Let’s Get Cooking!
Let’s Get Cooking!
I have enjoyed cooking since I was very young. My mom would be happy to tell you the story of how shortly after moving to Northern California (age 4) I invited my kindergarten teacher (Mrs. Wurtz???) over for dinner and made a desert concocted of yogurt (in the plastic cup it came in), crumbled cookies and fruit. Gross, I’m sure, but at least I had a plan. I have developed my cooking chops since then, but I am always learning.
Last week I went through my thoughts on what makes Grass Fed Beef so special and ways that you can work more of a better quality beef into your budget. If you missed that post you can find it here. This week I want to talk about cooking pasture raised meats in general and how to avoid some of the pit falls that can trip you up.
The first thing to know is that pastured meats will cook as much as 30% faster than factory farmed meats. It has to do with the quantity and composition of the fat. That means that when you have one of our incredible bone-in Ribeye Steaks on the grill, you can go from a perfect medium-rare to saddle leather in less than a minute. One beer when grilling a steak, not two!
Room temperature meat sounds unappealing, I know. But it, along with a dry surface, is key to getting a proper sear on your steak. If you put an ice cold chunk of meat on a smokin’ hot grill or pan, you will drop the temperature of the cooking surface dramatically, if only for a moment. This is actually the most critical moment, as a good sear is what seals in the juices and thus, flavor. So before you hit the grill, let that meat sit on the counter for a good thirty minutes. If you used a marinade, go ahead and drain it off and pat the steak dry. The only thing worse than a cold steak is a wet one. Nobody ever said “Ohhhhh, steamed steak sounds awesome!”
Temper, Temper, Temperature!
When cooking any meat, the internal temperature is the single most important aspect of getting the proper cook on it. This is doubly important when cooking pastured meat, as I mentioned above. I used to have this really cool farmers market demo I did where I showed folks how to use the meaty part of the hand to gauge the doneness of a steak on the grill. By touching the tip of your thumb to each of your fingers and comparing it to the tension of the meat, you can guess at the internal temperature. Thumb to First finger equals rare, pointer finger is mid-rare, pinky is again….saddle leather. And you can use this if you really don’t have a meat thermometer. But I have seen the light!
It is so much more accurate to use a proper meat thermometer. Like we discussed when deciding what cuts you can afford, buy the best one you can afford. It take out the guess work and eliminates the tenderness of your hands. It would stand to reason that a professional hand model is going to have softer hands than a coal miner. His rare is probably medium and hers is still roaming the pasture.
A really good customer and passionate advocate of all that we do, Tom, turned me on to a gadget called the ThermoPen. I don’t advocate many specific products, but this thing is worth every penny. It’s just under a $100. I know…I said the same thing. But if you are one of those folks that consistently over cook meat, when grilling in particular, this will save you tons! Why grilling? Because it’s so social! It is so easy to get distracted and let that temp get away from you. This thing is so cool (and you spent THAT much money on it) that you will spend your time bragging to your guests and demonstrating to them how perfect you can cook a steak that you can’t forget to check the temp.
So what’s the perfect temperature? For me, it’s 128-130 in the center. Once rested (we will cover that in a bit) it gives you a perfect mid-rare on the plate. Trial and error will get you to your perfect doneness, but five degree increments should walk you through the classic degrees of doneness.
Now Get Some Rest…
You want to serve that meat while it’s hot and juicy, right? Let’s get it on the cutting board and start slicing. NOOOOOOO! That perfect 128 degrees is not actually mid-rare, it’s rare, and it is as vulnerable as a new born babe. See, when a piece of meat comes off a hot grill or pan the juices are at their most fluid. So if you cut into it now, all that juice and flavor that we covet, will overflow the drain ditch on your cutting board. At this point your best move is to get a few thick slices of good bread and toss the meat to Fido. So how do we prevent this unholy debacle? We let the meat rest. Take the steak off the grill or out of the hot pan and wrap it loosely in foil and don’t touch it for 5-7 minutes. This same idea is applied to all meat; a Thanksgiving turkey can rest for as long as 45 minutes! Once it has rested, all those juices remain in the protein where they belong.
“But Meat Man, if I let it sit on the counter resting I will serve cold steak” you cry. Relax Grasshopper…all will be made clear. The other thing resting does is continue the cooking process through the residual heat you trapped by covering it. That is why we take it off the heat at a temperature below what we want to end up with. It also allows us to serve it hot, even though it has been sitting on the cutting board for ten minutes.
A Few Final Thoughts….
I find that many of the recommended temperatures are artificially high. This is a result of fear by corporate ag. They know that if you cook the stuffing out of their chemically marinated meat, there is less chance of you being made sick by the diseases that are associated with CAFO raised meats. This is much less of a concern when you are using meats from a known farm or butcher. Animals raised out on pasture are much less likely to get the sickness and disease associated with animals packed into massive feedlots or concrete barns with limited ventilation. Since the meat is so much cleaner from pastured animals, you can pretty much cook it to any temperature you like. This means pork can be pink! Eat a burger rare if that’s your thing! And chicken….well, no chicken should be cooked though. There is no such thing as chicken sashimi for good reason, I don’t care who raised it.
You will notice that I didn’t talk much about seasoning or flavor here. The reason is that really good meat doesn’t need much. Good salt and fresh cracked pepper will never fail you. These are flavor enhancers, not flavor changers. Once you master those cooking techniques, the flavor wheel is yours to spin. I love red chili flake and Worcestershire on my steak. But I put it on after it is on the grill so I’m just making a crust, not changing the flavor of the meat.
Finally, there is chicken. You will also notice that I didn’t talk about chicken much in this edition. That is a whole ‘nother basket of eggs….talk to you next week!