I have never been a big meat eater. I just am not crazy about the taste or texture, but give me tofu, potatoes, cauliflower or squash and I could go on and on. That’s probably why I have been asking SO many questions in class the last two weeks. Chef’s eyes go wide, his chin drops and he looks at me, “…..yes, a question?”
He has emphasized over and over, that if you are going to cook you need to know meat. Protein, in this country, is a major factor on the plate. The more you know, the more valuable you are as a chef. So without getting into the nitty gritty, here is some good consumer/home cook information that translates well.
(1) What are you cooking?
The type of recipe that you are making is going to lend itself to particular cuts of meat. For example, you wouldn’t buy a tenderloin to stick in a crockpot to braise all day. A tenderloin has very little connective tissue, so the meat it tender to begin with. A tenderloin makes a better roast. A chuck (pot roast) or brisket which is a muscle that is exercised a lot on the animal is tough and has a lot of connective tissue that needs to be broken down in a moist long cooking method.
Be familiar with primal cuts (there are 6) from that are the subprimal cuts and then the “commercial” cuts.
(2) Know what you are buying
All meat is required to be inspected. However, it is inspected only for wholesomeness. Have you heard of Prime or Choice meat? Those are grades. Meat grading is voluntary (and paid for) as a quality rating.
No Roll….other lower grades for processing and canning
In class we butchered a select loin and then cooked it, and compared it to a no roll (no grade beef). There was a huge difference! Grading is based on marbling of meat and texture among other things. The no roll was tough and mealy and really turned me off.
I was at the store yesterday and today and spent some time looking at the meat department. Here is what I saw:
This is a grocery store meat aisle. The USDA choice selection is really small (picture on the far left- 5 packages wide, black packaging), most of the meat was just USDA inspected- no grade (picture on far right, notice white packaging). So most of the meat people were buying at the store was no grade, maybe select, but I didn’t see that on the package. Be careful, all the fancy marketing of “Ranchers Reserve” or whatever pretty label the grocery store uses is NOT a USDA grade, but a marketing poly to make you think it is great meat. MOST meat sold at grocery stores is commercial low grade or “no roll” meaning it was not rolled with a meat grade for quality. The grade stamp is a shield shape where the inspection stamp is round or rectangular.
This was at Costco. ALL the meat was graded as choice. I was really excited to see that. At the large stores Sams and Costco the only meat they sell is inspected and then graded choice. This is quality meat at really great prices.
So the point is, watch what you are buying, pay attention, and make sure you are buying the right product for the right recipe.
I think I will save the whole types of cattle, cross breeding and how a cow is fed and raised for another post!