As we’ve mentioned before, starting with a good cut of meat is a critical part of ensuring a delicious final result. Knowing exactly how to pick out your meat is just as important as knowing how to properly cook it. Now when we say “good”, that can mean a variety of things (good quality, good marbling, etc.), especially depending on the specific type of meat.
So, if you are going to smoke a pork butt, there are some specific things you should look for when it comes to pork butt selection. We’ve put them all together in this handy article that breaks down exactly how to pick a good pork butt cut.
Before you start looking at selecting your pork butt, it’s important to understand exactly what a pork butt cut is. Contrary to what its name implies, pork butt actually does not come from the hog’s rear—it is one of the two sub-primal cuts from the shoulder. The pork butt is taken from the upper portion of the hog’s front shoulder and sits above the pork shoulder cut.
The word “butt” in “pork butt” refers to the containers that cheap pork cuts were packed in for shipment or storage in the 1700s.
A whole pork butt weighs between 6 and 10 pounds and is a rectangular-shaped roast cut. It is available bone-in (with the shoulder joint bone) or boneless. When sold boneless, the whole pork butt roast is often cut into half portions.
Pork butt does have several alternate names that you may hear, including:
When buying a pork butt from a big box store, you may even see a combination of several of the above names on the label.
Check out our article on the differences between a pork butt and pork shoulder for more information on this particular cut and how it differs from the pork shoulder cut.
Now that you know where exactly on the hog a pork butt comes from, let’s dive into tips on how to pick a good pork butt to ensure you buy a good one for your cooking session.
When picking out a pork butt, you want to make sure that the meat is bright red-pink and has a coarse grain. It should also have a firm, smooth, and bright white fat cap on the exterior. Avoid meat that has a pale color and/or dark spots in the fat. This indicates not-so-fresh meat.
A good pork butt will also have a good balance between muscle fibers and fat throughout the meat (aka “marbling”). You ideally want to get a pork butt that has a good amount of fat marbling in the muscle area farthest from the bone (known as “the money muscle” in this cut). But, steer clear of ones that have a ton of extra fat that will need to be trimmed off.
Also, if the pork butt has come sealed in Cryovac wrapping, it should be nice and tight on the meat. If it is loose and/or has air pockets, that means the meat has been sitting there for a while, has been exposed to air, and will not have as good a flavor.
Lots of supermarket pork butts are injected with an artificial solution of water, salt, sodium phosphate, and other ingredients to make the meat more moist. This is called enhanced meat. Enhanced meat can be identified by reading the fine print on the product label. Look for a phrase that tells the percentage of solution added to the meat and the what the solution ingredients are.
For a better flavor of the meat, you want to get non-enhanced pork. The label will sometimes say “all-natural” and/or “no added ingredients”. Keep in mind that some non-enhanced pork won’t say that on the label. But, if the meat IS enhanced, pork suppliers are required to state that on the label.
If you want the best pork flavor, go for all-natural pork from smaller farms. This meat will usually be found at smaller, specialty grocery stores, your local butcher shop, or a high-quality online meat supplier.
If you have no choice but to buy enhanced meat, because the meat has been injected with a fair amount of salt, reduce the amount of salt that is in your rub so you don’t end up with an overly salty pork butt.
This may be obvious, but fresher is always better when it comes to meat selection. So, you want to avoid a pork butt that’s been frozen for a while. You’ll get the best results from pork that has been recently cut. (Another reason to opt for your local butcher shop!)
Whole, untrimmed pork butts can range from 6 to 10 pounds in size. The 6 to 8-pound range is usually what you’ll find pre-packaged in the store. But, there’s nothing wrong with going for a 10-pound butt if that is what you need based on the number of people you’ll be feeding. A 10-pound one will cook just as fine as a 6-pound one as long as it’s done properly and you are cooking to desired internal temperature.
When trying to determine how much pork butt per person you are feeding, generally speaking, for one serving you’ll need ⅔ lb of raw pork per adult and ½ lb per child. (FYI: Cooked pork weighs half as much as raw.)
You can smoke a good pork butt both ways, but if you can, you ideally want to get a pork butt that still has the shoulder bone in it. This may be harder to find unless you go to your local butcher’s shop.
Leaving the bone in the pork chop will help hold the meat together nicely. Plus, the bone acts as a built-in meat thermometer. With a slight twist, the bone will easily slide out of the meat when it is done. You should still use a digital meat thermometer to monitor the internal temperature of the meat though.
Of course, you can still cook a delicious pork butt without the bone but, depending on the size, it may need to be tied with butcher’s twine to hold it together.
Short answer: Opt for your local butcher versus a big box store for better quality meat with more fat marbling.
In most cases, you can find pork butt (frequently labeled as Boston Butt) in your local grocery store or large wholesale/warehouse store. At the grocery store, it will usually be packaged as half of a whole pork butt and already come pre-trimmed with the entire fat cap removed. If you don’t want to bother with trimming the fat cap, then this is fine. But, when smoking a pork butt, you’ll usually get the best results if the fat cap is not totally removed but trimmed down to just ¼”.
At the warehouse stores, you’ll usually find pork butts vacuum sealed and sold two to a pack (with one slightly smaller than the other). They’ll also often have the fat cap still intact so you can trim it as desired at home.
But, with the grocery store and warehouse store pork butts that are Cryovac-wrapped, you don’t have a lot of opportunity to be selective in how fresh a cut you are getting, the level of marbling, etc.
That is just one of the reasons that the best place to buy a great pork butt cut is from your local butcher shop. There, you’ll have the opportunity to talk to the butcher and find out exactly how long ago the pork was cut, where it came from, and more. The pork available at the butcher shop will also usually be more humanely raised and have a higher fat content, which equals more flavor.
Don’t be afraid to ask the butcher for help. They’ll be happy to help ensure you get the best cut that fits your needs and budget.
As you can see, when it comes to how to pick a good pork butt, there are some specific things to keep in mind to ensure you have a head start on ending up with a delicious final result. It’s important to know exactly what to look for in pork butt selection so you walk out of the store with good-quality, fresh pork meat. The quality of the meat will make a huge difference in the taste of your smoked pork butt.
With the information we covered above, you’ll be able to buy the best pork butt to cook today. And remember, don’t be afraid to talk to your local butcher. They’ll be happy to help and can point you to the best quality pork that meets all the criteria above.
Do you know of something else to look for when it comes to pork butt selection that we left out? Plan on smoking a pork butt this week? Leave a comment below and tell us about it. We want to hear from you!
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There’s no doubt about it, beef roasts make some of the best cuts of meat to smoke low and slow. If you’re somewhat familiar with BBQ and smoking meat, the first beef cut that probably comes to mind is a brisket. This is one of the most popular beef cuts to smoke, especially when it comes to competition barbecue. Another popular option for holiday meals is prime rib. But, there are quite a few other delicious types of beef roasts as well. And some are much more affordable than you may think.
With so many different beef roast cuts, it can be easy to get confused with the different options and where they’re cut from, etc. Plus, some cuts can go by several different names, making it even more confusing. But, we’ve got you covered!
In this article, we break down everything you need to know about the different kinds of beef roasts that are available, going from the front of the steer to the back. Plus, where the best place is to buy different types of beef roasts.
