Spare Ribs and Baby Back Ribs

Spare Ribs and Baby Back RibsMemorial Day is the official kick-off to summer and the backyard grilling season. Though steaks and burgers seem like the obvious choice for something hot off the grill, we thought we’d go a different route and talk about spare ribs and baby back ribs.

Pork ribs are tasty whether you cook them indoors or outside on the grill. There are two basic types of pork ribs—spare ribs and baby back ribs. And, which style you choose is totally up to personal preference. To help you make the choice, here are the differences between the two.

Baby Back Ribs
Baby back ribs can also be sold as pork loin back ribs, back ribs or loin ribs. Pork ribs are cut from where the ribs meet the spine of the pig after the loin is removed. The upper ribs are the ribs called baby back ribs because they are shorter in relation to the bigger spare ribs. (Baby Back ribs have nothing to do with baby pigs.)

Each baby back rib rack can have anywhere from 10 to 13 ribs that are 3 to 6 inches long. The average weight of a rack is 1-1/2 to 2 pounds and will feed up to two people. Baby Back ribs are very tender and lean. But, because they are higher in demand, the price can be higher as well.

Pork Spare Ribs
Spare ribs can also be sold as St. Louis Style Spare Ribs. They are the meatier ribs that are cut from the belly of the pig. They are flatter than baby back ribs, which makes them easier to brown on the grill.

Spare ribs have more bone in them but they also contain a higher amount of fat, which gives the ribs more flavor when properly cooked. A slab of spare ribs will weigh 2-1/2 or more pounds and can feed three to four people. And they tend to be less expensive than baby backs.

Cooking
No matter which style you choose, both spare ribs and baby back ribs require low heat and a long cooking time to result in tender fall-off-the-bone ribs. They are great for smoking, grilling, braising, and even roasting. To make things a little easier, you can roast the ribs in a low oven for a couple of hours and finish them on the grill.

Since both styles are cooked the same way, you can substitute baby back ribs for spare ribs and vice versa. Just note that because they are smaller, if you substitute baby backs for spare ribs, you will need to almost double the amount to feed the same number of people.

Conversely, if you substitute spare ribs for baby backs, you will need to be aware that they will take longer to cook and plan accordingly. Baby Backs take about  1-1/2 hours to 2 hours to cook at 300º F. Spare ribs can take 2-1/2 to 3 hours.

Seasoning
Both sauces and spice rubs will work well with your pork ribs, and they are great marinated, too. We recommend Oakland Dust’s Rub for Pork and Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce for a classic flavor.

And if you are looking for a great marinade recipe, try one of our all-time favorites—Oriental Barbecued Ribs from Bon Appetit Magazine in 1968. (Yes the dark ages, hence the embarrassing name).

Leg of Lamb

Leg of LambFor many of us, the arrival of Spring and the celebrations of Passover and Easter mean one thing, lamb. Of course, lamb can also be seen as a symbol of the “re-birth” of the land as it passes out of the fallowness of winter and into more fertile times. However you look at it, lamb remains one of the most popular meats consumed during the spring.

Because lamb can be expensive, more often than not it is eaten as part of a celebratory meal rather than a mid-week dinner—though shoulder chops are a quick and tasty meal when done on the grill.

Lamb is fairly easy to prepare and does not require much more than time and a thermometer to make it turn out great. Rack of Lamb is probably the most elegant offering you could choose, but a gorgeous leg of lamb can be an impressive centerpiece.

Leg of Lamb is a versatile and tender cut of the lamb. It can weigh anywhere from 5 to 9 pounds and can be sold in many different forms. It can be boned and butterflied so that it can be cooked on a grill or it can be boned, rolled, tied and roasted.

You can also buy a half leg of lamb. This is sold in two parts: the shank end is less meaty and can be tougher or the sirloin end which has more meat and is considerably more tender. Either would make a great roast for a family since they usually only weigh 3 to 4 pounds each.

Price-wise, the most economical way to serve lamb to a crowd of 8 to 10 people would be to buy a full leg of lamb.

Preparation is easy. Coat the lamb with your favorite coating or marinade and roast it in the oven at 350º F, or until the internal temperature reaches 115-120º F for a rare lamb, 130-140º F for a medium roast. Before serving, allow it to stand for 20 minutes, loosely covered.

This chart is a great reference for times and temperatures for cooking lamb. You might want to bookmark this page for future reference.

Mustard-Rosemary Paste for Lamb
Adapted from The Complete Meat Cookbook: A Juicy and Authoritative Guide to Selecting, Seasoning, and Cooking Today’s Beef, Pork, Lamb, and Veal by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly

Read more…

Wild vs. Farmed Fish — Pros and Cons

Wild vs. Farmed Fish, Pros and ConsA Tale of Two Fishes
If you are one of the many people who has been trying to eat better by cutting out red meat and including more fish, you have had to make the decision between purchasing wild vs. farmed fish. It can be a hard decision because there are pros and cons to both.

The only real difference between the two is where they are raised. Wild fish is exactly that, fish caught in the wild. Farmed fish are raised in pens submerged in ponds, lakes or saltwater. Pretty straightforward.

