Saturday, August 2, 2008

When good meat goes bad.

Have you ever found that one steak house that just pulls you in like cattle to a slaughterhouse? Ok, bad pun and I apologize, but I could not resist. Growing up in southern Wisconsin I was blessed to have a Swiss style, Irish pub, serving a wonderfully done English prime rib roast (no kidding). I remember my family would go there almost every weekend growing up just to take advantage of the Saturday night special. It was a rib roast encrusted with rosemary, garlic and various other fresh herbs and spices, served up with roushtie potatoes (later post perhaps). Then one day we went and it wasn't the same. What happened? New management was certainly behind it. Yet it was the same recipe, the same chefs and the same cut of meat. The problem was in the supplier. For years the restaurant had used a local butcher whom they had a good relationship with. The problem was that the local butcher asked a little more than "fair market value" of his cuts. Well in the Walmart economic model, the restaurant began getting its meat from a bulk restaurant supplier. I've only gone back a hand full of times, each time praying things have changed.

MEAT 101
So lets start with a basic lesson in picking the best cut of meat. First though, my credentials. I grew up on a dairy farm where it was quite the norm to butcher your own meat. Lets not get into the details, but suffice it to say I have a first hand knowledge in literally raising quality meat. We rarely ate anything that wasn't a prime cut. Prime cut? Yes, that's the first part of the lesson. What makes a prime rib prime? Well it has a good deal to do with the marbling in the meat. No, not the mineral, the fat. That's right, the fat. Marbling is the fat that has worked its way into and around the meat. The more and more even disbursement of marbling, the higher the quality of meat. Now this does not mean grissle. It means fat. HUGE difference! Grissel is what you gnaw at in lower qualities of meat. Marbling is what makes a prime rib oh-so-delicious. Its the kind of fat that melts away and bastes the meat as it cooks.

Well if there is prime quality meat, what is all the rest? A good way to keep the quality of meat in line is to remember that you "needs to PiCS your meat" (as Popie might say). PiCS standing for Prime, Choice, and Select: the various cuts of meat from highest to lowest grade. Essentially prime is from well raised cattle, choice from decently raised cattle and select from the lesser cows (usually an injured cow sold to slaughter). Now before you vomit a little in your mouth from that last selection of meat, allow me to put it into context. The meat is fine, the cow itself just wasn't in prime condition. So, you get meat, but a lack of effort or bad luck as it may be, forced the owner to cash the cow in earlier.

What to use them for. Prime, don't worry: you would have to try to mess this cut of meat up. BBQ it, grill it, roast it, broil it; whatever you do you will enjoy it! Choice, a little less forgiving, but good for steaks, especially if you marinade. Its also great because its a lot easier on the check-card (I almost said checkbook, but come-on its the 21st century right?). Anyway, this is a great cut if you want your guest to feel like Kings and Queens at your next dinner party. I mean, usually you just serve hamburger and hot dogs (unless you are from Wisconsin, then brats are a given). With choice you can serve everyone steaks for cheap, without sacrificing flavor. Select... well can anyone say stew meat. It doesn't even make a good hamburger (which is why I prescribe to grinding your own meat, but that's another post). You can use select as a filler if you want. I actually make a pretty good Texas chilly using select cuts. Anyway, even when good meat goes bad you can save it somehow. Just remember, there is a tool for every job, so too there is a meat for every need.

Happy grilling.

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