Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How Would You Like Your Meat?

And with the first pick in the draft, Team Jon selects – bone-in rib eye steaks.

To some, this entire sentence will make no sense at all. To others, it will seem like a non-sequitor. But for about 30 people this weekend in DC, this was the start of a really terrific event demonstrating yet another way for people to buy humanely and healthily raised beef.

The geniuses at www.whitehousemeats.com are the ones who deserve the credit for this really fun concept combing a food co-op for beef with a fantasy sports draft. They were covered in the WashingtonPost a while back as well. For those not familiar with either concept, keep reading. For those who don’t need the primer, skip down a bit.

1) A beef co-op – this is a novel way for a group of people to share beef from one cow. IN this concept a group (more than 1) agree to share a slaughtered cow (wither a whole, a half, a quarter or some smaller portion). By pursuing the co-op, consumers skip the middle man, and can find beef raised in a way they like (grass fed, pastured, traced back to the rancher and non-CAFO linked) and cut to order (like your porterhouse cut double thick, no problem0). You can also save a significant amount of money as beef averages less than $5 bucks a pound. Now, you also end up with a lot of cuts you might never even see in the store, let alone buy. Tongue, liver, cheeks, arm steaks, etc. The co-op is an old concept but one that is regaining a following as people turn away from beef that is, well, a lot less like beef used to be.
2) A fantasy sports draft – if you have been living under a rock, you may not know that America is fantasy sorts crazy. In this activity, people in a group pretend to be the general manager of a sports franchise (football and baseball, mainly) and begin the season by spending their fantasy budget drafting the players they want on their team. Each player then scores points depending on how they perform during the season. In the draft, the player who goes first gets his pick of the entire universe of players (who usually drafts the best performing player). The person who goes second gets the pick from everyone left, and so on and so on. One the full roster of pickers has selected, they go again in reverse order so with 12 teams, the person who picks 12th picks first in round 2. Overall, it looks like this: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-12-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-1-2-3-4 . . . .
Well, in this, there are no players, only recently killed, dry aged, cut and shrink wrapped cuts of beef. Everything from bone-in rib eyes and filet mignons to briskets and chuck roasts. Jon and Sam, the owners of WhiteHosueMeats are there to make sure it all runs smoothly and to answer all and any questions from “what the frick is an English pub roast?” to “how do I cook tongue.” They also give you tips, if asked, on what to pick next if you don’t know how to get the most for your money.

Everyone is guarantees to leave with 20 pounds of meat at a pre-set price of $9.80/pound. Yes, if you buy nothing but ground beef, you are overpaying. But if you pick well and get lucky in your draft order, you can get several choice pieces of beef that would usually run over 20 bucks a pound at Whole Foods or other major grocery chain. Add to this the fact that you can find out exactly where and how this cow lives, when it was harvested, how it was treated and ensure it goes right from the owner to you in less than 3 weeks (including several weeks of dry-aging) and many would consider this a bargain.

So, there we ended up, about 30 people (most teams had several people per team) at the DC Grey Market (more on that another time) at 1pm going over the basics and looking at two long tables loaded down with about 140 parcels of beef. Just to begin, you could tell the beef was good just by looking at it. Dark red to purple in color, well marbled and in a mind-boggling variety of cuts. I don’t know that I have ever seen what a whole cow looks like broken down. Man, there is a lot of meat in a cow.
We got picked to go 6th in the draft. This was fine with us as we had looked at the table and knew that for our top choices – rib eyes, stripes and sirloin steaks, there were plenty to go around. We also guessed (correctly) that a few people would go for other less bountiful cuts for personal reasons (like there are only 2 briskets, 1 hanger steak, etc). In the first two round, we got two rib-eyes on the bone each for about 5 pounds. In the third round, we picked a flank steak (a very nice cut, about 3 pounds) and in the 4th we selected a long piece of sirloin. Later rounds brought two nice chucks roasts and a London broil, which was actually a top sirloin. We rounded out our 20 pounds with some ground beef and with a few free picks, some liver and some beef bones.

I have not gone back and done the math but I suspect we broke about even if we went and bought the beef at the store. Yet then again, we ended up with a bunch of freebees, had a fun time, learned about different cuts of meat and ended up with a healthier and hopefully more delicious product. The grilling is set to begin this weekend and I will update on how it tastes.

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