9 Strange Cuts of Meat to Ask Your Butcher For

The majority of us tend to play it safe when buying meat and never stray too far beyond ribeyes, sirloins, skirt steaks or chops. The fact is, we’re missing out. There’s a whole lot more meat on a cow, pig or lamb to audition and experiment with than just the obvious parts. Most of the meats on this list usually wind up getting tossed out or turned into dog food, but serious eaters know there can be a lot of reward in the deeply weird. Next time you’re meat shopping and feeling adventurous, ask your butcher about some of these cuts. It’ll be impressive, and you can freak your friends out by telling them how much you enjoy brains and tripe.


A gizzard is part of the digestive system of a bird (as well as alligators and some fish) and functions like a food processor to help break down seeds and other difficult to digest items. Almost everywhere in the world except the United States, these chewy, richly flavored organs are eaten often and with great enthusiasm. In France, gizzards might be confited and served in a salad. In Japan, they may appear as part of grilled yakitori. Trinidadian gizzard fans often eat them curried with roti bread. In some more enlightened Stateside areas-predominantly the South-gizzards are usually deep fried and served with hot sauce.


The second chapter of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” finds Leopold Bloom buying and cooking kidney from a local butcher. Kidneys are Bloom’s special favorite, offering a “fine tang of faintly scented urine.” Had he sliced them open and let them soak in cold water for a couple of hours, he could have removed that tang and enjoyed their deep, earthy flavor and motherlode quantities of iron and vitamins A and B. Most recipes recommend pairing kidneys with “big” flavors like mustard or Bordeaux and cooking them quickly, since prolonged exposure to heat will make the meat tough and chewy.


The heart is something most butchers simply throw away, but many chefs get positively rhapsodic about it. It’s a lean cut of meat with a lot of flavor and a firm texture-and stunningly cheap. Heart needs to be cooked for either a long, long time or very quickly (possibly not at all) and a quick search turns up all sorts of recipes like heart and watermelon salad, heart rillettes, heart kebabs and even heart tartare.


Of all the weird cuts of meat we’re discussing, tongue is probably the most common and the least likely to make unadventurous eaters hyperventilate. Although you can eat pig and lamb’s tongue, most of the time you’re talking beef tongue. It’s dense and chewy and full of fat, but tongue is also just as densely packed with flavor-as many delicatessen fans will attest. Tongue takes a while to cook and is most often braised to break down the toughness (although some cooks promise it makes a great roast). Consider serving tongue with a horseradish-mustard sauce, as the filling for a taco or in a sweet-sour style, a la Mario Batali.


If you find yourself with an intense craving for a high dose of vitamin B12, then dig into a serving of washed, bleached and slowly cooked beef stomach. Tripe can be served pickled or grilled, but around the world, it’s most commonly found in soups or stews (it’s also a standard ingredient in commercially prepared breakfast sausages, but you probably don’t want to know that). Not unlike tofu, tripe has a pretty neutral taste that absorbs whatever spices and flavorings it’s cooked with; what it lacks in flavor it makes up for in scent-it is potent and pungent and no one will ever describe it as pleasant. Tripe is a labor-intensive food that many people think isn’t worth the effort, although Italian and Spanish cooks with a jones for tradition have made a fetish of the stuff.


They’re described as having a creamy texture and flavor unlike anything else. They’re composed mostly of fat and are much loved in traditional French country cooking. But, ultimately, whether you are eating them poached, seared or deep-fried, you are eating brains-a tough sell to even the most adventurous modern day gastronome. A quick Internet search turns up hundreds of recipes-perhaps Parmesan-crusted lambs brains might be a good point of entry-but one of the more common methods of preparation is to serve them with eggs. In fact, the good folks at Armour & Company have a line of pork brains in milk gravy available in Southern supermarkets, one of the few areas boasting routine domestic brain consumption. There is a quick and easy recipe for brains and eggs right there on the label.


You have to marvel at the visionary powers of the first person to decide that the fleshy crown of a rooster or chicken could be cut away, poked full of holes, boiled until the outer skin comes off, and then braised in aromatic liquids. Cockscombs are pretty standard stuff in Chinese cuisine, and old-school French cooks never wasted them, but today only die-hards like chef Chris Cosentino of San Francisco’s Incanto restaurant give them much play. Cosentino’s website features a few recipes for cockscombs, such as cockscombs with oyster mushrooms and candied cockscombs for dessert.

Pig Ears

Pig ears are most often found at pet store counters, where they are sold as delicious (or so it’s assumed) treats for dogs. But in Japan, Portugal, Spain, China, the Philippines and in American soul food cuisine, they provides crunchy texture and a nice pork flavor to dishes like red-braised, smothered, pickled or crispy pig ears. They need to be boiled for quite a while to soften all the cartilage, but the results are actually worth the work. For those concerned about these things, it will come as a relief to learn that pigs ears contain virtually no carbohydrates.


It’s OK to admit it: even the most heroic diner is going to hesitate before consuming the blood of an animal. In fact, if you keep Kosher, it’s forbidden. However, blood has a long and storied tradition in cooking. In Spanish tapas joints, blood is cooked, solidified, and then cut into little squares. All over Europe, thrifty cooks use it to make sausage and French cooks often used it to thicken sauces. Blood has always been considered a hearty food, good for vigor in cold weather and it has been an enduring favorite of the undead for millennia.

All images via Flickr CC