Chefbear is back to explain various cuts of meat and what can (and can’t) be preserved for a long term SHTF situation. Thanks for being such a great resource Chefbear!
Hello again folks! So Jarhead and I have exchanged a couple emails, and he came up with the idea for me to explain some different cuts of meat. I started thinking about it after I started writing and I came up with this… I am going to explain some different cuts and what they can be used for (briefly I promise!), then in another post I will cover different ideas for cooking some of the cuts mentioned that are better for eating fresh rather than preserving them for later. The cooking methods I will describe in the next article will help to extend the shelf life of these dishes, but only for a few days, longer if you have refrigeration. These cooking methods will also make it easy to add an ingredient or two to make a new dish for the next meal.
First lets cover some common cuts of meat and explain their uses from a culinary standpoint (I won’t get into much anatomy and what the muscles actually do while in the living animal). The great thing about the quadrupeds we are going to discuss, is that the cuts vary slightly in any 4 legged animal, from steers to your neighbor’s cat! Typically the only difference is the size of the muscle, and butchers have different names for them from animal to animal in some cases (i.e. a rump or even a “steamship” round on a steer would be equivalent to a ham on a hog).
Tenderloin- found inside the abdominal cavity, cushions the organs from the spine, VERY tender, VERY expensive, not well suited to preserving because of the lack of connective tissue and fat
Ribeye- found along the back to either side of the spine, connects to the strip, shoulder and sirloin. VERY good cut, high fat content, usually well marbled, VERY flavorful, in whole sub-primal form it is usually roasted to make Prime Rib, not very well suited for preserving
Strip/NY Strip- Combination of very flavorful meat and decent marbling of fat, there is some connective tissues, so many commercial butchers will tenderize it using a tool called a JACCARD, can be used for preservation, but is better enjoyed fresh
“Steam-ship” round- This monster gets it’s name because they used to roast 1 to feed hundreds of passengers and crew on Trans-Atlantic steam ships back-in-the-day. This MASSIVE piece of meat contains cuts such as the round, sirloin, part of the strip, ox-tails, shanks and several other smaller cuts. If you have a smoker big enough, this “primal” might be a good option to preserve a HUGE amount of meat at one time, just be warned it takes a LONG time to preserve properly, simply because of its gynormous size and the amount of thick bones it contains (pelvis, spinal column, femurs, ect.)
Sirloin- Probably the best “all around” cut of meat, very versatile, can be used for grilling, stewing, sautéing, roasting, braising and preservation… IMO it makes the best beef jerky! Usually relatively cheap compared to other cuts… but it is a great choice for almost anything you want to make out of it… its like the Swiss army knife of meat! There is a reason why you call this hunk ‘o’ meat SIR!
Shoulder- From here you get several cuts including, chuck, chuck-eye (cooked right tastes better than tenderloin at 1/3 the price!), flat-iron, blade and a few others. The “Primal” shoulder contains a lot of connective tissue, is reasonably priced, actually cheap compared to others on this list, and has a decent mix of fat though in this area of the animal the fat is usually found between the muscles and just under the hide. Probably the cheapest cuts come from this area of the animal. Several of the cuts from the shoulder “primal” are good for preservation.
Ribs- Here in VA beef ribs are not very popular for BBQ (we like our hogs round here!), but I see folks braise them pretty often, which works well because of the amount of connective tissue found around them, the meat from this area tends to be a bit tough, so slow cooking at low temp is the best option. VERY economical, around here if the butcher has them he usually gives them away as “dog treats”, I have picked up a few packs before and cooked them, if I was a dog that’s the kind of “treat” I would want!
Skirt, Flank and Belly Meat- This area on a hog is usually relegated for bacon and fat-back, on a steer this is VERY tough, but flavorful meat that usually finds its way into the grinder to make ground beef. However, if you trim most of the fat, silver-skin and fascia (protective membrane found covering most muscles, when cooked it’s like meat flavored chewing gum!) then marinate it this meat is excellent cooked quickly over high heat, like on the grill or in a skillet. When “cleaned up” these cuts make great jerky or whatever preservation methods you would like to apply.
