Since our last cow processed for beef was at the very end of our season, we had a selection of all the cuts in stock when we closed. This means we got some of the "good stuff" for ourselves to eat over the winter. So I treated Dan and myself to some grass fed, farm raised Porterhouse steaks for dinner last night. For a truly gourmet cut of meat, like grass-fed Porterhouses, I wanted to let the flavor of the beef shine through without overpowering it with sauces or condiments. Since it's snowing outside, I wasn't in the mood to grill, so I heated up my favorite cast iron skillet and melted plenty of butter. I caramelized an onion, added another pat of butter and added the steaks. I topped them with a splash of Worcestershire sauce and let them cook, turning once, until they were cooked to about medium. They were tender, flavorful, and truly didn't need anything else, the flavor was that good.
I've learned so much about what different cuts of meat are by being involved directly in the process. A Porterhouse is a T-bone steak with a bit of extra tender meat on the end. Any Porterhouse could also be cut down to a T-Bone, but only a small percentage of T-bones (around 1/5) can be cut to be Porterhouses. And there aren't a whole lot of either in a single cow; we have essentially a 1/4 beef in our freezer, and that meant only 1 package (containing 2 steaks) of Porterhouses and 3 or 4 packages of T-bones. That's a good reason why they are expensive cuts of meat; not only are they tender and delicious, they are relatively rare. In a whole cow, at the size we process, we expect approximately 4 packages of Porterhouses and maybe a dozen of T-bones. In comparison, we'll get lots more of other cuts- around 125 pounds of lean ground beef or 20 or more each of round steaks and chuck roasts. We have a standard way our beef is processed that results in 5 different cuts of steak, 5 kinds of roasts, as well as ground beef, stew meat, and soup bones. This is the most efficient way that best utilizes the whole cow into sellable parts for us, without resulting in ground beef that is less than lean. However, it's not uncommon for us to run out of one cut or another (especially steaks) before we have enough freezer space to process another cow, or before the next cow has reached the size we'd like it to be.
I've learned so much about how to cook the different cuts, because before I had a freezer full of my own beef, I didn't eat a lot of it, and what I did was limited to a few different cuts. I didn't cook roasts much at all, and I suppose that's not uncommon, because they are certainly less popular than steaks or ground meat at the stand. I now know that chuck, R.B., and English roasts are all equally delicious when put in a crock pot all day with some potatoes & onions- a true one-pot meal! The tip roast is my go-to when I want to make a stir fry, cheese steaks, or fajitas, as it slices thinly and cooks up beautifully with great flavor and without being tough. Round steaks are a tougher cut of meat on any cow, but ours are great grilled after marinating or slow cooked in a skillet with some liquid. I don't get to cook the other steaks (rib eye, sirloin, T-bone & Porterhouse) quite as often, as the farmer usually eats the cuts of beef that didn't sell as well (or the turkey with the torn skin, the chicken that didn't pluck right, the "cosmetically challenged" veggies, etc...). Although at first it was a challenge for me to figure out how to cook cuts of beef I'd never even heard of before, there are simple ways to turn any of them into a great meal. So if you're shopping at a farm selling cuts you aren't familiar with, don't hesitate to ask your farmer what they are best used for. Or, tell the farmer what dish you're looking to cook, and he or she can suggest the cut that will cook best using that method. At our farm, roasts are lower priced than the steaks, and with a helpful hint on what to do with a particular cut of meat, you may find that a dinner of humanely raised, grass fed beef (or lamb, or whatever) is more affordable than you thought, and certainly better tasting than feedlot beef!