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Meat Cutters, Butchers, Me and Meat

My interest in meats started in 1958, when as a junior high school. I got an after school job as a clean-up boy at Green’s Locker Service in Elk Grove, CA. Locker plants were common during the 1930’s and into the 1960’s, before home freezers became affordable and commonplace.

In those days, when a much higher percentage of the populace lived on small farms and many people raised their own meat, a butcher would go to the farm and slaughter the steer, pig or lamb right in the field. From there, the butcher would bring the animal to the Locker Plant where it would be skinned, quartered, and cooled until it was time for the carcass to be cut, wrapped and frozen according to the owner’s instructions. After the meat was "quick frozen,"
meaning that it was put in a freezer room that was kept at between -15 to -25 degrees Farenheit, it was either taken home by the customer, or was put the meat in the locker the customer had rented. Locker plant customers could go into the plant at any time it was open, walk into the very large "walk-in" freezer, and put their fruits and vegetables or their meat in their individual locker, or take it out as needed.

Note:
I should clarify here the difference between a “butcher” and a “meat-cutter.” Before the days of refrigeration, there was only “the butcher.” One of the old-timers who taught me the trade had been a butcher in the late 1800’s, and was still a meat-cutter into the late 1950’s. He told me about how he’d hitch his horse up to his wagon at 3 a.m., butcher and skin a steer, take it to his butcher shop and cut it up. He’d then load the meat on his meat wagon and begin his meat-pedaling route. His customers would select what they wanted to cook that day from his wagon, pay him, and he’d be on to the next customer. When he’d sold everything on the wagon, he’d return to the shop, make bologna or sausages, corned beef, etc., and generally end the day when the entire steer, and/or hogs and/or sheep were sold and utilized.

With the advent of refrigeration the meat wagon was a thing of the past. Specialization followed, and with the beginnings of trade unions, “butchers” slaughtered the animals, “skinners” skinned them, “meat-cutters” cut them up, and “sausage makers” made sausage. I was never a butcher, and very few meat-cutters even at that time were ever “butchers,” although the name is still generally used when referring to a meat-cutter.

The locker plant had been closed for some years prior to Burt Green buying it and re-starting the business. It was just Burt, a part time meat wrapper and I who worked there. I quickly learned how to trim the meat for wrapping, learned the cuts so they could be properly labeled, and to wrap the meat for freezing. Soon I was breaking the quarters of beef into the various sections, called primal cuts, and learning how to cut steaks and chops. By the time I graduated from high school in 1960, the owner of the plant said that I was as good a meat-cutter as any he could hire from the Meat-Cutter’s Union Hall, and kept me on as an apprentice. This was for the first year of the required two-year apprenticeship prior to earning the designation of “journeyman meat-cutter.”

After completing the first year of apprenticeship, with his influence, I was hired at Arata Bros., which at the time was the largest volume super market in Sacramento, CA. The meat dept. employed 8 full time meat-cutters, including me, and I was put on the “steak table” along with Clyde, a middle-aged meat-cutter of over 30 years in the trade. Our responsibility was to do nothing but cut all the steaks and tend to the self-serve steak counter. Fifty to sixty hindquarters and fifty to sixty front quarters of beef were delivered to the store every Monday morning and broken into their primal cuts (round, head loin, short loin, rib, chuck, cross rib, flank and sirloin tip) by the end of the day. Unheard of by today’s norms, the store was open only from Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. From Tuesday through Saturday, Clyde and I did nothing but cut steaks and keep the steak counter full.

After becoming a journeyman, I had to leave Arata Bros. in order to be able to work part-time and take day classes at City and Sacramento State College.

I had attended night classes after graduating from high school but was more interested in continuing my education than contemplating being a meat-cutter for the rest of my life. I worked out of the Union Hall. That meant that whenever a meat-cutter called in sick, or didn’t show up for work, the boss could call the Hall and ask for a meat-cutter to be sent to his store.
Sometimes this was for one day’s work, and sometimes it could turn into a full-time-part- time job.

For long periods during those school years I worked for Safeway, Raley’s, Lucky’s, Mayfair, and a host of smaller chains and independent supermarkets, on a part-time basis, whenever I didn’t have classes at school. During those years I had remained good friends Burt Green. Burt didn’t like to skin the deer, elk, moose, wild pigs, etc., that hunters brought to the plant by the hundreds each fall. In whatever spare time I had, I’d go to the plant and skin them for $3.00 each. I could skin 6 deer per hour, and that was real big money for a college student in the 60’s.
.
I received my B.A. degree in 1969, but decided I didn’t want to be a high school history teacher after all. I was offered a chance to buy the business, Green’s Locker Service, in Elk Grove. Without a dime to call my own after 9 years of earning only enough money to be able to stay in school, Burt and I worked out a deal and I bought the business.

After four years, I had expanded the business to the point that I would either have to compromise my ideals in order to keep up with demand, or go into debt for the rest of my life and build a large plant. I sold, went to real estate school, and have been a real estate broker ever since.

Over the years, my knowledge of every facet of the meat business has served my friends and family well.

I hope you will benefit from our site. I’ve tried to make it very easy follow along. The only thing you can really do wrong, is to not do it at all.

Enjoy!

Lee

P.S. I have just have just completed a book which encompasses 60 years of working in the meat industry in addition to information you see here on this website. If you have a moment, please take some time to check out Beef Secrets Straight from the Butcher.



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