Enjoying Responsibly Raised Meat: 3 Fundamentals to Live By (Plus BBQ Tips)
You might have heard that farming meat is one of the biggest contributors to global warming after fossil fuels, and while the carbon footprint of agriculture is large, there’s no need for you to go full vegan just yet. Why? Much like our energy sources, whether meat is sustainable or not depends on several factors, including these fundamental principles.
Fundamental #1: Industrial Farming Is Bad
We’re going to be fairly black and white in this article, but there are so many other complex points to consider, as well. In essence, what we’re saying here is that animals which are farmed en masse have a larger carbon footprint than those which are farmed in more sustainable ways.
What Do We Mean by ‘En Masse’?
Walk into any supermarket, and chances are the bulk of the meat on sale there will be from places (we hesitate to call them farms) where the animals have been fed grains, pellets, antibiotics and all sorts of other stuff.
Grains? Why does that matter? Animals love grains. Most animals will eat whatever’s put in front of them, and the problem with grains is that they’re an incredibly inefficient way of feeding animals. The amount of energy required to produce enough grain far outweighs the amount of meat produced. There’s an imbalance.
Grains — if you’re a subscriber to the paleo diet — are also not an ideal food source for humans, and if you feed animals on grains, it stands to reason that some of the inflammatory effects will be passed on via the meat.
A paleo-lover who eats grain-fed meat is selling themselves short.
Additionally, most of those grains are grown with the use of pesticides. Pellets and feed laced with antibiotics? If you need us to tell you why that’s a bad idea, we’ll save it for another day.
The bottom line here is that the environmental and nutritional impact of producing grain and pellet-fed meat is negatively disproportionate to the amount of and quality of food produced.
Fundamental #2: Grass-fed Meat Is Better
Animals which are free to roam and graze as they would in the wild have a smaller carbon footprint than the industrially farmed ones.
This mostly applies to cows and sheep, but chickens that roam and graze in the same way will forage bugs, greens and other scraps. This means they’re free of grains and pesticides, and will produce meat with a greater nutritional value. Pigs should be fed natural food sources as well as feed made without the use of pesticides or hormones.
Fundamental #3: Quality over Quantity
You’ll pay more for organic meat, but it comes down to this:
If you care about the environment and/or your health, you cannot go on supporting a meat industry that is based on poor-quality, unsustainable meat and feed sources.
How to Choose Quality Meats
Now that you know how animals should be raised and what to look for, choosing the best meat is pretty straightforward. Below we’ll cover beef, chicken and pork.
What taste and texture you get will depend on whereabouts on the cow that cut comes from. Meat which does more work will be tougher and generally less expensive. These are your stewing meats. The more tender cuts are the ones from muscle groups which don’t do as much work.
Chuck – One of the toughest cuts, but also the one which can offer massive flavor. It’s the one you’ll often find slow-cooked until it falls apart.
How to cook: Slow-roasted or in a slow cooker for several hours.
Brisket – Tough, cheap and totally worth it, just like the chuck. Brisket is best when slow-cooked or even slow-smoked over the course of the day.
How to cook: Slowly, either in a slow cooker or first grilled, then slow-smoked on a BBQ.
Top Sirloin – This cut, which runs along the back of the cow, is the best cut of the sirloin. There should be a good fat cap along the edge of the steak which will impart lots of flavor to this tender cut.
How to cook: Sear on both sides over a very high heat, turning at regular intervals until done.
Tri-tip – An awesome cut, named for its three-pointed appearance. This lightly marbled cut works well on the grill and should be rubbed with spices and charred.
How to cook: Grill, then rest and slice.
Short rib – Delicious and totally undervalued, beef short ribs can be slow-cooked and glazed for a real treat that won’t cost too much.
How to cook: Best when slow-cooked and glazed.
Tenderloin – One of the least worked parts on the cow, the tenderloin sits along the middle of the back and is extremely tender. You’ll pay more for it, but as a treat it’s worth it.
How to cook: Simply seasoned and grilled over a high heat.
As long as your chicken is organic and not pumped full of water, you can’t really go wrong. Some chickens are raised on corn, among other things, which can impart a certain flavor to the meat. That’s a matter of personal preference, but the most important things to look out for are:
- No added water.
- Not too big – Industrially farmed chickens tend to be big, but the meat is of low quality. Organic chickens are often smaller, but with higher quality meat.
All of the principles which apply to beef apply to pork. If it works hard, it’s tougher; if it doesn’t, it’s more tender.
Shoulder – Without a doubt, the best cut of pork for slow-cooking and shredding.
How to cook: Glaze and cook over a low heat for 8-12 hours.
Ribs – Another slow cooker favorite, ribs are fatty at first but will render to become succulent and delicious when slow-cooked.
How to cook: Treat it the same as the shoulder, in a slow cooker.
Fillet – The pork equivalent of the beef loin, this tender cut can either be cooked whole or sliced into medallions and fried. Great when topped with spices or even a bit of good cheese.
How to cook: Cut into 1cm thick rounds and cooked on the BBQ.
Chump chop – A flavorful cut which is the pork equivalent of a sirloin steak. You’ll need to cook it all the way through.
How to cook: On the grill. Cook it over a high heat to crisp up the fat.
Top Tips for Summer BBQs
We couldn’t round this article off without giving you a few of our top tips on getting the most out of your BBQ. After all, there’s more to it than simply chucking the meat on and hoping for the best. Follow these tips and you’ll enjoy perfectly cooked meat, fish and vegetables every single time.
1. Don’t use lighter fluid if you can help it. Even if you let the flames die down before cooking, you could impart some funky flavors into your meat. Stick with charcoal instead.
2. Separate cooked meat and uncooked meat plates. Color code them if necessary.
3. Use the right fuel. We’ve mentioned charcoal, but if you can find the type which looks like burnt wood, that’s best.
4. Wait for even heat all over. You can’t grill meat with flames, so wait for them to die down before putting anything on the grill.
5. Control the heat across the grill. By keeping more fuel over on one side of the grill, you’ll have a side that’s cooler where you can move cooked meats.
6. Always marinate your meats ahead of time and drain thoroughly to avoid spitting and splashing.
7. Don’t disturb it too much. The temptation is always there to be constantly flipping and poking, but leave the meat and vegetables be, turning occasionally to check that they’re not burning.
8. Don’t overcook your meat. Cook pork and chicken all the way through, obviously, but don’t overcook them so that they become dry and tough.
9. Don’t oil your vegetables. Grill them dry and then finish with extra virgin olive oil
10. Grill your sides as well. Breads and the like can all be grilled as well, lending flavor and warmth.
If charcoal isn’t an option for you or prefer a level of convenience a gas grill can offer, you can still have excellent and environmentally-friendly meals with a gas grill. Whatever your preference, know that you are now one step closer to living a better and more environmentally responsible life.
For more articles on cool hobbies, check out the Groom+Style Lifestyle section.