Tip of the Week
How to Choose the Best Cuts of Meat
Nothing tastes better than the best cuts of meat, prepared exactly to perfection. Finding the right cuts of meat can be confusing. After all, there is a variety of choices, as well as different grades within each choice. You can choose from USDA prime, choice and select grades. For the average person, all of these different options are intimidating. How do you know you are getting what you want?
Cooking a great meal doesn’t have to be daunting. Whether you are creating a meal for a dinner party or informal event, you can get what you need.
When in doubt, talk to someone who is in the know. Find a store with friendly, knowledgeable staff who will help you decide on beef, pork, poultry, lamb or something more exotic. Sometimes stores have specialists who can guide you through the process.
In fact, most supermarket meat departments or butcher shops employ people who are happy to give advice and inform you about different cuts and how each one should be prepared. They might be able to stop you from making a costly mistake.
At quality shops, you could have meats custom cut for your needs. Custom cuts often deliver better results than off-the-shelf items.
The following are a few more tips to help you through the process of finding the best cut of meat.
1. Choose the right cut of meat for your recipe.
Consider how you are cooking the meat and what you want your result to be. Traditional barbecue uses cheap, tough cuts and cooks them slowly until they become soft and tender. On the other hand, a barbecue brisket is chewy and tough because it is cooked quickly over a full blast of heat. But that same meat can become delicious and smooth if you smoke it slowly over low heat for hours.
Other cuts of meat will become tough and flavorless if you grill them too slowly. For example, Porterhouse or T-bone are best cooked over high, direct heat for a short time.
2. Consider the density or toughness of the meat and its fat content. Density can be hard to ascertain, so usually the cut indicates the density or toughness. Meats culled from different areas of an animal tend to be more or less tender.
Marbling – small streaks of fat running through the cut – can sometimes tell you about the fat content. Many people think marbling gives meat its best flavor. However, the quality of the marbling is important. Big veins of fat don’t cook very easily, so thick and consistent cuts of marbled meat would need to be slow-cooked to release the flavor. Small, thin ribbons of fat are usually excellent for a traditional steak cooked over high heat.
3. Examine the color of the meat and ask whether carbon monoxide is used to keep it looking red. Meat browns quickly when exposed to air. If you find bright-red meat without additives used to preserve that vivid color, then it is an ultra-fresh cut.
Novice cooks might start with a cheaper cut of meat, such as sirloin steak for grilling. Once you have practiced your grilling skills, work your way up to expensive meats such as New York strips, T-bones, filet mignon and Porterhouse.
Ultimately, it is the quality of your cooking skills, coupled with your selection of meat that will make a great meal.