Meat buyers guide
There are so many cuts of meat available for you to cook on the barbecue and to some extent you have to decide what it is you want to achieve before deciding what cut of meat you are going to buy. Sometimes you will need to choose an alternative because you can't source the cut of meat you want to cook. Unless you really have your heart set on cooking something in particular it is always a good idea to have a "Plan B" ready.
What might surprise you is that in some cases it really doesn't pay to buy the most expensive cut of meat for your barbecue. Instead, when selecting meat to cook on the barbecue you should be considering other factors including fat content, ageing, size and shape of the meat and the amount of BBQ meat required. Pork shoulder will often out perform a loin for moistness because it is better suited to being roasted on a barbecue. Similarly a rib eye steak or even a really well aged rump steak will often grill better on a barbecue than a fillet steak, the most expensive steak you can buy.
Fat is, though not exclusively, what gives meat flavour. At least it is the fat that contains the greatest flavour in meat rather than the muscle. But we are not talking about the thick fat layer next to the skin, though that imparts some flavour. What you are really looking for in a good quality barbecue meat is marbling. To be honest you want that however you are cooking. Marbling is the word used to describe small amounts of fat found distributed within the muscle of the meat. Rare breed meat tends to exhibit this marbling more than the mass produced supermarket meats that have been developed to meat our societies desire to eat lean meat. But that doesn't mean you can't or won't find meat with marbling in the supermarket. However, a butcher or farm shop sourced piece of meat will probably have better marbling.
Although the pork chop shown here has a very think layer of fat on the skin, the marbling in the meat is what will make this chop both flavoursome and tender.
It is easier to detect good fat content in steaks and chops rather than large joints of meat because you can see it. When these meats hit the grill the fat melts into the muscle providing it with flavour and it becomes more tender. With a pork chop that has a lot of fat on the edge you can put this nearer to the heat to melt with the rest of the chop cooking a little more gently so it remains moist and tender as well as giving you perfectly crisp skin to crunch on!
To a degree you can learn which large cuts of meat contain better marbling than others. You can develop a touch for it. By handling a cold piece of meat you can feel how much yield that piece of meat has. As fat hardens when it is cold a piece of meat that feels a little stiffer than another probably has more fat in it. If the meat is at room temperature the meat will feel more limp. Holding a piece of Waygu beef at room temperature is a unique feeling. Wagyu being famed for its marbling of fat within the meat feels strangely odd at room temperature.
Chicken is by nature lean. Intensively reared chickens will be the most lean with longer, slower growing, organically reared chickens having more fat under the skin. Chicken thighs probably contain the most fat and their even shape makes them perfect for BBQ. When cooking chicken on a rotisserie the chicken's fat is used to help keep the whole chicken moist which is why it is such a good way to cook a whole chicken.
Most applicable to beef, when considering the more popularly available meats, hanging beef to age will add flavour and aid tenderness. Beef aged for 21 days or more will appear darker than the brighter red beef synonymous with beef sourced in a supermarket. It will also appear to be dry and there won't be a pool of blood in the tray it is displayed in. A well aged piece of beef is infinitely better tasting and if it is well marbled will produce some of the best BBQ you can imagine. A rib eye steak (or scotch fillet in some countries) cooked on a really hot grill is certain to please.
Size and shape
The size and shape of the meat you are going to BBQ will help to determine the cooking time. It can also help you please those who like rare or well done meat, in the case of beef and lamb. Pork and chicken should both be cooked thoroughly. A lamb leg will cook more thorougly at the thin end with the thicker end being more rare. The fat will still melt in to the muscle helping to keep it moist and to flavour the whole piece.
Chicken drum sticks, the preserve of so many summer barbecues have a good fat content but their odd shape makes for awkward even cooking. In the wrong hands a chicken drum stick is a barbecue disaster waiting to happen. When cooking these absolute care to ensure they are cooked thoroughly and without burning them is essential. By having the thickest part of the meat facing the heat and with regular rotation the skin should crisp, without burning and the meat be cooked perfectly. A well cooked chicken drum stick can make a moist and tender meal. The addition of a marinade can also help.
How much to cook?
Cooking for a larger number of people? You might like to cook a larger piece of meat that can be carved to feed many people. Selecting a larger piece of meat is really a decision taken by straight forward portioning. Don't forget that you can also use the left over meat for meals on other occasions. It is worth considering a larger piece of meat if the fat content and ageing are right.
A pork shoulder will contain more fat than pork leg. So if you are going to try Low and Slow or Hot Roast a large piece of pork use pork shoulder. Should a pork shoulder or even a half shoulder, be too much for you needs try belly pork. If you want to cook beef try rib, it is fit for a king. Lamb leg will cook both Low and Slow or more quickly using the Hot Roast technique. The fat within these cuts will allow them to be kept moist throughout cooking and taste delicious.