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BBQ Tips From an Ex-Vegan Butcher

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Clarkson Potter

“Bacon: The Gateway Meat” is the best-selling t-shirt at and the philosophy of Fleisher’s Grass-fed & Organic Meats in Kingston, New York. Joshua Applestone was a life-long vegan until he ate bacon six months into opening his butcher shop. His wife, co-owner Jessica Applestone, a former vegetarian, persuaded him. To paraphrase Linda Ronstadt, just one bite and he fell so hard in love. “That’s why bacon is the ‘gateway’ meat,” he explains. Now he eats all of the meats that he cuts and sells.

Applestone’s vegan zeal was rooted in brotherly love. Crohn’s Disease restricted his brother’s diet, excluding meat, grains, raw fruits and vegetables, and dairy. “He couldn’t eat ice cream. I loved him so much that I didn’t want him to see me eat it because it would make him feel bad,” explains Applestone, who remained vegan throughout his fifteen-year chef’s career. Now his passion for protein is so ferocious that even without bacon he could probably transform an ascetic vegan into a joyous carnivore.

Applestone’s as blunt as his knives are sharp. Ask if the cows he sells are entirely grass-fed, he replies: “First of all, they’re steers, not cows and no. They’re all pasture-raised.” Ask if adding corn to a grass-fed diet reduces beef’s omega-3s, he says he sells meat, not vitamins. “Grass-fed beef has a hard flavor-profile for a country that’s been raised on corn-fed beef,” he says. “Grass with some corn and silage creates a better taste-profile.” Cook meat only with salt. Never, ever, marinate it. Ask about slaughtering animals and he says, “these animals have been domesticated for a verrrrrrry long time. Release them into the wild and they’ll all be dead, real fast.” Wanting to know how fine meat was raised and where to find it, brought Applestone, the son and grandson of butchers, back to his roots.

It’s nearly impossible to trace the origins of the meat. Stores sell “organic,” “natural” and “grass-fed” meat, “but that doesn’t tell you what it ate, whether it was penned, how it was raised, slaughtered, or anything else,” he says. The Applestones couldn’t believe that that kind of information that’s readily available for dairy and produce didn’t exist for meat. So they opened a butcher shop.

The Applestones are at the forefront of a growing movement to revive locally-sourced, small-town butcher shops. In so doing they’re also reclaiming and teaching a craft that’s largely been abandoned. And yes, animals do die for their business and for people’s dinner every day. “Death is never pretty,” says Applestone, but there are humane ways of raising and killing animals. “We honor the animals and the farmers that raise them.”

In “The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat: How to Buy, Cut, and Cook Great Beef, Lamb, Pork, Poultry, and More”, the Applestones give step-by-step instructions for “home fabrication” (at-home nose-to-tail butchering), explain why “local” and “pasture-raised” trump “organic” and “free-range,” and why they’re passionate about “bench-breaking,” breaking down whole carcasses on a table in front of their customers.

In addition to basic primal and subprimal butchery charts, their “Cook This Way” charts show which parts of a steer, lamb, chicken and pig should be roasted, ground, grilled or braised. The best is a human body “primal” chart that helps you understand where the cuts originate on animals relative to the human body.

Protein will be the biggest chunk of your July Fourth budget and here are a few tips to ensure yours doesn’t go up in smoke.

Burgers: Applestone recommends 70/30 lean-meat-to-fat ratio. Salt each side. Sear each side over high flame to form crust. Move burgers to cold side of the grill. Close lid for between two to five minutes depending on thickness and desired doneness.

Steak: Salt and sear each side for two minutes, forming crust. Move to cold side of grill. Close lid for between four and ten minutes, depending on thickness.

Spare Ribs: Dry rub and chill for twelve to twenty-four hours. Pre-heat gas grill with two burners on, two, off. Place ribs on cold side and close the lid. Flip once. Cook for two-and-a-half to three hours or until the meat falls from the bone. Paint on barbecue sauce in the last fifteen to twenty minutes, if desired.

Pulled Pork: Put shoulder in a crock-pot with one-third cup of water. Go to work. Come home. Shred. Stir in barbecue sauce for pulled pork or use plain in salads, sandwiches or quesadillas.