In general, roasts are cut from the steer's shoulder (aka chuck), chest, rib and loin areas, and butt and back leg (aka round).
Starting from the front of the steer and going to the rear, here is a breakdown of 12 of the different beef roast cuts you can find:
The clod roast (also commonly referred to as the arm roast) is cut from the front arm of the steer. It is leaner and usually a little less expensive than the more commonly known chuck roast. Because it is a tougher cut that comes from a more exercised part of the steer, this cut is best when slow-braised/smoked.
This affordable cut is taken from the shoulder, above the clod roast. Between those two cuts, the chuck roast will have a higher amount of fat marbling throughout it. This cut is often the ideal choice for cooking pot roast, whether that is in a slow-cooker or on your grill. (Yes, pot roast can be cooked on the grill!)
One of the most widely-known beef cuts, the brisket is a favorite for meat-smoking enthusiasts and those wanting to splurge on holidays for the family. The whole brisket is a primal cut, taken from the breast or lower chest of the steer, and includes the fatty point (aka the deckle) and the lean flat. As another heavily-exercised part of the animal, the brisket is best cooked slowly at lower temperatures.
When buying a brisket, make sure you specify if you want the whole packer. If you don’t, you may just end up with the flat.
More commonly referred to as the prime rib, the beef rib roast is arguably one of the kings of beef cuts. This cut is made up of the middle seven rib section of the steer and includes a delicious amount of fat marbling, making it a more tender option for beef roasts.
The large end of the rib roast, which sits closer to the chuck is fattier, while the end of the rib roast closer to the steer’s back end (which connects to the strip loin) is leaner. Usually, one rib for every two people is enough meat, so when buying your rib roast, let your butcher know how many people you are wanting to feed and which end of the roast you prefer.
Not to be confused with a top sirloin roast, the strip loin roast is the leaner cut taken from the same muscle as the rib roast but toward the steer’s rear end. Sometimes referred to as a top loin roast (hence the confusion), this is where bone-in Kansas City strip steaks and boneless New York strip steaks are cut from. But, when the strip loin roast is left whole, some argue it is the next best thing to a standing rib roast.
Consisting of parts of the filet mignon, chateaubriand, porterhouse steaks, and T-bone steaks, the whole tenderloin is the most tender beef roast available. Cut from under the spine, along the animal's ribcage, it is tapered in shape with the middle being referred to as the "center cut." This roast, consisting of little-worked muscle, produces mild and extremely tender flavors. The labor that goes into trimming and tying a tenderloin, as well as the waste produced, is what also makes it one of the most expensive types of beef roasts.
Source: Taste of Artisan
The top sirloin roast is a lean but flavorful cut taken from the hip bone. With a fair amount of fat marbling, it would not be considered an “economical” cut but is still more affordable than a tenderloin. This roast is extremely versatile and can be slow-roasted whole, cut into steaks and grilled, cooked in a stew, or stir-fried.
This small triangular roast is taken from the bottom of the sirloin subprimal cut. With hearty beef flavor and a good amount of tender marbling, this roast started as a popular cut in the West and is growing in broader popularity. This cut is great for smoking, grilling, or roasting.
An economical cut that is taken from the inside of the animal's back leg, the top round roast is similar in fat and flavor to the top sirloin. This cut is what's typically used for deli roast beef, sliced thin against the grain. It is also a good option for braising in a slow cooker as a pot roast.
The bottom round roast, another economical cut compared to other options, is cut from the outside muscles of the back leg (aka the “rump” area). This roast will have quite a bit more marbling compared to the top round. It is another good option to cook in a slow-cooker or as a pot roast on the grill. The bottom round can also be roasted, but if roasted for too long it can become chewy and tough.
The eye of round is a circular, very lean roast cut from the elongated muscle located in the center of the bottom round section. Like other rump roast options, this cut offers the best results when roasted and thinly sliced.
A budget cut that is taken from the steer’s front end of the rear leg, adjacent to the sirloin, the sirloin tip roast is very similar to the top sirloin roast. This roast is lean but flavorful. Like most lean beef cuts, it should be braised, stewed, or slowly roasted to break down any toughness of the meat. The sirloin tip roast can also be a great option for kebabs on the grill.
For reference in general, the more fat-marbled roasts will come from the parts of the steer that move the least (think tenderloin and rib roast). While the tougher roasts that take best to braising and slow-roasting will come from the areas that get the most exercise (like the round). These tougher cuts may not normally be considered “special-occasion” cuts but they can still be very delicious, while also being much more affordable.
You’ll usually be able to find several of the above beef roast cuts at your local supermarket, especially specialty markets. But, for the largest variety of options and the highest quality meat, head to your local butcher shop. Any good butcher shop will happily cut meat to order. Then you can specify exactly what roast you want, how big you want it, etc. And just by asking the butcher questions, you may even discover other options you never knew existed.
Keep in mind that you should bring your roast(s) home no more than 3-4 days before you plan on cooking it.
Do you have a favorite beef roast cut? Plan on cooking one of these cuts soon? Leave a comment below and tell us all about it. We want to hear from you!
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Pork shoulder and pork butt are two different cuts of meat that are very commonly confused. Especially if you are not really familiar with the huge variety of available meat cuts. It also doesn’t help that “pork butt” is somewhat misleading in the name.
When it comes to pork shoulder vs pork butt, there are a lot of differences between the two. It’s important to understand what these are to ensure you get the cut that will give you the result you are looking for.
In this article, we’ve broken down what exactly each of the cuts is, as well as the variety of differences between pork shoulder and pork butt.
Both the pork shoulder and the pork butt come from the shoulder of the pig, but they are two different cuts entirely. Pork shoulder, sometimes also called a “picnic shoulder” or “picnic roast”, is the part of the primal cut that is taken from the lower shoulder, above the foreleg. The National Pork Board refers to this cut as “the top portion of the front leg of the hog.”
The meat of a pork shoulder cut, since this is a hardworking region of muscle, is fairly tough due to the high amounts of connective tissue. It is also somewhat dark in color due to a large amount of oxygen-storing myoglobin within this area. Even though this section is somewhat lean, it does have more fat compared to leaner cuts, like pork chops. So, when cooked properly, it can be a very delicious piece of meat.
Source: Cook’s Illustrated
The term “pork butt” is somewhat deceiving since this cut isn’t from the rear of the pig at all. A pork butt, also sometimes referred to as a “Boston butt”, is cut from the upper portion of the pig’s front shoulder, above the pork shoulder cut. This is the cut that is used most often for barbecue pulled pork.
Pork butt is usually one of the relatively inexpensive cuts of meat and is one of the top options for slow smoking. This is because the pork butt contains a lot of connective tissue that needs to be broken down through smoking or braising at lower temperatures for an extended period. But it’s also an extremely fatty cut with lots of delicious fat marbling throughout, making it less prone to drying out compared to other cuts.
The pork shoulder and pork butt are sub-primal cuts that come from the whole front shoulder primal cut. But, these two cuts have very distinct differences.
It’s good to understand exactly what these differences in pork shoulder vs pork butt are. Then you can confidently buy the meat you need for the type of cooking you are doing, the texture and taste you are going for, and how you are wanting to serve it.
