Review: Cook’s Illustrated Meat Book

I owe a huge debt to America’s Test Kitchen and their Cook’s Illustrated cookbooks, whether they realize it or not; their books have been a staple in my reading library for nearly 20 years now. Many of the techniques I use in my cooking are founded on principles and tips that I’ve gleaned from their work. In fact, eagle-eyed readers of The Ancestral Table might have noticed that I gave them a nod in the back of my book, for influencing three of its recipes.

When they asked me to review and help spread the word about their new book, The Cook’s Illustrated Meat Book: The Game-Changing Guide that Teaches You How to Cook Meat and Poultry with 425 Bulletproof Recipes, I jumped at the chance. Read on for the full review, but if you’re looking for the short version, it’s this: this is an essential guide to mastering the subtle art of cooking meat, and will set you up for a lifetime of deliciousness.

A book focused solely on meat may seem too focused at first blush. But when you think about it, most people’s meals are centered around the protein; we always come up with our meat selection before we determine the rest of the meal. So in that sense, this is an excellent book to inspire the rest of your meal. I would say that the authors agree, since many of the meat recipes come with a complementary vegetable recipe or pairing suggestion; for example, the Swedish Meatballs recipe is accompanied by a Pickled Cucumber recipe.

The Cook’s Illustrated Meat Book comprises four main chapters: Beef, Pork, Lamb and Veal, and Poultry. It also includes a thorough “Meat Essentials” subchapter, which covers everything from shopping, storage, seasoning, and the underlying principles behind some basic preparations like pan searing, stir-frying, roasting, and braising. While these techniques aren’t groundbreaking, what sets them apart is the well-tested and logical approach that America’s Test Kitchen is known for.

The beginning of each chapter highlights nearly every possible cut you can get from the animal, from primal cuts down, all rated by flavor, tenderness, and cost.

The recipes themselves are foolproof. Expect to spend a little more time and attention to the recipes than your typical cookbook or blog post, but the extra steps are always worth it. Not every recipe includes a photograph, but the pictures that are included are beautiful, and there are plenty of illustrations included to help explain the more challenging steps.

Not every recipe is Paleo-friendly, as some of them call for wheat flour or brown sugar. These dishes are easily adjusted using alternative flours or sweeteners; I would say that 90% of this book can be faithfully made without worrying about substitutions.

To test out the book, I made their Baltimore Pit Beef recipe. This is a recipe that I haven’t tackled myself, despite living near Baltimore for six years. According to the book, this dish is usually made with whole top or bottom rounds, which would be too big for your average home chef. Instead, they opt for a top sirloin roast (4-5 lbs), cut in half to maximize its surface area (and to double its trademark delicious crusty outer shell).

After applying the rub, I refrigerated the roasts overnight, to let the flavors better penetrate the meat.

The next day, I grilled them using indirect heat until they were about halfway done, then finished them off over direct heat, cooking each roast to medium-rare. This technique is perfect, since it allowed me to bring the roasts to temperature without overly blackening the outside.

I let the roasts rest and ran them through our meat slicer (a recent gift from our friends Paleo Parents for helping them shoot the cover for their new cookbook, Real Life Paleo). And then we dug in. We vacuum-sealed the leftovers for a quick weeknight dinner or two.

I’ve slowly been downsizing my cookbook collection in an effort to simplify my life; my Cook’s Illustrated books are off-limits. So, to me, it’s pretty meaningful when I say that this may be my favorite of their cookbooks, and that it is currently sitting on my top shelf (yes, I’m that organized!) among my other essentials. The Cook’s Illustrated Meat Book: The Game-Changing Guide that Teaches You How to Cook Meat and Poultry with 425 Bulletproof Recipes is available online and wherever books are sold.

9 thoughts on “Review: Cook’s Illustrated Meat Book

  1. I love Cooks Illustrated and ATK too, and I have a couple of the cookbooks. I definitely want to get this one. Thanks for doing this review.
    Questions for you Russ:
    I follow PHD, but I have a really hard time with liver and beef bone broth, and tallow, taste- and smell-wise. they just turn me off.
    Do you have any recommendations for preparation that would be more palatable? I’m ok with the taste of chicken bone stock, but the beef version isn’t very appealing for me. I do like beef though,
    On liver, all that I usually do is saute it in either ghee or chicken fat, but I have to force it down when I eat it. Any thoughts?

