Adventures in Eating

Meet Your Meat, or, A Pork Butt Isn’t Even a Butt

While we’re taking some holiday time off to eat and nap and frolic in the snow, we’re re-running some of our best posts of the year. We’ll be back with new stuff Monday, January 6.

Picture by Susie Rodarme
Picture by Susie Rodarme

When I first started to cook, nearly everything confused me. Vegetables–how do I chop these things? (Any way you can, it turns out.) Fruit was okay, but I can’t imagine getting to the age of 19 and being confounded by how to eat an apple. Meat confused me the most of all, and continued to do so until I got a little bit of proper education in cooking school*.

Grocery stores don’t help the confusing meat situation at all. I can go to different groceries that are the same company and the same cuts will be labeled differently. Grocery stores also have a sneaky way of creating meat cuts that really shouldn’t exist, like “steaks” made out of tougher cuts of meat that shouldn’t be cooked like steaks at all. I mean, unless you like your steak ultra-chewy, which, no thanks.

How to cook different cuts of meat flummoxed me in the beginning. I knew how to cook some cuts (yay pot roast!), but others were a mystery to me. There were still other meats I “knew” how to cook, but wasn’t happy with the results. Making beef stroganoff, for instance: my grandma would make it by frying round steak in the skillet, but it came out only a few notches above shoe leather on a tenderness scale. I had a sneaking suspicion we were doing it wrong.

Spoiler alert: we were doing it really wrong.

I learned, through trial and error and many hours watching Food Network, that there are meats you cook slow and low, and meats you cook high and dry**. There are meats that still confound me (beef round, anybody? Is there a way to cook this so that it’s not chewy or super dry?) and meats I won’t touch (no offal for me, thanks, and I’d really rather not eat anything gamy), but for the most part, with the help of a few days’ worth of lecture from a for-real chef, I’ve figured out how to cook up most cuts of meat. Because I love you and I want you to be happy–and being happy means properly-cooked meat, at least in my world–I’ve compiled my knowledge of meat into a chart that will, I hope, be of service next time you’re wondering what cut of meat to buy for a recipe. See the graphic below!

*By cooking school, I mean cooking courses at the community college. Fancy.

**So, “dry” confused me for a long time? Because I thought, well, don’t you want to use oil? I had many failed steak-cooking episodes before I realized that oil is “dry” because it’s not water-based . . . one of my many cooking moments of derp.

cuts of meat and how to cook them in a chart

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