Meat Picks | 9.27.12

Ambience Award

Mon Ami Gabi, Shaw’s Crab House LEYE restaurants, Macy’s Walnut Room and The Pump Room are just some of the restaurants that made the Chicago Eater list of “Chicago’s Most Iconic Dining Rooms” this week. Shots of all the (gorgeous) dining rooms here.

Pork Report

Early this week the Trib posted an article about a pork and bacon shortage which seems to be happening  in Europe. Fortunately, reports for the U.S. pork market were just the opposite.

Pork production soared in August as more animals were brought to market totaling 2 billion pounds, up 6 percent from the previous year. Hog slaughter totaled 9.94 million head, up 4 percent from August 2011. The average live weight was up 3 pounds from the previous year, at 269 pounds.

There is no doubt however, the impact of our drought will be felt by the commodity pork industry which will face higher costs for feed that will be passed on to the consumer at some point.

Responsible producers like Niman Ranch, who practice sustainable farming, tend to ride their own market albeit at prices typically higher than the commodity pork market.  We may in fact see supply and prices from these types of “boutique” producers remain steady.

New Merlot in Town

A third Chicago area Eddie Merlot’s (the first in Burr Ridge and second in Warrenville) is tentatively set to open next week in Lincolnshire.  For those unfamiliar with this restaurant group, they aim for the “WOW factor” – delivering one-of-a-kind service.

Last July Eddie Merlot’s took a booth at the Taste of Lincolnshire and received close to 1,000 new email subscribers as a result, according to the local press. How many restaurants enjoy that kind of pre-opening interest months in advance?

The Lincolnshire location is set to open at 4 p.m. daily in the lounge; dining room hours begin at 5. Special holiday season lunch hours are currently being planned. For more info, check out Merlot’s blog, Twitter and Facebook accounts.


Both routes (Knife and Fork) of the Wicker Park Bucktown Dinner Crawl are sold out! There is a waiting list you can try your luck with by emailing your name, phone number and route choice to:



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

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Trends | Have You Tried Bavette Yet?

Chefs and Restaurateurs looking for alternative and trendy menu ideas with lower price tags should consider Beef Sirloin Flap Steak, or what the French call, “Bavette” steak.

Bavette, (ending, like corvette) means bib in French, and is commonly thought of as thin steak. The sirloin flap steak is a cut similar to skirt, hanger and flank steaks, which were originally known as inexpensive lowly cuts of meats from the less tender areas of the animal. Today, Asian, Latin American and French Bistro trends have popularized these cuts and driven their cost up quite a bit higher than they used to be.

Enter the sirloin flap steak.                               Not to be confused with chuck flap meat, which comes from the front of the animal and is  akin to chuck steaks, the sirloin flap meat comes from the beefy tasting bottom sirloin just above the flank and right next to the short loin. Sirloin flaps are also considered part of the Porterhouse and T-bone steak families.

Prepare with Care

Like skirt and flank steaks, sirloin flaps benefit from marinating; they should be fast cooked on high raw heat and are best at slightly past the medium-rare point. 

For even better results, ask your meat purveyor to mechanically tenderize or “pin” the sirloin flap meat before portioning into steaks which will make for a more tender eating experience.  When serving sirloin flap steaks make sure you cut across the grain!

The sirloin flap steak has a wonderful beefy flavor and fine texture when prepared properly. They are a great choice for Bistro Steaks, Sandwich Steaks and Latin style grilled steak dishes.

Menu Maker

The French description for sirloin flap steaks can be poised several ways on your menu; as a Bavette steak or as, bavette d’aloyau, which means “of the sirloin”. The American name can easily be marketed with chic descriptions such as, flap steak frites and truffle dusted flap steak. A marinade descriptive such as, tequila marinated sirloin flap steak, works equally well too.

No matter how you choose to describe it; the sirloin flap steak is a flavor packed economic alternative to the currently pricey trends of skirt, flank and flat iron steak cuts.


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

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Meat Picks | 9.21.12

Fall Reflections

Have you ever wondered why most Oktoberfest events are always in September? There are numerous schools of thought on the matter ranging from the need for better weather to having to drink beer before it spoils. All accounts agree, the first “official” fest was held on October 12, 1810, marking the royal marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese in Munich, Germany.

If you want to try and still make it to an Oktoberfest this year, there are suburban events running this weekend and in the City next weekend at St. Alfonsos Church in Lakeview.

Fall, which officially starts tomorrow if you haven’t heard, also marks the unofficial start of comfort food season.

