The Everyday Meat Guide: a neighborhood butcher’s advice book, by Ray Venezia with Chris Peterson. I’m going to give this four out of five stars; it has a lot of interesting information, but wasn’t quite as useful as I hoped.
I saw this on the library shelf and picked it up partly out of curiosity, and partly because these days you can’t tell in advance what cut in the meat section will be a reasonable price. Odd things turn up on discount every other time I visit, and some of them I’ve never cooked before. It seemed like a shame to keep passing up potential bargains just because I didn’t know how to best cook a particular cut. So, I thought this might have the information I was after.
…Well, yes and no. This guy’s a butcher who shops at butcher shops, looking for quality; I do my shopping in a regular grocery store, looking for something that I can make tasty that doesn’t cost too much. The cuts aren’t the same, and your average grocery store’s meat section has a wider and sometimes vaguer set of labels, especially when it comes to beef.
That said, this book does have a lot of useful information. It covers poultry, pork, lamb, veal, and beef, and it has color photographs to illustrate each cut. Very, very handy when you’re not sure what something is. It also covers labels – USDA Organic is a costly certification, whereas “organic” is probably just as good but means it was cut by the store’s own meat department from organic meat, not by a certified producer. Steak is a deceptive word; in the meat industry it means meat cut into individual portions, not a piece of meat specifically meant for the grill. Shoulder steaks, chuck steaks, and flat iron steaks are mentioned in particular as “tenderize this with either low-temp cooking or a long acidic marinade”. (This small piece of advice is worth reading the book for, IMHO.)
All told, I’d say this book works on three different levels. If you want basic advice on “what should I look for to find good meat in good condition, and what are the warning signs of meat in bad shape”, read through it and take some notes, it’ll help. I particularly advise this if you’re bargain-hunting to stretch the grocery budget. Bad meat is much, much worse than no meat at all. Better to get just a little good meat and avoid potential gut havoc.
The book’s also good for “what are the basic pieces of the carcass that will be tougher or more tender, and how to cook appropriately”. But it’s aimed a little more at people who want a party-presentable cut than just cooking for your family. If you’re comfortable with a broiler or a slow-cooker, you’ll probably get more out of it than someone just familiar with pots, pans, and stick it in the oven wrapped in tinfoil.
All told, worth a read.