How do I meat?
February 1, 2016 9:29 PM   Subscribe

I want to cook and eat more meat. But I'm super-squeamish about cooking it, worried I don't know enough about handling it safely, and want to figure out the best way to eat more meat frugally. Help! A boatload of questions inside.

Preliminary info: I don't eat beef. I'm a decent cook at non-meat things. My kitchen is small but pretty well stocked - oven, microwave, a great pot/pan set, crockpot. My freezer is sadly pretty small. All of these questions below can also refer to fish! (Well except the roast chicken one...)

1) I am super squeamish about dealing with raw meat. I know this is ridiculous and childish. Touching it squicks me out and I wind up overcooking it a lot, especially chicken, because the thought of it not being sufficiently cooked grosses me out. Besides just gritting my teeth and coping, any suggestions on how to get over this? (Related, I am also super squeamish about fat and it's totally a texture and mouth-feel thing. I don't mind a crockpot-cooked pork shoulder when it just finished cooking, but I get super grossed out when you take it out of the fridge the next day and all the fat has solidified.)

2) I don't think I have a very good grasp of best practices for dealing with raw meat. I know you're not, for example, supposed to rinse chicken in the sink because all that does is contaminate the sink. Is putting a plastic cutting board in the dishwasher after washing it with soap sufficient? Am I okay washing my knives in soap and hot water with a sponge after I've used them on raw meat? I've been using paper towels instead of a sponge for cleaning because I worry about the sponge sitting around with raw meat grossness. (Ugh, I sound so mature.) Should I be using some sort of bleach solution? Ditch the sponges?

3) Roast chicken! My husband and I have gotten pretty good at it, and we typically roast it in a large metal skillet instead of a big roasting pan. There's always lots of lovely-smelling fatty juice left in the pan after we take the chicken out, and it seems like a shame to waste it, but what should I be doing with it? Most of the time I don't feel like making a pan sauce out of it, plus I'm always confounded by the way pan sauce directions tend to start off with something like "Remove all but one tablespoon of the fat from the pan, leaving the juices and browned bits." How does one actually accomplish this? If I make chicken stock with the carcass, which is something I'm going to try later this week in my crockpot, can/should I add it to that?

4) Best ways to economize on meat purchases? I live in Seattle, so I have access to Costco, Trader Joe's, Fred Meyer/Kroger, a really good Asian grocery store, etc. I'm sure there are all sorts of great butchers here I don't know about. So far we've had good luck buying giant packages of boneless pork shoulder at Costco and splitting them up into separate bags of 3-4 pounds and freezing them. We also recently bought ground pork there and split it up into 1 pound packages and froze it, and then after I realized that it's actually a little cheaper at the Asian grocery store. What cuts should I be looking for, and where?

5) I'm trying to up my meal prep game - lunches only, because otherwise I'll be spending $10-15/day on lunches at work - so I've been spending a few hours on Sunday afternoons cooking up a bunch of food that hopefully adds up to at least 4 days of lunches. Besides beans and rice, I've been making a lot of pork meatballs. They last well the whole week in the fridge and are pretty easy to improve without a recipe. I would love suggestions for meat recipes that I can cook in one batch, keep in the fridge for 3-5 days, and are easy to portion out.

6) Other meats! I bought a couple chicken apple sausages from the fresh deli case at the grocery store to see if I like them. They're small, maybe 4-5 inches. What is the best way to cook these? And cured meats! I really like prosciutto - as far as brands/types, what is the best combination of tasty + not super expensive? What other cured meats should I try?

7) Just generally, your favorite meat recipes!

Sorry this is a scattered bunch of questions. Thanks for your help!
posted by skycrashesdown to Food & Drink (32 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Argh, I totally somehow missed this question when I was looking at other posts, and am now reading it avidly.
posted by skycrashesdown at 9:30 PM on February 1, 2016

Best answer: Besides just gritting my teeth and coping, any suggestions on how to get over this?

Use latex/nitrile gloves for handling (I do this just to save on endless handwashing, and I'm not squeamish) and get yourself a decent meat thermometer so you don't have to go guessing about or poking a cooking chicken thigh to see if it's done.

