Jesse Hassinger is a butcher at M.F. Dulock Pasture-Raised Meats. The almost-two-year-old shop, which has some expansion beyond Somerville in the works, brings in everything as whole animals and breaks it all down on the premises. M.F. Dulock only works with farms within 250 miles (and most are much closer), and all of the animals are pasture-raised with no added hormones or antibiotics. "It's really the best meat that is available," says Hassinger. "We certainly prefer the heritage breeds. We're really lucky to be in an area that has so many great farms."
For The Five Days of Meat, Hassinger shares tips on great alternative beef and pork cuts for grilling, going beyond the standard ribeye, strip steak, and the other familiar options.
Life-sized butcher charts are painted on the wall. The lines on the cow are made up of the names of people who supported a Kickstarter campaign that helped open the shop.
It's summer. Everyone's grilling steaks. Let's talk about alternative cuts that are good for grilling that might be less familiar.
Basically, there are about four or five steaks that everyone is familiar with — ribeye, porterhouse, strip steak, the tenderloin — and that kind of covers your general steakhouse menu. Because we are working from whole animals — that's kind of our mission, to offer nose-to-tail eating — those specific cuts sell out fairly quickly, so it's really nice to be able to have alternatives to those that are just as good, if not better, than what people are used to. Also, a lot of those alternatives are less expensive than the standard steaks that people are looking for.
A great replacement for the tenderloin is the shoulder tender, which comes from the chuck clod. It's basically the shoulder blade, and there are three cuts off of that that are all excellent for grilling (and also for the stovetop). The shoulder tender, as it sounds like, is a very tender piece of meat. There's the under blade steak, which has the most marbling through it, so that's a nice alternative to a ribeye or NY strip. Then there are the shoulder blade steaks, which actually can be cut two different ways. One of them turns it into a flat iron, which is a steak that some people might be a little bit more familiar with than some of these other cuts. If it's cut like a tenderloin, it's a great alternative as well. Also on the fore section of the cow, there's the Denver steak that comes from the chuck and is absolutely fabulous.
From the rear of the animal in the sirloin and round area, there are a couple of ones that I particularly love, like the tri-tip, which is very popular on the West Coast but not at all popular on the East Coast, for some reason. It's a triangular piece of meat — that's the name — and it goes really well on the grill. A little bit of a marinade just tenderizes it a little bit. Then there's also the coulotte steak, which has a nice fat layer on it, so it can do a little bit more; you could do a slow cook in an oven.
Those are the key ones that we really draw people's attention towards when they come in. If we're out of the tenderloins, for example, we could steer them in those directions. This time of year especially, people come in and say, "I just want something to put on the grill." They're not looking for a $25 prime cut, just a nice steak to grill, so we steer them in those directions, and then we have people come back and only want those steaks from now on. They were coming in looking for ribeye, and now they only want Denver steaks. It's really nice to be able to have that interaction with the community and be able to offer so many different alternatives.
Hassinger weighs and packages meat for a customer.
Are most of your customers pretty open to alternatives, or are there some people who are really set on a specific cut?
It's a mix, but I would say that more of the repeat customers that we have are the ones that are a little bit more open to the idea of trying something new. I would say 90% of the people who come in accept an alternative that we suggest if we're sold out of what they had asked for. It's great, because we work with the whole animal, so we have all those alternatives.
How about pork? What are some good cuts for grilling that might be less familiar?
We do have some good pork alternatives, too, rather than just the standard rib or loin chop that most people think, "Well, that's what makes up pork — bacon and chops." The skirt steak, the flank steak, and the sirloin cut — those are really wonderful, especially for grilling. People know skirt steaks on the cow, but they don't necessarily know that pigs also have them. They're much smaller, but they're the same type of mouthfeel. They have that wonderful texture to them, and they're very quick to eat, quick to cook, and take a marinade excellently. We also do a cut now and then where we keep the bones on the belly to do a bone-in belly chop, which is wonderful because you get all that belly fat and striation of the meat along with the bone that would normally be from the sparerib. It's kind of the best of all worlds of pork — it's one of my favorite cuts.
Butcher Jamal Coleman at work.
Do you generally offer pretty much the same spread of cuts on a regular basis, or does the selection change?
It changes a little bit. Unless we have special orders, we pretty much cut the standard — or at least our standard cuts. There are a few things, like the bone-in belly chops and all of the other nice steaks we cut that you can't find at the supermarket; we'll have those in our case along with all the stuff that some people might be looking for, like the ribeye, tenderloin, things like that. It's all in limited quantities, obviously, because there's only so much per animal, so we rotate through the week depending on what's selling through. If we sell out of pork chops, we have to maybe go to shoulder chops or sirloin chops, something like that that's a good alternative for a traditional pork chop.
Is there one coveted cut that disappears as soon as you put it out?
The hanger steak; we joke about it all the time. We don't always get them, but when we do, someone's going to take it away before the end of the day. They're not even necessarily looking for it, but as soon as they see it, they're like, "Oh wow, I'll take that hanger steak." Sounds good for grilling and putting on a salad. The flank is also a cut that goes pretty quickly. There's not much that doesn't go pretty quickly; some of our repeat customers have taken hold of a specific cut that they really like, and they really look forward to coming in and getting it.
A look inside the 700-square-foot shop in Somerville's Spring Hill neighborhood.
Is there a cut that you're really fond of that you feel like you have to convince people a little bit more of?
I really love offal, so I'm always trying to get people interested in that. I realize that a lot of people have a little bit of an obstacle to thinking about eating liver or heart or something of that sort. We do heart steaks out of the beef heart, cutting it so that it's about the size of a steak, and you can season it heavily or very conservatively and just cook it on a skillet. Everybody that we've recommended that to comes in and says, "Oh, that heart steak was great. I definitely want to get that again."
It's not something you would normally think of, but it's a wonderful piece of meat, and it's a great introduction to offal because it doesn't have a really strong iron taste that you'd expect from liver or a really strong sulphur taste that some of the others, like a kidney, might have. Because it's such a hard-working muscle, it has a great mouth texture to it, and it cooks really nicely. That's one that we definitely try to convince people that they're going to like, and I'd say everyone does...at least those who come back and tell us that they do. [Laughs.]