Ask the Butcher II: Mr. Cutlets, The Meat Hook and Mayhem

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Here’s part two in our occasional series, Ask the Butcher, with Tom Mylan. Today, Brooklyn’s most famous butcher dishes on grass-fed versus grain-fed beef, Diner burgers and (finally) reveals the details of his new venture under the BQE. Email us with questions for future columns.

Tom,
Admit it. In your heart of hearts, you know that grain-fed beef blows the doors off of those anorexic grass animals. Just come out and say it. I won’t hold it against you.
Yours,
Mr. Cutlets

Well Mr. Cutlets, I have to admit that I don’t feel that way in my heart or my stomach. Quite simply it’s the quality of the animal that really makes or breaks a steak. While many of the 100% grass animals are on the skinny side because of bad genetics and bad pasture management (Remember we spent the past 80 years breeding grass genetics out of our animals. Don’t even get me started on the “Low-fat beef” craze from the 80’s!) but it’s possible to raise a big, fat animal on nothing but grass.

Honestly the single best carcass I’ve ever seen was a 780-lb steer from Lee at Kinderhook Farm raised right here in New York State on nothing but grass and finished on haylage. It was psychedelicly thick and fatty and the bone-in sirloin we grilled off of it was the best steak I’ve ever eaten. Period.

That said, if we want to talk in broad generalizations, grain fed is usually fattier than grass.

To be clear, I’m not a shill for grass or grain. A good, well-raised animal with nice conformation is a good animal no matter what. What is really key to me when I select animals is that they be mature (over 24 months) and well hung (having been hung in quarters or sides in a well maintained slaughterhouse cooler for at least 2 weeks to develop without getting fuzzy or slimy). Mature animals are better marbled and have more deep, beefy flavor that cannot be faked by simply dry-aging a small, young animal. The importance of hanging whole animals is that they have a chance to breath, relax and firm up. Another aspect to hanging weight is that it never sees the inside of a cryo-vac machine which strangles the meat and gives steaks a vaguely dank refrigerator flavor.

Tom,
You’re not at Marlow and Daughters anymore — what’s next? What’s this mysterious project you’re working on?
Jackson B.

Well, now that we have permits and such I guess I can finally break the silence and spill about our new space. Me and Brent (Young, formerly of Marlow and Daughters) and Harry and Taylor from the Brookyln Kitchen have joined forces to open a food dork megaplex on the north side of Williamsburg on Meeker under the BQE.

Born out of an old bowling supply factory, we are opening a multi-use space we have been referring to as “The Lab.” It will house New York’s first real cooking school for home cooks, featuring a huge 2000-square-ft. teaching kitchen/dining room, a secondary teaching kitchen on the second floor, beer and wine making supplies, a full complement of professional baking goods, a serious selection of cookbooks and how-to manuals, as well as a whole room dedicated to bulk spices and local grains and legumes.

To top it all off the space will be home to The Meat Hook, me and Brent’s full-service butcher shop that will have local, sustainable meat and poultry, amazing sausages and a huge selection of ready to use stocks, sauces and prepared foods. We’ll be doing Wild Turkey wild turkeys, whole fresh and cured hams, glorious beef roasts for Thanksgiving and don’t get me started on the crazy things we have planned for the holidays, New Year’s and the Superbowl! There will also be plenty of butchering, sausage and charcuterie classes as well. Permits, construction and the gods willing we should open our over-stuffed doors in late October for end of year food mayhem.

What do butchers do for fun?
Lisa

I can’t speak for most other butchers but the crew at the Meat Hook like to smoke Salvia Divinorum and watch cheerleader movies. Just Kidding!
We typically like to drink Wild Turkey and talk about imaginary bands we’ll never have time to play in because we’re always working. Even when we’re having fun we’re working. This weekend Brent and I will be out at the Queens’s Farm, (along with Ben, the soldier we left behind at Daughters) smoking beer can chickens for Kegs & Cluckers, a big Labor Day BBQ and campout. Sure, we’ll have beers in hand while we’re working, but we’ll also be cleaning up dinner while everyone else rocks out to Van Hayride, the awesome band our friend Kelly booked for the event. Actually scratch that, we’ll rock out first, pick up empties later.

Hello there butcher,
I’m always a bit confused as to what exactly the difference is between a shell steak, a NY Strip steak, and the sirloin part of the porterhouse. Are these one and the same? Use cow charts if necessary.
Thanks,
Eric

Hey Eric,
The shell and the NY strip are indeed one in the same. Butchers love to play the name game to psych people into thinking things are worth more money per pound by giving it a groovier name. Most grocery stores will call it a shell while most butchers will call it a NY strip because it sounds sexier.

As for the porterhouse, the larger side of that cut is indeed the shell steak. Strips are simply a T-bone/porterhouse with the tenderloin (the smaller piece of meat on the other side of the T) removed. Personally, I like things the way nature intended and leave the tenderloin on. It makes for a bigger steak and sweeter meat because it’s on the bone.

Dear Tom,
The burger at Diner is one of the best I’ve had anywhere. Could you give us some pointers on how to recreate a similar one at our backyard bbqs? What blend of meats and seasonings would you recommend? Thanks!
Osman

Dear Osman,
There are no tricks to the Diner burger, it’s all in the meat. Diner burger meat is:
1. Never cryo-vaced, that is, it comes in whole straight from the slaughterhouse in 4 to 8 pieces and is never subjected to being put into a plastic envelope to marinate in it’s own blood. This is key for a pure beefy flavor.

2. From mature animals. Most commercial animals are slaughtered at 18 months or less while Diner’s animals are usually 24 months or more. This means that the beef has a depth and profoundness that younger animals (that back in the day would have been labeled “baby beef”) lack.

3. Meat from the whole animal ground twice through a medium plate by hand every day. Freshly ground meat is super important to juiciness and a fresh, clean flavor. The size of the plate gives it the distinctive “steaky” texture.

As far as spices and such go, it’s just a good amount of Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper; no red wine vinegar, steak sauce, onions or any of that stupidness, just beef, salt and flames.

Sent by Annaliese. Photos courtesy of Winnie Au via Flickr.

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