I wash my knives/plastic cutting boards in hot soapy water and periodically put the cutting boards through the dishwasher, but not after every use. I have been cooking and eating my own cooking for many, many years and have not yet poisoned myself. Your utensils and prep surfaces do not have to be sterile for them to be safe (assuming you have a functioning immune system).

"Remove all but one tablespoon of the fat from the pan, leaving the juices and browned bits." How does one actually accomplish this?

If it's only a bit more than 1 T of fat, don't worry about it. If it's like a couple cups or something, then what I do is one of the following, depending on the dish it's in:

- Use pot holders and pour the excess into a metal bowl that's in the sink (wipe the side of the pot if the grease trickles down)
- Use a baster and suck out as much excess as seems reasonable

Also, if you don't feel like making a pan sauce right then, pour it all into the bowl, scrape the brown bits in as well, let it cool and then put it in a tupperware-type-thing and toss it in the freezer for future use.
posted by rtha at 9:54 PM on February 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Seconding rtha's suggestion of a meat thermometer. It'll go a long way toward alleviating your anxiety. You can also make braises; like you I'm leery of undercooked chicken, but after it's been in the oven or on a stovetop for 45 minutes I've never had a worry.

And yes, soap and hot water are fine for scrubbing down cutting boards and utensils. Again, I'm on the paranoid side, and I don't think twice about using the same sponge for scrubbing meaty utensils/implements as everything else.
posted by asterix at 10:03 PM on February 1, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: You can buy gravy separator to get rid of the excess fat after making the gravy. My mum has one, works pretty well. It would probably work with the juices too.
posted by kjs4 at 10:04 PM on February 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: One way to help you have confidence that your meat is cooked through is to get a good meat thermometer. These vary in price pretty widely and I don't know what your budget is but the digital readout ones are very reliable now and once you learn where to put the sensor for the different cuts of meat (and you can keep a little cheat sheet of doneness temperatures in your kitchen) you can always know that the middle of your chicken breast/steak/roast lamb is safe to eat down to the degree.

Generally speaking you want to stick your thermometer into the thickest part of the meat without touching bone, because bones conduct heat differently than muscle. Also avoid poking through to the cooking vessel because that's going to be ludicrously hot. This is hardest on poultry, I find, whereas a pork tenderloin is a no-brainer. Remember, too, about carry-over cooking time. Often you'll want to take meat off the heat before it reaches the right temperature in the center and let it rest. As it rests, the outside will cool but the inside will grow warmer. This does a lot of delicious things to the flavor and texture of your meat but it also means that a lot of people who are very conscious about food safety often overcook their meat (and especially fish!) because they take temperature before the resting time and not after. You can do both, though!

Once you have practice using your thermometer to get temperature you will begin to absorb the other indicators of doneness, like firmness and the amount of liquid in the pan and smell and so-on, as well as being able to calibrate cooking times and temperatures in recipes to your specific equipment. But the thermometer will always be a good fallback.

In the past year or so I've started having disposable gloves around the house (because of dying my hair) and have found that it really is easier to use them while working with raw meat. It does make me feel a little silly and I pretend I'm Alton Brown when making meatball mix, but it's perfectly good food prep practice. Just make sure you get powder free ones since you don't want that in your food. The texture difference might help your squeamishness but really it's just a matter of getting used to it, I think. But the gloves will help you remember that you've touched raw meat with them so you can try to stop worrying about touching other stuff by accident before washing your hands, for example.

For washing stuff I just stick my plastic cutting boards in the dish washer (mine has a sanitary setting i'll use once in a while) and for hand washing I use antibacterial dish soap. For countertops I use Simple Green. Really, you'll be fine. The only times to worry are if you think your protein is a little old or off, or there is someone with a compromised immune system. In both situations I suggest having a repertoire of scrumptious vegetarian recipes, of which there are many.

Any time you have pan drippings you can add that to the stock of any coordinating protein. It's all just flavor. Unless it's got clashing spices but if you're keeping it simple you'll be fine. Almost all poultry can go together, beef and lamb can mingle, pork and poultry works well, all seafood will go fine with each other.