Here is a breakdown of the key differences between pork shoulder and pork butt:
Usually, butchers will cut a pork shoulder in a tapered, triangular shape and sell it with the skin still attached. If you get a boneless pork shoulder, it will typically be sold with netting around it to hold it together. When you remove this netting, the meat will "unfold" into an uneven layer.
Alternatively, a pork butt will be a uniform, rectangular-shaped piece of meat with the skin off. You can buy a pork butt either bone-in or without and it is often sold with the fat cap still intact.
Don’t be afraid to ask the butcher for exactly what you want/need (bone-in, deboned, fat cap trimmed away, etc.)
Since it comes from more of the working muscle of the lower shoulder, pork shoulder usually has less fat and may be chewy or tough. Pork butt, on the other hand, is well-marbled with more intramuscular fat running throughout, yielding more tender and soft meat.
In general, pork shoulder will usually be cheaper in comparison to pork butt. This is because pork butt is often a larger piece of meat. But, both cuts are considered economical cuts of meat compared to others.
If you’re not sure which cut you want to cook with between pork shoulder and pork butt, it can be helpful to consider how many people you are feeding and then factor in the price that way.
With pork butt, you’ll get the best results by either slowly smoking it or cooking it in a slow cooker. This allows the fat and connective tissues to break down and give you that deliciously moist and tender meat you’re going for. Pork butt is most often smoked and then used to make pulled pork dishes. But it is also very good when cooked in a slow-cooker to make things like Mexican-style carnitas dishes.
Pork shoulder usually does better when cooked at slightly higher temperatures in less time. It is often roasted on the grill to enhance its natural flavors. Also, this cut is commonly cooked with the skin on to achieve a nice crispy exterior and then sliced when it’s done.
Fat equals flavor. So, due to pork butt having a higher fat content throughout, it often tends to be more flavorful than a pork shoulder. But, like with any meat, the flavor also largely depends on how you cook it. Different cooking methods and techniques can be used that all have a different effect on the flavor.
How you cook your pork shoulder or pork butt and what is done to it after it is cooked will determine how long it can be stored. There are big differences in this aspect when it comes to pork shoulder vs pork butt.
If you smoke the meat and leave it whole, it lasts a couple of days if stored properly in an airtight container and be fine. This prevents any moisture from getting in and ruining the meat’s structure.
But, if you plan on using your smoked pork butt for pulled pork, which means “pulling it” right after it is done cooking, then it is recommended to eat it within a day or so for best results. Pulled pork can become tasteless and dry very quickly if left out. If you are going to store some, make sure it is in an airtight container.
It is also important with either of these cuts, after they are done cooking, to make sure that they are completely cooled down before putting any of it in the fridge.
There’s no doubt that these two cuts are two of the most popular cuts of pork, can be used for a variety of different things, and are very often confused for each other. But now that you know the differences between pork shoulder and pork butt, you can make an informed decision on which piece is best for the cooking method you want to do and the result you want to achieve.
If you want to slow smoke a piece of pork and enjoy deliciously tender meat, go for the pork butt. If you want pork with crispy skin and a slightly tougher texture, grab a pork shoulder. Either way, when cooked properly, you can end up with a final result that you’ll be proud to show off.
Do you have a favorite between pork shoulder and pork butt? Have you recently cooked one or the other for the first time? Leave a comment below and tell us about it. We want to hear from you!
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We’ve said it multiple times before, the fresher the meat you start with, the better the taste. This, of course, applies to chicken and other poultry as well. If you are headed to the store, knowing what to look for when buying chicken meat will help ensure you end up with fresh chicken and a great tasting final result. No matter if you are grilling chicken wings or smoking whole chicken.
But, it’s easy to start getting confused when you see labels that say cage-free, free-range, organic, etc. We’ve got you covered. Here’s what you need to know, straight from the BBQ pros:
One immediate way to pinpoint fresh chicken is its appearance. Fresh chicken will have a yellow tint to the skin and the meat will have a pinkish color. You also want to avoid meat that has any bruising, tears in the skin, or other cosmetic damages, all of which can affect the quality and freshness. Fresh chicken meat will also be plump. If you press against it, the meat should be resilient and resume its shape after a couple of seconds.
When it comes to the smell of it, fresh chicken will not have a scent. If the meat has an odor, it is not good and should be avoided.
Buying frozen chicken in larger quantities may be more convenient, but that’s not going to give you the best tasting meat. To achieve that, you want to go with chicken meat that is fresh and has never been frozen.
If the meat is labeled as fresh, then the internal temperature has never gone below 26 degrees Fahrenheit, the freezing temperature for poultry. Thawing frozen chicken can change the texture of the meat, which can greatly affect its taste after it is cooked.
If you are selecting chicken from the packaged meat in the grocery store, avoid packages that have excess liquid pooling in them. Liquid like this happens when the meat purges fluids picked up from a water immersion process sometimes used to cool chicken to a safe temperature. This excess liquid can cause a soggy texture to the meat and dilute the flavor.
The USDA allocates three letter grades to poultry meat: A, B, and C. So, when you’re shopping for quality chicken, you want to get Grade A meat. This meat will not have any deformities, be well-fleshed, have a generous layer of fat, and won’t have any hairs or feathers still attached to the outside. There also won’t be any tears or cuts in the skin or meat, discolored portions, or broken bones.
It’s important to know that the way the chicken has been processed does affect the quality and taste. Ideally, you want to get chicken that has been cut by a knife and not mechanically separated. Mechanical separation is a high-pressure way of separating meat from the bone and can often result in unwanted items mixing into a paste-like texture.
Buying a whole chicken and processing it and trimming it yourself is an even better move. Doing this will give you more for your money and result in better portion sizes. Breaking down a whole bird is actually easier than you may think.
Keep in mind that processing chicken yourself at home requires diligence in food safety. Be careful not to cross-contaminate kitchen surfaces and utensils.
When looking at the labels for chicken, you may see either “antibiotic-free” or “raised without antibiotics”. You want to go with chicken that is raised without antibiotics. This means that the chickens were never given antibiotics at any point. If the chicken is labeled antibiotic-free, that means that it could have previously been given antibiotics but, according to the USDA, the producer has to follow a withdrawal or waiting period to ensure the antibiotics are not present when it is processed/butchered.
Source: Backyard Poultry Magazine
According to the USDA, chicken is labeled as "free-range" if the producer has proven that the chickens are given access to the outdoors. When a chicken is raised and butchered in a more humane environment like this, the less stress they endure and the healthier they will be. This means better quality meat. Plus, in many cases, free-range chickens will also be fed a good diet.
Speaking of a good diet, you want to look for chicken that has been grass-fed and/or vegetable-fed versus grain-fed. As mentioned above, these chickens will be healthier, resulting in better-tasting meat.
If the label for the meat says grass-fed or vegetable-fed, it means that the chicken was raised on a diet that never included any animal by-products. Sometimes, producers who are trying to cut costs and speed up growth rates supplement their chickens’ diet with animal by-products.
It is highly debated among chefs and nutritionists whether there is a difference in the taste between organic and non-organic chicken. The USDA’s National Organic Program, the provider of organic certification, requires producers to implement and follow strict ongoing compliance with standards and practices that are much cleaner and environmentally friendly.
