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How to Select Quality Meat for Barbecuing

Regardless of how good your equipment is, your technique or the type of fuel you use, you’ll never be a barbecue extraordinaire if you don’t start with high-quality meat. Barbecue is all about the protein after all! So, why should you expect to take a mediocre ingredient and turn it into a succulent, well-cooked, smoky, melt in your mouth experience?

The rubs, sauces and other accompaniments (no matter how good), aren’t the secret to great barbecue. They can’t make the meat more tender, improve marbling or be a substitute for a rich and complex meaty flavor.

Using the highest quality ingredients has long been the focus of the fine-dining scene.

However, when it comes to barbecue, it’s importance can sometimes be overlooked. But, starting with the best quality meat you can afford is perhaps the most important factor in turning out great barbecue. An excellent cut needs very little to become the most delicious piece of meat you’ve ever tasted! So, before you fire up the barbecue, get clued up on how to select quality meat for barbecuing here.

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How to Select Quality Meat for Barbecuing Using the Facts

When it comes to buying high-quality meat to barbecue, it’s not as simple as just choosing a cut. There are a number of factors that influence the taste and texture of the final product. Keep an eye out for the following criteria:

  1. Naturally raised – Start by looking for naturally raised meat that’s free from antibiotics, hormones, steroids or other chemicals. These animals are often leaner and less flavorful than naturally raised ones. You’d also be ingesting potentially harmful chemicals by choosing this type of meat.
  2. Grass-fed – To help with avoiding the harmful chemicals, look for animals that have an additive-free diet. Grass-fed varieties are fairly common and show that the animal was allowed to naturally graze for fresh food. Most grass-fed animals are fed grain to fatten them up before processing. This is sometimes preferable for barbecue as the additional fat helps to retain moisture and add flavor. Fully grass-fed varieties are generally leaner so they may be less tender.
  3. Heritage breed – Traditionally farmed breeds are slowly being replaced in favor of fast growing animals with higher yields. But, these breeds hold less flavor and aren’t generally as healthy as heritage animals. Look for heritage bred meat that’s been raised in open pastures and is more naturally resistant to disease. This also reduces the need for antibiotic use.
  4. Organic – USDA certified organic meat means that the animal was fed a pesticides, antibiotic and artificial hormone free diet. It can be costly but it does guarantee that you’re getting the highest-quality meat that’s free from additives that could be harmful to your health.

How to Select Quality Meat for Barbecuing Without the Facts

Although most quality butchers should be happy to tell you about how their meat was raised, you don’t always have all the facts. To help you identify quality meat without all the facts, look at the following points:

  • Fattiness – More fat usually means more flavor and tenderness. Look for pieces with good marbling, that is, thin strips of fat throughout the meat. Because you’ll be cooking it for at least a couple of hours, most of this fat will melt helping to keep it flavorful and juicy. Do remember that different cuts of meat naturally have different levels of marbling.
  • Butchering – Look for cuts that have a similar size and thickness with smooth edges. This will make it easier to cook the meat evenly.
  • Color – Modern day processing and packaging techniques make it easy for producers to preserve the bright color of fresh meat. This means the color isn’t necessarily a reliable indicator of age or handling quality. When you’re buying red meat, don’t be put off by a dark color. Darker colors often indicate a stronger flavor and that the meat may have been dry-aged. Pork should be dark pink to dark red and shouldn’t look like chicken. If you see any meat with uneven color or spots, skip it.
  • Smell – Because the color isn’t always the best indicator of freshness, smelling the meat should give you a good idea. Fresh meat should smell mild to moderately and should never be offensive to the nose.

Buying High-Quality Meat for Barbecuing

By following these tips on how to select quality meat for barbecuing, it’s easy to source excellent cuts.

But, if you don’t have a quality butcher that stocks a great range of cuts for barbecuing, or just want the easy option, online is the way to go these days!

The range of meat you can get online is next to none.

Most ship frozen while some ship fresh to your door.

For our list of favorites, check out our review of the best meat subscription boxes for smoking and the top mail order steaks.

Jared Brown, an avid lover of all things meat has a fearless enthusiasm for experimenting with anything that's grilling, smoking or outdoor cooking. With a wealth of experience across a range different barbecue types, Jared's got a real knack for helping others make a decision they're happy with, ensuring they find the perfect fit regardless of conventional notions of the 'right' choice. This unique approach has made Jared a trusted guide in the world of barbecue.