To spoon out liquid fat separate from pan juices, let it cool a little bit so you can safely handle things and slowly tip the pan up at an angle. What that does is make a deeper and smaller area. The liquid will gather in the low corner and settle with the fat on top. Take a spoon and skim the fat from the top until it is hard for you to get fat without other juices too. If you want to be traditional, then use the skimmed fat to cook side veggies instead of oil or butter. Or you can stick it in the freezer or your chicken stock.
posted by Mizu at 10:14 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a super weirdo about cooking meat (specifically chicken/pork) because I have a sensitive stomach. I personally love my meat thermometer. I'm also a fan of cutting open a test piece (that will end up as mine) because who cares if it's cut open. Not like I'm instagramming my dinner. I really really love cooking meat in a slow cooker on high (with broth or liquid). Creates super soft meat that you know is fully cooked because it falls apart and has been simmering for hours. Also with crockpot stuff you can fully cook a big batch then freeze it and then you'll have cooked food that's just a microwave or stovetop away.

Is putting a plastic cutting board in the dishwasher after washing it with soap sufficient?

As I said, I'm a weirdo about this stuff too, and I literally put the cutting board just right into the dishwasher. No pre-washing. I maybe rinse it if it's got gunk on it but I don't soap it. My husband and I know which one had meat on it so we don't touch it until we run the dishwasher and everything's clean. A dishwasher should fully clean and sanitize.

One thing that kinda comes from medical/tattoo cleaning is "clean hand/dirty hand." Generally your dominant hand is your dirty hand that wipes up gunk, and your left hand has your cleaning spray and is "clean" so it can touch clean surfaces. That may help in terms of being able to apply soap or grab spices or utensils. Use only one hand for touching meat. Obviously wash both hands when you're done but then you know you won't cross contaminate. (Gloves help too but of course don't forget to not touch other stuff.)
posted by Crystalinne at 10:17 PM on February 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Oh, and: Meat will continue to cook after you take it off the heat source. So if your target temp is 165 F, you can take it out when it hits 158/160 and the temp will continue to rise. Meats that are roasted/baked/grilled generally benefit from a little rest before serving anyway (it gives the juices and chance to reabsorb).
posted by rtha at 10:18 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Wooden cutting boards are believed to be more sanitary than plastic ones, but require more care. I pre-oil mine with mineral oil, and avoid letting them sit in soapy water. Plastic cutting boards go into the dishwasher, as do sponges (and toothbrushes, but that's a separate discussion).
posted by dws at 10:28 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

My only advice is with regards to sponges and cutting boards. Like Crystalinne, my personal squickiness is such that once a knife or cutting board has touched raw meat, it is done, goes straight to the dishwasher, does not pass go. I realize there are arguments out there about putting good knives through the dishwasher, but in my mind, the sterilization offered by the dishwasher triumphs. YMMV.
Sponges are best not used touching such meatified implements, but regardless, put the sponges through the dishwasher once a week or so. This revivifies sponges often enough, and exposes them to enough heat and detergent that the dreaded sponge smell does not accumulate and kills any lingering thoughts of meaty boogey men.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 10:32 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I also don't like touching raw chicken, so my solution is to try to handle only raw frozen chicken. For some reason, that doesn't have nearly the same texture issues for me to handle it, though I still make sure to wash my hands well afterwards.

I like to line a baking pan (like a Pyrex pan with sides) with aluminum foil, add a single layer of frozen chicken breasts, (wash hands,) add salt and pepper and spices on top, cover with more aluminum foil, and bake in a 425-degree oven. Baking time depends on how thick and how cold the chicken breasts are, so I just check on it occasionally. I'll generally cut into the center of the thickest breast to test for doneness (if it's white all the way through, it's done). Because of the foil, and because the chicken is frozen to begin with and therefore has some extra water for the juices, it's pretty hard to overcook this (you could if you left it in for hours, of course, but it doesn't seem to be too sensitive to five or ten minutes extra, etc.). If I cook it for long enough, I can usually shred the chicken like a pork shoulder.

Or you can accomplish essentially the same thing in the slow cooker. Load it up with frozen chicken breasts, (wash hands,) add salt and pepper and spices, add water so the water comes about halfway up the slow cooker, and cook on high (or probably low) overnight. In the morning, pull the chicken breasts out and shred with two forks. (What's left in the pot, after straining, is essentially chicken stock too, if you need that for another recipe or want to make soup, etc.)