Many of the best organic producers also go a step further and get the HFAC (Humane Farm Animal Care) certification. This enforces guidelines for humane handling at every step. In theory, if they have this certification, this would mean that the chickens are being fed a healthier diet and raised in a more stress-free environment. Which, as we mentioned above, often results in better tasting meat.
If the chicken is labeled organic, chances are it will also be non-GMO certified. For chicken to have this seal, it has to be raised and fed on a certified organic, non-GMO diet that meets the Non-GMO Project standards. The Non-GMO Project is a third-party non-profit that provides verification and labeling for non-GMO products.
Another important factor to keep in mind is that you should avoid chicken that has been enhanced. Enhanced chicken has either been injected with or soaked in a solution during its processing. This solution can include enhancements like saltwater, chicken broth, nitrates and nitrites, and MSG. All of these things can significantly raise the sodium level of the meat and take away from its natural flavor.
We’ve mentioned it before, but if you want the best quality meat and the best deals, you should make friends with the butcher at your local meat store. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. That’s what they are there for. Your butcher can tell you more about the chicken, like if it’s ever been frozen, or if it’s free-range, organic, all-natural, etc. They can even give you more info about the farm it came from.
When you shop at small, local butcher shops, you’ll get access to the close relationships that the butchers have with the farmers and you can help buy responsibly while also supporting small businesses.
We’ve previously covered how to select quality beef, but, as you can see, there are also some poultry-specific things you also need to know. It’s important to know what to look for when buying chicken to ensure you walk out of the store with good-quality, fresh meat. It can make a huge difference in the taste of the final result, no matter if you’re grilling or smoking chicken.
The things we covered above will help you buy the best chicken to cook today. And don’t be afraid to talk to your local butcher. They’ll be able to point you to the best quality chicken that checks all the boxes above.
Know of something else to look for when it comes to buying chicken that we left out? Plan on cooking chicken this week? Let us know about it and leave a comment below. We want to hear from you!
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There’s one thing that most people will agree on...beef is delicious. And, in general, it can be very good for you as well. A 3 oz. serving of cooked beef (equivalent to the size of a deck of playing cards) will give your body just over 50% of the recommended daily value of protein and 10 essential nutrients, including iron and vitamin B-12. But, if you are grilling and eating beef frequently, something you may be wanting to keep an eye on is the fat content you’re consuming.
In that case, welcome to the world of lean beef. Just because a cut of meat is lean doesn’t mean it has to be lacking in flavor. There are some delicious lean beef options that you can opt for when you are wanting to reduce the amount of fat you are consuming with your protein. Chances are, a few of your favorite cuts of beef are actually lean and you may not have known it.
In this article, we’ll break down what lean beef is and give you some examples of lean beef options that are still very enjoyable.
According to the USDA, for a cut of beef to be considered “lean”, it needs to contain
fewer than 10 grams of total fat, less than 4.5 grams of saturated fat, and fewer than 95 mg of cholesterol per 3.5 ounces (100 grams). Then, for it to be “extra lean” it needs to contain less than 5 grams of total fat, less than 2 grams of saturated fat, and less than 95 mg of cholesterol per 3.5 ounces (100 grams).
A quick trick to zero-in on cuts of lean beef in your local butcher shop or supermarket is to look for the words “round”, “loin”, or “chuck” in the name.
Opting for lean beef cuts doesn’t mean you have to totally sacrifice quality in the grade of beef you choose. Many lean cuts will be available in USDA Choice, which is still high quality and will have some delicious marbling, though less than Prime. With USDA Prime having the highest amount of fat marbling, you usually won’t find many lean cuts in that range.
It’s a good bet that you recognize several of the lean cuts we cover below and may have recently eaten one out at a restaurant. There is a great variety of options to choose from no matter if you are wanting to grill or smoke the meat.
Here are some of the lean beef options available:
The beef brisket, cut from the lower chest of the steer, is a favorite cut when it comes to slow-smoking meat. The flat half of the brisket, also known as the “first cut”, is a great, leaner option to go for. This delicious meat can be sliced, cubed, or shredded.
This fairly tender and extremely flavorful boneless roast is a triangular muscle cut from the bottom of the sirloin subprimal cut. This cut can be smoked, roasted, or grilled and then sliced across the grain.
Also known as the filet mignon roast or beef tenderloin, this cut is taken from the tenderloin sub-primal cut. This lean cut is also the most tender and succulent roast with a fine texture that is easy to carve when it comes off the grill.
One of the leanest beef options on the list, this cut is from the long center muscle of the rear Round section of the steer. This roast, often used for sliced roast beef, is still very flavorful and can be smoked and slow-roasted. It can also be cut into Eye of Round steaks.
Source: Central Market
Another cut from the short loin subprimal section, the tenderloin steak, aka filet mignon, is going to be one of the most tender steak options. With its delicate beef flavor and balanced marbling, it can be surprising that this cut is, in fact, considered a lean beef option.
Also known as a New York Strip or Kansas City Ribeye Steak, this cut is taken from the short loin sub-primal cut at the top of the steer just behind the ribs. This is a common lean steak cut that you’ll find in many restaurants. It has a great beefy taste and is a very versatile cut that can be eaten whole or cut into strips.
This cut of steak is taken from the sirloin subprimal cut, which is just further back from the short loin cut. Top sirloin is a naturally lean cut since it’s from an area of the steer that gets more exercise but will still be slightly tender with delicious flavor. This cut can be grilled whole, cubed for kabobs, or even cut into strips for stir-fry.
Though the name may suggest otherwise, this cut is taken from the lean Round primal cut on the top front end of the rear leg. This cut will be very lean compared to other steak cuts but still holds great flavor.
Source: Beef It’s What’s For Dinner
This steak, taken from the inside hip section of the Round primal cut, is the most tender and flavorful steak from the Round section. But, these steaks will be slightly leaner, tougher, and less marbled than cuts from the sirloin subprimal section. Extremely versatile cut that can be grilled, broiled, or slow-cooked.
Another steak from the Round section, the bottom round steak is cut from the outer part of this well-exercised section of the animal. Also known as the Western Griller steak, this cut can be tough but grilling after marinating will result in a flavorful steak.
This lean and boneless cut is taken from the rear lower abdominal flank section of the steer. Flank steak is an inexpensive cut that is flavorful and extremely versatile. You can grill it whole, slice it thin and saute it, or even slow smoke it whole.
If you’re wanting to cook burgers, a grill favorite, opting for USDA Choice ground beef that is 93% lean (or even leaner) will give you great flavor with much less fat.
As you can see, there is a big variety of great lean beef options you can choose from without sacrificing tenderness and flavor. If you are looking to cut back on fat in your outdoor cooking food options, go for one of these cuts today on your grill or in your smoker.
Do you have a favorite from our list above? Have another lean beef go-to that we didn’t list above? Leave a comment below! We want to hear from you.
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Ribs have long been a favorite option when it comes to BBQ. You can cook them in a variety of different ways, flavored by a wide range of different things. But, not all ribs are created equal. There are a variety of different types available, each having its own characteristics and differences from the others.
A common mental rabbit hole that people fall down when thinking about options of meat to smoke (or grill) is beef ribs vs pork ribs. Of course, there’s more to it than the fact that they come from two different animals. Frequently asked questions often include things like “what is the difference in size between the two?”, “which is cheaper”, “which tastes better?”, etc.
