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.