In the summer especially, we like to do big batches of shredded chicken which we can then use in lots of different ways throughout the week - on salads, with salsa wrapped up in tortillas, covered in barbecue sauce and wrapped or eaten in a sandwich, etc.
posted by bananacabana at 10:39 PM on February 1, 2016

I don't eat or cook meat, but if I did, I would just take that pan juice and use it as a liquid in whatever the next thing I cooked was.
posted by aniola at 12:02 AM on February 2, 2016

Not even just as a liquid, you could put it in a saucepan and make more gravy using different flavorings—you just want to mix flour into the fat thoroughly, then subsequently mix in a water-based liquid and anything else you want, which will cause the grains of flour to expand like little sponges and thicken it—and put it on everything. Even take vegetarian burger patties and cook them with it and eat them as Salisbury steaks!
posted by XMLicious at 12:31 AM on February 2, 2016

People who work in commercial kitchens have to have a food handler's permit. Usually it means a 2-3 hour class. It covers everything, and you have to pass a test. Call your county and the closest next one. Find out who has the cheapest class. I highly recommend this. One county was $12.00, the next county over was $6.00. The food safety information is well organized, and the general theory is good to know. Then later, take a cooking class from someone good in your area. Get into it, so you are better at navigating around meat issues, and have more fact based confidence.
posted by Oyéah at 2:30 AM on February 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

Nthing a meat thermometer. I always overcooked chicken until I got one.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:51 AM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 5) I'm trying to up my meal prep game - lunches only, because otherwise I'll be spending $10-15/day on lunches at work - so I've been spending a few hours on Sunday afternoons cooking up a bunch of food that hopefully adds up to at least 4 days of lunches. Besides beans and rice, I've been making a lot of pork meatballs. They last well the whole week in the fridge and are pretty easy to improve without a recipe. I would love suggestions for meat recipes that I can cook in one batch, keep in the fridge for 3-5 days, and are easy to portion out.

* pulls up chair and sits down *

- Get a package of chicken "wingettes". What these are, are chicken wings that have been dis-assembled into ready-to-eat bits for you. Then - the bare-minimum recipe is to just dump them into a cookie tray, drizzle them with olive oil and sprinkle them with salt and pepper, and throw them into a 400 degree oven and roast them for 30 minutes, maybe turning them over once in the middle of cooking if you think about it, until they've been attractively browned. Those keep in the fridge very well and can be eaten cold or at room temperature for lunch (hell, I've got five of my most recent batch prepacked in my lunch box RIGHT NOW). If you want to sprinkle them with other spices as well as the salt and pepper, even better.

- Gwyneth Paltrow, of all people, had a dead-easy Asian-inspired chicken meatball recipe - you just add a little grated ginger and a splash of soy sauce to some ground chicken and make meatballs out of that. You can fry those or broil them, whatever. But they also keep well for lunches.

- This may be more "advanced level", and it does involve squishing ground meat with your hands, so I don't know if it'd be too much for you - but I made pate for the first time this weekend and DAMN that was easier than I thought. I took about a pound of ground pork, and cut up 8 ounces of bacon and dumped that in, along with a beaten egg, a little cream, salt and pepper, and a half a cup of sauteed chopped onion. I squished that all up together good. Then I took two baby loaf pans and lined them with strips of bacon (so that there was some hanging over the edges), stuffed the ground meat mixture inside, and wrapped the hanging-over bits of bacon back over the top. Then covered them both over with tinfoil. I then put those packed-up loaves of meat inside a bigger pan, poured water into the bigger pan deep enough so that it came halfway up the sides of the loaves, and stuck the whole thing in the oven at about 350 for an hour. When it came out, I took the mini-loaves out of that bigger pan, and then put heavy things on top of them so the meat inside would squish down as it cooled. Written out I know that LOOKS complicated, but it was easier than I'm making it sound; I ended up with two tasty pates, and just a third of one of them was enough to take to lunch too (it's REALLY rich). I should also warn you that it does throw off a good bit of grease - I let it cool down first, but there was a big pool of grease and drippings in each pan afterward, which I drained down the sink (the pate slid right out into my hand, and was just like a solid lump of meatloaf or something).