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. In this article, we break down the differences that you need to know between pork ribs and beef ribs. Let’s take a look:
In this article, we’ll cover the differences between beef and pork ribs in a generalized sense. But, as you may know, both types of ribs are usually available in a variety of different cuts at your local butcher shop. Here is a quick breakdown of the different rib cuts, as some of the specific cuts are referenced throughout the rest of this article.
Check out our in-depth beef rib cuts article for more information on the different beef rib cuts available.
For more info on these different types of pork ribs, check out our in-depth beef rib cuts article.
Source: SunPork Fresh Foods
The process of smoking pork ribs and beef ribs will be very similar. But, one of the first differences you may notice when it comes to beef ribs vs pork ribs is their size. In general, beef ribs will be bigger. All of the beef rib cuts will be longer than pork rib cuts and, in the case of beef short ribs in particular, will have more meat on them.
Many times, beef ribs will be 8 to 12 inches long and be weighed in pounds, while pork ribs will usually be 3 to 6 inches long and weighed in ounces. Sometimes, because of their size, you may hear beef ribs referred to as “dinosaur ribs”. In most cases, these are going to be plate short ribs in particular. There are some instances where butchers will cut a rack of beef ribs in half along the full length of the rack. So, in this case, the beef rib bones would be very similar in length to a rack of pork ribs.
Also, because beef ribs are usually larger, they will often take longer to cook compared to pork ribs in general.
Of course, the amount of meat and the fat content on ribs will vary from animal to animal depending on size, breed, and the specific cut. But, there are some general differences in the fat content between beef ribs and pork ribs.
For most cuts of pork ribs, they will be reasonably lean (more meat than fat) and moderately meaty when compared to beef. As you go lower down the rib cage of a pig, the fat content will increase, with rib tips being mainly fat with bone. For baby back, spare, and St. Louis-style pork ribs, you’ll usually get quite a lot of bone and the amount of bone will be pretty consistent across the three types of cuts.
Even though pigs may seem like a chunkier animal, beef ribs will have a much higher fat content and will be closer to even portions of fat and meat. You’ll get a lot more meat on top of the bones of beef ribs and the meat is more marbled with gelatinous fat. This fat spider webs throughout the meat, helping to tenderize it and create a deeper flavor.
The meat on beef ribs does also have more connective tissue compared to pork ribs so they will need more active attention while cooking them to ensure they are cooked to a delicious and tender finish.
Source: Charmate NZ
The difference of fat between beef ribs and pork ribs, as well as the amount of meat in general, does affect the nutritional content between the two as well.
Beef ribs will be more filling because they do have a higher calorie count, a higher amount of protein, and a higher amount of iron compared to pork ribs.
Ribs, both beef and pork, are great options when you are looking for more affordable cuts of meat. Prices will, of course, fluctuate based on location, quality of the meat, and the specific cut of ribs.
For example, a rack of ribs from the big-box grocery store case will be less expensive than a rack at your local butcher shop that is sourced from a local organic farm.
But, when comparing the two types, generally speaking, pork ribs will cost less than beef ribs. There will usually be about a $1.50 per pound difference between the two.
The true answer to this question will be very subjective. Some people prefer the taste and mouthfeel of pork ribs over beef ribs. While others feel the opposite. It all comes down to the type of taste you and those you are cooking for prefer.
Compared to pork ribs, beef ribs, like all good cuts of beef, have a strong distinctive flavor that doesn’t need much additional seasoning other than salt and pepper (and sometimes garlic). Many say beef has an umami-based taste.
Umami is the 5th flavor profile that our tongues can taste and is sometimes grouped in with “salty”. But, umami combines salty with hearty and earthy. Beef is high in all of the elements and acids that make up the umami flavor profile (check out this article for more on that!). Umami is also found in things like mushrooms, parmesan cheese, seaweed, soy sauce, bacon, and more.
Alternatively, pork ribs have a taste that is not nearly as strong as beef. Some even describe the taste as slightly sweet. Without additional flavorings, pork ribs often taste very similar to pork chops. But, pork ribs can pair well with a variety of different combinations of spices, rubs, and bbq sauces.
Source: Mark Wiens
As you can see, there are some distinct differences between these two types of ribs. Knowing the differences and more about different meats will help you more confidently become a master of backyard cooking.
When it comes to pork ribs vs beef ribs, it would be hard to determine if one is necessarily better than the other. It really comes down to personal preference at the time. Both are great options when it comes to a delicious cut of meat that smokes well and will feed a crowd.
Do you favor one of these types of ribs over the other? Plan on smoking ribs soon? Tell us about it by dropping a comment below. We want to hear from you!
If you want step-by-step instructions straight from the champion Pitmasters and Grillmasters on cooking a variety of delicious foods, including ribs, check out our backyard barbecue cooking classes here at BBQ Champs Academy. If you really want to step your competition outdoor cooking game up, check out the All-Access passes to learn everything you need to know to cook award-winning meat.
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With the official start of summer approaching and the weather warming up across the country, chances are you are going to be spending a lot more time cooking outside. Hosting frequent BBQ get-togethers (or even outdoor cooking for a large family) can get expensive fast. Especially when it comes to buying enough meat and/or cooking several different types of meat to please everyone.
With the right preparation and enough cooking time, inexpensive cuts of meat can still be a crowd-pleaser. You don’t always have to splurge on the most expensive cuts of meat to turn out some delicious results on your grill or smoker.
So, if you’re wondering what are the cheapest cuts of meat, we’ve got you covered! We’ve put together a list of some great options in meat that will help reduce the cost of feeding a crowd and still keep everyone happy.
A whole chicken is a great, cost-saving meat option that is extremely versatile and easy to cook on your grill or in a smoker. You can slow-cook/smoke a chicken whole, butterfly (aka spatchcock) it, or carve it up yourself and cook it in smaller pieces. By avoiding pre-cut chicken options (especially boneless, skinless chicken breasts) and opting for whole chicken, you can save around $1 per pound in meat.
If you do want to go with a pre-cut chicken option that is still more affordable, bone-in, skin-on thighs and drumsticks are great. Both of these, which are cut from the leg of the chicken, hold their moisture much better than the more expensive chicken breasts.
Usually, you can get chicken thighs and drumsticks for just over $1 per pound. You can do a variety of different flavors in seasoning, rubs, and/or sauces with these and end up with a delicious meal.
Source: Dirty Laundry Kitchen
Another popular BBQ favorite that can easily feed a lot of people is chicken wings. Wings are delicious grilled or even smoked and can be flavored any way you like. The price will usually be around $2 a pound for chicken wings, making this meat option more affordable than many beef cuts. No matter how you cook them, wings are great as an appetizer or even the main course.
It doesn’t just have to be Thanksgiving to enjoy juicy grilled or smoked turkey. Plus, if it’s outside of the holiday season you can get an even better deal. Like whole chicken, you can easily cook it a variety of different ways and feed a big group. Turkey is often available for around $1.50 a pound or less.
As with chicken, you’ll get a better deal buying a whole turkey and cutting it up yourself versus buying pre-cut items like turkey breast, which tends to be pretty expensive relative to other cuts.
