April 30, 2016 by Adam Danforth
When I think about thrift and meat — specifically in the U.S., but increasingly in areas like Europe — the first thing that comes to mind is the devotion folks have to tenderness. This tends to be the Holy Grail quality people look for in meat.
To me, this is a backwards approach to quantifying the quality of meat.
What we really should focus on is the flavor of meat. Meat — literally, the muscle tissue, fibers, etc. — has very little inherent flavor. (Most of the flavor we experience when eating meat comes from the fats in and around the muscle fibers.) The flavor that does exist in muscle tissue develops, mainly, from two things: activity and older age. Tenderness comes, mainly, from two things: confinement and younger age. I think you can see which one plays into the hand of the commercial meat industry. As they produce animals that grow faster and faster, they get them to market weight quicker and quicker, but the result is lackluster flavor.
What we are forgetting is that you can address the issue of texture (tenderness) postmortem (after death). You can never infuse more of the meat’s natural flavor into the meat postmortem. If we began focusing on developing flavor in living animals, we could still achieve desirable tenderness for an end product. But, it would turn the current industry approach on its head. (Not that that would be a bad thing.)
I should also add that, contrary to popular belief, the meat from older animals is not inherently undesirable in texture. I address this in many of my workshops.
I bring all of this up because there is an irony in how meat is priced in this country. You pay more for tenderness, but the more affordable cuts are, more often than not, the more flavorful options. Thus, if you know what to do with a cut, you’ll get more for your dollar while also producing more flavorful meals.
Here are my tips for using these factors to your favor when it comes to spending less on meat.