Are you throwing away valuable food? Part three: Meat

MSU Extension offers strategies for using and preserving Michigan Fresh foods.

Tacos de Lengua (beef tongue) from La Guatemalteca Tacos food truck in Kalamazoo, photo by Mariel Borgman
Tacos de Lengua (beef tongue) from La Guatemalteca Tacos food truck in Kalamazoo, photo by Mariel Borgman

Typical meat consumption patterns in the United States may not make use of 100 percent of the animal. The suggestion of eating organ meats and other offal, known as “variety meats” may produce a few cringes, but these foods have been utilized widely across human history and are highly revered in some cultures. “Nose to tail” or “whole animal” cooking strategies maximize the amount of food you can get out of each animal.

Many Michigan farmers offer variety meats and soup bones for sale. Next time you visit your local farmers’ market, ask the farmers what options they offer. If you have the freezer space, some farmers sell whole, halves or quarters of animals. Customizable butchering options may be available. If you have limited storage capacity, you can still use smaller carcasses, such as poultry, to make soups or stocks.

The following articles from Michigan State University Extension can help determine storage needs for freezer beef:

If you live near campus, the MSU Meat Lab offers a variety meats for retail sale, including:

  • Beef: Heart, tongue, tail, liver, (kidney, spleen, sweetbreads, thymus gland) and whole heads from animals under 30 months of age can be made available on a pre-order basis)
  • Pork: Liver, (heart, tongue, leaf fat, kidney, spleen and whole heads can be made available on a pre-order basis)
  • Lamb: Liver, (kidney, testicles, spleen and whole heads can be made available on a pre-order basis).

The following cooking techniques[1] are recommended for tasty and safe preparation of variety meats:

  • The USDA recommends cooking all variety meats to at least 160 degrees F.[2]
  • Liver (beef, pork and lamb) - Braising, pan broiling or frying
  • Sweetbreads (beef, lamb, veal) - Braising, sautéing or frying
  • Kidneys (beef, pork, lamb) - Braising, pan frying, sautéing or frying
  • Brains – Simmer for 20 minutes in water with an acidic solution such as vinegar or lemon juice to firm , then sauté, cream, bread or pan broil
  • Hearts (beef, pork and lamb) – Best braised or cooked in liquid due to relative toughness of muscle tissues
  • Tongue (beef, pork and lamb) – Best cooked in moist heat, due to the toughness of the muscle tissues
  • Tripe (beef stomach) - Braise for up to two hours to make it tender before being broiled, deep fried, or creamed

Beef liver, kidney and tongue can be stored fresh for one to two days in the refrigerator. Follow these tips from MSU Extension’s Michigan Fresh program for Handling, Using, and Storing Beef. Michigan Fresh Fact Sheets are also available for Pork, Lamb and Venison. Michigan Fresh also has a No Food Left Behind Pinterest board dedicated to recipes featuring variety meats and other frequently discarded ingredients.

For more tips on reducing food scraps in the kitchen, read the other parts of this article series “Are you throwing away valuable food?” Part One and Part Two: Produce.

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