Ribs are another item that is always a crowd-pleaser, no matter if you choose beef or pork. When it comes to beef, beef back ribs are delicious and also one of the cheapest cuts of beef you can get. Compared to other items on this list, you may not get as much meat per pound but it’ll still be a great deal for beef.
When selecting your rack of ribs, look for ones that have plenty of meat with a little fat as well. At least half the rack’s weight and price is the bones, so try and maximize the meat and take fewer bones for the price if you can. This will help you get the most for your money. If you cook the ribs low and slow you’ll end up with a flavorful and tender result that everyone will enjoy.
Source: Traeger Grills
If you or your guests prefer pork, pork ribs are a great option as well when it comes to economical cuts of meat. While pork ribs are not the cheapest pork cut available, they are still an inexpensive cut of meat compared to others. Like beef ribs, look for ribs with plenty of meat and plan on cooking them low and slow to achieve the best results.
Ribeye Steak cuts are consistently a higher-priced option compared to most other cuts. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to totally skip it for your outdoor get-together. If you don’t want to splurge on the pricier filet or ribeye, go for a chuck eye steak.
Cut from the upper shoulder of the cow in the fifth rib area, this steak shares a similar flavor and meat-to-fat ratio with the ribeye because it is the next cut over from the rib eye. So, if you’re craving steak, you don’t always have to spend a ton of money to get a delicious cut that still does well on the grill.
If you’re definitely leaning towards beef for your cookout, one of the most economical cuts of meat you can buy is ground chuck. Burgers always make a great option and you can dress them up with creative add-ins or toppings and still keep costs down. Keep in mind that the best and juiciest burgers need to be about 20% or more fat. So, save even more money by skipping the leaner, pricier ground beef.
If you want to kick things up a notch, lamb will definitely do that. But, good lamb can be expensive - depending on the cut. The popular lamb cuts like rack of lamb, leg, and loin are going to be higher priced than many other cuts of meat. But, a great lower-priced option is the breast. Cut from the rib section, not far from the rack of lamb, it is still a very flavorful and tender cut.
Usually, you’ll find lamb breast at your local butcher shop with the ribs and bones attached. But, it is often also available with the ribs sold separately as spareribs or riblets. Another option is to cut the meat away from the bone and make lamb kebabs with vegetables. This will make the meat go even farther when you’re feeding a large group.
Source: US Wellness Meats
The delicious cut of meat that is usually used to make BBQ favorite pulled pork is also one of the least expensive cuts of pig. Pork butt, cut from the pork shoulder, is loaded with flavor and often costs only around $2 per pound or less. At an average of 7 lbs, this cut will easily allow you to feed a crowd.
Prepare it right and plan on slow cooking and smoking the pork butt for a while and you’ll end up with a mouth-watering result.
For budget-friendly grilling, bone-in pork chops are another tasty option when cooked properly. In comparison to other pork cuts, chops are a little higher in price at usually around $4 per pound. But, they are still more economical compared to almost any steak. Ideally, you want to select thick-cut pork chops to minimize the chance of them drying out on the grill. Also, going with pork rib chops versus pork loin chops will give you more meat and less bone per person.
As you can see, there is a good variety of options available when it comes to inexpensive cuts of meat. When shopping at the butcher shop, you don’t have to go all out every time to be able to cook some great-tasting meat. Your butcher can help select the best cuts of any of the meats we covered above, ensuring you get the most bang for your buck.
Just make sure you follow proper preparation and give yourself plenty of time to cook. Then, you’ll have some great results and plenty of food to go around.
Do you know of any other delicious economical cuts of meat? Plan on cooking a variety of these soon? Drop a comment below. We want to hear all about it!
Check out the step-by-step backyard barbecue cooking classes here at BBQ Champs Academy to learn a variety of different recipes straight from the champion Grillmasters and Pitmasters. Some of which use cuts we covered in the article above.
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Whether you’re buying pork butt, beef ribs, or anything in between, your local butcher shop is the best place locally to get good quality fresh meat. But, there’s still a good majority of people that get to the counter and don’t interact much with the butcher. Not past simply asking for the cut of meat they had in mind when they went in.
But, your local butcher is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to all things meat - different types of meat, different cuts, how to prepare them, and more. You should be taking advantage of that if you want to consistently end up with delicious results from your outdoor cooking.
So, there are some essential questions to ask your butcher that will help ensure you get the best quality meat and the best cuts. Plus, they can even help you expand your cooking skills by recommending a different cut of meat than you may be used to if you’re curious.
Now, if you’re wondering what exactly to ask the butcher, we’ve got you covered! Here are 10 essential questions you should be asking:
Many local butcher shops and meat markets process animals and manufacture products in-house. So, the butcher will know what was cut most recently and what is the freshest. The fresher the meat the better the taste will be. This question may even lead your butcher to give you a behind-the-scenes peek if you’re interested.
If they don’t process the animals in-house, they will still be able to tell you what came in most recently from their source.
Whether they are processing the animals in-house or not, you want to get the full scoop from your butcher on where the meat is coming from. This will ensure you are getting the best possible meat that you can locally.
A good butcher will be well-versed on where they get their meats and will be happy to tell you all about it. Are they getting the animals/meats from a local farm or ranch? Why did they choose that particular farm? The answers to these questions will tell you about the strength of the relationships they might have with local farms, as well as the quality of the meat.
Source: Snake River Farms
This is a natural follow-up question to the one above. Get curious about how the animals are raised at the farm or ranch your butcher sources from. The meat from animals that are humanely raised, free-range, and grass-fed will always taste better. For example, for pork and chicken, free-range should be the minimum standard you are looking to buy.
When you are buying beef, it is important to consider the grade of the meat. Ideally, you don’t want to be buying lower than Choice grade meat if you want good-quality beef that is tender and flavorful. Most quality markets will also offer a selection of Prime cuts and even Wagyu.
Remember, the higher the grade of beef, the higher the amount of fat marbling throughout the meat.
Don’t forget to also ask about any dry-aged beef they may also have in different grades.
Keep in mind that the "best" cut of meat isn't necessarily the best option for the method you plan on using to cook it. As we’ve mentioned before, some cuts do better than others when you are smoking meat. Other cuts are best over high-heat on the grill.
Talk to your butcher about the type of cooking you are planning on doing. They’ll be able to give you insights into different cuts that would work and give you new-to-you options you could try.
A good way to take advantage of your butcher’s vast knowledge about meat is to ask about lesser-known or less-popular cuts that they would recommend. More than likely, they’ll have a favorite cut that you may not be familiar with or a new way to prep an old favorite of yours. This is an easy way to expand your repertoire when it comes to outdoor cooking.
It is almost a sure bet that your butcher not only loves to prep cuts of meat but they also love to eat it too. So, tap into their knowledge about cooking different cuts of meat and get insider tips they may have.
You’re probably not going to want to spend a lot on a cut of meat every time you go into the meat store. Especially if you are outdoor cooking often. The good thing is, you don’t necessarily have to spend a ton of money to end up with a deliciously cooked piece of meat. Some of the most economical cuts of meat are also the most flavorful.
So, if you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck at this visit, ask the butcher about good cuts based on price point.
Do you want to debone a cut of meat? Planning on spatchcocking a whole chicken? Want to smoke a frenched rack of lamb? Go ahead and ask the butcher to do it for you. They’ll gladly handle a lot of the prep work for you when you buy your meats. They can even walk you through some of the prep work if you like.
