This section is from the book "Mrs. Allen's Cook Book", by Mrs. Ida C. Bailey Allen. See also: The Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change the Way You Eat.
As meat plays such an important role in the menus of most households, every housewife should have a thorough understanding of how to buy meats, not only that she may thus be able to spend economically but also that she may serve the most wholesome foods. The complaint is often made that meat is too high, but the butcher is seldom charging more than a reasonable price. His cost of doing business has increased rapidly during recent years - he has to pay higher wages as well as deliver his packages, which were formerly carried home by the purchasers. All these "extras" count and if we demand this service we must be prepared to share our part of the cost.
There are three grades of meat - good, second best and poor. The first is sold mostly to hotels and clubs, as it is very heavy and expensive. The second is carried in first class markets and is of the same quality as the first but from lighter cattle. The third is sold only in the cheap markets. The cheapest grades do not contain so much nourishment as the better beef, for low-priced cattle are usually fed on brewers' grains, cotton-seed meal and the like, which fatten the cattle but produce soft, flabby flesh, which shrinks to a greater extent in cooking than the better grades. Besides, there is as much bone in a poor animal as in a fat one, so that in buying cheap grades one pays for a larger percentage of bone. Good beef has firm fat, tinged with pink, and the meat is interwoven with threads of fat. Poor beef has a very yellow fat and the meat is lean and scraggy, and even the porterhouse is tough.
Meat is cut in different ways in different sections of the country, but the underlying principles are the same. A side of beef is always divided into a forequarter and hindquarter, the latter containing the loin, from which the highest priced steaks and roasts are cut. It is an easy rule to remember that meat is most expensive in the center of the animal and cheaper at the extremities, for the latter are toughened through muscular action. Most people do not like the cheap cuts because they are unable to make them tender through cooking, and they therefore buy steaks and roasts. This excess demand makes steaks and roasts unduly high in price in comparison with the food value which they furnish. Most people overlook the fact that most of the inexpensive cuts have little waste, so that besides costing less per pound the meat goes twice as far. The waste from a two-pound sirloin steak, for instance, averages about three-quarters of a pound. In France, all cuts of beef are frequently sold at one price, because it is almost impossible to dispose of the so-called better cuts on account of their greater amount of waste.
Too many housewives buy in unnecessarily small quantities - veal cutlet to-day, a small roast of beef to-morrow, chops after that, and so on - something different for every day. If one can afford to do so, this practice may be followed, but if one's means are limited, it is far better to buy in quantities sufficient for three days at a time. It is not necessary always to prepare the meat the same way, for the butcher will gladly cut it for different uses.
Take a chuck rib weighing fourteen and a half pounds as an illustration. Properly cut this piece of beef would provide two and a half pounds of soup meat, three pounds of beef for a pot-roast, a five-pound roast from the eye-piece, and four pounds of bone and fat. The bone is useful for soup stock and the fat can be rendered for cooking. At average prices the housewife would save about thirty-five cents by buying the entire chuck rib.
Most of the corned beef comes from the plate - part of the hind quarter. There is more waste to the cheaper cuts of corned beef than to those of higher price, because they contain more bone and a larger proportion of fat. Five pounds of corned beef from the navel, when boned, will only produce two and three-quarter pounds of clear meat, so that the actual cost is more than if the best cut had been bought in the first place.
It often pays to corn beef at home. In case one buys a quantity of meat at a time, as when purchasing a chuck rib or the aitch bone - sold in the east - part of it can be put into brine, or, if one wants a cheap cut, fresh meat can be bought - the butcher will bone it - and the bones can be used for stock, instead of throwing them away, as is done when they have been corned.
To corn beef, dissolve rock salt in water until it will float a raw potato. Plunge in the meat, weight it, cover and let stand in a cool place from two to four days, according to the degree of saltness desired.