The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke

Prime Time

This blog entry is about the most exciting thing to happen in my grilling life in a long time, the opening of a new butcher shop, called The Meat House, less than 10 minutes away. What is so exciting about a new butcher shop opening up? Aren’t they pretty much all the same? To take the last question first: Up until this one opened up they were pretty much all the same. What makes The Meat House so exciting is they sell really high quality meat including Prime Grade. Now depending on where you live you may be jealous or you may be saying no big deal. Let me just tell you that around here the only time you could buy Prime was in a restaurant, and a fairly pricey one at that. Prime grade meat was sold to restaurants and Choice and Select were sold to the public. That was an immutable rule, or so I thought. Some cracks began appearing when the economy got bad. According to an article I read last summer, prime grade meat was starting to show up in stores because restaurants weren’t using most of it any more. Less people eating out meant less call for Prime Grade meat. This surplus Prime Grade meat was starting to show up in certain butcher shops or markets.

This 2 plus pound (1 Kg), 2” (5 cm) thick steak was a pleasure and an honor to cook. This is a piece of meat!!

I happened to stop in a Whole Foods near Rhode Island while returning from a business trip and scored some prime grade rib-eyes. According to the butcher at that location they had been getting in small amounts of Prime Grade for a few months. He said it was a bit hit or miss and it didn’t stay in their case very long. Meanwhile the butcher at my local Whole Foods said he has never seen Prime Grade come in with one exception. Sometimes around the holidays orders for rib roasts are filled with small amounts of Prime because their supplier didn’t have enough select. I have friends from other parts of the country that have no problem getting Prime in their local yuppie markets, so it seems to all depend on where you live.

This picture needs no explanation. Let me just say: I know what I want for my birthday meal.

I am thrilled to say the prime drought in my areas has ended. The Meat House opened up a little while ago and they offer premium meats and poultry, plus all of the other fixins for a special meal. They are very customer service oriented, right down to carrying your bag and walking you out to your car. Now this is a little bit of overkill for me, but it shows they are trying to give the customer a great experience. When my mother asked me if I knew about the new butcher shop that opened in town I did not. I wasn’t particularly interested because frankly I thought it was just going to be more of the same. For a while I’d get excited whenever a new butcher shop opened because I’d think maybe I could now find prime meat or other hard or impossible to find items. In fact I have a list of a dozen items that I either can’t find or have to drive great distances to get. After five years or so of being disappointed, the opening of a new butcher shop barely registered on my radar screen. I’d seen it all in my area or so I thought. I would have to go to the big city to have a chance of getting something different. My mother kept asking me if I had gone over there yet, not so much to nag but because she was curious too. When she mentioned the ad she saw said they carried Prime meats, that changed everything. I arranged to pick her up later that same day and go have a look. I planned to bring my list of hard to find item, which permanently resides on my iPhone. We went Sunday evening at 6:00 and I was pleased to see they were doing a brisk business at that hour.

The extra marbling (fat) is what separates Prime Grade from the rest. That fat bastes the meat while cooking leaving you with a moist and tender piece of meat like no other.

So how did they do on my check list of hard to find items? Prime grade steak, Skirt Steak, Flank Steak, Beef Ribs - Yep. How much would you like sir? Without making a trip near Boston I couldn’t find Pancetta in any form but diced. I need it in thicker form for use in kebabs, no problem they even offered to cube it for me. Duck breast - check. No whole duck, but they can order it. Tri-tip same thing. They don’t get it in very often, but they can order it and have for me in a couple days. I am also guessing it is going to be a better grade of meat than any I’ve had. Pork steaks, no but if it comes out of a Boston butt they will cut it for me. A unexpected bonus for me was they carry charcoal. Not just any charcoal either, they carry Wicked Good. And not just the lump, but the Wicked Good All Natural Hardwood briquettes that I wanted to try out once I used up all of the Red Bag Kingsford I had around. I had seen a review of it against the Kingsford Blue & new Red Bag product and it ultimately burned hotter and longer and with less ash. I hadn’t seen it around here and was contemplating buying a 60 bag palette, but now that problem is solved. Everyone one there made a point of being proactive and asking if they could help you and their mantra seems to be: “If you don’t see it ask. If we don’t have it, we can probably get it for you.” The deli butcher introduced himself to me as did two of the meat counter butchers. On my follow up visit the Manger and Assistant Manager introduced themselves. This seems to be part of their approach - they want to be like your old neighborhood corner butcher shop where you knew the butchers and they knew you and what you liked. I can remember as a kid going in and the butcher telling my mom he just got in a batch of something my mother liked in particular.

This Prime Grade sirloin was the best sirloin steak I’ve ever had.

Currently The Meat House has 4 stores in Maine which is where they started, 8 in New Hampshire, 6 in Massachusetts, 2 in North Carolina, and 1 each in Connecticut, New York, Texas and California. What is interesting about their expansion plans is a franchisee can’t buy a single unit franchise. You must agree to build 4 - 8 stores within 4 years. This helps grow their brand and I would imagine helps control prices, because a franchisee is buying for multiple locations. I’m also guessing this helps them get candidates that are very financially sound, if they can afford to build multiple stores.

I certainly couldn’t complain that these over 1 1/2 inch (7.5 cm) thick ribs didn’t have meat on their bones

I promised myself this first trip was just a “kick the tires” visit and no money would exchange hands. It is just as well too. I would have had to worry about the person from the store seeing the Snoopy happy dance I wanted to break into when I left the store. I couldn’t stay away for long though. They had a Cowboy Steak that was a 2 1/4 pound (1 Kg), 2” (5 cm) thick steak that just kept calling out my name. I went back after 2 days and picked one up to give it a try. I’ll probably give it a separate blog entry, but let me put it this way: It was by far the finest steak I’d ever eaten. I went back a few days later to try out their beef ribs as my next test. They didn’t have any out on display when I made my first visit, but I was told they did carry them. I love beef ribs and hoped these had more meat on the bone than the anorexic looking, poor-excuse for beef ribs sold around here. Of course when I got home I discovered that 2 Prime Grade sirloins had fallen into the bag too. Now how did those get there? I made the sirloins right away and they were the best of breed for that type of steak. Parts of the center were literally soft as butter. As for the beef ribs, when I opened them up the following day I discovered I had a 4 bone, 4 pound (1.8 Kg), 1 1/2” (3.75 cm) thick rack of ribs on my hands. You guessed it: just like the other meats I’d purchased from The Meat House these were the best Beef Ribs I’d ever tasted.

These were the best beef ribs I have ever had. Their pre-cooked weight was over a pound a piece and they were a meal in themselves.

So you may have noticed a pattern here: Three of the best meals I’ve ever had happened in one four day period and were the first three meats I bought at The Meat House. Needless to say I am excited. Although I could eat this meat everyday, I can’t afford to and by this I don’t mean to say they are pricey. I think for the quality of meat they are very reasonably priced. I just can’t afford to eat steak or roasts all the time. This just means I will have to explore their high quality Select grade meat and poultry products as well. It’s a tough, thankless job but someone has to do it. Meanwhile for special occasions I know I can drive less than 10 minutes and pick up some best in class meat. When I make a meal for my family, if one of them likes something they will say: “You can make this for me for my birthday”. Well I now know what I want for my birthday in a month: Another Cowboy Rib-eye. Of course I’ll have to cook if for myself, but I don’t mind.

Here are some links for the Picture Entries for the 3 meats discussed above. Plus there is a link to the website for The Meat House.
  COWBOY STEAKS Beef Picture Entry
  MARINATED STEAKS Beef Picture Entry
  LONE STAR BEEF RIBS Beef Picture Entry


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