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Kitchen Insider Facebook Chat: DeBragga's George Faison Knows Meat

Food & Wine welcomed George Faison—co-owner of famed meat purveyor DeBragga—to our Facebook page for a chat with fans. Faison discussed sourcing, charring and saucing meat. Here are some of the highlights.

Advice on Cooking Meat

Question: What's your method to get the perfect char? I use sugar, but want to know your way.
George Faison: The key to a good char is to start with a VERY HOT surface, whether grill or sauté pan. You must rub the exterior with oil, not a lot, but just enough to cover the surface. This allows the heat to transfer to the meat quickly and cleanly. I never use sugar; the natural sugars in the meat itself are sufficient.

Question: If a recipe calls for the addition of wine to the sauce, do you think that the flavor of the overall dish is very compromised if I use water or broth instead? Can you explain how wine works during the cooking process of certain meats? Thank you.
George Faison: The flavor and balance is definitely compromised as wine adds acidity as well as flavor components to a dish. If you're concern is residual alcohol, the key is to add the wine early and bring it to a boil and reduce the quantity of wine by 50%. You will still have the flavor and acidity, but alcohol largely burns off. Other uses for wine include marinating which helps break down the muscle fiber.

Question: Any ideas for Super Bowl?
George Faison: What I find for a great party is to have a variety of different types of meat, cooked different ways. For example, make some sort of pork shoulder roast, like David Chang's famous Bo Ssam. Pork spareribs, smoked and cooked on the grill. Also, a good pork sausage, for a textural difference, yet all hot items. Then, a selection of dry cured pork products, like a good ham, coppa, sopressata and lardo, all easy to slice and serve just as they are. Now you've covered the whole pig. If you want to do it with beef (though I like the "pig skin" association), make a great chili, slowly smoke a brisket and make some great beef ribs, all one or two or three days ahead. Find a theme and carry it to the max!

Best Cuts of Meat

Question: Mr. Faison, it is wonderful for you to share your expertise with us! May I ask, what is your favorite cut of meat, and why?
George Faison: My favorite cut really depends on what time of year it is. Right now, I'm really enjoying a rich, fatty shoulder roast of Mangalitsa hog. In summer, I enjoy cooking strips of American Wagyu beef or Angus skirt steaks, all on the grill.

Question: What do you think is the most underutilized cut of beef?
George Faison: The most underutilized cut of beef comes from the sirloin. The sirloin ball tip. The sirloin is in the hip, a very tender section of the animal with a lot of flavor. The ball tip looks just like a softball, it has a seam in the center that is easily removed. It can be cut into steaks or roasted. Delish!

Great Sources for Meat

Question: Hi George, what are your thoughts on Texas beef? Second part: Prime vs. Select, and your thoughts on the correct amount of time to age a steak and environment to do so, i.e. temp, moisture, time. Thanks a million George.
George Faison: First, no real comment on Texas beef. There are some great producers all over this country. The key is to find growers who are raising their animals without hormones, antibiotics or animal by-products. At least then you know the meat's better: better for the animal, the environment, and better for you. Second part: Prime vs Select is really a question of whether you want a fat experience or a muscle flavor experience. Prime is extremely rare and costly and yet there are times when it's well worth the price. Like a good dry-aged steak. In fact, for beef to dry age properly, it has to have a certain amount of fat. At DeBragga, we use only beef that grades in the top 8 percent of all cattle produced in this country, which is the top level of choice and prime. The more fat in the meat, the longer it can age. Top level of choice is ideal at 35 days, I find prime is great up to 50 days, and I have aged wagyu to great result up to 90 days. The environment needs to be humid with lots of air circulation.

Question: Hi George, can you give us the 411 on grass-fed beef? What are the significant differences?
George Faison: Typically, most grass-fed is much leaner than grain-fed beef. But, this actually depends upon what time of year the grass-fed animal is harvested. Our grass-fed beef, which comes from the Finger Lakes region of New York state presently, is very marbled come late October/November, due to the rich pasture with has gone to seed (a.k.a., grain). This is how nature gets animals to fatten naturally to survive the winter. It's how humankind discovered that cattle marble! Middle meats (strip steaks, rib eyes) will cook quicker and the leg and shoulder meat needs to be cooked slower at lower temperatures.

Question: How can we truly know whether or not unnatural additives or injections have been added to fowl and animals especially lamb during their life as well as later in preparation for the market?
George Faison: How can you truly know? First, get to know your suppliers. If you can visit a farm, even better. Understanding that most people cannot, look for the following things: if the meat is in a package, is there excess fluid in that package? That could be a sign of it having been marinated, soaked or brined, hence additives. Does the color appear uneven? Again, this could be a sign of meat having been injected. Also, check the label. Read carefully. Federally inspected meat and poultry is allowed to list negative disclaimers if the producer can substantiate them. Meaning, no antibiotics ever. No hormones ever. And no animal by-products ever. Organic means that it has met the previous disclaimers and that the grain used was also organically certified.

Question: Hello George, can you discuss the differences between grass-fed and finished vs. grass-fed and grain-finished meats. It seems so many producers tend to raise primary grass-fed and then do some finish on grain. What are your thoughts on these two products?
George Faison: The quality of grass-fed beef is highly dependent upon the condition of the pasture the animal is grazing on. As few regions have excellent quality pasture year-round, producers typically resorted to grain finishing to even out the flavor and consistency of their meat. Now this can be avoided if one looks at beef as a seasonal item. Of course, most people don't like to do that, but it is an option. So grass-finished, as I said earlier, tends to be leaner and therefore has a more mineral flavor that is close to bison flavor, which of course was America's original "beef." Grain-finished, especially commodity cattle, can have a fatty flavor without the depth of the muscle flavor found in good grass-fed. This is why good producers (like Niman Ranch) will leave their animals on pasture longer and then finish them slowly on grain with a lot of silage (dried grasses) in the diet to accomplish both.

Cooking Tips for Game Meat

Question: Hi George. I'm a little new to venison and would like to know the optimum time and method for aging it.
George Faison: You hit a subject close to my heart! I bow hunt for venison and love cooking it. The best method depends on the cut. The shoulders I break down into one-inch cubes and make a beautiful, red wine-based stew, with lots of root veggies. The legs I break into the different muscles (top round, knuckle, bottom round) and I slowly dry roast them at 300 degrees. Roasted leg muscles I serve with a good, red wine-based sauce. The middle meat—rib rack, strip, tenderloin—can be cooked like any beef of the same cut, just remember they will cook quicker because venison is leaner. Personally, I love to grill a whole strip and slice just before serving. Also, if the venison is something you hunted yourself, you should let it age in your refrigerator for at least a week before cooking. If you freeze it, you should consume it within 3 months before freezer burn sets in.

Question: Hello George Faison! I have a question about Moose? What are some suggestions on how to marinate (if needed) and cook moose. We have all kinds of cuts: roast, ground, and steaks. I'm from Texas and we want to have a Moose-a-que at our home and want to offer a variety of dishes with moose. What would be your suggestions?
George Faison: That's so fun! Like all game meats, moose is very lean, but as the largest of the ungulate family, the muscles are very large! Portion the meat into manageable pieces, i.e., 5-6 lbs for roasts. Your steaks will be fine, big enough for two. But any recipe for venison or elk is ideal for moose.

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