But if you’re already sold on this great idea, you may have discovered that pastured meat products often cost more than their inferior commercial counterparts, which are unfortunately raised in ways that keep cost—and quality—low. The good news is that you can make incredibly delicious meals from the less expensive cuts of meat available from pastured producers. Here are a few tips from Good Meat: The Complete Guide to Sustainable Meat by Deborah Krasner.
Tips For Cooking Inexpensive Cuts of Pastured Meat
* Grass-fed meats can often be a little bit drier than corn-fattened meat, so you always want to take care not to draw out any natural moisture. To that end, it’s usually best to add salt in the form of a rub or in the pan as the meat cooks, rather than in marinades. Using salt in marinades can draw out moisture.
* Always let roasted meat rest for at least 15 minutes before carving—this is particularly important with grass-fed beef, as it contains less fat to hold in moisture than industrial meat does.
* Use a meat thermometer to judge doneness, and stop cooking meat when it registers 10 or so degrees less than the ideal temperature. This allows for the continued internal cooking that occurs when the meat is first removed from the heat source and is rested.
* Ground beef from grass-fed cows must be cooked carefully—either quickly seared on the outside to stay rare within or cooked very slowly to a more advanced state of doneness.
* Cook beef chuck and beef brisket with low-and-slow cooking methods.
* Braise beef shanks. They can be more or less meaty, but are always worth cooking slowly, whether on or off the bone. (On the bone offers more flavor.)
* Flank steak is generally cheaper than filets and other fancier steaks. Try marinating flank steak in a tasty mix of sweet and acid elements before pan-cooking or broiling. Other cuts from the flank include portions of the sirloin (the flap meat), which is cut into steaks, steak tips, and meat suitable for stuffing and rolling.
* Tri-tip beef roasts and steaks, stewing beef from the ball tip, plus sirloin steaks and roasts, as well as the culotte (used for stuffing and rolling), make up the offerings from the sirloin portion of the cow. Stews should always cook very slowly with the lowest possible heat (in the oven or on the stovetop), while steaks can cook more rapidly over direct heat on the stovetop, grill or under the broiler.
* Divided into top, bottom, sirloin tip and eye of round, beef round offers a wide mix of steaks and/or oven roasts as well as stew meat and pot roasts. That’s because some parts of this primal are more tender than others, and so profit from different cooking methods and cutting patterns. Minute steaks, for example, are cut thinly and pounded to create tenderness when rapidly cooked, while London broil’s open texture absorbs flavorful marinades to provide a tasty and tender mouthfeel when sliced on the bias. For those who are interested in curing meats, eye of round is the choice for bresaola, the great Italian air–cured dried beef.
* Learn to cook beef offal and other odd bits. Liver, heart, kidneys, sweetbreads and tongue are generally referred to as offal. All of these are worth cooking carefully and well, and offer good eating. Odd bits such as oxtail or beef cheeks are equally rewarding when braised, and beef fat (suet) is a valuable ingredient in its own right for pastries as well as for larding lean roasts. Cuts such as brains, testicles, and tripe can be very difficult to source from local processors, but may be available from on-farm sources, or ethnic markets.
* Today’s heritage and traditional pig breeds offer real texture and deeper flavors than those of industrial pork, in large part because they are raised outside on a more natural diet. Their meat has a good fat cover, and is generally well marbled, which (because it doesn’t dry out) makes it easy to cook. Sustainable pork offers one of the most dramatic flavor and texture contrasts between the products of industrial production and those from farm-based husbandry, so it’s worth trying even the least expensive cuts of pasture-raised pork you can find.
* The pork shoulder is a versatile cut from a hardworking part of the pig. It includes the butt, which can be smoked (or not) and cooked like ham, country-style ribs (great for braising and baking), Sunday dinner choices like picnic arm roasts and shoulder blade roasts, and weekday night standbys like picnic and blade steaks.
* The lower portion of the pork leg gives us shanks and hocks, which are great braising cuts to use in soups, pasta sauces, or stews.
* Lush and fatty, pork belly is best known for bacon (smoked), but is increasingly valued for fresh belly, which is usually braised or boiled before browning, and is usually cheaper than bacon.
* If you find a great deal on free-range chickens, try salting or brining them overnight, marinating them in spices and oil, slow-cooking them to melting tenderness, or simply roasting whole birds. Brining or pre-salting always adds succulence, but is perhaps less essential with pastured birds than with supermarket organic birds.
* If you can buy sustainably raised chicken in parts or cut one up yourself, the meat will make one of the most memorable chicken braises you will ever taste. And if you are lucky enough to come across a stewing hen (usually older birds that are no longer laying eggs), snap it up and make any of those braises again (only cook it for much longer—up to five hours) to discover a depth of chicken flavor you’ve probably never had the chance to experience before.
Do you have tips for cooking tasty but inexpensive meats? Share them in the comments section below.