Steaks shouldn’t be as tough as leather. Chicken shouldn’t be rubbery and bland. And pork chops shouldn’t be so dry that you need to wash it down with a bathtub’s worth of water. We’ve worked as professional chefs, and we’ve ruined plenty of meals. Even in our own homes, we’ve had “Plan B” mac and cheese dinners because of kitchen disasters. Mistakes happen when we cook, but we can set ourselves up for success by not making mistakes when we buy our ingredients. That’s because no matter how good a cook you are—and that includes restaurant chefs—bad meat will mean bad meals. We don’t buy rotten vegetables or cereal that’s spilled on the floor, and we shouldn’t be cooking with low quality meats.
So, what do we mean by bad meat? More often than not, meat sold at grocery and bulk stores that comes from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) will always make it more difficult for you to cook a delicious meal. That’s mostly because it will be bland, or taste of additives. Frequently, this type of meat comes out tough when cooked, because of the adrenaline found in the bodies of animals that are stressed prior to being slaughtered. A miserable life in a CAFO will do that to any animal.
CAFO pigs and chickens are crammed into small indoor facilities with little to no room to move. As for beef, CAFOs use any cattle at any age: steers, heifers, old bulls. CAFOs are known for finishing out old dairy cows and turning them into very inexpensive steaks and ground. They are given no room to graze or move around freely. They can’t develop their muscles, which creates meat that is difficult to cook properly. That beef will cook very quickly and dry out easily, creating tough, bland meals. On the other hand, cattle that have room to graze naturally and live in open spaces develop muscle, and muscle develops more flavor in meat.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t want any fat. Fat is flavor (feel free to use that line on anyone that tells you that you’ve put on some weight). CAFO pigs spend almost their entire lives inside, in temperature controlled facilities, so they don’t develop much fat. Pigs from our partner farms, however, spend their days blissfully foraging outdoors, and they need fat to regulate their body temperature. That fat gives our pork a more robust flavor. And as the fat renders in your oven, smoker, or on your grill, it keeps the meat juicy and tender.
With just that muscle and fat alone, the meat from responsibly raised animals will produce better results in your kitchen. We take it a step further, though, and dry age all of our beef. Dry aged beef is even more flavorful, thanks to a naturally occurring enzyme that remains active in the meat for several days after the beef has been slaughtered. These enzymes further tenderize the meat, and the dry, temperature controlled environment promotes evaporation. With less water in the meat, the flavor is concentrated and intensified.
That also means that comparing meat from your local grocery store to the same cut from Porter Road is essentially comparing apples and oranges. Commodity meat weight is exaggerated by significantly higher water content. That’s water weight that you’re paying for, and diminished flavor that might encourage you to use extra sauces and salt.
Those sauces, typically loaded up with sugar, end up being the only thing that you end up tasting. It overwhelms the meat, and turns what could be a healthy meal into something far less nutritious. Think of it like eating a tomato in the middle of winter, which will require salt, olive oil, and maybe even cheese, to turn it into something satisfying, versus a freshly grown summer tomato in rural Kentucky that you could eat all by itself, savoring every bite.
Cooking delicious meals for our family and friends should be easy. It should be fun. And it should accessible to everyone, everywhere. Our beef, pork, poultry, and lamb are available 24 hours a day, just a few clicks away. It’s more flavorful, more satisfying, and far more tender that anything you find at big box stores.
Mistakes will always happen in the kitchen. They don’t have to happen when you’re shopping. Save the leather for your shoes and the macaroni and cheese for another day. Great meat is easy to find, and great meals are in your future.