Meat 101: The Basics

by Kyle Cooper
Posted on

MEAT 101:  The Basics


Clean, grass-fed and finished meat is good for you and we want it to be accessible to everyone.  It contains essential nutrients unavailable from other sources.  We often get new or returning meat-eaters that have sought us out due to a literal need for our product.

When we meet these customers, they are often intimidated by cooking meat for the first time.  We do our best to share our experience and reassure them that while it does take a little practice, cooking safe and delicious meat is nothing to fret about.

Usually there is only time for a hurried crash course with the hope of pointing them in the right direction, so I’ve decided to break it down into a little more detail.  This is the start of a series focusing on meat cooking equipment and supplies and below, you'll find a quick introduction to foundational items needed to start down the road of meat perfection.
 

They are listed in order of importance.
 

High Temperature Cooking Oil:  Put raw meat on any hot cooking surface without oil and it's going to stick.  Once it's stuck, the only way to get it to the plate is to pull and pry until it comes loose, usually leaving the browned crust — the results of the Maillard Reaction and the best part  left on the surface to be scrubbed to waste in the sink.  Oil is what will allow that delicious crusty goodness to make it to your plate and more importantly, still attached to your meat.  But not any oil will work.

Since the Maillard Reaction (which will be covered in detail in a later post) works best at high temperatures, you’ll need an oil with a smoke point to support it.  Once oil reaches it's smoking point, the fats start to degrade, leaving your meal with acrid flavors and in some cases, the release of carcinogens.  The lower the smoke point, the lower the ability to form an ideal crust.     

Best High Temp Cooking Oils:

  1. Avocado Oil (not Virgin):    520F
  2. Refined Safflower Oil:          510F
  3. Light Unrefined Olive Oil:   465F

This is not a comprehensive list.  There are plenty of other high temp cooking options but these are the healthiest options that are the most readily available.
 

Cast Iron:  If you’ve been reading these posts regularly, you may have noticed an affinity for cast iron cooking.  For good reason too.  Cast iron pans and skillets are durable and work magic on meat.  They retain heat better than almost any other cooking material and can be used on all cook-tops from induction to open campfire flames.  You can sear, saute, roast, braise, shallow fry and even bake in them.  They are cheap and if treated properly, can be more dependable that any synthetic non-stick material.  The only downside to these kitchen work horses are that they need special attention when cleaning and storing, but if done correctly, they will last through generations.

A 10” cast iron skillet is plenty for one or two person meals and a 12” skillet will handle family meals with ease.  Lodge is the standard but if you want to show off, companies like Butter Pat Industries are doing some crazy things.  
 

Meat Thermometer:  Though it's not as vital as the above, the meat thermometer is the most underrated piece of equipment on this list.  Does biting into raw chicken gross you out? Get a meat thermometer.  Do you find grey-centered ribeyes disappointing?  Get a meat thermometer.  WHEN IS IT GOING TO BE DONE? Get a meat thermometer. 

If you have the means, get an instant read digital one.  They are expensive but their ease of use and accuracy will be your secret weapon.  If the price deters you, there are plenty of useable options for less than $10 available at kitchen supply stores that are open to the public, like Chef’s Toys.  Be wary of the grocery store ones and probes with external displays that have bells, whistles and alarms that tell you when your food is done.  These are priced for desperation and are often inaccurate.
 

Tongs:  Tongs are extensions of your hands.  Despite a lack of appendages, they are the most dextrous utensil for cooking meat.  They allow you to grasp the meat rather than stabbing with a fork or messily flipping with a spatula — eww and ouch.

Look for ones with a pull tab on the end, rather than a sliding ring or a need to shake it one direction or the other to lock and unlock.  Short tongs won’t get your hands far enough away from pain and long tongs become unwieldy.  Go for a length in the middle, about 12”.  Also, go ahead and get a set of metal and silicone tipped tongs.  You’ll want one when you only have the other.  
 

Slow Cookers:  Slow Cookers are a novice’s best friend.  They take braising (a personal favorite meat technique) and make it virtually fool-proof.  Virtually.  They are the first plug-n-play, set it and forget it kitchen tool.  They can be as simple as meat + water + time = food, but I implore you to get more creative than that.  Their reliability has resulted in a world of resources to find your favorite techniques, ingredients and recipes.

Crock-Pot still sets the standard for slow cooker-only set-ups, but the new kid in town is the Instant Pot.  It's more complicated with a higher learning curve, but with complication comes versatility.  They are multi-function machines that can braise a lamb shank and bake a cake.

The only downside to slow cookers is that it takes some fore thought.   But, if you find a recipe, buy the necessary ingredients, get them ready to go the night before and in the pot in the morning, you’ll have a seriously good meal ready for you when you get home.  


Rimmed Baking Sheet (w/ parchment paper):  Most people already have a baking sheet. And most people are not using them to their full potential.  Cookies are great and all, but are they bacon?  No they are not.  Baking sheets made the list because of bacon.

I grew up cooking bacon all wrong and I have met plenty of people that have done the same.  Preheat your oven to 450F and lay out your bacon strips on a parchment lined baking sheet so they are close but not touching.  Bake for 9 mins, spin the sheet 180 degrees and bake for another 7-9 mins depending on how crispy you like it.  Remove the strips to a paper towel to suck up the excess grease.  Pour the grease from the baking sheet into an airtight container and save it to add bacon goodness to anything.      

This technique can be used to roast virtually any kind of meat from chicken thighs to sirloin caps with fantastic results.  Time and temperature will vary, but what will not is the usefulness of parchment paper.  Simply because it makes cleanup a breeze and it sticks to almost nothing.  Just be sure to get the kind that has a high temperature rating.  You’ll need at least 450F+ to get it's full potential; it’ll say so on the packaging, if it doesn’t, don’t buy it.

Protip: Kitchen supply stores like Chef’s Toys has the good stuff.

 

And finally…
 

Grills:  I almost left them off the list because they require a designated outside space but grill fanatics are a passionate bunch.  They facilitate the most time tested method of cooking meat but not everyone has room for one.  If you do, charcoal is best for flavor and gas grills are best for convenience

They both have their share of pros and cons that we will definitely address in a later post, but all their results can be achieved with the methods above, minus the delicious smokiness.  Grills will have their day, it's just not this one.

 

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