So, don’t be afraid to ask for more than just grabbing the cut you’re pointing to. Butchers are trained in much more than just weighing out meat. They’ll be happy to help and they want to set you up for success when it comes to your outdoor cooking.
When it comes to questions to ask your butcher, your dog has an important one. As butchers process and cut an animal to meet customer’s needs, there will probably be some large bones leftover. These bones make delicious treats that you can bring home for your dog. In most cases, the extra bones are just going to be thrown away. So, don’t be afraid to ask if they have any you can get before you leave. Some butchers will even smoke these bones for you, adding extra flavor for your furry friend to enjoy. Or, you can even use these bones to add extra flavor to soups.
Important note: If you plan to give the bone to your dog, make sure it is not a bone that splinters easily or is very small.
Source: Butcher’s Bones
Asking questions and building a rapport with your local butcher can open many doors for you when it comes to your outdoor cooking. They are there to help you and they know everything there is to know about meat. By utilizing some of the questions to ask your butcher that we’ve covered above, you can ensure you are always getting great quality meat and expanding your cooking skills while you’re at it.
Can you think of some questions we left out? Did you recently learn something new from your local butcher? Tell us about it below. We want to hear from you!
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Check out the virtual Championship Backyard BBQ Classes to follow along step-by-step with 20 different recipes or dive into one of our All-Access Passes to try your hand at cooking four different types of meat just like the top competition cookers. Make sure to also check out the latest from the BBQ Champs Academy YouTube channel. Click “Subscribe” to stay on top of the latest insider tips and BBQ news straight from the pros!
Springtime is the perfect time for grilled or smoked lamb. Really any time is good for this deliciously rich meat, but Spring has long been the traditional season for lamb. So now, you’re headed to your local butcher shop to pick up some meat to cook, but what cuts of lamb do you get? What are the best lamb cuts?
There are a variety of different lamb cuts available, all of which can be very good when cooked properly. Each cut has unique variations and characteristics. Some are better on the grill, while others can be smoked low and slow to a delicious finish. To truly expand your outdoor cooking skills and grill lamb perfectly, it is important to understand the types of lamb cuts and how they differ.
In this article, we’ll break down the different cuts of lamb and what to look for when buying lamb. Let’s take a look:
Source: The Spruce
As you’ll see below, there are a variety of different lamb cuts available. Depending on how much the muscle each is cut from is worked, they’ll have different levels of leanness or marbling, tenderness, flavor, etc. This also impacts the cooking method that works best for each cut.
Here are 9 popular lamb cuts:
One of the larger cuts of lamb (and one of the five lamb primal cuts), the shoulder comes from the top of the front legs. Because this is a muscle that is usually worked harder than other parts, the meat from the shoulder is very lean. But, it does still have some good marbling and is very flavorful.
The shoulder will take a while to become tender so this makes it a great cut to smoke and slow-roast. You can maximize the flavor and tenderness of the meat by cooking lamb shoulder on the bone, allowing you to easily pull apart the meat with a fork when it is done.
There are several different variations of lamb chops that come in different shapes and sizes, depending on the part of the lamb they’re cut from. One example is a shoulder chop. A shoulder chop (also called arm chop or blade chop) is a smaller cross-section cut from the larger shoulder cut that we just talked about above.
Shoulder chops require less cooking time than other lamb cuts, making them a good option to grill over higher heat for an easy, quick, and delicious meal.
The leg is going to be the leanest cut of lamb. Similar to the shoulders, the legs contain hard-working muscles, giving this cut a delicious, strong flavor. Another large cut compared to other types, usually weighing 7-8 pounds, a bone-in leg of lamb is great for any special occasion or holiday get-together not only because of its great presentation but it will also feed a lot.
This is another cut that is great for low-roasting and smoking whole to get a delicious exterior bark (thank you Maillard reaction!) and soft tender interior. Plus, the bone adds an even richer flavor to the meat.
Source: Serious Eats
A BRT or boneless leg roast is one of the most versatile cuts of lamb when it comes to cooking it. You can slow roast or smoke it whole, trim it into smaller pieces and grill it on kebabs, cut it into smaller roasts or individual chops to cook over a two-zone grill setup, or even butterfly it and grill it.
Another type of chop, sirloin chops are large, meaty cuts that are cut from the leg of lamb. These are easily identified by the crosscut piece of round leg bone within the middle of the meat. Less expensive compared to the prized rack and loin chops, sirloin chops can be just as tender and flavorful when cooked properly.
Taken from the lower part of the leg, lamb shanks are available in both hind shanks and fore shanks. Also a popular menu item at many restaurants across the country, when they are slow-cooked, lamb shanks practically fall off the bone. Another lean cut that is still big on flavor, the meaty lamb shank contains a high amount of collagen, which makes it perfect for cooking low and slow or even slowly braising in a simmering broth.
Cut from the upper ribs, the rack is an icon of fine dining menus throughout the country and is usually the most expensive cut of lamb, with highly tender and delicious meat. The rack of lamb consists of the first 8 ribs and will usually weigh about 2 pounds total.
Surprisingly easy to prepare at home, the impressive presentation of a rack will give you a restaurant-quality meal that is versatile for entertaining. You can keep the rack together and slow roast it or cut it apart into what are known as lamb chops (aka cutlets) and grill them individually over higher heat. Individual bone-in lamb chops are what are also sometimes referred to as lamb lollipops.
A rack of lamb can come in two variations as well:
Frenched Rack: A few inches of meat have been removed from the end of the bones.
Crown Roast: Two frenched racks are tied together resembling a crown.
Another prized cut, loin chops are cut from the waist of the lamb and are lean, tender, and deliciously flavorful. Because of their popularity, these are often one of the most readily available cuts at your local butcher shop and sometimes even available at the grocery store.
Easy to prepare and cook on the grill, loin chops are usually 3 to 4-ounces each and have a distinct “T” shaped bone that runs through the top of the meat. Hence why they are sometimes called T-bone chops. Marinating them for 4 to 6 hours before grilling can help flavor and tenderize the exterior of the meat even more.
You can also have a great small roast by keeping a few loin chops together in one piece.
Somewhat of an underrated cut of lamb, the neck is an inexpensive piece that can be slow-cooked whole or chopped into smaller chunks for kebabs or stews. Slow roasting lamb neck will really bring out all the flavors of the meat. While seasoning smaller chunks in salt, pepper, and paprika and cooking slowly over the indirect heat side of your grill makes for an easy and delicious meal.
When it comes to great-tasting lamb, the quality of the meat you are getting is just as important as the type of lamb cuts you choose and the cooking technique you use.
Your local butcher, smaller specialty grocery stores, or even top online meat wholesalers are the best places to find good quality lamb. There are a couple of things to look for and keep in mind to ensure you get quality lamb meat. These include:
Now you should have a deeper understanding of what differentiates the different cuts of lamb and also what to look for when you buy the meat. Lamb is something everyone should try at least once, as its tenderness and robust flavor are absolutely mouth-watering. Pair it with your favorite stout or porter beer and you’ll have a delicious flavor combination. Use a two-zone grill setup and experiment with cooking different cuts of lamb to find your favorites.
