Here's Your Guide to Mastering Meat on the Grill
Boston butcher Ron Savenor takes us through his top cuts to prepare you for your next cookout.
With locations in Cambridge and Beacon Hill, plus distribution to many of Boston's top restaurants and recently Fenway Park, it's safe to say Savenor's Market is a local institution.
A favorite of Julia Child, the market's offerings include whole-animal butchery, stocks, pate, exotic meats, specialty retail food items, sandwiches and sauces.
I stopped by the Beacon Street location on a sunny Tuesday to get the details from Ron Savenor, the third generation owner and master butcher. He bestowed upon me a Savenor’s hat (which I realized was the thing that was always missing from the top of my head) plus a ton of knowledge about how best to get your grill on. Here's what I learned:
Two basic meat-cutting tips
(1) Slice your cooked meat against the grain. This is easier with cuts where the fibers have more definition, but if you look carefully, you can often tell. Doing this makes the pieces more tender when you eat them.
(2) Hold your knife at an angle. It increases the length of the meat fibers.
Confirmed: Serious Eats agrees with both of these tips.
Savenor likes to peel off the cap of the ribeye, known as the spinalis dorsi, and lay it flat on the grill. (Another Serious Eats article shows with photos if you’re curious.)
There are cuts that are a little less pricey but still pack lots of flavor. First up is the club rib — located next to the bone-in prime rib. Call ahead for this one because the shop often sells out.
Next we have the boneless short rib (turns out its not just for braising!) slice the pieces thin and marinate with a hoisin-garlic sauce, or something that will tenderize and give it that Korean BBQ flavor blast.
The New York sirloin lends itself well to a London broil—a technique, not a dish and American one, not English.
The trick to a killer burger, according to Savenor, is that you don’t put trim into the ground beef.
“All the big meat companies put trim in there because they would rather put it in hamburg and get something for it than throw it away,” he says. “But we don’t put trim in there because we make sausages and stocks and soups and pates. As a result, we get really good hamburg because all we’re grinding is the chuck, which is the shoulder.”
Savenor’s Market then combines this USDA prime chuck meat with butter to create the “butter burger,” Left at the Fork called it “the best burger in the universe.”
And luckily for baseball fans, the butter burger is among the Savenor’s Market offerings at Fenway Park.
Another successful experiment by the staff members involved aging the bone-in chuck meat for 30 days, available both ground into patty form and as loose hamburg meat.
“It makes for expensive hamburg, but for someone with a discerning palate, then it’s awesome,” says Savenor.
For pork, ribs are especially popular during the summertime, says Savenor. And while both the St. Louis-style spare ribs from the belly and the babyback ribs from the loin are both excellent, he usually opts for the latter.
“The St. Louis ribs are meatier and I think have a better flavor, personally,” he says.
Chicken can be gorgeous on the grill, as long as you don't cook it to death and keep some fat in the equation. Savenor is as proud of the store’s chicken as he is of any of the more expensive cuts of prime steak.
The boned-out chicken — still kept whole, with skin intact —is perfect for chicken-under-a-brick; it can be cut in half and easily pressed down for super juicy meat and shatteringly crisp skin. (A popular cooking method for which Google returns over a million hits.)
For lamb, belly is an ideal selection for the grill, but lamb riblets are also highly recommended, says the butcher. Dry-rub the rich little riblets, and then slow-cook over indirect heat, or smoke them.
According Savenor, the obvious choice is the tender chop.
If you’re looking to diverge from the ordinary neighborhood cookout with a statement about your culinary adventurousness, go for the exotic meats.
When it comes to kangaroo, venison and elk, go for the tenderloin.
Or try the pre-made patties of wild boar, bison, camel or ostrich.
Savenor reminds us that game tends to be lean, which can be tricky because the meat needs some of the intermuscular fat marbling — this “oleaginous unsaturated fat” — to enhance flavor. His go-to preparations are either marinating and cooking not much past rare, or gently smoking the meat.
I recently ate an absurd number of varieties of sausage—about 50!—while writing an article about locally-made sausages for Edible Boston because (1) research and (2) what kind of soulless heathen passes up an opportunity to eat awesome sausages? My findings: Christopher Walker and his sausage team at Savenor’s have some serious charcuterie skills.
My favorites are the mergez, a North African lamb sausage that showcases cumin along with coriander, garlic, caraway and harissa; and the Chinese sausage, a sweeter pork sausage with brown sugar and Five-Spice powder.
I'll make no bones about it — sausages are fatty, and that makes them forgiving. If cooking over live coals for a crowd makes you nervous, these might be the way to go.
Now go forth and grill!
Savenor’s Market — 160 Charles St., Boston, 617.723.6328; 92 Kirkland St., Cambridge, 617 576 6328; also available via Amazon Fresh; savenorsmarket.com