Several winners from the annual Time Out Chicago Eat Out Awards announced last April, also stand to become fall favorites this season: Coziest Place to Hibernate, Miko’s Flipside Café, Best New Burger Joint, Butcher and the Burger, and Most Legitimate Farm-to-Table Restaurant, Pleasant House Bakery. (PHB was also ranked Cheap Eatery of the Year by readers.) See the full list of this year’s winners here.

Last Chance to get in on Farm to Fork tomorrow!

McDonald Farm’s inaugural Farm to Fork dinner will take place Naperville tomorrow. Guests will get to tour the farm before dinner and have the opportunity to sample veggies straight from the fields, learn about sustainable agriculture and organic farming and actively engage in conservation conversation.

Don’t miss out on this harvest fresh six course meal planned by Farm to Fork’s Executive Chef Valerie Bulon, of Top Chef fame. Early reservations are still available! Buy tickets off the link on the top right corner of the Farm to Fork home page.


The 7th annual Chicago Culinary Museum fundraising dinner and Chef Hall of Fame awards held at the Hilton last Wednesday night was a huge success.

Culinary schools from the French Pastry School, Kendall College, Le Cordon Blue, College of DuPage, Elgin Community College, Joliet Junior College and the Washburne Culinary Institute, provided a progressive meal for the event – their presentations were excellent. Chef Graham Elliot and Pastry Chef, Jacquy Pfeiffer, were inducted to the Chef Hall of Fame and funds were raised for the building of the future Chicago Culinary Arts Museum. A great time for a worthy cause was had by all.  Photo album from the event is posted on our Facebook page.

The mission of the Chicago Culinary Museum and Chefs Hall of Fame is to promote and celebrate Chicago as a Culinary Mecca. The organization will take a leadership role with the entire industry to create a culinary environment that fosters education, awareness, and growth.


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

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Farm to Fork | One Part Food, Two Parts Community

Farm to Fork, (aka Farm to Table) is one of the hottest trends around. What makes this food movement so trés chic is its passionate attachment to community.

Rutgers defines Farm to Fork as a “community food system” in which:  food production, processing, distribution and consumption are integrated to enhance the environmental, economic, social and nutritional health of a particular place.

One of the success leaders in Farm to Fork integration is the Niman Ranch. A network of over 700 independent farmers and ranchers, Niman members adhere to strict guidelines and quality standards set forth by their organized leadership and followed within each of their own communities.

The Niman Experience

Earlier this month, the Niman “Annual Hog Farmer Appreciation Dinner” was hosted by Paul Willis. Willis, who started the hog farming network in 1995 with Bill Niman, holds the annual event at his Iowa farm (Niman Ranch #1) to pay homage to hog farmers, promote industry awareness and raise money for agricultural education.

To date, more than $140,000 in scholarships has been awarded by the Niman “Next Generation Scholarship Fund” to rural students wishing to study sustainable and environmental practices.

Niman started the education fund in 2006 with the help of industry partners and supporters. Chipolte Mexican Grill, Whole Foods and Buedel Fine Meats, among other food vendors and purveyors, contributed to this year’s scholarship distributions.

Chefs from around the country also participate every year by donating their time and talents to creating incredible fresh harvest and pork rich meals throughout the weekend festivities.

Commitment Personified

Now in its 14th year, the annual event has become an industry poster child for Farm to Fork learning. Having personally attended the ‘Appreciation Dinner’ last year, I’ve seen firsthand how Niman Ranch farmers embody a Farm to Fork community. Several Buedel team members made the pilgrimage to Iowa this year and came back more than overwhelmed by the experience:

The dedication of the [farm] families was amazing – they all have the same ideology. We have never seen the type of passion these people have for what they do, from generation to generation. They told us, “We know we’re doing the right thing”. When you think about it, people want to do the right thing, and to be honest, factory farmers, just don’t express these types of sentiments simply because even if they wanted to, they can’t.

Farm to Fork is sustainability – ethical treatment of the land, animals and workers, profitability and community development. It is a working partnership of agricultural and food system practices.


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








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Sirloin Top Butt Steaks | How Many Cuts Can You Name?

One of the most under appreciated yet most flavorful steaks is the sirloin top butt steak.  It’s a great steak with a funny name.

This butt has nothing to do with the anatomical location. Top Butt Steaks are boneless cuts from the top sirloin which is located between the short loin and the round.

