Meat Up Labor Day Picks

Farm to Fork

Eddie Merlot’s is running a specially priced “Farm-to-Fork” menu now through the end of the September.

The pre-set menu offers six entrées to choose from: Pecan-crusted whitefish with sautéed sugar snap peas, Barbecue spiced Maple Leaf Farms duck breast with sweet corn, duck confit ravioli and sweet potato “gravy”, Kentucky-fried chicken breasts stuffed with artisan ham and cheese, roasted garlic mashed potatoes and green beans, Cider-glazed smoked pork chop, sweet corn and edamame succotash and Habanero-glazed beef short ribs, roasted root vegetables and potatoes

Guests can choose one entrée with either a starter (soup or salad) or dessert for $32 – or have a starter  and dessert for just $38. Great price for phenomenal food and atmosphere!

More info here:

Yet another word on tomatoes…

Last week we wrote about Spain’s famous tomato throwing festival, La Tomatina. Since then we found out there’s a company that puts on a like event in our own back yard (literally) in Bridgeview at Toyota Park.

The “Tomato Battle” is currently held in eight cities nationwide, including Chicago this weekend on Saturday, September 1st. Registration beings at noon and the battle begins at 4. Live music, libations and a costume contest are all part of the fun.

Buy tickets at:

Summer Send Offs

The bad thing about Labor Day weekend is it marks the end of summer. The good thing is there are some very cool things to do over the holiday.

The 34th Annual Jazz Festival kicks off today in Grant Park! The last of the season Tastes (for Serbia, Polonia and Melrose Park) start tomorrow and Saturday. Check here for a complete list of festivals.

For more things to do, check out the over 300 listings at this Time Out Chicago  link and suburban listings at the Daily Herald.

Have a great weekend!


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1 of 10 Things (at the very least) the Food Industry Does Want You to Know

US News recently updated, 10 Things the Food Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know, originally published in 2008. The tenth thing speaks directly to my industry – meat.

Regurgitated negative news and the manipulation of facts by the media are more common than we’d like to think. In this case, “Lean Finely Textured Beef” (LFTB), also known in slang terms as, “Pink Slime”, bore the brunt of numerous media inspired controversy.

Void of clarity in food science, production, safety and regulations, the press essentially led the way to reactive change. Negative ramifications have since begun to emerge in direct result and stand to reason why we are paying higher prices for ground beef today.

Science Sounds Scary

Part of the LFTB process involves heating beef trimmings to soften fat and then spinning them in a centrifuge to separate the fat from the lean meat. The lean meat is then treated with a puff of ammonium hydroxide for food safety purposes to kill bacteria such as, E. coli O157:H7.

Words that begin with prefixes such as “hyd” and end in “ide” (including any other chemical sounding words for that matter) generally make people think they are unsafe. However, the use of this compound in food processing has been consistently studied since the 1970’s and was approved for use in food manufacturing by the USDA and in Title 21 by the FDA.

This bears repeating: The use of ammonium hydroxide is approved by two regulating government agencies for food production use.

Ammonium hydroxide is ammonia combined with water. Ammonia is a compound consisting of nitrogen and hydrogen. Ammonia and ammonium hydroxide are very common compounds both found naturally in our environment – in air, water, soil, plants and animals. Ammonia is also produced in the human body, by our organs, tissues and by the beneficial bacteria living in our intestines. Eating good bacteria has become more commonplace in recent years with the introduction of probiotics to the dairy product markets.

You may also be interested in knowing ammonium hydroxide is used as a direct food additive in baked goods, cheeses, chocolates, caramel, puddings and scads of other foods. However, unlike ground beef, these food products have yet to be subjected to media centric sensationalism.

Monkey See, Monkey Skewed

Last year, ABC’s Food Revolution Chef, Jamie Oliver, campaigned against LFTB by pouring a bottle of ammonia over ground beef on camera and telling viewers that’s what their children were eating in school lunches. Oliver manipulated Pink Slime in a trend du jour fashion which is most ironic as the term had been coined by a USDA microbiologist years prior when he used it to describe its pink tones when unfrozen.

Oliver’s tangent went viral, was heralded in the media and thus ignited consumer outrage. LFTB bashings across social, print and broadcast media seemed irreversible until recently. Counter reports to Oliver’s fact void haberdashery have since been published by the Huffington Post, National Public Radio, New York Times, in opinion blogs and by watch dog groups.

