Do you helplessly stand at the meat counter looking from package to package, not knowing what to buy? Do you end up buying chicken because you don't know which cut of meat to buy and wouldn't know how to fix it if you did buy it?
There are so many cuts of meat, at so many prices and so many ways of cooking that meat, it's no wonder so many people are confused, and walk away with the same cut every time they buy meat. Bar-b-qued tri-tip again!
You don't have to worry anymore! I'm going to explain beef to you so well, you will become the meat expert of the family.
Even your in-laws will admire your culinary skills. Your reputation as the best cook in town will soar, or if you don't have that reputation now, you will after you read this!
The first thing you need to know is:
The four grades of meat ain't A, B, C or D.
Every single beef carcass is graded by the US Dept. of Agriculture before it's cut up into the little pieces we usually see. It's graded as to age of the steer, how much marbling it has, and other things only the inspector knows for sure. The grades are:
Prime is the most tender and flavorful grade. It usually goes for big bucks to restaurants and the food service industry. This is difficult to find for "regular" folks like us.
Choice is still good, nutritious and tender meat sold at the higher end supermarkets.
Select is nutritious meat, sold at the bargain stores. It is a little tougher than choice, so you will usually have to cook it using a moist cooking method, or tenderize it another way. (Did I lose you there? Don't worry, I'll explain how to do that later). You can save lots of money if you learn how to cook select meat.
Standard is the toughest and is used to make processed foods like lunchmeats. You shouldn't be running across any of this grade in any regular store. However if you're buying meat out of someone's car trunk, this is probably why those steaks are a buck a pound!
Now it's time to hop in the car, go to the supermarket and put this to use!
It's good to know which grade your favorite supermarket sells. Then you will know what to do with the meat. Both choice and select are nutritious, only select is a little tougher. So, if you are planning a dinner where you really want to wow that special guy, or maybe your boss, or anyone you want to impress, buy some choice meat. For everyday feeding of your picky kids, select will enable them to grow just as big and strong, and you can buy MORE because it's cheaper.
I like to buy my meat in the cryovac packages. These are large slabs of meat sealed in a thick plastic. More grocery stores are selling cuts this way, and a lot of the big box stores also. The store I go to usually sells select meat. However on occasion, I've found cryovac packages stamped choice. Usually select is stamped on the plastic in black ink, choice is in blue. I'm not talking about the supermarket label. This is on the plastic itself and has the little shield sign. Whenever I find a choice package sitting there among the select packages, (and at the same price, I may add) I feel like I've won the lottery! I've scored a touchdown!
I once bought a 10 pound choice filet mignon from the bin full of 10 pound select filet mignons at the same price as the others. I brought it home, cut it into individual steaks, wrapped each one and froze them. Whenever I wanted, I thawed one of those filets and ate like a queen!
So now you've bought that select meat but you don't know what to do with it. You know it's going to be a little tough. Don't worry, that's covered in the next lesson.
What makes meat tough?
There is connective tissue that runs through the muscles. It's called collagen (yes, the same stuff you want in your face to keep it looking young!). This is white and you can often see it wrapped around the muscles. The more the muscle is worked, the more collagen it has.
When you want a piece of tender meat, you want a piece from the part of the steer that isn't worked much. The muscles that do heavy duty are the legs, shoulders, neck (has to move that heavy head up and down as it grazes) and the rump, sometimes called the round. Usually this meat is used for roasts and stew meat, or ground up.
The less a muscle is worked, the less collagen it has. This would be around the ribs, along the back, (when is the last time you saw a steer lifting a heavy object?), the chest area, and the underneath belly area (haven't seen too many doing crunches either).
These pieces do come at a higher price. For instance: the "T" in T-bone is cut through the back vertebra.
How does this help you when you're shopping?
Ahh, grasshopper, I'm glad you asked?
The different areas are usually called certain names:
- Chuck is around the neck and shoulder area. Works hard ? tough!
- Brisket is under the front leg. Works hard!
- Shank is the leg itself. Works hard!
- Rib of course is the rib area, the short ribs being on the chest area often called the plate. Hardly works at all ? tender!
- Anything called "loin" is along the backbone between the ribs and the pelvis. Between the ribs and the back legs is the waist and steers aren't known to be flexible at the waist. This hardly moves -tender!
- Flank is underneath in the belly area.
- Round and rump is the back end of the steer. They really move these muscles ? tough.
