The variety of meats available in many grocery stores has never been more diverse.
Chicken, pork, beef, turkey, quail and even rabbit are pretty common. In the old days, little thought was given to the grade of what was being offered. At best, beef was marked USDA Choice, but everything else was sold without much description.
Not too long ago, Black Angus beef began showing up on grocery store shelves.
It originated in Scotland and was famous for superior marbling and tenderness. Better marbling, meaning the fat is evenly spread around the cut, means tender and more flavorful meat. Angus remains a big hit and is superior to the regular USDA Choice meat that is still more common and less expensive.
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The USDA has three grades of beef that you might find in a grocery store:
▪ Prime, the very best, is only in specialty sections.
▪ Choice, which is good and has nice marbling, is the most common grade.
▪ Select is leaner and the lowest grade. It’s commonly found, but leaner does not mean more delicious.
Next to change was chicken.
Free range, organic, no antibiotics, no hormones and all natural designations began to appear on labeling. All have specific definitions.
Free range means only that the animal has access to the outside. If you are picturing a happy chicken living the life in a big pasture, think again.
For some reason, and even my hog farmer friend Dale Stevens doesn’t know why, pork has no USDA grades that are used on packaging.
When asked about the matter, Stevens said, “I honestly don’t know, but would think that most of the pork in the grocery stores is all the same.”
There certainly are different qualities of pork out there. If you compare the heritage breed Red Wattle pork that Stevens raises on his free-range hog farm, Sand Ridge Farm, it is head over heels better than the grocery store variety.
Pork, just like beef, is judged on color, marbling and texture.
I once visited a restaurant kitchen and spotted what I thought were several beautiful ribeye steaks sitting on a counter.
When I commented on them, the chef laughed and told me that it was in fact Dale Stevens’ pork. So even the visual difference can be startling.
Getting the best meat
So what’s a poor foodie to do when the best quality meats just have to be had?
Unfortunately, Sand Ridge Farm does not sell to the public.
If you check online, there are dozens of options. I am sure most are very good and can assure you that they also are very expensive. Give Stonnington Farms a look. The local beef producer sells online or you can call 601-270-7048.
Perhaps the best thing to do is to pick the best-looking cut at the grocery store, then do a bang up job on the grill.
Here are a few suggestions.
▪ Keep in mind color and marbling when buying pork or beef. Cook over a hardwood fire if possible. Hardwood charcoal also is a good choice.
▪ If the grill is not an option, cook in clarified butter. Treat the meat with the respect it deserves. Season it carefully with freshly ground black pepper and sea salt.
▪ If it is pork, brine it overnight in a salty water bath and then season liberally before cooking.
▪ Never take a cold piece of meat and throw in on the grill. Let it come to room temperature first. Never stab anything you are cooking with a fork. You are piercing the sear you so carefully put on it and the juice is going to run out.
▪ This is a serious pet peeve of mine. If you have spent a ton of money buying top-quality ground beef, never push down on that expensive burger with a spatula. You spent all that money on buying a juicy cut of beef, then you squeeze the juice out into your fire. Don’t you dare.