I wanted to check out the process at Kiko Meats in Minerva, and Steve Kiko agreed to hire me as a cleanup girl.
A few years back, I bought a hog at the Stark County Fair and had it processed at Kiko Meats. That’s when I discovered the business had a retail butcher shop.
I picked up a few steaks that day for the grill. I could not believe the flavor of the beef. The secret seemed obvious: Processing, curing and smoking is done right there. Meat doesn’t get any fresher.
“Mainly we do beef and hogs, and also goats and lambs during fair season,” explained Steve Kiko, who operates the business with his parents, Ron and Diane Kiko.
The process starts when livestock arrive by truck.
“They’re unloaded, walk in the barn, and walk to the kill floor,” Steve said.
The process ends with steaks, chops, ground beef and more in the meat case. It’s a throwback to the old days, that’s for sure.
I wanted to check it out, and Steve agreed to hire me as a cleanup girl.
THE KILL ROOM
Full disclosure. I did not witness a slaughter. I know my queasy quotient, and it’s not that high.
Still, I learned a lot about processing. For one, the killing is humane. Hogs are electrically stunned. Cattle go down with a retractable bullet to the forehead.
“It’s instant,” Steve said. “They’re dead before they hit the floor.”
Butchering is a business, he reminded me.
“We don’t think of them as pets,” he said. “It’s a job. It’s food.”
I embraced that mindset as I donned a rubber apron and toured the kill room.
On kill days, butchers use a giant electric saw to slice carcasses in half. Heads, feet, fat, organs and waste are stored outside in metal barrels. Hides are layered in salt in a back room, awaiting purchase by a leather broker.
The kill room also is sanitation central. That’s where every day after school, clean-up kid Derrick Burchett washes equipment. The sophomore at Minerva High School also scrubs the barn and work rooms, and puts things back in order for the next day’s business.
Derrick, 17, has no desire to be a butcher. He wants to join the service, and uses part of his paycheck to spiff up his pickup truck.
“I like my job, it’s fun,” said the good-natured teen, while showing me how to use a pressure cleaner to sanitize the gray plastic tubs, called luggers, that the butchers use when carving cuts of meat.
Holding the hose in his right hand and a lugger in the other, Derrick made it look easy. My turn resulted in a soaked face and a screaming left bicep.
Page 2 of 2 - Next, we headed to the cooler where towering halves of beef and pork hang from ceiling hooks to age. The close-up was fascinating. A rind of fat gives way to deep red, almost purplish meat. The flesh is glossy, yet dry — a sign of high quality aged beef.
With a long-handled scraper, I chipped dried blood and bits of fat from the cement floor as Derrick swept up.
On to the gut barrels outside.
“A one ton bull can have 200 pounds of by-product,” Steve explained. Companies buy the material to make products such as pet food, makeup and cleaning solvents. I noticed two barrels filled with kidneys and livers. I felt my stomach twinge.
“If you get sick, better do it in a barrel so I don’t have to clean it off the ground,” Derrick said, smiling, but meaning it.
Cleaning empty barrels involves leaning deep inside to scrub the bottom with a brush.
“They smell really good,” Derrick joked.
I held my breath and scrubbed. I finished, took a deep breath, and gagged.
Derrick let me stop at one. Overall, Derrick thinks I’m better suited for the front of the shop.
“You’re pretty good with the hose,” he said thoughtfully. “But working outside with the guts and the barn and the grease traps? I don’t think so.”
He’s right. I’d quit or be fired in no time.
MEAT TO GO
But I definitely could see myself working the counter, meeting nice customers like Jim and Jane Lindner, who stopped by that afternoon. They drive all the way from Mechanicstown to buy Kiko’s meat.
“Their ground beef, there is nothing like it,” said Jane, holding a three-pound bag of hamburger.
Steve paid me with one of his latest creations, some delicious homemade jalapeño and cheese trail bologna.
And I bought two gorgeous slices of filet mignon for my dinner. After having my face in a gut barrel, trust me, I deserved it.