Food from the Hart

Shop Smarter: How to Navigate the Meat Counter Like a Pro

In Features on May 12, 2011 at 9:32 pm

It’s no surprise a meal is only as good as the quality of ingredients used in the recipe.  Yet, when it comes to purchasing meat most consumers seem to forget the timeless logic, “you get what you pay for”.  Many of us mindlessly grab the cheapest strip steak or ground beef, whatever is wrapped in the open display cases never giving a second thought to where the meat came from.  Whether you are planning a party for 8 or a quiet dinner a home for 2, it’s important to pay attention to the meat you buy.  While it might seem crazy to spend $10 a pound for organic chicken, trust me, it’s worth every penny.

Tips for Negotiating the Meat Counter

  • Look around at the walls, floor, windows and display cases of your butcher or grocery store.  If things look dirty from where you stand, the back areas where the meat is stored will likely be dirty as well. Just because a store has a “brand” name doesn’t mean they sell quality meat.  Trust you judgement!
  • Take a breeze over the meat display case.  All the protein should be organized and separated in different areas.  Meaning, lamb shouldn’t be on top of beef, on top of chicken.  Cross contamination of proteins can lead to foodborne illness.
  • If you can, avoid purchasing anything pre-packaged in plastic.  It’s always better to get something freshly cut.  You don’t need to buy the most expensive cut like filet mignon to have a good meal.  There are plenty of delicious alternatives like flank or hanger steak that won’t break the bank.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask the butcher where the meat comes from, whether it’s organic or free-range.  You will pay a premium for certified organic meat, but it really is worth it.  It not only tastes better, but it’s a much healthier way to go.
  • You can tell almost everything you need to know about meat by just looking at it.  Meat should look matte and dry, never bloody and wet. Protein that is bloody tends to be flavorless and tough.  Quality beef has a dark red, almost purplish hue and creamy white threads running through it.  The white threads, called marbling, is what gives meat flavor.
  • High quality pork, like beef, should be dry and without blood.  Likewise, always look for chicken that has Chicken creamy white or yellow skin without any blemishes or bruises.

Quick Guide to Cuts of Beef


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