How to get the most delicious meat for your buck
Sometimes there’s nothing more satisfying than a juicy piece of steak. “Steak is the ultimate comfort food,” says Tom Colicchio, the famed chef and Top Chef lead judge. “If you’re going out for one, that isn’t the time to scrimp on calories or quality.”
So when you’re craving a good piece of meat, but don’t have a lot of money on hand, what’s the best way to get that melt-in-your-mouth flavor? We turned to DeBragga, meat purveyor to some of the world’s finest chefs including Colicchio, Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Laurent Tourondel, Eric Ripert, and David Chang, for their guidance. DeBragga owners Marc Sarrazin and George Faison offered their best tips.
A way to get better products at a lower price is to use “off cuts” of meat. Look for braising cuts like shoulder, chuck, flat iron, brisket, shanks, and oxtail. They take longer to cook, but the quality and taste are excellent. In fact, some of these cuts are even better when slowly smoked, as in barbecue. Bottom round can be sliced thinly and marinated, then mounted on skewers and grilled for an excellent meal.
Don’t let the fat frighten you. Many people go to a store and seek the brightest red piece of meat that has no fat because they think it’s healthy for their family. But there’s nothing wrong with interstitial fat, the fat found within the meat itself. That fat is a a real good indicator of the quality of the meat. Meat containing fat within the muscle will make the meat substantially taste better and be satisfying enough that you don’t need to eat as much.
On that note: Go for quality over quantity. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, most Americans already eat more protein than their bodies need. Buy the best quality meat you can afford. The flavor will be far more satisfying and you’ll enjoy it so much more. Serve 10 ounces instead of 16 ounces. You don’t need to eat as much to be fulfilled. Also, think of supplementing to the meal by adding more vegetables.
Don’t be fooled by the term “free range.” When a package of meat says “free range,” it does not mean that the animal is living outdoors running around on a farm. Rather, it has “access” to the outdoors. The term specifically refers to animals that have 50% more space in the building in which they’re housed.
You can find better quality, antibiotic-free meats by looking for products with certification by a third party such as Certified Humane . Primarily, you’re looking for an organization that verifies animal husbandry conditions like being raised outdoors and access to the outdoors. Other organizations to look for include the American Grass Fed Association and the Animal Welfare Association.
When you’re looking at a package of meat or poultry, the most important words to look for are “No antibiotics… ever.” The next most important words to look for on beef packages or milk cartons are “No added hormones ever.” Beware of the chicken or pork package that states “No hormones added” without any mention of antibiotics. The government already forbids the use of hormones in swine or poultry. Marketers use this empty “no hormones” phrasing to distract you when they’re using copious amounts of antibiotics, which they do not mention.
One of the crème de la crèmes of beef is meat that has been dry-aged. It is a true luxury. Very few butchers do real dry-aged beef because it’s time-consuming and expensive to produce, but the flavor and texture of the beef are a connoisseur’s delight. When beef is properly aged, it loses moisture and the flavor of the beef concentrates, becoming nutty and complex. It’s truly worth the occasional delicious splurge. When you’re shopping for it, don’t be fooled by a package that says “aged beef.” All beef should be aged before eating it. Even beef in a bag should be aged for at least a few weeks, or it will be tough. Because it’s dry-aged over time and has lost moisture, true dry-aged beef will have a little more of a purplish, darker color. It should not be bright red. So if a piece of meat is very bright red, that’s a clue that it is probably wet-aged, and not dry-aged at all.
Bring meat to room temperature before cooking. That makes for a faster cooking time and better tasting meat. Room-temperature meat will sear better than when cooked ice cold.
After cooking, let the meat rest. When meat hits heat, the blood runs to the center of the muscle. The idea is to let that blood redistribute itself. So after it’s cooked, before slicing into it, let the meat rest. For example, if you want your steak medium-rare (temperature 125-130 degrees), cook it just a little less, to 115-120, then let it sit for 10 minutes. The heat within the meat will keep bringing it to the next degree of temperature.
There’s more to Japanese Wagyu meat than just Kobe. Kobe is one specific place in Japan that produces Wagyu cattle. However, Kobe is merely one prefecture among several locales in Japan that produce this top-quality Wagyu beef. In fact, every five years Japan has a kind of culinary Olympics where hundreds of farmers bring their cattle to be evaluated and judged. In the past two Olympics, the winning cattle was Japanese Wagyu from the Miyazaki region. So if you want to really treat yourself on a Wagyu steak, one of the most exceptional ones is from Miyazaki.