A Cut Above
These staff favorites deliver big flavor and value.
The supermarket meat case is full of new cuts. The meat industry is trying to deliver more value by developing moderately priced choices suited for weeknight meals. Poultry companies are also making more products available as year-round options to the big holiday bird. But learning what to buy and the best ways to cook them is a challenge. Our Food staff has been in the same boat, so we did some research to help demystify meat counter secrets. We looked to our reader files to see how you are cooking with these popular new choices and found more ideas than we can fit in one story. We had great fun at the tasting table sampling tender, juicy main dishes and swapping tips about our finds.
On the Supper Menu
Turkey tenderloins are the perfect option for quick-to-fix meals. This lean choice can be cooked in a variety of ways, making it ideal for just about any occasion. Remember, this is a lean cut of meat, so you'll want to cook it just until it's no longer pink in the center. You can store cooked turkey in a zip-top plastic freezer bag in the freezer for up to three months―it's on hand to add to prepared pasta, salads, or soup.
Making the Grade
Beef is graded by the USDA according to standards for quality. Quality is rated according to the age of the animal, the amount of fat flecks, or marbling, found in the lean meat, and the texture, color, and appearance of the lean meat. The grades most familiar to consumers are Prime, Choice, and Select.
- Prime is the most tender, juicy, and flavorful. It has the most marbling of the grades. It is usually sold to hotels, restaurants, gourmet markets, or butcher shops.
- Choice is the most widely available grade found in supermarkets. It has less marbling than Prime, but is also tender, juicy, and flavorful.
- Select has uniform quality and slightly more lean meat than the higher grades. Because it has the least amount of marbling, it may be less juicy and slightly less flavorful.
- Poultry grades indicate that the poultry does not have defects―bruises, discoloration, and feathers. Bone-in products should not have broken bones, and products with skin should not have tears or exposed flesh that will dry out during cooking.
- Grade A is the highest quality poultry and is probably the only grade you'll see in retail stores.
What's in a Name?
The following are terms you may find on meat labels.
- Aged meat has been stored three to six weeks at temperatures between 34° and 38° at low humidity. The longer meat ages, the more flavorful and tender it becomes.
- Organic meat and poultry is from animals that have not been given antibiotics or growth hormones. The farm that produces the food must be inspected and labeled as organic by a government-approved certifier.
Is It Ready?
When cooking steaks, make sure you use tongs to turn them and not a fork. When you pierce them with a fork, you'll lose some of the juices that keep the steaks moist. Try the touch test to check for doneness. With the touch test on hot meat, remember to protect your finger with a paper towel or use the back of a spoon.
- Rare: The meat gives easily when pressed, and juices do not appear on the surface.
- Medium: The meat feels firm, but is somewhat spongy, and juices are beginning to appear on the surface of the meat.
- Well done: The meat is covered with juices, is firm, and does not yield to pressure.
"A Cut Above" is from the March 2008 issue of Southern Living.