Finding the right cut of meat

July 30, 2011 11:53:44 AM PDT
Choosing the right cut of meat can be confusing because there are a lot of labels and many varieties of meat.

To help us make the right choice, Rich Wolff, Midwest Region Meat Coordinator for Whole Foods Market joined us in our ABC7 studio with tips.

Q: What's the difference between grain-fed, 100% grass-fed and grass-fed, grain-finished beef?
- Grain-fed beef is richly marbled with a sweet flavor.
- 100 percent grass-fed is an eco-friendly option. It's lean with a distinct, vibrant flavor.
- Grass-fed and grain-finished is a tasty compromise that gives you the best of both beef worlds.

Q: Can you prepare grass-feed beef the same way you would any other kind of beef?
Cook grass-fed beef for less time than usual. Due to its leanness, grass-fed cooks about 30 percent faster.

Q: What is dry-aged beef?
- Dry-aged beef has been stored for 14 to 21 days in a humidity- and temperature-controlled environment.
- Dry aging allows moisture to evaporate and enzymes to break down some of the meat's fibers.
- Dry aging intensifies the flavor and creates a tender texture that some describe as buttery or velvety.
- Only the most valued cuts are used to produce this special product.
- Dry-aged steaks may cook a little faster than the same non-dry-aged cut, but the target doneness temperatures are the same.

Q: Why does beef raised without supplemental growth hormones cost more?
Without artificially stimulating growth, it takes longer to raise - approximately 20 to 24 months vs. about 16 months. That incurs more feed expense.

Q: What is air-chilled chicken?
As part of processing chicken, the birds have to be cooled to a certain temperature to ensure food safety, and this can be done in one of two ways: immersion in cold water or by air-chilling. With the air-chilled method, birds are moved into temperature-controlled chambers, where cold air is misted on them. This process keeps the meat juicy and tender and keeps the natural flavor of the bird locked inside. Also, since the birds have not been processed with water, they cook more quickly.

Q: What is bison like, and is it healthier than other red meat?
- Bison (buffalo) is slightly more flavorful than beef, with less fat and more protein.
- Extremely nutrient-dense, a single serving provides good amounts of protein, iron, zinc and the antioxidant selenium.

Q: What is the best way to tenderize meats?
Add tomatoes when cooking a roast bottom round or shoulder to help tenderize the meat naturally.

Q: How do you maintain meat's juicy flavor fullness?
Brine for flavorful, juicy pork, chicken and turkey. Meat can lose up to 30 percent of its weight during cooking, but soaking it in brine can reduce the moisture loss to as little as 15 percent.

Q: How do I prevent my sausages from bursting when I am preparing them on the grill?
Pierce the skin of sausage with a fork before you cook to allow air, water and drippings to escape and to prevent it from bursting.

Q: What are some seasoning and marinating tips that will make preparing meats simpler?
Salt your meats after cooking, not before, to avoid the salt pulling moisture from the meat.

Q: Are expensive cuts of meat the most flavorful?
- With steaks, look for flank, skirt, hanger and flat-iron, commonly called flat steaks or butcher's cuts.
- The key to making these flavorful cuts tender is to slice them perpendicular to the fibers (grain).

Q: Do leaner cuts of beef taste better?
- Look for cuts with a high degree of marbling, as these will be more tender and juicier than leaner cuts.
- Most butchers recommend leaving a layer of fat 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick around steaks and roasts. This helps to flavor the meat and keep it moist as it cooks.

Q: What is the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating System?
- This multi-tiered program rates how animals are raised for food.
- Independent third-party certifiers audit and rate farms' management practices using a tiered system of Steps 1 to 5-plus.
- Shoppers can look for color-coded signs and stickers throughout our meat departments or simply ask our butchers.

Step 1: No cages, no crates, no crowding
Step 2: Enriched environment
Step 3: Enhanced outdoor access
Step 4: Pasture centered
Step 5: Animal centered; no physical alterations
Step 5-plus: Animal centered; entire life on the same farm

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