Meat from the top sirloin has a rich beefy flavor and is less expensive than steaks cut from the short loin such as Strip Steaks, Tenderloin Filets, Porterhouse and T-Bone Steaks.

Get More Bang For Your Butt

We are about to embark upon the Q4 holiday season and beef prices will again make their annual rise for certain cuts like the tenderloin – this year most likely even higher due to drought conditions. Now is the time to embrace the versatility of Top Butt Steaks because they are price point friendly and provide multiple menu options to work with.

Sirloin Top Butt steaks can be cut in many different ways from the whole Top Butt muscle. The whole Top Butt is a boneless sub-primal composed of three muscles that in the meat business we call, the “Cap” and the “Center” or, “Heart”. The third is a small undesirable part referred to as the “Mouse Muscle”. By its nature, the Top Butt is a lean muscle with very little fat.  It is best when properly aged and cooked from rare to medium doneness.

Quality purveyors fabricate “Caps” and “Centers” to produce a robust variety of Top Butt Steak cuts. These are the types of cuts that can be used to create numerous unique, alternative and new value menu items.

One Top Butt, Multiple Cuts

How many cuts of sirloin top butts are there? Buedel offers six different cuts of Sirloin Top Butt Steaks. There are others, but these are the most common preferred on the market today:

Baseball Cut Top Butt Steak / Filet of Sirloin These steaks are cut from the center muscle in such a way  they look just like a tenderloin filet – taller and rounded in shape. The Baseball Cut is an excellent alternative steak to the filet for economical banquet applications, as well as a unique stand alone entree.

Bistro Cut Top Butt Steak This Bistro Cut is known for its application in French Bistros as the popular Steak Frites. These steaks are thinly cut from the trimmed center muscle only. They can also be utilized for other quick cooking applications such as, lunch entrees, sandwiches and steak salad.

Top Butt Cap Steak These steaks are cut from the Top Butt “Cap” muscle only, also known as the “Coulotte”.  They are nicely marbled and rich in beefy flavor.  This cut can also be left whole and used for traditional London Broil carving.  They are excellent for buffets, as a center of the plate entree and for sandwiches.

Center Cut Top Butt Steak Center Cuts are the most popular cut for Top Butt Steaks. The “Cap” and “Flap or Mouse” muscles are removed and the “Center” muscle is square cut into portioned steaks.  This steak has great flavor and texture.  It us very good as a center of the plate entree and for sandwiches.

Semi Center Cut Top Butt Steak The “Cap” and “Center” muscles remain together but the “Flap or Mouse” muscle is removed. The muscle is split and then cut into portioned steaks. Since there are two muscles still connected, this cut is a less desirable steak, but is more affordable.

Full Cut Top Butt Steak This is a steak cut by leaving all three muscles intact and square cut into portioned steaks. It is the most economical top butt steak cut.  However, it is also the least desirable because it includes connective tissue (sinew), plus the “Flap” or “Mouse” muscle, which is best used for grinding meat.

Make No Butts About It

When ordering Top Butts, it is important to keep in mind that they are best in Prime and Choice grades. (There are some cuts which are available in lower grade meats such as Select, and also from less desirable cattle breeds.) Baseball and Bistro quality cuts are also not offered by all purveyors.

Sirloin Top Butt Steaks deliver value, variety and versatility. They are a highly cost effective and marketable choice. This is especially true with USDA Choice and Prime grades.  All top butt steaks can be  merchandised as, “Top Sirloin Steaks” on your menu.

Try some Butts with your next meat order!


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


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Meat Picks | 9.14.12

Chicago Culinary Museum Fundraiser & Chef Hall of Fame Dinner

Next Wednesday marks the 7th annual Chicago Culinary Museum fundraising dinner and Chef Hall of Fame awards. This year’s event will be held at the Hilton Towers on South Michigan Avenue.

The CCM is a non-profit org in the process of raising funds to build a museum earmarked to house an interactive learning center for children, artifacts and a library dedicated to the hospitality industry. A silent auction is slated to raise funds at this year’s event. Sponsorships are also available and donations, are always welcome. For more info, call Carmella Anello, Museum Board Secretary, at 630-290-7008 or  email:

This year’s inductees to the Hall of Fame are, French Pastry School Dean at City Colleges of Chicago, Pastry Chef, Jacquy Pfeiffer and Chef of the Year honoree, Chef Graham Elliot, renown Chicago Restaurateur and Master Chef co-host on FOX.

Tickets are still available online! Buy at:


Just How Pricey Can Restaurant Steak Really Get?