Unfortunately, refuted claims were far too slow in coming as school districts, retailers and foodservice operators had already caved to public pressure and stopped purchasing ground beef made with LFTB in favor of 100% pure ground beef.

How This Fallout Affects All of Us

To date public outcry over Pink Slime has subsided leaving a trail of economic ills behind. Business, industry, employment and pricing relevant to the situation now travel in negative directions.

Beef Products Inc. (BPI) was a large manufacturer of LFTB who used the approved process to bring economically priced lean ground beef to market. However, due to the change of institutional, retail and consumer markets from LFTB blended ground beef to 100% ground beef, BPI was forced to close three of their four plants and lay off over 600 workers.

Consider that circumstance again – 75% of their business output channels were lost and the employees that ran them. What adds insult to BPI’s injury is they were a company widely known for pioneering food safety measures – they made a habit of finding ways to produce safer meat.

AFA Foods, a ground beef processor who provided over 500 million pounds of ground beef annually with over 800 employees, filed for bankruptcy last April, citing “changes in the market” for its treated beef products. Last month, two AFA plants were sold to different companies, Cargill and CTI dismantling the business piece by piece.

Consumer prices for 100% ground beef have since outpaced inflation and hit a record high this month. The beef industry, already seeing its lowest herd numbers since 1955 due to drought, now needs 1.5 million head more to fill the demand gap for ground beef. These effects will likely drive up cattle futures and ultimately the price of beef for all of us.

What is most tragic about the LFTB timeline is the delay in rebuttal coverage. Ultimately, major corporations gave in to misguided public opinion, people lost their jobs, and lean ground beef choices have all but disappeared from the marketplace.

Food manufacturers are often taken to task on the hype used to sell their products. US News says, “A health claim on the label doesn’t necessarily make a food healthy”. To that end, the one thing the food industry does want you to know is this: media claims about the food industry do not necessarily make a food unhealthy.


From the desk of  John Cecala  Twitter @Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page

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Is 100 Percent Grass Fed Beef Better?

There’s a growing interest in 100% grass fed beef. Many believe it’s better for you, better for the environment, better for the animals and tastes the way beef was meant to taste.

Cattles’ stomachs are designed to eat forages such as grass and legumes. Farmers raising cattle for the beef industry supplement their diet with additional vegetarian feed such as barley, oats and grain (corn) to fatten them up faster than if they just remained on grass.

Cattle raised on grass only need a lot more land to feed on and take twice as long to finish than cattle supplemented with additional vegetarian feeds.  This makes grass fed beef more expensive to bring to market and increases the price to consumers.

Is grass fed worth it? Consider these facts from the Tallgrass Beef Company:

Better for you

More Vitamin A Is Better

Beta-Carotene is converted to Vitamin A (retinol) by the human body, and grass fed beef contains 10 times the Beta-Carotene of grain-fed beef. Vitamin A is important for normal vision, bone growth, reproduction, cell division, and cell differentiation. Additionally, Vitamin A creates a barrier to bacterial and viral infection, and supports the production and function of white blood cells.

More Vitamin E Is Better

Grass fed beef typically has 3 times the amount of Vitamin E found in conventional grain fed beef. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that may help prevent or delay coronary heart disease, block the formation of carcinogens formed in the stomach, and protect against cancer development. Vitamin E may also improve eye lens clarity and reduce or prevent the development of cataracts.

The Right Balance of Omega 3 & 6 Fatty Acids Is Better

The ratio of Omega-3 fatty acids to Omega-6 fatty acids in our diet plays an important role in the prevention and treatment of coronary heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, autoimmune diseases, cancer, and arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. The American Medical Association and the World Health Organization recommend a ratio of roughly one to four parts Omega-6 to one part Omega-3. However, the cereal grains typically fed to cattle have very low levels of Omega-3 and much higher levels of Omega-6. Feeding grass to cattle increases the Omega-3 content of the meat by 60% and produces a much more favorable Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio.

More Dietary Protein Is Better

Grass fed beef is leaner and higher in protein that grain-fed beef. In fact, grass fed beef averages 1.5 times more protein than typical USDA Choice+ grain fed beef. Research indicates that eating lean beef can help lower total, LDL and VLDL cholesterol, and triglycerides, while increasing beneficial HDL cholesterol. It can also help lower blood pressure, aid in weight loss, and improve insulin sensitivity and glycemic control.

