Sarah, our Membership and Development Coordinator shares her family’s outdoor cooking experiences and adventures in smoked meats with us, in honor of the upcoming July 4th holiday (plus the entire rest of the summer and fall when we like to cook outdoors)
If you’re looking for noteworthy meat dishes or a satisfying food hobby, try smoking your meat! My husband started smoking meats last July for our daughter’s birthday party. Here’s what we’ve learned since then.
Buy Organic: Like any food, the quality of your meat starting from the source really matters! My husband and I have noticed that the texture of organic meat is far superior to non-organic meat, and requires less seasoning, if any, to be tasty.
Buy Local: Locally sourced meat is the way to go if you’re looking for freshness and to potentially save your pocket book. There are many ways to source your meat locally. We asked our local butchers if they were able to source local, organic food. If yours doesn’t offer an organic selection, their local selection will likely still be fresher and cheaper than meat at a grocery store. We also shopped around the markets, often finding that we liked different types and cuts from various farms. The price of meat at a farmers’ market may not always be the cheapest option, but we have found that it can sometimes be well worth the extra expense! In these cases, you could always ask the farmer if you can buy larger portions for a better price per pound.
Evaluate the Cut: The cut of your meat matters too! Brisket, for example, should flex easily when bent in half by hand and tastes best when it has a thick layer of fat on top, and well distributed marbling in a pork cut is ideal for pulled pork. Before you select your meat, do some research as to what the ideal characteristics are for your cuts of meat. There is no need to reinvent the wheel on this one.
Pair your Wood: Typically, hickory and mesquite wood is used to smoke beef, while fruit woods offer a milder flavor for fish, poultry and pork. However, pair your meat and wood to your taste buds. I personally like the fruit woods best for all the meats we use, and we often get this wood from local farms.
Share the Goods: My husband usually cooks very large amounts of meat, but gives most of it away. We found sharing delicious food gets people talking about food, which inspires more delicious food. It has also sparked new and strengthened standing relationships within our community. He even brings his smoked meat back to the butcher to taste, and it’s never a bad idea to butter up your butcher.
And to add to all that goodness, we wanted to give you some extra options for locavore ideas during your outdoor cooking and eating adventures:
Once again, Kaela at Local Kitchen Blog is a source for grilled (meat) recipes and techniques suitable for the locavore cook–from 100% local ingredients to highlighting local meat with great sauces and marinades involving extra ingredients from farther off.
The veggies are amazing this time of year–here are locavore tips for making salad great. If you’re making a grain-based salad, that’s an excellent choice for a vegetarian–include a cooked grain and a cooked bean and it’s a very nutritious, filling locavore choice. Try to use an actually-local grain (quinoa and rice are really only grown on an experimental scale at the moment in New York): farro, spelt berries, freekeh, wheat berries are all great choices that are often found locally-grown from farmers or at natural foods stores. Grilled vegetables also go great on top of salad–no need to keep things 100% raw!
Cold soups, when not too thick and nicely pureed, can be served in teacups, juice glasses, etc. to be made more hand-held than you’d normally think of for soups:
Marcus Samuelsson’s Lemon-Scented Summer Squash Soup would be perfect in this situation, and as we’re not yet tired of summer squash in early July. If you find lemon balm or lemon basil from farm-fresh sources, you’ll be able to eliminate the need for non-local lemons in this recipe; just include a bit of that herb, chopped up, along with the standard basil it calls for. Need to simplify? Eliminate the cooked-flour roux step and you’ll have a less thick soup, and have spent less time with hot cooking.
Classic Tomato-based cold soups start off with the best tomatoes you can find (local and in-season only, please, as you need that amount of juiciness and flavor that far-traveled tomatoes don’t have), whizzed in a blender, food processor or even crushed by hand. Throw in some raw garlic, onion, peppers and herbs for a simple choice, or soak some old bread in the tomatoes’ juice before pureeing for a thicker soup. Cucumbers are not at all bad in this soup, either.
While we could once again expound the fact that butter, dairy and flour are all available locally, therefore cakes and cookies and pies are inherently locavore-ready, make the sweet side of your party or picnic even simpler and oven-free:
A chilled bowl of cut-up local fruits drizzled with a little local honey, will be amazing on a hot day.
You can even grill your fruit:
Clean and dehull strawberries and skewer them, grill over the low heat and watch carefully. They’re “done” whenever you want them to be, probably not more than a few minutes will cause them to release their juices. Just don’t let them melt into the fire!
Make a foil “tray” and place cleaned berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries) and sliced rhubarb in a single layer. Add a little sugar and about a tablespoon of butter. Place flat on the grill and allow the berries to get juicy and cooked. This makes a great topping for cakes, yogurt and ice cream.
Halves and slices of peaches, nectarines and melons will be great grilled once they come into season.
In the fall, try grilled apples and pears, sprinkled with cinnamon once they’ve been taken off the grill (burnt cinnamon isn’t a great flavor).
Need to keep your foods chilled? No worries, do what farmers do at market: chill from below with a few packs of ice wrapped in towels underneath the bowl. Be food-safe by changing the ice packs when needed.
Working with such nice ingredients and feeding large crowds means you should brush up on best practices for food safety working with raw meats. Here are detailed (and perhaps extreme) guidelines from the FDA.