Ordering Meat For The Holidays

Guys, real talk: holiday time is at a premium and while I'm sure you don't want to waste your own time, you might not be thinking about your butcher's time. I want to give you a little glimpse of the typical holiday special order conversation: 

Customer: "I'd like a ham please!" (a little excited because...ham!) 
Butcher: (a little grouchily because some butchers are surly, no?) "what kind of ham?" 
Customer: "I don't know...honey-baked?" 
Butcher: "We have smoked hams and raw hams."
Customer: "I don't know...smoked?" 
Butcher: "bone-in or bone-out?" 
Customer: "Oh. Umm, I don't know...bone-out?" 
And so on. You get the picture. 

So, today, we're here to talk about the things we can try to figure out before we talk to the butcher; it'll make the whole process a lot easier on everyone. Below, I outline the most popular holiday cuts, and the information we need to provide our butchers in order for them to help us out. But, before I get into too much detail (which is what happens below.. you'll see), here are the basic elements you'll need to consider before placing your order:

  1. Bone in or boneless?
  2. Weight or number of ribs?
  3. Skin on or skin off? (for pork orders)
  4. Special requests? (i.e. skin cross-hatched, roast tied, butterflied, etc.)

Okay, now let's get into the specifics. I've selected the four cuts that, in my experience, are most popular around the holidays. Below, you'll find all the details your butcher may want to know when preparing your order:

Beef Standing Rib Roast, my favorite.

 A standing rib roast is a section of the loin. A standing roast is always bone-in, while a rib roast can be boneless or bone-in. When ordering a standing roast, it's easier to order by the bone than by the pound. In general, I think that one bone is enough for two people (it would be the equivalent of a thick rib-eye steak), so you can order 2 bones for four people, and 3 for six, and so on. If you order by the pound, the butcher may have a hard time cutting to the exact weight, since they can't cut through the bones. You'll also want to confirm that they'll french the bones for you, which means that they'll cut away the meat from the rib bones to give you that signature look. (PS it's also easier to tie and carve when it's frenched.) Lastly, check about the chine bone. This is a section of the spinal cord that makes it hard to carve the roast, so be sure and confirm with your butcher that they'll remove it. 

Pork Standing Rib Roast & Pork Crown Roast, not to be confused. 

A pork standing rib roast is just like a beef standing rib roast. It's bone-in, and typically with the ends of the rib-bones frenched to make tying and carving easier. Just as with the beef version, you'll want to confirm that the butcher will remove that pesky chine bone. Also, as with the beef, it's easiest to order by the rib. A full rib roast has 10-11 bones total, and you'll need a little less than 1 per person. If you're having 12 people, it's best to order two 5-6 rib roasts, since they'll cook more evenly. If you are looking for a bone-out pork loin roast, you can get the rib end, or the center cut loin. Of the two, the center cut is leaner. Either way, you'll need about 1/2 lb per person, and you'll want to make sure the butcher leaves some fat on the outside. A pork crown roast, on the other hand, is two standing roasts that have been tied together in the shape of a crown. These can be quite expensive, since it's impossible to make a small one. Don't even ask the butcher to do that. At the least, a crown roast will be between 15 and 20 pounds. 

Ham. Everyone is confused about it.

In my experience, ham was the cause of the most confusion around the holidays. Hams are generally sold fresh (raw), baked, and smoked. Let's start with the basics: a ham is the rear leg of a pig. If you're buying a raw ham, you'll need to specify quite a few things. First, would you like bone-in or bone-out? Ham with the bone-in looks more classic, but ham with the bone out is easier to carve. Secondly, you'll need to specify the weight. A whole, bone-in ham can weigh around 20 pounds! If you select a bone-in ham, you do limit how small you can go. I always found that the smallest bone-in ham that we could successfully do is about 7 pounds. Even then, it was sometimes a little ugly. A boneless ham is also slightly less attractive, but easier to cut into smaller pieces. Thirdly, consider whether you would like the skin left on, or off. If you elect to have the skin on, you can cut a design in it so that it will crisp up in the oven, giving you that highly sought after cracklin effect. But, with a boneless ham, you can brush layer upon layer of a yummy stick glaze right onto the meat while it cooks. So, to each their own. If you're getting a baked or smoked ham, you'll simply need to specify the size, and whether or not you'd like the bone-in or out. Baked and smoked hams require considerably less work- just a short stint in the oven with a yummy glaze. 

Brisket. Wait, there's more than one cut of brisket?

Jewish families who are accustomed to ordering and eating brisket each year already know well that there are two cuts of brisket from which to choose. For the rest of you, here goes: the point is the front end of the brisket. It's much fattier (in the best way), and thicker. The flat is the thinner, leaner, flatter part of the brisket that heads away from the cow's head and towards the ribs. Choose wisely depending on what you'd like. Or, get a whole brisket. Typically, on a grass-fed animal, the brisket weighs between 11 and 13 pounds. It's important to remember that brisket shrinks quite a bit during cooking, so don't try to order a 1 pound brisket from the butcher. You'll only be disappointed. You need at least 2 pounds (and really, I'd recommend a little more).