Public perception would tell you that wild-caught fish is better for you because it is caught in its natural environment, the way we have always caught fish. This may or may not be the case, as I will explain.

The stigma attached to farm-raised fish suggests that it is a genetically modified Frankenfish. It is not. It is the same animal you have always eaten that has been raised in a controlled environment.

In an effort to try to demystify your fish shopping experience, we have compiled a list of pros and cons to help make your decision easier.

Wild Caught
Pros
The biggest proponent of buying wild-caught fish is that it doesn’t contain any antibiotics or pesticides, though the later really depends on the waters that are being fished. Buying wild caught is no guarantee that mercury or other toxin levels in your fish will be low, again, it all depends on the environment they are swimming in. Read more…

Bacon

BaconBacon — The Other Food Group

Though people have been enjoying the awesomeness that is bacon for centuries, lately it seems that bacon is everywhere. You can find it in chocolate, jerky, and even jam. There is so much bacon available nowadays that it is hard to know which one to buy. Hopefully, we’ll be able to help…

Uncured  vs. Cured
The first question you should be thinking about your bacon Uncured or Cured? The term Uncured, however, is a little misleading. All bacon is preserved by either using smoke or salt, so by definition, bacon is a cured meat. If it were not cured, it would just be pork belly (or loin, or fatback…).

Flavor-wise, the difference between the two is difficult to discern. The real distinction between Cured and Uncured is how it is cured. So that means the only real difference between the two is the manner in which the pork is preserved.

Cured bacon is made by adding artificial nitrates, generally sodium nitrate, to the salt and brine mixture. The added nitrates help prevent the growth of bacteria on the meat so they are an important part of the process but they may have a negative impact on your health.

Because of those health concerns, uncured bacon has become much more popular. Though Uncured bacon does not have any added artificial nitrates, it is not nitrate-free because you are using the naturally occurring nitrates in celery extract or sea salt to cure the bacon. So while you may not be eating artificial nitrates, you are still eating nitrates.

The argument for or against curing basically comes down to preference. Uncured bacon hasn’t been fooled with as much, so it has been left in a much more natural state than cured bacon. And sometimes has a flavor closer to pork belly. It can also be saltier because the meat has to be in the brine longer to get the same preservation result as the cured bacon.

So you may be asking “If the cured vs. uncured doesn’t make that much of a difference in taste, why the explosion of the different bacon products?” The answer my friends is all in the smoke.

Smoking
Once you’ve cured the pork it’s time for the smoke. This is what gives bacon that smokey-good flavor and also makes the bacon easier to slice.

Traditionally smoked bacon is put in a smoker and heated to 130 degrees. Some industrial producers though will skip the smoking and apply liquid smoke to the cured meat before heating it. To avoid this product, look for the label that says Hardwood Smoked or Naturally Smoked as this means it has actually gone into a smoker.

Taking things a step further, you can look for labels that say Applewood Smoked or Mesquite Smoked. Obviously, this means that the product was smoked using the specified wood. The average bacon eater will probably not notice the flavor difference between various smoking woods. But to a bacon connoisseur, the difference is similar to the wine lover who can taster the black cherry notes in his Zinfandel.

The good news in all of this is that you get to try each and every version of bacon to find your favorite. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it…

Prime Rib

Prime Rib The Butcher's BloceIf there is one cut of beef that just screams holidays or big celebrations, it is the prime rib.

Prime rib makes a dramatic impression when brought to the table, and the flavor and tenderness can’t be beat. As an added bonus? Any leftovers will make fantastic sandwiches, which is good because prime rib is an expensive cut of meat.

Prime rib, also known as a standing rib roast, is a cut of beef from the primal rib, one of the nine primal cuts of beef. This area is made up of ribs 6 thru 12 of the steer. The full rib roast, meaning all 7 ribs, on average can weigh up to 16 pounds or more. That’s a lot of prime rib. Not to mention the financial hit. As a general rule, 1 rib can serve two people so if you have 10 people coming for dinner, you will need a 5 rib roast. A “Ideal” roast is 3 to 5 ribs and will weigh from 6 to 12 pounds.

Most prime ribs are sold in smaller pieces of 2 to 6 ribs. The best portion, according to some, is the section that contains ribs 10-12 and is known as the small end. The meat in this area is tender and flavorful and is more lean than the other side known as the large end.

Prime ribs can be ordered without the bones, however the presentation is not as impressive. If you decide to go with a bone-in roast, remember to ask your butcher to trim off the feather, or chine, bones to make carving easier.

Cooking a prime rib couldn’t be easier. All that is required is your favorite seasoning and a good thermometer, so that you know it is not overcooked. Resting the roast after cooking is also essential.

Though there are plenty of options for seasoning your roast, you can never go wrong with classic salt and pepper. We strongly recommend Butcher’s Salt from the French Farm Collective, or Andy’s Rub that’s available in our Meat Department. And there is always our perennial staff favorite, Oakland Dust

Below is our preferred method of cooking your prime rib. These instructions can be applied to any size roast.

Standing Rib Roast
Adapted from the Complete Meat Cookbook by Bruce Aidells

Read more…