There was a great article in Time Out Chicago yesterday on how some cuts of steak can cost upwards and beyond $100 per order. While on the surface that may resonate as shocking, an examination of the facts behind this kind of Cadillac pricing proves quite the opposite. Dry aging, cut of meat and cuisine all play a role in pricing. Read more…


Dine & Learn on a Real Farm

The first Farm to Fork dinner will take place at the McDonald Farm in Naperville, on Saturday, September 22nd.

A six course meal is planned by Farm to Fork’s Executive Chef Valerie Bulon, of Top Chef fame, in the following types of categories: amuse bouche, soup, entrée, greens, main and dessert.

The inaugural event also includes a tour of the farm and comingling with local craftsmen. Guests will be able to taste veggies straight from the fields, (from bok choi to rutabagas, there are over 40 herbs and vegetables grown there), learn about sustainable agriculture, gain insight to organic farming and actively engage in conservation conversation.

The 6 p.m. seating is sold out! Earlier reservations are still available through the Farm to Fork website.


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

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Farm to Fork | Farm Fresh, Food Beautiful

Farm to Fork is a premier event experience dedicated to celebrating food and embracing education – farm fresh and food beautiful on the McDonald Farm in Naperville, Illinois.

Down on the Farm

The 60 acre property houses wetlands, historic buildings, a prairie plant nursery and 49 tillable acres of currently sustainable farmed USDA certified organic crops. From Bok Choi to rutabagas, there are over 40 different herbs and vegetables grown there by the Green Earth Institute, an organic farming operation.

Run by The Conversation Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to environmental preservation and cultivation, the farm was donated to the Foundation in 1992 by the McDonald family matriarch to insure its preservation. To date, the Foundation’s recently completed water conservation and renewable energy project has become a “showcase of conservation in action”.

Harvest Spotlight

Born from a steady and ongoing public interest in the farm, the “farm-to-fork-dinner” concept was developed to share weekly harvests in a down-to-earth yet elegant setting. The first Farm to Fork dinner  will make its debut on Saturday, September 22nd.

Part of this unique experience will include a tour of the farm and connecting with local craftsmen. Guests will be able to taste veggies straight from the fields, learn about sustainable agriculture, gain insight to organic farming and actively engage in conservation conversation.

The 9/22 dinner menu will be developed by Farm to Fork’s Executive Chef, Valerie Bolon, a former Top Chef contestant and Chicago native. Chef Valerie is acclaimed with an expertise for “blending traditional and contemporary cuisine” and has worked in numerous prestige kitchens such as, Gordon, MK and Emeril’s [Lagasse] in New Orleans.

The value of seasonal and “the freshest of” ingredients will play a big role throughout the Farm to Fork menu. A six course meal is currently expected across the following types of categories: amuse bouche, soup, entrée, greens, main and dessert.

Farm to Fork tickets can be purchased from their website at: The cost is $95 per seat. Alcohol-pairing can be added to your reservation for an additional $35.

Buedel Fine Meats is proud to be part of the team of event partners lending further support in making this event a one of a kind culinary stand out!

From the Desk of John Cecala

      Twitter: @buedelfinemeats Facebook: buedelfinemeats


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Meat Picks | 9.6.12

Two Day Wine Festival

The Windy City Wine Festival kicks off tomorrow at Buckingham Fountain at 4! The festival runs till 10 on Friday and from 3-9 on Saturday. There will be tastings, food and wine seminars, cooking demos, entertainment and more.

Tickets are $28 in advance and $35 at the door – note: advance purchase rate is good till 10 p.m. Thursday night only. Phone orders at: 877-772-5425 from 8:00am to 9:00pm CST. Souvenir wine glasses and opportunities to buy wines at a discount are included. A portion of the proceeds also go to the Grant Park Conservancy.

Chicago’s New Foodie Street

Zagat came out with a new list this week – The 7 Most Exciting Food Streets in the U.S.  – and Randolph Street is their pick for Chicago’s latest and greatest.

From Michael Jordan’s modern Asian bellyQ  barbeque to the highly acclaimed Girl & The Goat, Zagat highlights these and five other like street stops, (Au Cheval, City Winery, g.e.b., Maude’s Liquor Bar, and Haymarket Pub & Brewery) as one of the best dining destinations within a one mile strip.

Boylston in Boston, 14th Street NW in D.C., Rose Ave. in Venice, Wythe Ave. in Brooklyn, East Passyunk Ave. in Philly and Valencia St. in San Francisco, also claimed bragging rights.

