A while back I invited 25 men, women and children to our home for dinner. To make serving easier, I decided to do a fajita bar; that way everyone could pick out exactly what they wanted at their own pace.
I found a great recipe; marinated the beef and chicken and then grilled them to perfection. Sadly, the beef turned out like leather ... no, worse than leather. Nobody would eat it, including those guys who will eat anything. I'd even see the ladies delicately disposing nasty bits into their napkins.
What happened? I used the wrong cut of meat. To save money, I had purchased some beef from my farmer friend, which is not a good idea for a fledgling country girl who didn't know much about the parts of a cow. I could have marinated it all week and the meat would still have been inedible.
Being a good cook is really just about two things: a good recipe and the right ingredients. But when it comes to standing in front of the meat case at the local grocery store, many of us feel pretty clueless. What exactly lies beneath that plastic wrap? What's the difference between a fillet and a flank other than the price tag? And what is "skirt steak" all about? Choosing the wrong cut of meat can ruin even the most gourmet meal, so it's time for a little carnivore education.
If you are planning to grill steaks, what cut should you get? Most are fairly good for grilling, but some cuts may need some extra attention. As a rule of thumb, the more expensive the product the more tender it will be. If you are spoiling yourself, get a tenderloin, porterhouse, t-bone or rib eye. The New York strip, top sirloin and round tip are also good, but you may want to marinate them first. Many stores market "mock filets" or steaks that pretend to be filet mignon; with a good marinade, you can work miracles with this inexpensive option.
Many consumers choose extra lean ground beef to help maintain their figures and keep their arteries clog-free. The only problem with going that route is that sometimes it's difficult to keep this drier product from falling apart on the grill. If you are going to indulge in a grilled hamburger, use lean ground beef instead of extra lean.
Lamb is produced from animals less than a year old. Most cuts of USDA Prime and Choice lamb, including shoulder cuts, are tender and can be oven roasted, broiled or pan broiled. The less tender cuts, such as the breast, riblets, neck and shank, can be braised slowly to make them more tender and juicy.
Pork is generally produced from younger animals. Today's fresh pork products have considerably less fat than they did a decade ago. There are only two USDA grades for pork, acceptable and unacceptable. Acceptable quality pork is also graded for yield, the yield ratio of lean to waste. Unacceptable quality pork, which includes meat that is soft and watery, is graded U.S. Utility.
What to buy:
So there you have it, the basics of buying meat. Using these tips will help you prepare and serve affordable and delicious meals without breaking the bank. Shoot, they might think you're such a good cook that they'll want a return engagement!
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