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Local butchers: All meat cuts are good if you know what to do with them

Local butchers: All meat cuts are good if you know what to do with them

September 19, 2007|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

It's not the cut of the meat that counts - it's what you do with it.

"Every cut of meat's a good cut for its purpose," says Phil Hott, co-owner of Phil & Jerry's Meats & More in Smithsburg.

Local butchers say you don't have to pay top dollar for top taste if you're open to trying new cuts and different ways of preparing them.

"A lot of it has to do with the preparation," says Bob Holsinger Sr., owner of Holsinger's Meats, a 140-year-old meat shop in Maugansville.

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The most tender, most coveted morsels on a beef carcass - such as the filet mignon or Delmonico - only account for one-fourth of the entire carcass, Holsinger says. It's the reason he says his best fillets sell for between $12 to $13.

"It's basic supply and demand," he says.

But less-expensive substitutions can be made - if you've got the know-how, the butchers say.

Sirloin steaks are always a good start. "They can be used for just about anything," Hott says.

Also, chuck and shoulder roasts "give you more juiciness and tenderness than more expensive roasts," Hott says.

Chuck roast, Holsinger says, can also be cut into steaks, at about $2 to $3 a pound, and are good for braising. The same method can be used for pork shoulders, which fetch around $2 a pound, Holsinger says.

Consumers also have more options at the meat counter, says Janet M. Riley, spokeswoman for the American Meat Institute, a trade association for U.S. meat and poultry suppliers. Thanks to changing social demographics and retailers' ability to better target consumers' tastes, consumers don't have to go with the same old steak.

"We have a different American population than we did before," Riley says. "We're having a huge change in the American demographic, particularly among Hispanics."

Changes in demographics is the reason flank steak, skirt steak and beef tongue have seen a recent surge in popularity, Riley says. These cuts are popular among the growing Hispanic population.

Efrain's Taqueria, a Mexican restaurant in Hagerstown, incorporates flank steak in several of its dishes, says Hannah Esparza, who co-owns Efrain's Taqueria with her husband, Efrain.

"It keeps the juice in very well. Usually, other meats dry out," Hannah Esparza says.

They also serve steak chorizo (Spanish-style sausage) and beef tongue. "We go through five (tongues) a week," Esparza says.

Esparza says beef tongue is popular outside their Hispanic clientele.

"Sometimes we'll get these farmers who grew up eating tongue," she says.

Holsinger said his wife, Regine, made him a fan of beef tongue. She prepares the dish often.

"A tongue sandwich is about as good as any other sandwich you can get," Bob Holsinger says.

Still, some meats that seem off-the-beaten path are less obscure than they appear.

Take "ox" meat, as an example. "Ox roasts" are common fundraisers for local organizations. But it's highly unlikely that they're actually serving ox.

Anything packaged as ox is probably conventionally bred beef, says Jeff Semler, an extension educator for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County. Semler specializes in agriculture and natural resources.

The word "ox" refers to an obsolete term for a beast-of-burden bovine.

"If you lived in a rural area, your milk cow might be your ox," Semler says. Meat marketed as "ox" is typically beef.

Another common form of ox is oxtails (beef tails, actually), which are typical of certain Caribbean dishes. Holsinger says oxtails are best as a seasoning for beef stock.

"There's not much meat on them, but the meat that is there is pretty tasty," Holsinger says.

Next time you're about to dig into a steaming plate of roast beef at the local "ox roast," don't worry about being gypped out of eating true ox meat. Semler says it's probably for the better.

"(Real ox meat) would have the consistency of shoe leather," he says.

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