If you want to try a step-by-step recipe straight from the pros that shows you exactly how to grill a rack of lamb perfectly, check out our online video/class for Frenched Rack of Lamb Chops for only $7.98!
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As you probably know, there are many different grades of meat. All with varying levels of quality and fat marbling throughout. It’s no doubt that if you are looking for some extremely high-quality tender beef, Wagyu beef is a top option.
An option that you’ll often find in steak cuts gracing the menus of Michelin Star restaurants or briskets in the smokers of the world’s top BBQ Pitmasters at competitions. Some have even referred to it as the “most luxurious” beef and it’s growing in popularity even more lately.
You may have heard someone you know talking about how delicious a Wagyu steak was that they recently had. Or maybe you’ve even recently tried it for the first time. But do you know the answer to the popular question “what is Wagyu beef?”
In this article, we’ll break down the answer, fill you in on everything you need to know about Wagyu and clear up some common confusion as well.
Simply put, Wagyu (pronounced wahg-yoo, not wah-goo) translates to Japanese cow. But, not every Japanese cow is actually considered Wagyu. True Wagyu beef that is sought after so highly refers to a specific breed of Japanese cattle with special genetic qualities.
Four of the six genotypes of Japanese cattle make up the Wagyu breed – Japanese Black (Kuroge), Japanese Red/Brown (Akaushi), Japanese Shorthorn (Nihon Tankaku Washu), and the rare Japanese Polled (Mukaku Washu). These cattle originated in Japan over 35,000 years ago. Originally, these Wagyu cattle were used as working animals in agriculture because of their strong stature and physical stamina. This stamina comes from the high amount of intramuscular fat that provides a steady supply of energy.
Japanese Wagyu cattle have a genetic predisposition that causes the cow to metabolize fat internally, so it integrates with the muscle tissue itself. This causes a finer meat texture and an incredibly high level of fat marbling in the meat. Because of this, true Japanese Wagyu beef has an unmatched taste bursting with umami and such tenderness to it that it literally melts in your mouth.
No other livestock does this the way these cattle do. So, any other breed of cattle, even when raised in the same conditions as Wagyu by award-winning Wagyu cattle farmers, will not produce Wagyu beef.
As the breed became more revered over the years, this led the Japanese government in 1997 to declare Wagyu cattle a national treasure and ban exports of the cattle to outside countries. Before this happened though, some embryos and live cattle had already been exported to the US. Currently, Japan still exports cuts of Wagyu beef.
Most cuts of Wagyu beef are labeled by type, which is named after the Japanese town or prefecture they come from. Sometimes the label will also include the breed of cattle it is. Some common types of Wagyu include: Miyazaki, Ohmi, Matsusaka, and Hida.
Similar to the USDA Beef grading scale, there is a grading scale for Wagyu beef. The Japanese grading scale, which is judged by the Japan Meat Grading Association (in Japanese), shows yield grade as A, B, or C and meat quality grade as 1 through 5. “A5” is the best of the best Wagyu beef. This means it has the highest yield and the highest meat quality.
The grading scale also incorporates a Beef Marbling Standard (BMS) which denotes how much marbling wagyu includes. The BMS goes from 1 through 12 and is determined by checking the amount of marbling in the rib eye and its surroundings. A BMS of 12 has the most marbling, while a BMS of 1 would mean there is no marbling. For the meat to be an A5 rating, it has to have a BMS of between 8 and 12. An A4 will have a BMS between 6 and 8.
Source: Zen-Noh Wagyu
Sometimes the terms Wagyu and Kobe are used interchangeably and it can cause some confusion. Kobe is a specific type of Japanese Wagyu beef and it originates from the Tajima strain of Japanese Black cattle, raised in the capital city of Japan's Hyōgo Prefecture, Kobe. Then, there are a few other stipulations for the meat to be considered actual Kobe beef as well.
Everyone who has a hand in the production of the meat, from the farm to the restaurant it is being served in, has to be licensed by the Kobe Beef Association. Finally, the meat has to be rated an A4 or A5 on the Wagyu Beef Grading Scale.
If you see American Kobe on a restaurant menu, don’t fall for the marketing gimmick. As you can see now, Kobe is not able to be produced in the US. So, American Kobe beef does not actually exist.
There are currently only 37 restaurants in the US that are certified and sell authentic Japanese Kobe beef.
But, American Wagyu is a real thing. Confused yet? Here’s how that’s possible. As we mentioned early, before Japan halted the exportation of Wagyu cattle in 1997, some had already been exported to America. These cattle were then bred with top American Black Angus cattle. This crossbreed of cattle is what is now known as American Wagyu.
Meat from these cattle will still have a high degree of marbling and be very tender, making it some of the best American beef you can buy. But, it will not have near the marbling levels of purebred Japanese Wagyu or the same flavor or mouth-feel. A distinct feature of American Wagyu is that it will still have the robust “beefy” flavor that comes from Black Angus beef.
There are some myths and rumors that the reason Japanese Wagyu cattle taste so good is that they are raised in a life of luxury and are even sung to. This is not entirely true, but not entirely false. They are intentionally raised in an environment where the stress levels on the cattle are reduced as much as possible. This is because stress causes an increase in cortisol in the body, which can cause the cattle’s muscles to become less fatty and degrade the quality of the meat.
So, Wagyu cattle-breeders in Japan go to great measures to create a zen-like existence for their cows. This means controlling the noise levels so that the cattle are not startled, constantly refreshing their water, and separating cows that are not getting along.
Source: Japan Times
Japanese Wagyu cattle are also monitored more closely than American cattle who often roam huge open pastures. They are not restricted in movement or force-fed and are actually raised on controlled open-air farms, where they are given a name versus a number and checked on every few hours. Also, to qualify for Wagyu certification the adult cattle have to be fed a special diet made up predominantly of grain.
So, as you can see, the way the cattle is raised has an impact on the quality of the fat marbling within the meat. Combine their stress-free lifestyle, diet, and careful attention with the fact that Wagyu cattle commonly live longer than other beef cattle, and the flavor of the beef is significantly improved. Japanese Wagyu cows live an average lifespan of three years, while normal beef cattle live to roughly 15 months.
All of these things in the way the cattle are raised and the strict regulations from the Japanese government is what makes Wagyu beef so much more expensive compared to traditional beef cuts.
Yes, you read that right. There are actually some great nutritional benefits of Wagyu beef compared to traditional American Angus beef.
Wagyu beef is loaded with a higher concentration of monounsaturated fats (the good fats) and a much lower level of saturated fats (the bad fats) compared to traditional beef. It’s also packed with more Omega-3 than other beef. It is also high in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). This is a naturally occurring Omega-6 fatty acid that is associated with aiding in weight loss, lowering the risk of Type 2 diabetes, and even lowering the risk of cancer.
As you can see, Wagyu beef will provide a taste and quality unmatched by many other cuts of beef. If you have the opportunity, try Japanese Wagyu beef at least once in your life. Trying different types of Japanese Wagyu and even comparing those to the taste of American Wagyu is the full experience.
If you want to try your hand at cooking this delectable meat yourself, there are some great high-quality beef wholesalers you can order from online. Then you can have authentic Japanese Wagyu beef shipped straight to your door.
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