Go ahead, make my day

Clint Eastwood I’d been meaning to make another batch of burgers and suddenly it hit me. I didn’t have to settle for the pre-packaged ground mystery meat to make those burgers tonight because I was the proud owner of a food processor. I could chop, mince, shred, grate and blend whatever I wanted.

In this case, I hoped to strike a textural balance with a tasty, fatty meat, mostly minced, with some nice juicy chunks throughout. So I swung by a mega mart (it was close and I was biking) to see what I could find. I’d seen burger recipes that called for ground chuck. So that, I thought, was a good starting point.

There was an impressive selection of cuts, but no chuck. Knowing only that fat is a friend of great burgers, there were several apparently viable options. But I didn’t want to end up with something tough as shoe leather that lent itself more to braising than barbeque.

When in doubt, ask about. As luck would have it, a fellow in a white smock with a clipboard was counting inventory.

You must be an American, he said.

Once I’d recovered, he explained that chuck, or ground chuck, is what Americans typically ask for when they’re after ground beef. In Canada, we get our ground beef from a different cut.

They had no chuck, ground or otherwise, and never received such a thing. In fact, all the ground beef is processed out of the province and shipped here so there’s never really a choice in the matter.

I explained what I was attempting and asked him to recommend a substitute.

I’ll take you to the guy you should talk to, he said gesturing for me to follow him to the meat counter.

In a sparsely equipped, narrow and altogether depressing workspace, we found a fellow I presume to be the head butcher.

Maybe it’s because it was the end of the day, maybe because I’d marched into his prep area (hey, you gotta check out the behind the scenes action when you get the chance) but he regarded me with a forlorn, oh…what now, look on his face.

And I have to say, I kind of understood that look.

At the risk of sounding like an old fart, I remember a time when you could stand at the meat counter and watch through the glass as a team of butchers in a stainless steel temple broke down a carcass, even procuring for you a custom cut upon request…chuck for instance.

From the ground beef elucidation, and the visual clues, I think very little butchering is done in-house anymore. It’s all factory level with a production line of pawns making the same cut in the same slab of meat, hour after hour, day after day.

And here you have this expert, a skilled craft person who went to school or apprenticed under a master, who has by all accounts been relegated to shrink wrapping case lots of meat as a result of mass production, downsizing and strict corporate control of overheads (the vast majority of which being salary). That’s gotta suck the soul out of anyone.

And in I walk, some guy who probably wants to whinge and moan about something.

He was a bit frosty at first, but as I engaged him in a discussion about my little burger project, he really warmed up. We talked texture, marbling, cuts and anatomy. We talked hardware, motor amps, speed and duration.

When all was said and done, we narrowed it down to a tri-tip steak which, he said, had some nice fat content but wasn’t too tough.

I like fat, I said. Fat equals flavour.

I couldn’t agree more, he said. And did I detect the hint of a smile?

The burgers, meh…they need some work (but the texture was awesome). But I was happy. I got a good product, learned a lot, and at the risk of sounding a little smug, maybe even arrogant, I believe I made his day.

By getting him to tap into those skills, that knowledge, and share his expertise, maybe he feels just a little more validated. At least I know the same to be true when the roles are reversed.

The take-away, besides a 3lb flat pack of meat, is that I’m glad I went in blind, hadn’t done my research, didn’t reach for a book or go to the web.

Ask someone what they think…go ahead punk, make someone’s day.

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2 Responses to “Go ahead, make my day”

  1. Really liked this article! I too have been peaking through the glass, searching for the elusive “chuck” ever since a particular Alton Brown show. But I’ve never had the guts to ask. If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far in my culinary journey, is that confidence in the kitchen (and maybe the butchershop too?) is everything. Keep up the good work.

  2. Mini Man Burgers unless I miss my guess. It’s been great fun experimenting with different meats. If I could just get my hands on some Kobe (as if I could afford it). Thanks for reading, and taking the time to comment.