Secrets of the Butcher

How to Select, Cut, Prepare, and Cook Every Type of Meat


By Arthur Le Caisne

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This modern manual for the meat lover reveals the best-kept secrets of the world’s best breeders and butchers along with the latest culinary and scientific research on how to select, butcher, prepare, and cook every kind of meat including beef, pork, lamb, poultry, and wild game.

In Secrets of the Butcher, author Arthur Le Caisne takes readers step-by-step through the ever-evolving and artisanal world of meat. Organized by type of protein — beef, veal, pork, lamb, poultry, and turkey — the book categorizes and describes the origin and characteristics of the best of each type. Secrets of the Butcher also includes state-of-the-art information on techniques and little know tricks of the trade, including answers to variety of questions such as What is dry aging? Is a sharp knife the best to cut meat? Is it better to pre-salt meat several days in advance or just before or after cooking and why? Do marinades really works? At what temperature is it best to cook meat? Is resting the meat after cooking really necessary? And much more. Accurate, scientific, and fully illustrated throughout with clear and useful four-color illustrations, Secrets of the Butcher is a must have for anyone serious about cooking meat.




I had to create some solid bases, like the foundations or the load-bearing walls of a house. I looked for and found scientific studies. I read books, lots of them. I also met a lot of people—farmers, renowned professionals in the meat industry, restaurant owners. But these exchanges were always a little mundane and nothing very interesting came from them. I felt frustrated. This wasn’t working…

And then, one day, I went to meet a butcher and a farmer, the first in Sens and the second near Beaune, both in France. Actually, that’s not entirely correct. They’re not a butcher and a farmer. They are Jean Denaux and Fred Ménager. Jean and Fred (I’m lucky enough to call them by their first names today) are the leading authorities in their professions, both in France and abroad. Perhaps you don’t know them, because the media really isn’t their thing. They’re known for producing meat and poultry of a rare quality. It’s practically haute couture!

I met Jean Denaux first. Jean is the French specialist in meat maturation. In fact, he’s such an expert that he doesn’t talk of “maturation” but of “refinement.” He works his meat in the same way one would refine an award-winning cheese or a vintage wine.

We spent a long time sharing stories. I wrote down everything he said to me. I was blown away by his approach to his work and his scientific knowledge. I watched him explain it to me, with piercing blue eyes and slender, outstretched hands. I felt such an intensity in him, such intelligence, that it was almost unsettling.

Then, I went to see Fred Ménager. Fred is the best source of information when it comes to poultry.

We spent the afternoon together as he introduced me to his poultry: ancient breeds, some of which had been virtually extinct, which he helped bring back. I discovered a charming guy, incredibly clever with an unimaginable amount of knowledge. He had a love for his animals and a level of integrity I’d never seen in any other farmer. And again, I filled pages and pages with rare and precious information.

In fact, it was on that day that this book really began. I had just found what I was looking for: a mix of intelligence, knowledge, passion, vision, and shared experiences.

Thank you Jean, thank you Fred, for this memorable day, and for everything you willingly shared with me thereafter.

The Animals









It’s not so much the muscle that gives beef its taste but the fat inside or around the muscle. Each breed develops its own particular fat, and for this to happen, the animals’ food, climate, and environment are crucial. The attention given to them by the farmer is also very important, because beef cattle are highly sensitive to stress.



It’s not exactly a breed: it’s a wagyu, from the Kuroge Washu breed (Japanese Black, see p 16). The calves, solely females that will remain unbred, are purchased at auction in the Tajima Valley, right next to Osaka, and raised in the Matsusaka region in the center of southwest Japan. The animals are raised in pairs and fattened with cereal grains such as rice straw, barley, and beer residues. Music is played to them to help them stay calm and avoid stress. The temperate climate and the cleanliness of their water play a big role in giving the beef its specific flavor. It’s the quality of the fat that earns Matsusaka beef its renown: instead of the meat being marbled with fat, it’s the fat that is marbled with meat. Tasting this meat is a unique experience. It’s incredibly, indescribably succulent and the fat literally melts in your mouth. Try it once in your life and you’ll remember it forever.

