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General Rules for Carving and Serving Meat
Cutting Meat

Printed rules for carving are usually accompanied with cuts showing the position of the joint or meat on the platter, and having lines indicating the method of cutting. But this will not be attempted in this carving and serving manual, as such illustrations seldom prove helpful; for the actual thing before us bears faint resemblance to the pictures, which give us only the surface, with no hint of what may be inside.

It is comparatively a slight matter to carve a solid mass of lean meat. It is the bones, tough gristle, and tendons, that interfere with the easy progress of the knife. To expect any one to carve well without any conception of the internal structure of what may be placed before him is as absurd as to expect one to amputate a limb successfully who has no knowledge of human anatomy.

Some notion of the relative position of bones, joints, fat, tough and tender muscles, is the first requisite to good carving. All agree that skill in carving may be acquired by practice; and so it may. Any one can divide a joint if he cut and hack at it long enough, and so learn after a time just where to make the right cut. But a more satisfactory way is to make a careful study before the material is cooked, and thus learn the exact position of every joint, bone, and muscle. Become familiar with a shoulder or a leg of mutton; locate the joints by moving the bones in  the joints, or by cutting it into sections, some time when it is to be used for a stew. Or remove the bone in the leg by scraping the meat away at either end. Learn to distinguish the different cuts of meat. The best way to learn about carving poultry and game is to cut them up for a stew or fricassee, provided care be taken not to chop them, but to disjoint them skilfully.

Then, when you attempt to carve, do the best you can every time. Never allow yourself to be careless about it, even should the only spectators be your children or other family members. But do not make your first effort in the art at a company dinner. Every person interested in cooking meat should learn the art of carving and serving. Strength is not required, so much as neatness and care. A firm, steady hand, a cool, collected manner, and confidence in one's ability will help greatly. Children also should be taught this accomplishment, and should be taught it as soon as they can handle a knife safely.

If parents would allow the children to share their duties at the daily family table, and occasionally when company is present, a graceful manner would soon be acquired. When called upon to preside over their own homes there would less frequently be heard the apology, "Father (or mother) always carved at home, and I have had no practice."

One must learn first of all to carve neatly, without scattering crumbs or splashing gravy over the tablecloth or platter; also to cut straight, uniform slices. This may seem an easy matter; but do we often see pressed beef, pork, or even bread cut as it should be? Be careful to divide the material in such a manner that each person may be served equally well. Have you never received all flank, or a hard dry wing, while another guest had all tenderloin, or the second joint? After a little experience you can easily distinguish between the choice portions and the inferior. Lay each portion on the plate with the browned or best side up. Keep it compact, not mussy; and serve a good portion of meat, not a bone with hardly any meat on it. After all are served, the portion on the platter should not be left jagged, rough, and sprawling, but should look inviting enough to tempt one to desire a second portion.

Care should be taken to carve in such a way as to get the best effect. A nice joint is often made less inviting from having been cut with the grain, while meat of rather poor quality is made more tender and palatable if divided across the grain. Where the whole of the joint is not required, learn to carve economically, that it may be left in good shape for another dinner.

After you have learned to do the simplest work neatly and gracefully, much painstaking will be  necessary in acquiring the power to accomplish with elegance the more difficult tasks. For to reach the highest degree of excellence in the art, one must be able to carve the most difficult joint with perfect skill and ease.

But after all this study and a great amount of practice failure often happens, and blame is very often laid upon the carver which really belongs to some other person,—the butcher, the cook, the table-girl, or the guest. Not all people who sell meat know or practice the best way of cutting up meat. Much may be done by the butcher and by the cook to facilitate the work of the carver. These helps will be noticed more particularly under the head of special dishes.

An essential aid to easy carving, and one often overlooked, is that the platter be large enough to hold not merely the joint or fowl while whole, but also the several portions as they are detached.

The joint should be placed in the middle of the platter, in the position indicated under special directions. There should be sufficient space on either side for the portions of meat as they are carved; that is, space on the bottom, none of the slices being allowed to hang over the edge of the dish. If necessary, provide an extra dish. The persistency with which some housekeepers cling to a small dish for fear the meat will look lost on a larger one often makes successful carving impossible.

The platter should be placed near the carver, that he or she may easily reach any part of the joint.

The cook should see that all skewers, strings, etc., be removed before sending the meat or fish to the table. It is extremely awkward to find one's knife impeded by a bit of twine.

The carver may stand or sit, as suits his or her convenience. Anything that is done easily is generally done gracefully, but when one works at a disadvantage awkwardness is always the result.

A very important matter is the condition of the knife. It should have a handle easy to grasp, a long, thin, sharp, pointed blade, and be of a size adapted to the article to be carved and to the person using it. A lady or a child will prefer a small knife. Be as particular to have the knife sharp as to have it bright and clean; and always sharpen it before announcing the dinner. It is very annoying for a person to be obliged to wait and sharpen the knife, or to turn the meat round to get it into the right position. Never allow a carving-knife to be used to cut bread, or for any other than its legitimate purpose.

The fork should be strong, with long tines, and should have a guard.

Place the fork deep enough in the meat so that you can hold it firmly in position. Hold the knife and fork in an easy, natural way. Many persons grasp the fork as if it were a dagger, and stab it into the meat; but such a display of force is unnecessary and clownish. The hand should be over the handle of the fork, the palm down, and the forefinger extended.

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Helpful Party Tips

Do not be guilty of the discourtesy of asking each guest, before you begin to carve, to choose between roast lamb and warmed-over beef, or between pie and pudding, or whatever you may have, and thus cause a guest who may have chosen the lamb or the pie the discomfort of knowing that it has been cut solely for her. Such economy may be excusable in the privacy of one's own family, but not in the presence of invited guests. First divide or carve what you have to serve, and then offer the choice to your guests.

Do not appear to make hard work of carving.  Avoid all scowling or contortion of the mouth if a difficult spot be touched. Don't let your countenance betray the toughness of the joint or your own lack of skill. Work slowly but skilfully, and thus avoid the danger of landing the joint in your neighbor's lap.

A Word to the Guests

Never stare at the carver. Remember you are invited to dine, not to take a lesson in carving. Appear perfectly unconscious of his efforts; a glance now and then will give you sufficient insight into his or her method. There often seems to be an irresistible fascination about carving which silences all tongues and draws all eyes to the head of the table. The most skilful carver will sometimes fail if conscious of being watched. With a little tact the host or hostess can easily engage the attention of her or his guests, that the carver may not be annoyed.

Should your preference be asked, and you have any, name it at once, provided there is also enough for others who may prefer the same kind. Remember there are only two fillets, or side-bones, or second joints; if you are the first to be served, do not test the skill of the carver by preferring a portion difficult to obtain.

Many of these cautions may seem uncalled for, but they have been suggested by personal observation of their necessity. Well behaved people would never err in any of these ways; but alas, not all people are well behaved, and innate selfishness often crops out in small matters.

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