Gene Logsdon and Friends

Tasty Meat Comes From The Kitchen, Not the Field

In Gene's Weekly Posts on February 23, 2011 at 7:17 am

From GENE LOGSDON

Furious arguments sweep back and forth over the landscape about whether pasture-raised meat is better or worse than corn-fed meat. I think pasture-raised might be healthier food depending on the quality of the pasture, but when the debate focuses on taste, oh my. Years and years ago, a similar argument was popular: whether hogs fed on steamed slop (garbage) tasted better or worse than corn-fed hogs. A butcher could supposedly tell by finger-punching a hog carcass, whether the hog had been slop-fed or corn-fed by how soft or hard it was. We farm boys had a sort of ritual. We would finger-punch each other and, if praise were in order, pronounce the boy so punched as “corn fed.” If he were deemed soft and sissified for whatever reason, a finger punch would draw forth a derisive “slop fed.” In that kind of culture, pasture-raised meat was never going to have a chance over corn-fed even if the hams had no more give in them than anvils.

Then along came my father-in-law who raised and butchered his own hogs and smoke-cured the best-tasting hams in Kentucky, so everyone who ate at his table claimed. He told me that the way to do it right was to feed a hog for two years (none of this modern four to five-month wonder stuff) mostly on acorns and then cure the hams by his own special mix of salt (had to be a particular kind of moist salt he bought by the barrel), brown sugar and pepper, rubbing the mix into the meat every day for the first month of the curing process. He even specified how many rubs (ten) each ham should be given at each rubbing. Then he smoked the meat with hickory just so-so and left it hang in the smokehouse to age a month or more. Corn, or lack thereof, had very little to do with it.

I was out in Nebraska once talking to a tough old cowboy type whose flesh was as dark and sinewy as father-in-law’s hams. He sort of snorted at my praise for a corn-fed beef steak I had eaten in Omaha. He declared that a really tasty filet came out of the back strip of a four- year- old range cow that wouldn’t know an ear of corn from a watermelon. “Takes that long to develop real taste to the meat,” he drawled, “and that kind of steak is just about as tender at four years of age as at two.”

In time I raised and cured my own hams on a diet including corn, acorns and all the food garbage our family generated. I followed my father-in-law’s instructions to the letter. I made good meat, but not as good as his hams after mother-in-law worked her magic on them in the kitchen.

I also butchered a four year old beef cow I raised entirely on good clover pasture and found the meat every bit as good as Omaha steaks and almost as tender too. And baby beef from a 700 lb. calf fed entirely on mother’s milk and grass was even tenderer. But the real reason the meat tasted so good was because my wife had become as good a cook as her mother was.

Today we enjoyed pounded meat for dinner. You probably call it round steak, one of the cheaper cuts of beef because it is usually tough whether it is raised in a factory or in a jungle. That’s where the pounding comes in. Carol sprinkles flour on the meat, then beats the living hell out of it with the edge of a saucer. I helped today. In three minutes round steak became Swiss steak, tender enough that even a child can chew it up and swallow it without whining.

But the magic had only begun. Then Carol cooked the meat in a mix of sauces, spices, wines, garlic, and herbs that only she and “Fine Cooking” magazine know about. Out came meat as luscious as any New York Strip- Porterhouse- Omaha- Premium- Prime- Char-broiled steak ever to be produced from a truck load of Monsanto’s latest triple-stacked, borer- immune, Roundup- ready, Drone- resistant, super-biotech corn on the market.

Cheap chicken wings are great too, only now they are called buffalo wings for some weird reason. We practically lived on them in graduate school because they cost only 19 cents a pound back then. With Carol following her mother’s southern fried methods, those wings were manna from heaven. She could make cardboard taste good with those methods.

