In fine dining circles, being very into meat has fallen a bit out of fashion. It’s much cooler at the moment to have a maniacal focus on vegetables or seafood—particularly fish. I bet if you listened for long enough to the cut-and-paste prattle of almost any high end chef, you would hear them talk about “using meat as a seasoning” for vegetable dishes rather than putting it front and center. This is all well and good, vegetables are delicious and interesting, however for most of these chefs—and nearly every home cook—the meat that they do serve will still make up the bulk of their food cost.
For home cooks, it's much more likely that if they have shelled out the inflation-diminished cash for meat as part of their meal it is going to take a central role. Hence, if meat is going to be the main event it would really be a shame to get a bad result when cooking it. So in the interest of helping folks achieve the highest potential their meat can offer here, in no particular order, are five of my favorite books on the superlative preparation of meat.
River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
It feels a little strange to say that a book that was published during my cooking career has become a classic, but time marches on for us all, I suppose. This is a follow up to the acclaimed River Cottage Cookbook which itself is a companion to the idyllic and honestly pretty wonderful BBC show Escape to River Cottage, and its many subsequent seasons. In The River Cottage Meat Book readers are treated not only to wonderful recipes but also to the author’s thoughtful treatise on the ethics of eating meat, as well as step-by-step butchery guides, the ‘why’ behind different meat cooking methods, and tips on how to raise livestock. It's very thorough and, though its size and depth can make it seem intimidating, it is actually a great entry point for those looking to delve a little deeper into understanding all aspects of the meat in their diet.
Charred and Scruffed by Adam Perry Lang
This book is focused on cooking over charcoal and live fire which, I admit, is a bit niche for many home cooks (especially those in cities), but this book is so revelatory that I would still include it in a meat cooking curriculum. Adam comes from a fine dining background having worked at the fabled French Laundry among other impressive kitchens, but has dedicated his life now to the exquisite cooking of meat. He offers insightful ways of cooking that you won’t see described anywhere else, and his passion for getting the absolute best out of every morsel comes through on every page. For anyone interested in mastering the grill or hearth this book is an absolute must-read.
The Charcuterie Trilogy by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn
This is technically three books, but I’m including them here as one entry because they all complement each other so well. Taken together, these three offer an incredibly beginner friendly, but also complete look at the world of charcuterie. Whether you’re interest lies with fanciful terrines, pates en croute, air dried cuts of salumi, sausage, confits, rillettes, or anything in between these books have you covered. Certified Master Chef Brian Polcyn offers tried and true recipes and techniques for just about any traditional preserved meat you can imagine. Though I don’t expect most home cooks with be attempting zampone on their own, something like curing their own bacon and ham is definitely within reach, and even something that feels fancy and complicated like a terrine (which the author dubs ‘Cinderella meatloaf’) is made to feel within reach.
Faviken: 4015 Days, Beginning to End by Magnus Nilsson
Though this book is not focused exclusively on the cooking of meat, it offers some of the most precisely descriptive instructions on how to wring absolutely every particle of excellence from whatever meat you might be cooking. Like Charred and Scruffed, this book offers descriptions of cooking techniques I have only ever read about here, and they are as innovative as they are thoughtful and logical. Magnus has a no-nonsense prose style that still manages to be engaging even when describing technical methodology. For anyone wanting to learn how to cook meat and game of many types at the very highest level, this is a great place to start.
Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal by Jennifer McLagan
This one might again seem pretty niche for home cooks, but I want to include it here because I think it offers an entry point into eating offal which is not only a respectful and environmentally friendly practice, but also an incredibly delicious one. While folks might not be quite ready to dive right into preparing kidneys or brains, this book masterfully eases the reader into these delicacies by building trust with recipes for more familiar but still underutilized cuts like brisket and oxtail. This type of cookery is incredibly rewarding, and opens up a whole new world of culinary possibilities once the stigma of certain animal parts has been stripped away.
Hopefully this post has inspired you to hone your meat cooking ability with some practical experience, and if so, I recommend signing up for our upcoming Culinary Boot Camp in February where you will get in depth tutelage on the preparation of all different types of meat (and much more) from breaking down large cuts to tying and cooking elegant roasts.
And if you want to meet a true meat master, join us in Tuscany this fall on our Cook Like a Tuscan tour. You'll meet Dario Cecchini, an eighth generation butcher who is now known as the most famous butcher in the world. You'll get a lesson in butchery before enjoying lunch at one of his restaurants in Panzano in Chianti. It's guaranteed to bring on a meat coma!