The Foolproof Consumer Guide to Buying Meat
An educated consumer has a leg up at the butcher counter. We interviewed a most educated person in the kosher meat industry, Mr. David Asovsky, the butcher at Evergreen Kosher Market in Monsey, New York, one of the biggest kosher meat centers in the Tristate area. His nuggets of knowledge will go a long way in your kitchen this Yom Tov season.
The key to buying the right meat is understanding what you’re looking at. A few vocabulary terms:
- Marbling: This refers to the avenues of grain running through the meat. The more white threads you see (surprise: they’re not fat!), the softer and more flavorful your meat will be. When you shop for meat, you might notice that two steaks have the same name but different amounts of marbling. It’s important to know what to choose.
- There are three gradations of beef — prime, select, and choice. These grades are given to an entire cow, not to a specific cut or piece of meat. Prime beef is the best; it has an almost buttery flavor, and the meat is easy to cook to perfection. Prime beef has the most marbling, select has some marbling, and choice looks like a red Magic Marker. Your butcher won’t tell you what grade you’re looking at — that’s up to you to determine!
- Connective tissue: There are several different types of connective tissue in meat, and each one serves a different purpose. The toughest one is what we call gristle, or elastin, which doesn’t melt when you cook it. You want to try to remove as much of this as possible before you start cooking. It’s easy to find because it’s usually visible in clumps near where the meat connected to the bone. The vein that runs through a minute steak falls into this category, and shoulder steaks have them as well.
Help! What Am I Buying?
Here’s a rundown on the different cuts of meat out there:
- Minute steak: A minute roast can be cut into either minute steak or minute steak split (a.k.a. minute steak fillet or flat-iron steak). Minute steak has a large vein running through it, which doesn’t work well for grilling. If you can, purchase it from a butcher who knows how to remove all the veins (no easy feat). A minute-steak-split grills like a London broil (more on that below), and is a good choice for shish kebab. The meat is very similar to the cap of the rib. Mr. Asovsky’s secret: A French roast split, with the French roast cut evenly in the middle. There are no veins to worry about this way.
- Rib steaks: There are many different kinds of rib steaks, with prices to reflect that. A rib steak is the most classic cut, and there’s really no need to reinvent the wheel here. They’re almost all fantastic.
- Skirt steak and hanger steak: These are both very thin and very expensive, but the results are delicious. They’re usually very salty, so soak in water, seltzer, orange juice, or pineapple juice before cooking. Then use a high temperature and give them a quick sear; serve with a chimichurri sauce and you’re done.
- Club steak, New York strip steak, split Delmonico (oyster) steak, Swiss steak, fillet steak, and chuck steak: These cuts differ from rib steak in that they can be cooked well done, whereas a rib steak will be killed if you overcook it. Look for good marbling. You can make these cuts rare if you find one with lots of marbling.
- Ribs: Deboned flanken, Miami spare ribs, short ribs, and spare ribs are all different ways of cutting the three plate ribs. Ribs are fantastic when cooked properly, but you don’t want to mess them up, since they’re very pricey. The secret to great ribs is to first give them a sear and then cook them low and slow. You can also par-cook them in a moist environment (like your oven) and then throw them on the grill. That will speed up the time they spend on the fire.
- Surprise steak: This is the cap of the rib, the Rolls Royce of steaks. It’s extremely flavorful and tender, and the price tag reflects that. Make sure your grill is very hot before throwing this on, because it’s relatively thin.
- London broil: This isn’t only a cut, it’s a cooking method, so different butchers will present it differently. If you like your meat medium-rare or rare, you get good bang for your buck here. It’s a great cut of meat to serve to a crowd, and amazing at room temperature. Don’t recook it, but you can reheat it in an oven no more than 180°F (82°C). To cook, broil on high (approximately three minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the London broil) for a short amount of time. Slice your meat against the grain and diagonally. The more diagonally you cut it, the more tender it will be.
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This article originally appeared in Mishpacha Magazine. Adapted with permission.