Cow: 1543 lb Carcass: 881 lb


This breed from Galicia, on the coast of northwest Spain, is a cousin of the Blonde d’Aquitaine. It can often be found in France under the name Blonde de Galice. Formerly considered to be a dual-purpose breed (meant to produce both milk and meat), it’s raised for much longer than Anglo-Saxon breeds––between eight and fifteen years. The first breed standards were established in 1933, but selection had begun well before. The Rubia Gallega enjoys lush grass, rich in iodine thanks to the sea spray and mild, temperate weather. It’s subjected to absolutely no stress and is left outside all year round. This animal develops a substantial and very tasty amount of fat inside and around the muscles. The flavors are quite distinct: spiced, rich and salty. The fat, which almost crystallizes, has an admirably good length on the palate. The Matsusaka and the Rubia Gallega have been classed numerous times as the best meats in the world.

Bull: 1984 to 2425 lb Cow: 1433 to 1543 lb Cow carcass: 837 lb



Don’t mistake the American Black Angus, raised in the United States in feed lots and overfed protein supplements and antibiotics, for the original breed, which takes its name from the counties of Aberdeenshire and Angus in northeast Scotland. This breed is mainly fed on good, lush grass. It’s of medium build, sturdy, extremely fast-growing, and makes for a very delicate, flavorful meat with sumptuous fat and marbling.

Bull: 1736 to 2204 lb Cow: 1433 to 1543 lb Cow carcass: 749 to 837 lb


The red coloring of the Red Angus is probably due to several crosses with the Longhorn in the eighteenth century. When the first Aberdeen Angus Herdbook was created in Scotland in 1862, the red coloring was accepted. It was only banned in the United States in 1917 to ensure a pure black breed. The Red Angus Association was born in the United States in 1954. The Red and the Aberdeen Angus have the same physical characteristics.

Bull: 1763 to 2204 lb Cow: 1433 to 1543 lb

Cow carcass: 749 to 837 lb


This breed is a descendant of the cattle brought to Mexico by the conquistadors. When the northern territories of Mexico were annexed by the United States, crossbreeding with English breeds took place in Texas, which is where the name “Texas Longhorn” comes from. The breed began to die out before being saved from extinction by the American government in 1927. A purebred meat breed, its meat is relatively coarse-grained and contains little fat.

Bull: 1763 to 2204 lb Cow: 881 to 1543 lb Cow carcass: 551 to 771 lb


Originating from the north of England, this is the oldest 100 percent English breed. Well known for the length and shape of its horns, the Longhorn dominated British farming until it virtually disappeared in the 1980s. It isn’t related to the Texas Longhorn, which is of Spanish origin. This purebred, robust beef breed makes for flavorful meat with a good meat/fat ratio and length on the palate.

Bull: 1984 to 2204 lb Cow: 1212 to 1653 lb Cow carcass: 683 to 925 lb


The Santa Gertrudis was created in Texas in 1910 by crossing Brahmans and Shorthorns. Officially recognized in 1940 by the United States Department of Agriculture, it became the first breed to have been created in the United States. Very muscular and capable of traveling long distances in search for food, this breed is particularly adapted to disadvantaged areas. Its meat has little intramuscular fat, but is quite tender.

Bull: 1653 to 1984 lb Cow: 1322 to 1653 lb Cow carcass: 771 to 992 lb


An English breed from the county of Herefordshire in the west of England near Wales, the Hereford is a purebred meat cow, which formerly had a triple purpose: milk, meat, and animal power. Of medium build, with horns or without (the Polled Hereford), this breed is robust, resilient, and very fast-growing. The finishing phase takes place at around eighteen months. Its meat is very flavorful, with a good-quality fat inside and around the muscle.

Bull: 1763 to 2425 lb Cow: 1433 to 1653 lb Cow carcass: 793 to 903 lb


From the Chiana Valley in Tuscany, this breed is most likely the oldest in the world: over 2,000 years old. It’s also the biggest: just under 6 feet (180 cm) at the withers! The Chianina was a dairy breed before becoming the source of meat for bistecca alla fiorentina, the Florentine-style T-bone steak. The meat is lean and very tasty, with aromatic notes.