More after I get to work.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:09 AM on February 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

I know you're not, for example, supposed to rinse chicken in the sink because all that does is contaminate the sink.

I'm a meat eater and this just sounds silly. It's a sink, it can washed out easily. Besides, it's not like one eats out of a sink. Everything going in it is dirty and needs to be washed anyway.

Have two cutting boards, one for meat, the other for veggies. They should be different colors, sizes or shapes so they can't be confused.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:13 AM on February 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

In case you don't already have one, in our kitchen a fat separator is an essential tool. (Note that there's a brief video on how to use it if you're not sure.)
posted by Short Attention Sp at 5:40 AM on February 2, 2016

I'm a meat eater and this just sounds silly. It's a sink, it can washed out easily. Besides, it's not like one eats out of a sink. Everything going in it is dirty and needs to be washed anyway.

I don't think the concern is actually whether the sink itself remains sanitary for the most part, you're correct that a sink is easy to clean; it's actually the spray that can get all over the area around the sink, on the cook, and on the cook's clothing. If you directly put the meat into a cooking vessel and properly cook it without rinsing it most of the bacteria and virii that might end up surviving in nooks and crannies around the kitchen or on surfaces that don't get sanitized are kept in one place and get killed by heat instead. But I'm sure it matters more if you're preparing food for infants or if immuno-compromised people use the same kitchen.
posted by XMLicious at 5:44 AM on February 2, 2016

Best answer: 1) My wife does not like dealing with meat - not necessarily because of the ick factor, just because she's not super comfortable with technique compared to cooking with vegetables. So, I tend to do most of the meat cooking. Maybe a change in the division of labor would work for you? If not, then maybe it's worthwhile trying to build up from cuts that are easier to prepare at home (say, boneless skinless chicken breasts or steaks/chops that don't require a ton of trimming and cutting) to stuff that requires a bit more hands on work.

2) The best thing you can do to reduce your risk of food-related illness is to buy your meat from a local, well-respected butcher. Meat is not inherently dangerous; poor sanitation at large butchering and packing facilities is what causes illness. And related to that point, the less processed your meat is (via cutting and grinding), the less likely it will have picked up bacteria at the processing facility.

I don't run my knives or cutting boards through the dishwasher - warm soapy water with a sponge is fine. Rinse out the sponge when you're done. Unless you're severely immunocompromised, I wouldn't worry beyond that.

3) A grease separator is probably the easiest way to deal with fat in pan juices like that, but I usually just very carefully skim it off the top with a spoon. Fat will float on top your pan juices or stock, so skimming or soaking it up with bits of paper towel if there's not all that much is usually pretty easy.

If you honestly don't want to do deal with making a sauce out of it right then and there, I'd generally just toss it. It's personally not worth it to me to keep it, and I don't think it will add much to any stock you might make - the browned bits aren't going to redissolve into a stock and it's just going to leave gritty bits that you're going to have to strain out later.

4) We generally economize by buying the less desirable cuts and cooking with those. Pork hams and shoulders tend to be on the cheaper side of things (at least from what you might get at a grocery store butcher - my local sells things like hocks and shanks that are usually even cheaper), as well as whole poultry, tougher cuts of beef - anything that's going to take a few hours to cook, generally.

5) Stews and such are my go-to, but also whole roasts - leg of lamb, fresh hams, beef roasts, stuff like that. You can slice it all in one go when it's done cooking and portion it out or make sandwiches out of the leftovers.

6) Chicken sausages are probably already precooked, all you have to do is reheat them. Other fresh (pork) sausages can either be cooked in the links, or the meat can be pulled out and used in a number of dishes like meat sauces (if you don't want to deal with cutting open the links, you can look for "bulk" sausage which is just the filling and no casing). Whole sausages are generally browned and then simmered in sauce, but you can cook them through completely by sauteeing, just be careful with the heat so that you don't burn the casing before it's cooked through.