Bon Appétit’s Chicago Gourmet Returns

The annual celebration of food and wine will be held over the last weekend of September in Millennium Park. This is the event where more than 100 of the City’s finest restaurants and chefs culminate, demonstrate and titillate all who attend with lectures, tastings and more. Check these links for this year’s chefs and exhibitors.

All monies raised from the silent auction and raffles at this year’s Gourmet will be donated to the Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation to provide scholarships for aspiring chefs and hospitality professionals. Silent auction items include exquisite wines, sports memorabilia and exciting travel and entertainment packages. Tickets are $25 each or 5 for $100.

Friday night’s famous Hamburger Hop is already sold out! Tickets for Saturday and Sunday events are still available online at: You can also “earn” a free ticket to the event by participating in the annual Dine Around Deal which runs now till the end of the month.

Twitter: @buedelfinemeats Facebook: buedelfinemeats



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What Makes Meat Natural?

Many consumers assume that when a meat label says “Natural”, it is better for you, better for the environment and that the animals involved were raised without growth hormones or antibiotics in their natural environments.  However this is not necessarily always the case.  Many national brands loosely use the term “Natural” on their products without any of the above attributes being met – and it is perfectly legal to do so.

The USDA provides clear and specific definitions for “Natural” and “Organic” product labeling. It is important to understand that foods which meet USDA organic certification are authorized to use the “USDA Organic” seal, which has the word ‘organic’ on it. “Natural” labeling requirements per the USDA are quite different.

What the USDA Means by Natural

The definition of “Natural” according to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, the agency responsible for ensuring truthfulness and accuracy in labeling of meat and poultry products is as follows:

NATURAL  A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means the product is processed in a manner which does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as “no artificial ingredients; minimally processed”).

Food labeling can be ambiguous and tough to digest at times (pardon the pun). The easiest way to grasp a firm comprehension for industry terms is to connect the dots between definition and application.

The USDA definition of Natural for fresh meats, such as beef, pork, veal and lamb, means the meat is processed (harvested at the packing plant) without using food additives during processing such as: flavor enhancers, food colorings, binders, nitrites, phosphates, and the like.  Again: USDA Natural means that meat was harvested at a packaging plant without using food additives.

Fresh meat packing plants that harvest beef, pork, veal or lamb and fabricate them into sub primal cuts for retail and food service, do so without fundamentally altering the meat with artificial ingredients or added colorings – this is standard practice today.

Technically then, meat packers can label many of their brands Natural and many do. This is evidenced by the plethora of brand names in the market today making natural claims on their labels poised with pictures and stories of beautiful farms and green pastures making you feel warm and fuzzy about the product you’re purchasing.

What You Expect from Natural …is probably missing

The USDA’s definition of “Natural” does not speak to the exclusion of growth hormones and antibiotics, or humane animal treatment or sustainable farming practices. But that’s what most consumers, Restaurateurs and Chefs are looking for when they want truly “Natural” meats.

How to Find the Natural You (Really) Want

For those looking for a more complete natural product, there are stricter label definitions for “Natural”  to keep watch for. Highly defined all Natural meats usually come with one or more of the following package statements:

Never/Ever Growth Hormones or Antibiotics  Animals raised in this program were never, ever, given growth hormones to accelerate weight gain and speed to market, nor were the animals given antibiotics during their lifetime. These animals are raised on an all natural 100% vegetarian diet up to harvest.

Humanely Raised  Animals are raised outdoors in open pastures where they are free to roam with plenty of access to food and water.  As compared to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, “CAFOs”, where animals are raised in confined indoor industrial farming pens.

Sustainably Raised  These animals are raised in harmony with farming practices that preserve the land and water for future generations such as seasonal crop rotation and fewer animals per acre.  (The Chipolte restaurant chain presented an excellent illustration of sustainable practice in their last Super Bowl commercial.)

Quality, Cost & Satisfaction

One of the easiest ways to shop for high quality Natural meats is to become familiar with the brands which produce at this level.  Niman Ranch and Tallgrass Beef  are two industry leaders who employ the stricter definition of Natural. These types of brands do cost more than commodity meats and those brands claiming the lesser USDA definition of “Natural” on their label because it costs more to raise the animals these ways.

There is a growing trend for “Farm to Fork” foods and meats.  To make sure your values and needs are being met when choosing “Natural” meats, match your desires to the appropriate label definitions.


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


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