Bull: 2425 to 2866 lb Cow: 1763 to 2203 lb Cow carcass: 970 to 1212 lb


Originally from the province of Galloway in Scotland, this is one of the oldest British breeds. The Galloway is robust enough to live on the Scottish moors, which are battered by wind and rain. It’s easy to raise, heavy, but of small stature. It has a long, curly coat, which, similar to the Belted Galloway, has a large white belt across the middle. Its meat is tender, tasty, and lean.

Bull: 1763 to 2204 lb Cow: 1102 to 1543 lb Cow carcass: 661 to 881 lb


The Highland is originally from… the Highlands, in northwest Scotland. The region is covered in hills and mountains and the moors offer poor pastures. This is the only breed of cow capable of living in such a remote region. Small in stature, the Highland is protected by a long winter coat, which it sheds in the summer. Its dark red meat has a large amount of extra-muscular fat, good marbling, and gamy flavors.

Bull: 1763 to 2204 lb Cow: 1102 to 1322 lb Cow carcass: 595 to 727 lb


Don’t mistake the Beef Shorthorn, a meat breed, for the Dairy Shorthorn, a milk breed. Previously known as the Durham, this breed is originally from northeast England. Its color varies from red to white, but it’s sometimes mottled with both colors. The variation without the horns is called the Polled Shorthorn. This breed is very fast-growing and makes for a well-marbled meat with a magnificent subcutaneous fat.

Bull: 1984 to 2425 lb Cow: 1322 to 1543 lb Cow carcass: 727 to 859 lb


Thought to be the oldest French breed, it was allegedly born from a cross between the Ibérico and Aquitaine breeds. Used in the Bordeaux region for farm work, it almost died out after the Second World War. Saved from extinction by several breeders, it’s still quite a rare breed. The dark red, marbled meat is often compared to the Angus or the Longhorn. Unfortunately, it’s still quite difficult to find.

Bull: 1763 to 2204 lb Cow: 1433 to 1653 lb Cow carcass: 749 to 903 lb


Born of various crosses between several descendants of the Indian Bos indicus or zebu cattle, the Brahman (or Brahma) has a large hump on its shoulders and neck as well as a dewlap, which allows it to cool itself down with ease. Of medium build, its meat can be quite tough: slow-cooking methods such as braising and boiling are the most well-suited.

Bull: 1763 to 2425 lb Cow: 1102 to 1543 lb Cow carcass: 661 to 881 lb


Here’s a breed from the southeast area of the Massif Central in France; alpine, robust, and of medium height. It doesn’t mind the variation in the quality of the fodder it eats, which is subject to the changing seasons. In the spring and the summer, it finds the food that makes its meat so rich: lush grass composed of a number of different plants that can be found nowhere else, which give it its aromatic, venison-like flavors.

Bull: 1873 to 2425 lb Cow: 1212 to 1653 lb Cow carcass: 683 to 925 lb


The Charolais, from the French department of Saône-et-Loire, is a large, muscular animal and one of the first suckling cow breeds in France. It can now be found just about everywhere due to its ability to adapt. The bulls are regularly used to improve other breeds. Its attributes are registered under the French AOC Boeuf de Charolles label, which is a designation of origin. These attributes include: marbling; juiciness; consistency in texture, and grassy, gamy flavors.

Bull: 2204 to 3086 lb Cow: 1543 to 1984 lb Cow carcass: 837 to 1102 lb


A crossbreed that produces both milk and meat, the Simmental is originally from the Simme Valley in Switzerland. Part of the big Pies Rouge family, it’s a powerful animal that can adapt to all climates and eats an average-quality fodder. It can be found in France as the Simmental Française. Calves, steers, and young bulls are highly sought-after. The meat has good marbling and consistency and is rich in flavor.