For cured meats, I would skip the grocery store entirely and go find a specialty shop. Prosciutto is Italian cured ham (rear leg of the pig), so you could try some other regional varieties like Spanish Jamon or even an American-style country ham. Guanciale is another pork product that is cured and aged, but cut from the neck and jowl of the pig. Coppa will be quite a bit fattier and comes from the top of the neck. A good salami will not be quite as meltingly tender as a cured ham, but will be pleasantly firm and spiced. From there, you're getting into serious dry-aged sausages that start to look like they should have been thrown out months ago but are absolutely delicious.

7) So many things to do with meat! But a good, simple way to get a ton of flavorful pork is to cook carnitas. Cube up some pork shoulder and add it to a flavorful braising liquid (I usually go for water and beer with some spices like chile powder, paprika, cinnamon, and a little cumin) and cook until you can pull it (the slow cooker works well for this). Reserve the liquid, pull the meat, and then put it all on to baking sheets and pour the liquid over. Bake or broil until the liquid has completely evaporated and the meat is crispy. Serve as tacos, nacho topping, sandwiches, on top of salad, straight out of the pan and into your mouth, however you want it.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:56 AM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

For buying meat, you want to get the best quality for the best price, not just the cheapest, if that makes sense. Around here, I've found the best option to be Costco, because their prices are good, though not always the absolute cheapest, while their meat is almost always of very good quality which is not the case with the regular supermarket I go to. The portions are large, as you know, but as long as you either cut it down and freeze the extra, or just cook all of it and freeze some, it is fine.

I agree with the suggestions of using a good, instant read thermometer to avoid the overcooking problem while feeling comfortable with the safety of the meat.

I solve the chicken pan juice issue by surrounding the chicken with cut up potatoes while roasting so that they cook in the fat and absorb the flavors. I very rarely bother with making gravy; when I do I just tilt the pan and spoon off the extra fat. I'm sure a fat separator is a useful tool but I've never owned one and I don't make gravy often enough to want to buy one.

For the cleaning, I do about what you describe. I wash knives with soap and sponge, the plastic cutting board goes in the dishwasher on the normal setting, and counters or other surfaces get a quick wipe down with whatever brand of ecological multipurpose cleaner is under the sink. I wash my hands after handling the meat and before touching other things like spice jars. The goal is basic cleanliness, not full on biohazard remediation or covering up a crime scene, and there is no need to be excessive.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:00 AM on February 2, 2016

Chicken: Purchase fresh. Preheat oven to 375. Oil (Safflower or Light Olive oil), Season, bake 35 minutes. Never season with lemon or any acid until actual service (it will pop the cells, release the water, and seize the proteins. If possible baste at 15 minutes to make sure top still has fat coating. Cost generally translates to quality and price.
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:16 AM on February 2, 2016

Best answer: I'm back with more lunchable meat ideas. As a general tip, though - check out web sites that discuss bentos - you'll find LOADS of ideas for make-ahead protein options.

I will admit that one I make a lot is only possible if you make friends with your supermarket's butcher, or you live near an Asian grocery store, but - there's something I've come to call "meat sushi", that's also dead easy. That is, it's dead easy assuming you have the proper cut of meat; you want super-thin slices of raw meat; think, like, cold cut thin, the kind of meat that you get for "hot pots" in Asian restaurants. I live near an Asian market and get a couple packs, or you can sweet-talk a butcher into cutting it for you.

Once you have some superthin raw meat, though, you're halfway there. Now you just need strips of pre-cooked vegetables, and some kind of sauce of your choice - and you can choose whatever you want, basically; I usually make a simple sauce of soy sauce, oyster sauce, and maybe a little ginger, I've also seen hoisin sauce in some recipes, and in one recipe I even saw just plain ketchup. And for the "precooked vegetables", I've seen julienned carrots, asparagus spears, strips of sweet pepper, and even frozen french fries.

What you do is: you take a couple slices of the super-thin meat and lay them side-by-side; then pick one of the veggie strips (or two, if they're short) and lay them across one end of the meat slices. Then you spread a little of your chosen sauce on the meat slices, and roll them up, with the veggie strip inside. Then cook that in a skillet until it's browned all the way around. To serve, you slice it up like you would a sushi roll. ....For the make-ahead option, I usually make a few of those up to the point where I've cooked them in the skillet, and then I just tuck the meat rolls in a tupperware box in the fridge; one meat roll cut up is usually enough per lunch.