Brisket- Probably the most famous and popular cut of beef to smoke/BBQ, this cut is also usually used for corned beef (which “corning” is actually a preservation method not a finished product) . This meat is stringy and tough if not cooked “low & slow”. The best way to prepare brisket, in my opinion, is to brine it, cure/rub it and smoke it. When cut thin AGAINST the grain of the meat, it stays juicy (considering it is cooked right, and you let it rest before you cut it) and is VERY tender, almost “melt in your mouth” tender. It is also usually one of the cheaper cuts you can buy, I purchased 4 whole briskets over the summer to make a BBQ dinner at the church, it cost $1.89/Lb (if memory serves me right) and they came cut on a 20Lb average. The 4 that I made fed 220 people, and there were leftovers that was enough to make a second dinner of BBQ brisket sandwiches for the Sunday night dinner 2 weeks later (110 people).
Shanks- Are the portion of the legs, cut right above the ankle where the meat starts, and right below the knee, then right above the knee and up to the join can be used the same. However the higher section usually finds its way into the grinder. LOTS of connective tissue and VERY tough muscle means that shanks should be braised for the best flavor. My favorite part of braising beef shanks (I use the recipe for Osso Bucco), is that when it’s made right the marrow will sort of “pop” out of the center of the bone, most folks don’t eat it but if you spread the marrow on toast it’s like having VERY rich, beefy flavored butter! Marrow can be extracted from any large diameter bone, and is an excellent source of vitamins/minerals and fat, which again most folks overlook.
Breast- though usually only made into an actual cut with young animals such as veal, it has a lot of connective tissue in between very tender layers of meat and fat. It is usually grilled or roasted and then braised.
Neck- Another cut that is not commonly found in your local grocery store, in fact the only way you usually find it there is if it has been ground into ground beef. Personally, when I hunt deer this is one of my favorite pieces of meat to cook, I just throw the whole thing (after skin and excess connective tissue on the surface is removed) into the crock-pot with a few onions cut into ¼’s and ½ a fifth of bourbon… ust let it cook until the meat falls off the bones, remove any connective tissue that’s left and any veins that may be present. Shred up the chunks of meat you are ledt with and make BBQ for sandwiches, or toss it into some soup/stew. I have even used it to make stir-fry and venison tacos/burritos.
Probably everyone is familiar with the “kings of the smokehouse”, namely Boston butt, St Louis ribs and baby back ribs. There are a few other options for pork when we are talking cuts for preserving, such as sirloin, loin, rump –or- ham and of course pork-belly (think bacon). All of these can be used for the preservation methods that we discussed in these posts:
Sirloin, loin, ham and Boston butt work especially well for either curing or smoking, or if you’re like me BOTH. The Boston butt and ham have a fair bit of connective tissue, which as explained in the other articles is called collagen, which turns onto gelatin when cooked slowly at low temperatures, this helps to improve the perceived flavor, and helps to preserve the natural moisture, and it also mimics the effect of fat in your mouth, which means that it coats the interior of your mouth so all your taste-buds get “hit” with the flavors. The loin and sirloin are pretty tender cuts, but because they are fairly well used muscles they contain a lot of hemoglobin, which is what gives meat its delicious flavor, since they are generally lean, they are great candidates for dehydrating.
For beef, Tenderloin, Rib-eye, Strip, belly/flap-meat and Shanks should all be used fresh. There is a preservation/flavor improving method called “dry aging” you can use on these loins, although it is not a long term preservation method, it will make whole loins last longer in refrigeration/cold rooms. Simply stated, dry-aging is simply allowing the meat to sit in a cold, low humidity environment. This allows a sort of skin to form on the surface of the meat, and the enzymes naturally present in the meat will start to break down the complex protein strands, enhancing the natural flavor of the meat and making it MUCH more tender. If you dry-age beef, you will also notice that the meat will seem to shrink a bit, this is because some of the liquid in the meat will evaporate/drain out of the meat, typically a loss of about 15-20% is common, but WELL WORTH IT! There are some restaurants that have started using this method to improve the quality of the steaks they serve, it makes a HUGE difference, and is VERY expensive if you buy it at one of these restaurants or in the grocery store. This method will also work on game and lamb/goat, I am not familiar with using it on pork, and would probably try to avoid it since pork seems to be more susceptible to pathogens.
The cuts of beef which are best suited to preservation include sirloin, chuck, round, shoulder and brisket. All of these cuts are well suited to preservation methods because they have a good balance of meat/fat and light connective tissue. They will work for smoking, curing, salting or dehydrating.