I’m sure the taste of our home-raised chickens today is influenced some by the way we let them run in the woods, and the way we butcher, chill and freeze them, but the real difference is Carol’s kitchen art. Her chickens taste great whether they eat mostly corn or mostly nightcrawlers and grasshoppers.
~~

  1. Gene,

    You are so off base here that I fear you must have gone “off the reservation”!

    I raise both chickens and beef on pasture and can state that my many customers are so pleased with the product that I receive rave reviews constantly.

    Last year a friend purchased some beef and complained that his children refused to eat it claiming it to be “gamey”. My response was that it clearly is beyond the bland mediocrity of conventional beef, it actually tastes like beef! That children will not eat something with real taste is the acid test as most have never eaten real food.

    I sell in farmers markets and have had parents gushing over the taste of my chicken, “just like their grandparents chicken”. I was more interested however in the the opinion of the 13 year old daughter who returned to market with her mother. She told me it was “too chickeny”!

    Strangely enough or perhaps in line with that comment I have found that my organic heirloom tomatoes are not favorites of some of my customer’s children as they taste too much like …well….tomatoes……8>))

  2. We are wending our way through our first quarter steer, which was grass fed; no corn. I really like how the steaks and burger taste, but there is something really odd about the oxtails, roasts, and short ribs. Everything that has a lot of fat in it has a slightly different flavor, and I can’t put my finger on it. I don’t want to say it’s gamey, because I don’t eat game, but it’s not something I like very much.

    However, i truly believe in pasturing cattle, so I’m willing to suck it up. Literally.

  3. Smell and taste are the two senses that are the most unique to the individual–I’m amazed that there is consensus on any food. But the variables involved in producing good meat are so enormous: the breed of animal; what the animal eats; how much it eats; how old it is; whether it was trucked to an abbatoir or (my preference) shot through the head as it grazed; how the butchering was handled; how long the meat is hung… Still, as you point out, Gene, a good cook can take any piece of meat and deal with those variables in a way that produces a wonderful meal. The sad thing is that in this day of mass-produced, pre-packaged and processed foods, not to mention the microwave, good cooks are getting harder and harder to find. I wonder sometimes if they will become a vanishing species like so many others.

  4. Well in that case, maybe it’s Carol who needs to be penning the next blog entry and letting us all in on her secrets!

    A friend of mine lives nine months of the year in Italy, where he’s involved in teaching undergraduates about food culture. One of the gems he’s found over there is a Tuscan butcher who comes from a long, long line of butchers. He has branched out from merely slicing the meat to cooking it as well, opening several restaurants. One of the most interesting of them is the one in which he uses the cherished family recipes, passed down from generations of butchers. What’s so special about these recipes and techniques? Well, the butchers could never afford to keep the really choice cuts of meat for themselves, so instead they perfected the art of taking the “inferior” cuts and making them taste amazing. My friend assures me that at this restaurant, pieces of meat that would normally be ground into hamburger ended up tasting better than many of the steaks he’s ever eaten.

  5. Gene, you are right on about Carol’s cooking and probably scored some good marital points, too. We only ever butchered the oldest and least productive milk cows when I was a kid and they had only pasture and hay their whole lives. Mom had a Wagner cast aluminum roaster and some spices that made any cut of those old cows better than any prime rib I’ve spent way too much on in a restaurant. It’s the only thing of hers I asked for when she died. She’s still alive at 90 so I begged her to give it to me when she quit cooking.
    She doesn’t have Alzheimer’s and I don’t remember if I do, so I guess it’s still safe to use. It’s still cooking up some of the best pasture raised beef I can get.

  6. I think I’m becoming more of a cynic every day, thanks for giving me a second opinion on something I’ve suspected for a few years!
    When my Mother was feeling good she could make anything taste good!
    I will say that if you starve the cow and then chase it around the field a few times before shooting it and then let it hang an extra week in the butcher shop that you will not have good beef.
    However, if you raise a quality product it will taste good. In years of trading people hay and grain for beef, I’ve found more of a difference in how it was slaughtered than if it was grass fed or grain fed-or if it was a Holstein or a registered black Angus.
    And I am sure going to back up what ever you say from now on figuring I might someday get a dinner invitation!