One way to use up bits of already-cooked meat (leftover roast chicken, maybe) is to make "potted meat", which is a very British thing. You just whiz up the meat in a food processor with enough cold butter to make it spread-able, and add some spices to jazz it up a bit. Then the whole thing gets packed into a little crock, and you use that like a spread on toast or something. The traditional approach is to pour a layer of melted butter on top once you packed it in the crock to seal it that way, but frankly I don't trust that and so I just use plastic wrap or put it in a tiny tupperware container. I don't know how lunch-able that would be in terms of packing - but it could be a nice at-home option; a slice of toast spread with that and some salad or vegetable soup would be good.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:51 AM on February 2, 2016

Cook's Illustrated Meat Cookbook
posted by H21 at 6:54 AM on February 2, 2016

For the thermometer, I found the ones that have an alarm to be the best at helping me develop a sense for when something is done because I had a constant easy to read monitor on the outside of the oven that helped me associate what the dish looks like at different stages. They're usually a bit pricier, but I've never over or under cooked with one.

My mom has some cheapie cutting boards that are for different foods (poultry, vs beef, vs veggies), so that might help alleviate some anxiety.

I'll also pre-measure everything and have it it washable bowls, so once I get going with the raw meat I don't have to worry about accidentally touching a spice bottle with yucky hands. If it's something like a spice rub, then it usually does mean there's some waste, especially since I always over estimate what I need, so it depends on what annoys/worries you more.

When I make stock, I tend to just dump everything from the pan (as long as I didn't do something odd with the spices), into the pot, but I'm a lazy cook. I'll also crack the leg bones open (it can make the stock cloudy, and be sure to strain well if you do this, but my husband feels it makes the stock richer. Plus, if you want clear stock I think you want to start with raw bones/necks, etc).

For the sausages, the packaging may tell you if it's precooked or raw. If you get sausages from the counter, I've always found butchers to be helpful with suggestions on how to prepare. Generally for raw, I braise in beer, then finish in a pan or on the grill.

I just roasted my first ham yesterday. It was from my local butcher (hickory smoked in- house by them), and it was phenomenal with tons of leftovers that I pre-portioned for lunches for the week (ham and veggies, anti pasto salad, ham sandwiches). It was bone in, so I'll also get to try making some stock soon (by dad makes a navy bean soup with his ham bones).

Slow cooker pulled pork is awesome. You can throw it on a taco salad, make sandwiches, or tacos (I do find these options are easier for a quick dinner during the week, rather than pre-packed lunches).

I'll make a big batch of chili on Sunday afternoons for the week. I use found beef + spicy ground pork sausage, but you could probably just use pork (be sure to drain the ground meat after browning).

Crock pot stroganoff chicken will get you some leftovers for lunches (I usually do a pot-roast, but I made it with chicken breasts once and it was decent).

Also, if you're a fan of chicken skin, try roasting a chicken on a vertical roaster. You don't get the lovely veggies roasted in drippings out of the same pan, but it's a nice way to change things up a bit every so often.
posted by ghost phoneme at 7:40 AM on February 2, 2016

Re: cutting boards, I've tried the two cutting board technique (which I know is used in restaurants and is the standard there) but I always end up getting lazy and just using whichever one is more accessible.

What I do do is that if meal prep involves me cutting both meat and vegetables -- I cook a lot of Thai and Chinese food which almost always involves cutting meat into small pieces if it's used -- I make it a point to cut all non-meat ingredients first and meat at the very end. This saves me having to wash an extra cutting board and also avoids any potential cross-contamination with switching back and forth between vegetables and meat.
posted by andrewesque at 7:43 AM on February 2, 2016

Best answer: I'm back to address this point!

Other meats! I bought a couple chicken apple sausages from the fresh deli case at the grocery store to see if I like them. They're small, maybe 4-5 inches. What is the best way to cook these? And cured meats! I really like prosciutto - as far as brands/types, what is the best combination of tasty + not super expensive? What other cured meats should I try?