Bull: 2204 to 2755 lb Cow: 1543 to 1763 lb Cow carcass: 837 to 970 lb


Originating from the west of the Massif Central in the middle of southern France, the Limousin was originally an animal renowned for the quality of its meat. This robust breed is perfectly adapted to suit the local conditions: a hilly landscape and wide temperature variations. It’s a breed loved by butchers because the carcass yields a lot of meat. The meat is quite lean with a fine grain.

Bull: 1984 to 2425 lb Cow: 1433 to 1763 lb Cow carcass: 881 to 992 lb


“The best meat in the world,” is what they call it. This beef, which can have more fat than it does flesh, is reminiscent of foie gras. Forget everything you thought you knew about meat. Wagyu is something completely different…

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: contrary to what you might read, wagyu is not a breed. It’s a Japanese cow, that’s all. Wa means “Japan” and also “the spirit of peace and harmony that reigns there,” and gyu means “cow.” Incidentally, several Japanese breeds are wagyus.


In France, they love fattened goose or duck liver because it results in an exceptional product. In Japan, they raise cows for the same reasons; an extraordinary meat, unbelievably tender, with a fat that melts in the mouth like candy, its flavors buttery, floral, and slightly sweet. It’s insanely delicious!


The wagyu’s ancestors were supposedly imported from Korea in 400 BC for their endurance. The bodies of these cows are capable of generating a lot of intramuscular fat. It’s this fat that gives them the energy necessary for physical labor.

After a period of national isolation from 1635 to 1853, during which time all food originating from four-legged animals was banned for religious reasons, and because animals were essential to agriculture, the Japanese began to raise wagyus for the quality of their meat. Starting in 1864, European cows were introduced to create crossbreeds and increase wagyu numbers.


Purchased at auction when they are only calves, the heifers (except the Japanese Shorthorn) are raised in stables, often in pairs, and fed cereal grains (corn, barley, wheat bran, rice straw, etc.), rice concentrate, rice silage, and most of all, beer residues. Beer residues are the barley grain husks, leftover starch and insoluble protein that remain after the beer-brewing process—all without antibiotics, of course.

In contrast to western beef, quality wagyus present more fat than meat. It’s the quantity and quality of this fat that makes wagyu so unique.

The animals are fussed over, petted, and gently rubbed. In short, they’re given so much love that they fatten without feeling any stress. Slaughter takes place between twenty-six and thirty months, depending on the animal.


After slaughter, the carcasses are graded by external inspectors. The evaluation is based on two criteria: the quality of the meat and the carcass yield (the quantity of the meat in relation to the weight of the animal).

For the quality of the meat, the color, shine, firmness, and grain are judged. The color and the shine of the fat, as well as the fat deposits, are also assessed.

The grading ranges from 1 to 5, 5 being the highest grade. The carcass yield is graded from C to A, A being the highest grade. Carcass rating depends on two criteria. A5 is the highest grade and C1 the lowest.


Wagyu is composed of four (and only four) breeds:


This former dairy breed is now the most common breed and represents almost 90 percent of wagyus. Raised just about everywhere in Japan, the Kuroge Washu presents very white strips of intramuscular fat.


Born from a cross between the traditional Kuroge Washu and the Aberdeen Angus, the Mukaku Washu is raised primarily in the prefecture of Yamaguchi in southwest Japan. This breed is smaller than the others.


Found only in the prefectures of Kumamoto and Kochi in far southwest Japan, the Katsumou Washu, born from a cross between the Akaushi and the Simmental, is known for its good meat/fat ratio.


Born from a cross between the Nanbu and the American Shorthorn at the end of the nineteenth century, the Nihon Tankaku Washu is the least-bred breed. It feeds on pastures and its marbling is much less present.


The best wagyus are Japanese Blacks that are born in the Tajima Valley, near Osaka. The calves are raised in the Matsusaka, Ohmi, or Kobe regions. The cleanliness of the water they consume as well as the specifics of the food gives their meat different characteristics depending on the regions and labels of origin.