Better for the Animals

Diet Is Better

Grass is the natural diet of cattle. Cattle raised on grass tend to be healthier because it is their natural food.  When cattle raised on grain ingest excessive quantities they can develop a digestive tract condition called acidosis, “grain overload”, where their natural pH is thrown off balance causing pain and reduced consumption. The animal must then be given antibiotics in order to prevent infection and death.

Life Is Better

Cattle raised on grass graze the prairie in communal groups, as cattle naturally do. The animals graze completely through one area before moving on to the next; this also helps improve the quality of the grass that grows back.

Better for the Environment

Farmers and ranchers of grass fed beef contribute daily to the reduction of carbonfootprint in our atmosphere through the simple process of growing grass. Grass removes carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and uses it to grow. The grass above ground is eaten by the cattle, but the CO2 used to grow the roots is held in the soil. This is called “carbon sequestration” and it is the process that produced, through the centuries, the deep, rich soil of the great American Grasslands.

The natural process of cattle grazing on open pasture can be used to clean carbon from the air released from fossil fuel burning, and put it back underground as part of the soil.

Better for Business

Restaurants that offer grass fed beef item(s) are able to appeal to health conscience customers. Promoting the health benefits of grass fed beef on menus provides the advantage of alternative choice. Restaurants who offer grass feed beef as a specialty item may also reap the benefits to be gained from higher menu margins.

Better for Taste?

This is the subjective part. “You are what you eat” as the saying goes and grass fed beef tastes different  than grain fed beef. Our palates are generally accustomed to the rich flavor of grain feed beef due to its higher marbling. Grass fed beef is less marbled and would be comparable to USDA Select grades of beef. The lower marbling levels of grass fed beef are offset by a unique and complex natural beef flavor.

When properly aged, grass feed beef is tender and delicious. Some say it is the way beef was meant to taste. Give grass fed beef a try and decide for yourself!


From the desk of  John Cecala  Twitter @Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page

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Meat Up Feeds & Fun

21 Gun Salute to the Saloon Steakhouse

We want to send a big 21 Gun Salute out to the Saloon Steakhouse on their 21st Anniversary! Longevity in the restaurant industry is not an easy thing to do and 21 years is a milestone! Congratulations to the great people at Saloon Steakhouse, may you have another great 21 years ahead!

See you at the celebration this Sunday!

It’s all About the Tools You Cook With …

Last week, Steve Hendershot did a review on “grilling with technology” for Crain’s Chicago comparing mobile apps on the market. The focus of his piece was Weber’s new free iPhone app which comes with grill recipes and how-to tips.

Equally noteworthy is the author’s accompanying video to the article – an effortless cooking demonstration of a Weber recipe.

While critiquing the new application, Hendershot prepares a steak marinade following the recipe from his iPad poised on an elevated cookbook stand in his kitchen. When ready to grill, he pulls up the cooking instructions on his iPhone from his patio. It was one of the most amazing displays of techno-driven cooking we’ve seen!

Festival di Pomodori at Francesca’s

The Tomato Festival at Francesca’s, is a celebration (running now through September 2nd) which features specialty dishes showcasing a variety of fresh tomatoes grown by the agriculturally sustainable Chef’s Garden.

Francesca’s is also running a fun photo contest in honor of the festival, “Throw us a Tomato”. The best creative tomato shot wins dinner on the house valued at $200. For contest rules and more information go to their Facebook page.

One more word on tomatoes…

If you’ve never heard of Spain’s famous tomato throwing festival, check out this video to give you a clue of the pandemonium mash this event is known for.

An annual weeklong festival tradition which began sometime around 1945, (no one supposedly knows for sure), “La Tomatina” starts on the last Wednesday of every August. Between 20,000 to 40,000 people flock to the small town of Buñol, Spain (population 9,000) to participate each year. More about the event here.

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Duroc: A Red Pig You Should Know

When choosing pork, how much do you consider the breed? There are a variety of popular pork breeds such as: Birkshire, Chester White, Hampshire, Landrace, Jersey Red, Yorkshire and Duroc.