  7. A quite infamous convict here in California was nicknamed “Corn-Fed.” Now, finally, I know why.

  8. Taste? TASTE!
    When kids raised on factory foods listen to “MUSIC”

    it is

    thump-pop
    thump-pop
    wriggle
    jiggle
    jangle
    and scream

    they may be excused from the table.

    I am currently cooking with a 1907 Swartzbaugh CONSERVO, which was the early 20th century
    labor and wife saving equivalent of our microwave times, a multi-level single burner cooking-by-steam which was convenient enough to allow canning of left-overs in the days before frozen foods.

    Try feedng kids left-overs and I bet they complain of too much taste.

    I am not even sure I like kids anymore [other than family ones].

    83 my next birthday, Kids don’t have enough [any] taste.

  9. We have half of a grass fed steer in the freezer, raised on my father-in-laws farm, and I’m pretty sure we did everything wrong. The pastures aren’t the greatest, we butchered in November (in MN) after the pasture was gone and we were feeding hay, the steer was about a year old, maybe 800lbs, and the butcher did a terrible job of dispatching it on the farm (took 3 shots!). Despite all of that, this beef has made the best stew I’ve ever had. I haven’t been desperate enough to shovel my grill out of the snowbanks so I can do a side by side comparison of a grass-fed steak to a corn-and-other-stuff fed supermarket steak, but come spring, I will do just that. I’ve read enough about the wonders of grass-fed beef to have high expectations; my dad, on the other hand, believes it will be like beef jerky. I hope he’s wrong- perhaps I should try Carol’s pounding trick on his steak…

    Charlie, you seem to blame the kids for not having taste- well, who fed them tasteless factory food? Perhaps they never had a parent or grandparent who was willing to let them ‘help’ in the kitchen so they would learn how to cook and appreciate good food? I’d be willing to wager that the older generation in your younger days held the same low opinion of kids and their music and taste (or lack thereof). I’m not a kid anymore, but I’m still young enough to remember the dismissive and cynical attitude elders too often take with the younger generation (anyone sit at the ‘kids’ table at thanksgiving?). I’m old enough now to feel the resentment towards ‘kids these days’. Its a classic chicken and egg problem; who disrespected who first? I don’t know how to heal this generational gap, but like most problems, humility and communication would be a good start.

  10. One of my favorite kitchen memories is Mama pounding the floured round steak. I can still picture that saucer. I have a special kitchen tool for this process now and it is just not the same.

    There’s a book called “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth” by Jonny Bowden. His theory is grass-fed is better for you, nothing to do with whether it tastes better or not. It’s all about the nutrients in the food because grass is the natural food for the animal.

  11. I’ve noticed that our homegrown hogs (leftover garden produce, kitchen scraps and corn) have less fatty bacon and chops that don’t shrink in the pan. Also the meat is red, not that “other white meat” junk.

  12. Life is good when the cook’s good at cooking but it gets even better when the cook’s good looking. That’s what keeps me grinning most of the time and I’m thinking that’s probably why you’re grinning in all the pictures I see of you.

  13. Gene, I’ll try to keep my question on topic: How do you think beef will taste having been fed with Monsanto’s now-deregulated, genetically engineered alfalfa?

  14. W.A. I don’t know what it will taste like until I taste it. I have a lot of negative opinions about Monsanta Claus alfalfa which I will be writing about in an upcoming post. Gene

  15. The key word here is “taste” which is quite different from the nutrient or health components within the food. Great cooks can and have been able for centuries to produce wonderfully tasting foods from potentially rather dubious sources. Grain fed animals will have far higher levels of pesticides, herbicides and probably growth hormones in them than grass fed animals. Some contributors have also mentioned about the manner of slaughter. This is also a very valid point as an animal stressed at time of death has high levels of adrenolin in it which taints the meat and gives a very bad taste and in extreme cases can discolour the flesh. Fortunately down here in NZ almost all of our meat is grass fed and growth hormones are banned. Those of use who home kill also hang the carcass for up to 24 hours to tenderise it so the need to bash it about prior to cooking is not required. I guess that what I am trying to say is that taste can be added by skillful cooking but the bottom line is “crap in, crap out”!