Renowned for being the best wagyu, it has a very fine marbling, a fat that melts as soon as it meets your mouth, and an unrivaled tenderness. Matsusaka can be eaten less-cooked than the other wagyus and even raw, as sashimi. It’s rare to find, even in Japan.


This wagyu is known as the first to be raised for its meat. Its fat marbling is also very fine and slightly sweet. It’s said that when eating beef was banned, thin slices marinated in miso were given to the governor under the guise of a medicinal cure.


The port of Kobe opened after the period of national isolation of 1853, allowing foreigners to taste wagyu for the first time and give it its reputation. Although it’s a little less delicate than the Matsusaka and the Ohmi, it’s still incredibly good.

Other good-quality wagyus exist: the Yonezawa, the Iwate Shorthorn, the Itachigyu, the Kazusa, the Kyoto, the Miyazakigyu, and the Akaushi.


For a long time, Japanese wagyu was illegal to export. Today, only a small number of carcasses are exported to Europe every month.

For almost twenty years, the United States, Australia, and Chile have developed cattle breeding programs by crossing Japanese Blacks to produce wagyus. Breeding farms can also now be found in France, the United Kingdom, and even in Sweden, but the quality of the animals produced is nothing compared with that of the Japanese wagyus.

Basically, creating a wagyu outside of Japan is like making Normandy camembert in the United States, champagne in Australia, Parma ham in Germany… it looks similar, but it’s not the real thing.


Wagyu is first and foremost raised to correspond to the tastes and cooking traditions of Japan. The slices must be thin to allow them to melt in the mouth without having to chew. Although providing the same weight in meat as dicing would, this type of cut creates a larger surface area, allowing for a more intense experience of the extent of the flavors and aromas.


Sukiyaki: the meat is cooked in a cast iron dish called a sukiyaki-nabe, caramelized with sugar, soaked in sake, loosened with soy sauce, and dipped in raw, beaten egg after cooking. Both crispy and melt-in-the-mouth, this is without a doubt the best way to cook wagyu. But please, don’t mistake sukiyaki for a Japanese meat fondue! True sukiyaki, when made in its hometown, Osaka, is cooked without a broth.

On the grill: cut into thin slices, the meat grills on small Korean charcoal barbecues. During cooking, the surplus fat drops down onto the coals. The meat browns and stays tender, even when well-cooked.

Shabu-shabu: very thin slices of meat are cooked in a light broth. It’s then seasoned with ponzu, an acidic, citrus based sauce, or with goma dare, a sweet-and-sour, sesame-based sauce.

Gyudon: the meat is cooked in a broth seasoned with mirin, shoyu, and onion. It’s served on a bowl of rice and the broth is poured on top, followed by a poached egg and sansho (Szechwan pepper).

Seiro-mushi: vegetables and slices of wagyu are placed in a bamboo basket and steam-cooked. As it cooks, the meat’s fat melts slightly and gives some of its flavor to the vegetables.


Teppanyaki: a kind of Japanese griddle on which a thin slice of meat is cooked directly, then diced smaller and smaller as it cooks to avoid thick chunks and to ensure all parts are equally cooked.

Broiling or panfrying: honestly, this isn’t the best way to appreciate wagyu, because the meat doesn’t develop as much flavor and the fattiness becomes the dominant texture.


Have you heard of the Bos primigenius? It’s the scientific name for the aurochs, ancestor of our cattle, which has changed a lot since its beginnings.


The aurochs was an impressive animal measuring 6½ feet (2 meters) at the withers. A wild creature with immense horns, it’s thought to have appeared 2 million years ago in India. It migrated towards the Middle East, then to Asia, Europe, and North Africa. It was already being hunted in prehistoric times.


  • "Anyone who loves to cook or eat meat deserves a copy of this hardcover. On page after inviting page, Arthur Le Caisne details everything you need to know (and much that you didn't know you needed to know but will be glad to) about beef, pork, lamb, poultry, and game."—Fine Cooking

On Sale
May 1, 2018
Page Count
240 pages

Arthur Le Caisne

About the Author

Arthur Le Caisne is a cookbook author, illustrator, and designer. He lives in France.

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