Since 1987 pork as been nationally promoted as “The Other White Meat” to increase consumer demand and dispel the notion of pork as an unhealthy fatty protein. The campaign was quite successful in educating the consumer about the leanness of pork but it left the impression that raw pork should be white. The fact is, all pork ends up white after it is cooked. However, in its raw state, many believe that “Redder is Better” when selecting pork.

There are certain pork breeds that have a more reddish raw pork color. The pork from these breeds is typically juicier, more tender, more marbled and has a higher pH than whitish colored raw pork. These characteristics make for a superior pork eating experience.

A lot of culinary attention is given to the Birkshire breed (Black Pig) or its Japanese version, Kurobuta, because of its deeper raw color, rich marbling, natural juiciness and flavor.

A lesser famed breed, called Duroc (Red Pig), is bright reddish pink in raw color and is also rich in marbling delivering a tender, juicy flavorful dining experience. Durocs are red pigs with drooping ears. They are the second most recorded breed of swine in the United States today, and a major breed in many other countries.

Duroc Boar

A Little Duroc History

It’s believed that Christopher Columbus brought red hogs to America on his second voyage and Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto, brought red hogs to this country in the 1500’s. The red hogs were presumed to have come from Spain and Portugal originally and remained here to proliferate in population.

In 1823, a man named Isaac Frink, of Saratoga County, New York, purchased a red boar from Harry Kelsey out of a litter of ten pigs whose parents were believed to be imported from England. Kelsey owned a famous trotting stallion named “Duroc” and Frink named his red boar “Duroc” in honor of the horse.

This red boar became known for his smoothness and carcass quality. Its offspring,  similar in red color and stature, continued the Duroc name. Beginning in the early 1860’s, Duroc breeding programs were refined producing a moderate hog that was well suited for the finishing abilities of the Corn-belt farmer.

During the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Durocs gained wide popularity at the first successful Duroc Hog Show. This was the beginning of the Durocs popularity and industry breeding which continues today. the price of Duroc pork is reasonable and usually falls in between low end commodity pork and higher end Birkshire pork.

Give Duroc pork a try for something special at a reasonable price.


From the desk of  John Cecala  Twitter @Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page

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Which Lamb is the Best: American, Australian or New Zealand?

Lamb is a very subjective item. Many people feel that New Zealand or Australian is the best and others feel there is no lamb other than American and are willing to pay the premium price for it.

Lamb from each region has its own distinguishing characteristics including flavor, size and price. What are the differences then?

American Colorado Lamb

American Lamb:
American lamb is just that, it has been raised in the U.S. Most quality American lamb comes from Colorado and the Midwestern States and is grain fed. This breed is the largest in size and many say is the highest in quality and consistency.

American lamb has grain in its diet and thus tastes less “gamey” compared to imported lamb which is typically grass fed. It is also the most expensive available. American lamb is very sensitive to market conditions which makes availability and size variable. Lamb farming is a small industry in the U.S. which is why supply and demand is a major issue.

Australian Lamb

Australian / Austral-American Lamb:
“Aussie” lamb has become a very popular item today. It has been cross-bred with American lamb to create a larger more consistent product. Not too many years ago Aussie lamb was very undesirable. The lambs were raised primarily for their wool and the meat was almost a by-product of that industry. This meant a very inconsistent product in size and quality.

Today Aussie lamb is also raised for consumption to a specific size and weight which produces a quality product that is less expensive than American domestic lamb. It is of a medium size and resembles that of American lamb the most.

New Zealand Lamb

New Zealand Lamb:
New Zealand has long produced lamb for its wool industry. This breed is of small stature and many believe is of the least quality compared to American and Australian lamb. Consequently it is also the least expensive lamb. Many customers use this product because of its attractive cost and consistent sizing. When compared to American and Aussie lamb, the price is right.

Popular Lamb Cuts
Lamb can be purchased a few different ways, “Primal”, “Sub-Primal” and “Portion Control”. Most customers purchase “Sub-Primal” or “Portion Control”. Unlike beef, when lamb is portioned, they become “Chops” not “Steaks”.