    Keep up the great work Gene (and Carol). We need sensible and vocal voices like your’s to be heard as much as possible.

    Cheers

  16. From what I have heard/read corn is not the healthiest thing to raise animals (or people) on. There is a lot of truth in the saying “You are what you eat.” I know the rations are a mix of various things, not just corn, but the majority is still Maiz de Monsanto. Modern corn production represents everything that is wrong with current agricultural practices from over-use of chemicals all the way up to the broken and abused government subsidy program. Do we need to produce that much corn to overfeed cows and chickens which in turn overfeed a bunch of Couch Potato Americans? My family has been eating pasture raised meat as an alternative to the crap in the grocery store for a little while now and we wholeheartedly feel that it is a better product. It does require adjustment to the cooking methods we all consider standard, but the proper slow cooking gives ample oppurtunity to develop flavors and make tasty gravy. As stated by our favorite blogger, the difference is in the kitchen, but I firmly believe that what the animal eats has an important effect on taste, quality, and health of the animal and those of us lucky enough to consume it. I do not want to support agri-business any more than I am already forced to. Buying local pasture raised meat is a few steps in the right direction.

  17. I don’t care whether grass beef or commercial beef tastes better. I can make any meat taste good.

    I just don’t want to eat GMO crap, pesticides, antibiotics, or hormones along with it.

  18. You are 100% right Gene, I’ve always argued that the taste comes from the kitchen. My city friends always think they know everything when it comes to meat, even making statements such as you have to cut it in one direction or you ruin the flavor…nonsense! If you cook it right anything will taste great. I’ve never once had a steak in a restaurant that passed even my worst steaks at home.

    My cattle are usually raised on corn, grass, and alfalfa…and my hogs on grain alone (only because I don’t have the room to put them to pasture). Do you need an oak grove to feed acorns to hogs, or can you buy them in bulk at a reasonable price? I’d like to try it sometime…and hopefully one day get my own smokehouse.

  19. I know that when it comes to eggs, the difference between my eggs and the junk from the supermarket is immense. My eggs are from chickens that have been allowed to root around my little mountain farm and get a wide variety of diet. Their shells are thicker. The yolks are deep orange and not yellow. The albumen is thicker. After eating these eggs for nine months, when production was down to three eggs every other day, we bought some from the store. They were so anemic and tasteless, I couldn’t believe it.

    I actually had a lady in North Carolina tell me that she gave some eggs to some friends, (having a flock similar to mine), and when she offered them more, they refused saying that the eggs were “just too rich.”

    If I had to slaughter my own cattle or goats I would definitely use the Biblical method. Thorough bleeding. We already kasher our poultry with brine solution and it does make an amazing difference in the flavor and juiciness of the meat. Wouldn’t go without it now. I didn’t keep kosher for all of my life, but I am experiencing all the benefits now.

  20. Our first attempt at meat chicken raising was a failure. I didn’t do enough research, got a egg/meat combo breed and just figured we’d eat the roosters when they became fat. We fed them on scraps and poultry diet. They didn’t become fat, but eventually we got tired of them crowing and butchered and ate them. They were tough and tasted odd. Then I learned from other chicken raisers that they were way too old and if we wanted fat we should have got a heavier breed. Anyway, I haven’t tried again and just keep hens for eggs and one rooster for, I don’t know, rooster-ness.

    • Anne, I love that—- rooster-ness. I keep a rooster around because it amuses me to see how much he acts like certain politicians. Gene

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