Where’s the beef?
Henri finds the best meat markets for summer grilling
Henri has mostly managed to avoid this summer’s hideous heat and ghastly air quality by staying inside—cool, damp towels across the forehead, air-conditioning on high, and regular prophylactic doses of Tanqueray and tonic.
In fact, about the only thing I go outside for is to grill. Of course, we’ve been grilling lots of veggies—mostly from the farmers markets—but we’ve also been eating lots of meat, particularly steaks, which if well-chosen and well-cooked deliver culinary ecstasy that can at least partially mitigate even the most debilitating malaise.
Although tenderloins (filet mignons) are generally the most expensive cut ($18-$22/lb.), they lack the marbling—the tiny white flecks of fat within the muscle—that you find in many less expensive steaks and which provide the meat’s real flavor. Try a ribeye ($12-$16/lb.) or a New York steak (from the short, or top, loin—$14-$18/lb.). Better yet: a T-bone or porterhouse ($14-$16/lb.), the bone dividing two cuts, so you get both top loin and filet.
Look for bright red meat that’s firm to the touch and graded USDA Choice or Prime—determined by age of animal and degree of marbling.
The area’s best meat markets:
The large grocery stores generally have good meat departments, with fresh, high-quality meats and knowledgeable butchers—and oftentimes very good prices—but Henri prefers the smaller specialty shops, as well as to shop locally whenever possible.
University Farm Meat Lab
Part of the Animal Science Program at Chico State’s University Farm, the meat lab is both butcher shop and classroom. Students learn how to cut beef to sell to the public and how to prepare a wide range of other meats.
The lab offers 50 or so products to the public—at far better prices ($8.50/lb. for porterhouse; $13/lb. for filets) than you’ll find elsewhere—including ground beef, sliced pastrami, prime rib, oxtails, leg of lamb, pork loins, ribs and shoulders, and more than 10 kinds of sausage.
Take Hegan Lane west off the Chico-Durham Highway and watch for the sign on the left. Then follow the signs to the meat lab. Open to the public Thursday and Friday only, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Phone 898-6028.
The Butcher Shop (at S&S Produce and Natural Foods)
It’s no secret that this is one of the best butcher shops in town, offering a wide range of fresh meats, seafood and chicken, as well as prepared (barbecued ribs and rotisserie chicken) and partially prepared (marinated meats and chicken-fajita mix) foods.
1924 Mangrove. Open daily until 8 p.m., Mon.-Fri. from 7 a.m. and weekends from 8 a.m. Phone 343-4930.
Chico Locker & Sausage Co.
Founded in 1965 as a slaughterhouse and processing plant, Chico Locker & Sausage Co. today also offers a deli and retail meat shop, with an excellent selection of steaks and other cuts of beef. You can also get sausages (more than 20 types), smoked turkey, honey-cured ham, bacon, tri-tip or buffalo.
196 E. 14th St. Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and Sat. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Phone 343-7370.
Kinder’s Meat & Deli
Kinder’s is a small franchise (13 stores) originating in 1946 in San Pablo, Calif. The Chico store is located downtown directly across Second Street from Chico State. Although a favorite sandwich shop for hungry students, Kinder’s also has a large meat counter featuring a wide array of fresh steaks, roasts, ribs and other cuts. The staff is helpful, knowledgeable and friendly.
221 1¼2 Normal St. Open Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Phone 342-3354.
The Wagon Wheel Market
Located in the foothills outside Oroville, this little family-owned and -run market has a surprisingly large selection of fresh meat, processed just over the counter (not far from where the deli sandwiches are made). Specialties include tri-tip, ribs and other cuts of beef (and other meats) in a wide array of original marinades. The Wagon Wheel also has a very nice, if small, fresh-produce section, and also sells local wines and olive oils.
4607 Olive Highway, Oroville. Open daily 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Phone 589-1824.