AUSTRALIANS are some of the biggest meat eaters in the world consuming on average 120kg a year.
The backyard barbecue is a way of life and choosing the right cut or type of meat for family and friends is a matter of pride.
As with all perishables, fresh is best when it comes to meat and while most Australians tend to buy theirs at one of the large supermarket chains, don't forget your neighbourhood butcher.
Like our butcher Jack, yours is probably extremely knowledgeable about the products they sell, can efficiently track the route from paddock to plate and generally has little time for growth hormones.
While labels in supermarkets are getting better, at best they can't tell you much beyond the price and sell-by date.
Your butcher on the other hand can see and smell your meat and also find out how it was fed, what breed it is and how long the meat has been hung.
Another really good thing about butchers is that they age their meat by hanging it for weeks in dry cold stores.
Most supermarket meat is wet-aged - cut up and shrink-wrapped shortly after slaughter.
The meat will still mature, but in a different way, and you will be paying for all the liquid, perhaps 20% of the total weight, that evaporates in the traditional dry-aging process.
Steak seems to be the favourite beef meal among Australians with its versatility as both a crowd pleaser and quick mid-week dinner.
It is vitally important to buy a good quality cut if you are expecting a mouth-watering steak with a golden brown crust and juicy pink interior.
Look for meat that is a healthy deep red colour rather than a darker shade and for fat that is pure white rather than yellowing.
When it comes to the choice of cut, let the beast's anatomy be your guide - the muscles that do the least work are likely to give you tender meat.
The scotch fillet and sirloin or porterhouse come from the region near the backbone are perfect choices while the eye fillet or tenderloin is even more tender.
The rump is more active but often well priced, while the topside is usually cut into thinner minute steaks or used for schnitzels.
If you believe meat is sweeter on the bone opt for the t-bone or rib-eye.
The rump is also good for a roast as is silverside and topside benefiting from the longer cooking process, while cheaper cuts like chuck, brisket and shin are delicious in casseroles, stews and curries which involves slow cooking that breaks down the tougher muscle.
When choosing lamb look for the date packed and examine the colour - it should be a pink/red colour. Darker red meat is older and won't be as tender.
Choose the leanest cuts with firm creamy white fat avoiding cuts with excessive fat or fat that looks yellow and crumbly.
There are five basic cuts of lamb - shoulder, rack, shank/breast, loin and leg. In supermarkets packs are usually labelled with the cut as well as the retail name like "shoulder roast" or "loin chop".
For roasts, the best cuts include leg, breast, rack of lamb, shoulder, saddle, rump and loin.
For quick cooking, choose fillet, chump chops, loin chops, leg steaks, best end cutlets and butterflied leg. For slow cooking, leg, shoulder, shank, neck and chump chops are among the best options.
Cuts of Beef
- Cheeks: the tastiest meat from the head
- The chuck: meat from the shoulder area, behind the neck and above the foreleg - rib steak, blade, spade, feather steak, false fillet for stewing, braising and slow-cooking
- Hock, shin, shank: between the ankle and the knee. Great for stews
- Toprib, topside: ribs below the breast
- Brisket: the belly, meat often rolled for a cheap roast or braising
- Flank and skirt: strip of stomach muscle below the ribs and down to the pelvis - minute steak
- Prime rib, rib-eye: top and middle of the back. Great steaks and roasts
- Sirloin, wing-rib: above the loin and flank on cattle. Below here, just under the spine and running forward is the fillet or tenderloin. Cut across the spine and you get a t-bone steak: sirloin and fillet
- Rump, pope's eye: the top of the mass of hip and buttock muscle, to where the tail grows
- Silverside, topside: the back of the buttock and top thigh - roasts
- Gigot and eye of round: top and back of the hind leg thigh, below the hip
- Round steak: the front thigh of the hind leg
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