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    1. Susan, I’ve found that adding meat to my bones increases the flavor immensely, and I add new meat every time I re-use the bones. I’m also not a huge fan of straight bone broth but a broth with meat is fine for me. When rendering tallow, lately I’ve just been throwing the fat in a crockpot on low and watching it to make sure it doesn’t burn, then strain it and refrigerate it. I’ve noticed that some fat is smellier than others, but our latest batch (from a local grass-fed cow) was perfect.

      For liver, I tend to slice it thin and pan-fry with butter; it’s not my favorite thing in the world but it makes it easier for me to eat than big chunks. Another option is to mince the liver, place it in capsules (like these: http://www.capsuledepot.com/size-000-clear-gelatin-capsules/), freeze them and take them like any other supplement. It looks like a lot of effort but you could knock out a bunch at once!

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      1. Thanks Russ, those are great tips! So what cuts of beef are you adding to your bones? A few options that I can think of to add to marrow bones are 1) ribs with MEAT ON (I’ve done that one before) or 2) oxtails. Do you suggest those or are there better options? I do like your roast first method for best flavor too. I also include the roasted veggies in the stock because I think it greatly enhances flavor.

        I think part of my problem is that I find that making beef stock is so labor intensive that lately I’ve been just buying organic all grass fed stock at my farmer’s market or Belcampo butchery. But they aren’t adding meat, or even roasting the bones or veggies first for that matter. Maybe I should only use that type of stock for reductions or stews, etc, where there are other complex flavors present, and then reserve the tastier stock that I make myself using your method for soups or broths where more of the stock flavor is more present in the dish?)

        And thanks for those tips on the liver. Sounds like we pan fry it the same way. The gelatin capsules might be a good option for me too. Do you have a favorite (or I should say, least undesirable, type — beef, lamb or goat? I can get all 3. (Chicken actually tastes the least bad to me, but I know that Paul J says it’s not as nutrient dense, so I only eat it when it comes along with a whole pastured bird that I might buy.) Do you ever grind it and mix it in with other meats for things like meatloaf, meat balls, etc, so as to “disguise” it both taste wise and aesthetically? My meat supplier who ranches according to WAPF principals has suggested that I try this.

        Last question…CHESTNUTS!…gorgeous fresh organic chestnuts are starting to appear at my farmers market, but I’m intimidated because I have no experience preparing them. Any suggestions for preparation or great uses in dishes??? I’m assuming that they are PHD approved, yes?

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        1. Susan, I usually add bones with meat on them, like oxtails. But sometimes I’ll just throw in scraps that I’ve trimmed from other cuts. By far, short ribs and oxtail are my favorites to use, though. Do you have an Instant Pot electric pressure cooker? I’ve found that it has increased my willingness to make broth exponentially, since it’s basically set and forget (you can also brown the meat in the pot before adding the water). We’ll sometimes add liver to ground beef, especially with meatballs and meatloaf – depending on how much you use, it’s barely noticeable. We prefer beef liver over lamb or goat, it tends to be more mild in flavor. Not very familiar with cooking with chestnuts, although I’ve used chestnut flour in baking and it has turned out great. Nutritionally they’re not bad at all, they’re one of the better nuts as far as Omega3/6 ratios.

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          1. Thanks Russ, that’s great input! I will try adding oxtails and short ribs. I’ve never tried oxtail but I know people rave about it and it’s supposed to offer excellent matrix to a stock. Wow, thanks for telling me about Instant Pot — no I’d never heard of it and it looks awesome. PC’s scare me, but this one looks not so scary and I think that my mother would love this too, so you’ve helped with my Christmas shopping too. This would greatly cut down on energy, both mine and the planet’s, be less messy and the stock might even taste better. I agree with you on the beef liver being the least offensive tasting ruminant. I’m assuming that you have a meat grinder to get it to the same consistency as ground beef — guess I need one. I’m intrigued about using chestnut for baking. I get chestnut-rice crackers by Le Pain des Fleur that are very nice. I just found this PHD compliant recipe on Bon Appetit for Chestnut Bacon pancakes that look quite relish, but with fresh vs jarred instead:
            http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/chestnut-pancakes-with-bacon-and-cr-me-fra-che

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  2. Russ, another question, this about turkey. I’m going to buy a pastured turkey locally raised this year, but I’m trying to decide between a white turkey or a heritage breed turkey. I’ve tried heritage breed chicken, and as much as I really wanted to love it, it just didn’t have the same full flavor of the Cornish Cross that I’m used to. Have you had the opportunity to compare both types of turkey, and if so, what is your opinion? I plan on roasting about a 14 lb +\- bird in the oven. (I could bake, roast or do convection versions of either.)
    Thanks!

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