The chicken apple sausages: do you have a brand name for those? If they're the kind of thing I'm thinking of, where they're pretty much already cooked and you just have to heat them up, then you're golden - you can chop those up and add them to stews, omlettes, pastas...there's something I do with strips of sweet pepper, a little onion and a splash of pasta sauce; you saute the onion and pepper strips a minute or two, then cut up one or two of the sausages, throw that right into the pot with a splash of tomato sauce and maybe a little water, and then cover it and cook that on a nice low heat for like a half hour tops. Serve that over pasta or polenta.

Those kinds of pre-cooked sausages are very adaptable; just make sure that the kind of seasoning in the sausage at least sort of goes with the kind of meal you're making (you wouldn't use something with tomato and artichoke in a Chinese dish, necessarily), but even here there is room for flexibility (my secret to jambalaya is that I use a pack of those kind of sausages seasoned with buffalo-wing seasoning).

As for cured meats:

* pancetta can be used in place of bacon in most bacon recipes. Especially if you are making pasta carbonara.
* Bresloa is a dried cured beef, and I made a great canape once by mixing chopped up arugula in some soft spreadable butter, and then sliced up some Italian bread - each slice of bread got spread with the arugula butter and topped with a bit of the bresola.
* The classic French thing is souisson sec.
* There are other hard salamis and sausages; sometimes you'll find them in whole sausage form, and you'd have to slice them yourself.
* you will also find pates of various sorts at the deli counter, if my DIY approach is too fussy. In fact, that may be a good way to test first to see if you even like the pate concept.

Finally: seconding the slow cooker pork shoulder. In addition to taco salads and such, I've found that I can make a nearly-instant pozole soup by taking a can of hominy and a big scoop of leftover pork shoulder, adding a splash of broth and heating that up in a pan.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:56 AM on February 2, 2016

get yourself a decent meat thermometer

I know it's already been said many times but I want to pile on to just this one point.

I've never been too squeamish about meat, but never used a thermometer until the last few years. I've always felt pretty competent cooking meat, but using an electronic thermometer with an alert beep has made a huge difference! No more dried out chicken breasts or pork chops, overcooked for fear of getting sick!
posted by The Deej at 8:09 AM on February 2, 2016

Reading all of the above and agreeing, but still thinking maybe this is difficult: can you find a cooking course near your home? Or maybe go on a holiday with a cooking class included?
Our local home economy school does "open" classes (for a very moderate fee).
Sometimes you need to see, touch and feel in order to understand something.
posted by mumimor at 12:40 PM on February 2, 2016

Sous Vide is a great solution to this kind of problem. The basic idea is that you vacuum-bag the meat, then dunk it in a water bath with a precisely controlled temperature (which is the same as the internal temperature you want your meat to reach).

Since the meat is in there for (typically) a number of hours, there is no way it can fail to be cooked through. And since there's no way it can get hotter than the surrounding water, you can't overcook it either. Leave it in for a few extra hours? It'll be fine.

Just before you serve, use a pan or a broiler or a torch to sear the meat. That's just for appearance and flavor, though -- it's already completely cooked and safe to eat.

I started with a funky homebrew rig, and recently stepped up to a Nomiku, which seems to work great.

If you're using some other cooking method, everyone telling you to get a thermometer is absolutely right.
posted by sourcequench at 1:17 PM on February 2, 2016

Best answer: It occurred to me that another reason to save fat and drippings rather than throwing them out is to use with a drier cut of meat. For example you might do something with chicken thighs or other dark meat, which will have more fat which you could drain off and freeze or something like that, and then if you're working with chicken breasts later on you could throw the fat in with them.
posted by XMLicious at 2:03 PM on February 4, 2016

Costco chicken, cooked. Meat for one for a week. Salads, sandwiches, add ins for pasta dishes.
posted by Oyéah at 2:54 PM on February 6, 2016

Response by poster: I posted this and then promptly forgot to come back to it. Thank you for all the amazing advice! I do have a meat thermometer, but I think it might not be very good, and am considering upgrading to a better one. I do have the Cook's Illustrated Meat book, but haven't dug too deeply into it. Excited to get to work on all this info!
posted by skycrashesdown at 9:01 PM on February 18, 2016

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