Popular Primal Cuts – Bone-In
Leg, Loin, Hotel Rack, Shoulder, Saddle

Popular Sub Primal Cuts
Rack Split Chine Off, Loin Boneless Trimmed, Leg Boneless, Shank, Shoulder Boneless

Popular Portion Control Cuts
Lamb Rack, Frenched, Lamb Rib Chop, Frenched, Lamb Loin Chop, Lamb Shoulder Chops, Lamb Leg, Frenched Carving

So, which Lamb is the best: American, Australian or New Zealand? Perhaps all of them, depending on your specific needs. Try them and decide for yourself!


From the desk of  John Cecala  Twitter @Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page

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What’s so fun about county fairs?

Lots of things!  That may seem simple, but I never really thought about how much fun going to these fairs really was until last weekend when I went to the DuPage County Fair in Wheaton.

So what makes county and state fairs so much fun? More than the food, games and rides, it’s all about the exhibits…

It was fun to see horse shoes being made by a traditional blacksmith.

I watched the blacksmith use hot coals to heat up metal to put on an anvil and then pound the glowing molten round into shape with a hammer – while he trained a journeyman in the art, keeping the tradition alive.

I learned about “hit & miss” engines. 

These engines could run for days on a single gallon of gas and were capable of powering tools used on a farm such as: wood choppers, corn huskers and corn millers – some of which dated back to the early 1900′s and are still reliable today.

Being able to witness wood carving, cow milking, and art and crafts being made live was also very interesting – but seeing the spinning of wool into yarn from a freshly sheared sheep was enlightening to say the least.

It was also more than fun watching the Blue Ribbons being awarded.

I was amazed at the time and care the contestants took with their entries and at the immense look of pride in their eyes. (Google “blue ribbon contests” and you’ll be surprised at the amount of listings that come back!) The amount of award categories was equally amazing: Apple Pie, Chocolate Chip Cookie, Watermelon, State Flower, Dairy Cow, Pig, Sheep and Show Horse, to name a few.

What struck me more than anything walking through the fair on that beautiful day was the overwhelming feeling of Americana all around me. I was knee deep in old fashioned values and historic traditions still in use smack dab in the age of iPads and X-Box…and it felt so good!

That’s what’s so fun about county fairs.

There’s still time to take in a fair before the summer is over:

The Wisconsin State Fair is running now till the 12th:

The Illinois State Fair starts this week on August 9th through the 19th

Additional County Fairs in Illinois:

John Cecala
Buedel Fine Meats and Provisions


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What’s the Diff Between Beef and Dairy Cattle?

When you eat a tasty steak or purchase beef for your restaurant, do you know if it came from a cow, steer, angus, holstein, hereford, heifer or a combination thereof?

There are different breeds and types of animals in the beef and dairy industries and yes… even dairy animals are used for consumption. By understanding the basics, you can make educated choices for your beef selections that will affect taste, texture, quality and price. Check out our quick cheat sheet to help.

There are Beef breeds raised for their meat and Dairy breeds raised to produce milk.  Both breeds have common terms to describe the animal.

Cow: A female that has had a calf.
Heifer: A young female that has not had a calf.
Bull: A mature male.
Steer: A castrated male.
Yearling: An animal between 1 and 2 years of age.

Angus Yearling

Beef Cattle:  There are over 70 breeds of beef cattle, the most popular are: Angus, Hereford, Charolais,Chianina, Main-Anjou, Limousin, Longhorn, Simmental & Shorthorn

A cow gives birth to 1 calf a year.
The top grades of beef are:
Prime, Choice and Select.

A 1,000 lb. steer/heifer = 540 lbs. of meat and 460 lbs. of by-product like leather and pharmaceuticals.

1 cow hide = 144 baseballs or 20 footballs or 18 volleyballs or 12 basketballs.

Holstein Cow

Dairy Cattle: The popular breeds are: Holstein, Guernsey, Jersey, Brown Swiss, Aryshire and Milking Shorthorn

The average dairy cow produces 120 glasses of milk a day. It takes about 2 days for milk to go from the cow to the grocery store.

10 lbs. of milk = 1 lb. of cheese.

The best steakhouses and restaurants typically serve steaks that come from beef cattle, primarily Angus and Hereford steers. However, there are purveyors that sell Holstein meat which is typically less expensive but still can be graded as Prime, Choice or Select. There is a distinct difference in the taste and texture along with the lesser price.

Breed goes hand in hand with taste, texture, quality and price. Inquire about breed the next time you buy or order steak!


From the desk of  John Cecala  Twitter @Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page



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