We’ll see.

The judges do their thing again with the looking and talking; then they huddle for what seems like hours.  Finally one of them comes to the mike and says they’re going to announce the Fan Favorite and then the Winner.  Holding my breath….and it’s “Old School” as fan favorite!  The crowd goes WILD…screaming..cheering…whoot, whoot….seemed to go on forever!!!  I look out and my family, friends and co-workers are jumping up and down going crazy.  It was ridiculous and I loved every second of it!

Fan Favorite

Family Best Butcher facebook95-1907087828 facebook95-1759296633

Oh yeah….back to the business at hand….announcing the winner…and the winner is… Hector “El Jefe” Yedra!  Impressive work Hector!  Well deserved.

It’s all good; I made it to the Top 4 and won Fan Favorite.  Totally happy with what I accomplished and proud to have represented my craft.  It will go down as one of my best days ever!


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“Best Butcher” finals here I come!

Seattle 2013 - 2 It was windy, cold and raining on Thursday when we arrived at the Interbay Whole Foods Market in Seattle.  The event tent was up in the parking lot, the cutting tables arranged and spectator tables were being draped with red tablecloths.  At least they were trying to drape them, the wind was whipping them around like sails and the rain was starting up again.  Brrrr…….the northwest regional competition for “Best Butcher” and the “Fishmonger Faceoff” was going to be a test of our cutting skills and our  ability to endure some lovely Seattle spring weather.

First order of business for me was a nap.  Uhh….yes…you read that right.  Whaaaat?  Anything worth doing deserves a nap before it gets done!  Jacket rolled up and under my head, all stretched out in the back seat of the car and snoozing away in about 30 seconds flat.  Forty minutes later after a yawn and a stretch I’m out of the car and heading over to the tent to size up my fellow competitors and see if anyone knows what we’ll be cutting.

It all gets started with the “Fishmonger Faceoff”.  Two whole fish, a Copper River Salmon and a Halibut, are filleted, de-boned, skinned and sliced in a matter of minutes by three competitors.  They were judged on speed, precision and the quality of the cuts.  Skillful fishmongers need a light touch with the thinnest and sharpest of knives.  One small wrong turn of the blade can be the difference between a glossy smooth fillet or a nicked and bumpy one.  It was all smooth for the winner, Cavan Hua, from Vancouver B.C.

...and yes the Asian guys rocked it!

…and yes the Asian guys rocked it!

Now it’s time for the real block work to begin!  A cart is being wheeled across the parking lot loaded up with big hunks of beef.  I’m squinting trying to get a good look at what we’ll be cutting.  Bone-in chuck, yes, yes, YES!  Back in the day (and that would be way back in the day like 40 years ago) I worked at a wholesale meat market where I cut 6 to 8 bone-in chucks every single day.  I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said I could do one with my eyes closed.  Ok boys, you’re going to get a run for your money in this competition.

We wave to the crowd, grab our knives and start wrestling with our 40 pound chucks.  I’ve decided that I’m going de-bone each vertebrae individually.  It’s more time consuming and requires some serious knife work which means it’s not the technique most butchers use but I think it will give me a chance to really show off my knife skills.

The three of us cut, trim and tie while the judges walk from table to table eyeballing our cuts, leaning in to get a good look at the action and taking lots of notes.  Thirty minutes later, Kevin, the guy on my right is done and a few minutes later, Todd, the guy on my left is done.

Seattle 2013 - 11 Seattle 2013 - 12

I’m still cutting, trimming and remembering what Mrs. Black Belt Butcher has been saying over and over to me.  “Pretty meat, make sure it’s pretty meat”.  I take a last look, make a couple of little extra trim cuts just to make sure it’s all pretty and my hands go up.

Seattle 2013 - 10                    Seattle 2013 - 3                        Seattle 2013 - 5

After the judges deliberated one steps to the mike and says, “It was really close but Robert “Old School” Young is the winner!  Seattle 2013 - 6 Seattle 2013 - 15

I’ve said it before but winning feels AWESOME!

Next stop is the national finals to be held on Saturday, September 21st at 11am in Portland, Oregon as part of the 4-day FEAST festival.  You’re all invited!


Filed under Butcher competition, Butcher contest, Butchery skills, Knife Skills, Meat Cutting

Battle Pork Leg….and the winner is….the BBB!

Last night I competed with 8 other butchers in the Whole Foods Market “Best Butcher” competition in Portland, Oregon.  We butchered, trimmed and tied as much product as we could get out of our pork legs.  After being judged on yield, skill, creativity and presentation yours truly came out the winner!  All I’ve got to say is winning feels awesome.  Best Butcher 3

This is the 3rd year that Whole Foods has sponsored a world-wide company competition pitting every store’s best butchers against each other in a battle of the knives.  I’ll be heading up to Seattle next week to compete again in the northwest regional contest.  If I’m lucky enough to win again then it’s on to Las Vegas for the national finals. Best Butcher 2


The grand finale will be back on my home turf in Portland, Oregon for the International finals to be held at FEAST Portland in September.


May the force of the knives be with me!  (and the cheers and support of these little guys)

My very own cheerleaders!

My very own cheerleaders!

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Filed under Butcher competition, Butchery skills, Knife Skills, Meat Cutting, Pig butchery

So how can I do that Crown Rib Roast myself?

Ok all of you Meat DIYers out there – here’s what you asked for,  a video showing how to cut a Crown Roast of pork. 

I also found a good recipe for cooking the roast.  Ultimate Crown Roast of Pork Delicious!

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