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More than Meats the Eye

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February 17, 2017



Competing in international contests presents a whole new set of standards and challenges. Three years ago, I moved to France. The language barrier was only a fraction of the challenge I was faced with. European cuts of meat are vastly different from the cuts of meat I was familiar with back home. Of the four standard categories of meats necessary to compete in a KCBS sanctioned contest, only 2 were readily available. Chicken (Poulet) and Ribs (Travers du porc) don’t even think of asking a butcher here for a Boston Butt or a Brisket. Qu’est-ce que c’est? Brisket? Qu’est-ce que c’est? Boston Butt? It was like a live rendition of the classic Talking Heads Psycho Killer, literally “What is this brisket, Boston Butt you speak of????

The origins of the name Boston Butt is not definitive and many speculate that the term is related to barrels that were used to pack the specialty cuts in salt and sealed for shipping out of Boston harbor to various ports of call. The barrels were referred to as “Butts” Hence the name Boston Butt.

When it comes to KCBS Competition in the Pork category, it is very specific and the rule states “Pork is defined as Boston Butt, Boston Roast, Picnic and/or Whole Shoulder, weighing a minimum of four (4) pounds at the time of inspection.”

When competing in the USA this is clear and concise as these cuts are standard fare at any butcher and are readily available at the big box stores and restaurant suppliers. Thanks to a handful of heritage breeders there are premium quality products such as Duroc, Tamworth, Red Wattle, Old Spot, and Mangalitza varieties available.  

Here in Europe there are Heritage breeds as well. The laws related to the chain of control and transport of meats and perishable goods is very strict. I have a friend that breeds Mangalitza pigs. They originated in Hungary and are distinguished by a furry coat like a sheep. These pigs are primarily used for charcuterie due to the beautiful white fat cap they are known for. By law he can only transport his products within a 70-mile radius. His clients outside the limit of his farm must pick up their orders and are therefore responsible for the proper refrigeration and safe handling of the products. Metro Food Distributors, similar to the Restaurant Depo, have designated parking spaces for small trucks to plug in their refrigerated vans. Health department standards are SERIOUS business here. It’s a good thing!

The first couple of contests I competed in, I cooked whole pork shoulders. This cut does not include the Copa or Money Muscle. The Money Muscle is actually up further to the neck and is known here in France as the Eschine. To get a proper Boston Butt I have to purchase a whole piece as pictured here, and remove the ribs and backbone. Note that there are still 4 ribs still attached and the spine is still attached at the top of the photo. This is where center cut pork chops are harvested. The final photo shows the end result with the money muscle still attached and ready to season and smoke.

The first briskets I cooked here also required buying a full forequarter of beef and butchering it myself in my meat kitchen in the basement. I have since been able to source Creekstone Brisket in Paris, my life is much easier now. I continue to cut my own Boston Butts it’s a hobby I really enjoy.

Come to France this summer and compete at my contest Cook-in Camargue Season II it’ll be fun they said!

Oncle Jed (By Jed Thompson)

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