If you hear those words in the cut, you know where it came from. Anything with "loin" will be tender. A chuck roast will need moist cooking to make it tender, as will a rump roast. A blade roast comes from the shoulder blade: a 7-bone roast includes part of the blade and 7 other bones in that area.
Why in the world would you buy these cuts?
Besides the lower price, you can feed more people with a roast than a steak, and anything near a bone has more flavor than the meat not near a bone. It depends on how much time you have, and how much flavor you want. If you have the time to spend cooking a roast slowly in moist heat, it will taste wonderful, and be tender (this is where crockpots come in handy).
Making that meat as tender as a baby's behind.
You need to break up the collagen when cooking meat. This can be done four ways:Slow cooking in moist heat.
Soaking in an acid (marinade).
Enzymes (aging, and sometimes using certain meat tenderizers like papaya).
Mechanical tenderizing (cube steaks are mechanically tenderized ? did you ever see your grandmother beating a piece of meat with a mallet? You thought she was just mad, huh!).
Besides collagen, another thing that makes meat tough is when the protean in the muscle coagulates. Protean coagulates in high heat. This is why a rare steak is more tender than a well-done steak. The less time a steak spends cooking, the less protean coagulates.
When to cook slow and low. When to cook high and fast.
Tougher cuts (with more collagen) = slow cooking with lower heat and moisture.
Tender cuts = fast cooking with high heat.
Roasts and steaks cut from chuck, rump, round, or brisket, need to be either tenderized first or cooked by roasting in a pot on top of the stove, in a crockpot, or in a pan in the oven (dry roasting). Don't cut off any fat before roasting, it will protect the meat from drying out during cooking. Put the roast in the pan or pot with the fat side up.
Insert a meat thermometer into the thick part of the roast, not touching a bone. It is rare when 130 ?, medium at 140-145?, and well-done at 160?.
Bones conduct heat, so a boneless roast will cook slower than a bone-in roast.
Touch thin cuts with your finger (clean ? I hope). If it feels soft, it's rare: moderately firm, it's medium: and firm is well done.
Now you can have confidence when you buy your meat. You know what to look for, and what to do with it once you've bought it.
We're going to do a little role-playing.
Let's say you're planning on having a thick chuck steak for dinner. You know the term "chuck" refers to the over-worked shoulder area, so this should be tenderized some how.
The plan is to brown it with a little bit of oil in a pot, throw in some red wine to dissolve the brown on the bottom of the pan (called deglazing). Put some cut up carrots or a rack on the bottom to lift the meat out of the liquid (if it sits in boiling liquid, the protean will coagulate ? you don't want that!) then add an onion, a bay leaf, and some mushrooms. You're going to add some water or broth but not so much as to drown it, and turn it on low for an hour or so. That's the plan anyway.
Then reality sets in. Junior's soccer practice runs late, you forget you have to pick up the dry cleaning, and by the time you come to a screeching halt in the driveway, you only have 30 minutes to get dinner on the table. So on to plan B.
There are 4 ways to tenderize beef. One is slow cooking, but you don't have time for slow. You could marinade it, but that takes time too. You don't have any meat tenderizer on hand?but you do have a plastic bottle of water.
Fire up the grill! Washing the bottle quickly, you use it to pound on the chuck steak. Of course you could use a special mallet called a meat mallet or tenderizer, but that would take all of the drama away from my story.
Sprinkle the steak with your usual seasoned salt, or other flavoring, then throw the now tender steak on the grill and whip up a salad.
Dinner is served!
If you like this special report: you'll love my book,
Too Broke to Shop and Can't Cook Anyhow! A "How to" Guide to Frugal Cooking. You will learn how to cook not just beef, but everything; Eggs, potatoes, chicken, veggies. You'll learn what to bring to a potluck, and what to serve at that special dinner where you're trying to impress someone.
You'll learn where to shop to find the best bargains and what stores to avoid like the plague if you're on a budget. And all of it is written in the same style as this report.
The information in this book will save you money the rest of your life!
Cooking has been Suzy Sharpe's hobby since she was 10. She fed her 3 bottomless kids as a single parent for 18 years. She attended culinary academy at night for two years and has taught numerous people how to cook. She is an expert on living and cooking frugally. Suzy brings to her writing a unique, hilarious style guaranteed to keep you laughing while you learn how to make dinner from what you have on hand - just like Grandma used to do!