Specialty Meat Online Purveyor Review
Finding Great Meat In Cyberspace
By: Steve Rodia
Late last year, I found myself in a strange predicament. I wanted to send some nice aged steaks or other specialty meat to a foodie friend across the country for a gift, but I had no idea which of the purveyors would deliver a quality product. My first instinct was to check the internet for the best option. After typing in “specialty meat online” into Google and pressing Enter, I admit I was completely overwhelmed by the search results. More importantly, I realized that I didn’t feel comfortable sending something to a friend that I’d never tried for myself, especially when you consider that the costs can be quite substantial. I’d experimented with some mail order meat in the past, but had been very disappointed with the tough and flavorless results. How could I find a high-quality vendor that I could trust from the massive online list? Well, with the help of some recent articles like the ones from Gear Patrol and Esquire along with user reviews, I picked several online meat purveyors to sample. Below is a summary of some of my favorites. While this list of purveyors is just the tip of the online iceberg, I can vouch for each of these selections based on the products I received.
*Some of the purveyors mentioned supply more types of meat than where they are categorized, but I grouped them by the type of meat I ordered.
Cheshire Farms Heritage Hog Center Cut Pork Chops
1.) Cheshire Pork (Seven Springs, North Carolina)
Background: For over 30 years, the Ivey family has been raising heritage breed Chester White hogs in North Carolina. Prized for their ideal meat to fat ratio and wonderful flavor, this pork has become the benchmark for many Chefs and Pitmasters. Cheshire Farms offers everything from sausage and ribs to sliced bacon and whole pork belly.
What I Ordered: I purchased their center cut bone-in pork chops and crown roast. The meat is delicious, moist, and packed with flavor. I seared the bone-in chops over an open flame and finished them in the oven. Topped with a warm cherry port demi-glace over a bed of braised greens, it was one of my favorite meals of the year.
2.) Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams (Madisonville, Tennessee)
Background: If you haven’t heard about what Allan Benton is doing in Tennessee with bacon, you have been missing out. The explosion in popularity of his bacon and country ham business begged Allan to expand his current operation. His salt-cured country hams are excellent. The 24-month aged ham will, literally, melt in your mouth. The smoked bacon is so good that you’ll frequently see it called out using Benton’s name on menus at fine dining restaurants across the country. The bacon has a very unique smoked flavor that takes an already amazing item and elevates it to heavenly status.
What I ordered: I’m lucky that Benton’s is close enough to my family’s home in Tennessee that I can skip the mail order and just drive to their on-site store. They do offer and mail order service that, even with shipping, can be less that buying their hard-to-find pork products in the specialty grocery store, depending on your location. I always go with the same thing, the bacon. For me, it is the benchmark by which I judge all other salt-cured smoked bacon. Even the leftover grease can be used to add some of that wonderful smoked flavor to other dishes like seared scallops or fried green tomatoes. Our favorite lunch pairing is to make a fried green tomato, Benton’s bacon, and jalapeño pimento cheese sandwich on fresh ciabatta. Fair warning: The bacon is very, very addictive.
3.) Pig of the Month BBQ (Dayton, OH)
Background: When this company first opened, we gave their slow smoked ribs and pulled pork a try. The ribs come pre-sauced and there are a variety of options. Famous Cleveland, Ohio Chef Michael Symon from The Chew even has a small endorsement for the company on their website.
What I ordered: For my first order, I tried the slow cooked pulled pork and their baby back ribs. I also ordered a pack of their applewood smoked bacon. While the pulled pork was so-so, my family and I really enjoyed the ribs and the bacon. After a short reheat in the oven, the baby back ribs are ready to enjoy, making them an easy option when time is tight. The ribs also make a wonderful gift as they require such little preparation time! The meat is tender and flavorful. My wife and I have sent the ribs to other families after new babies arrive or after a big move and the response has always been overwhelmingly positive. If you sign up for their mailing list, you’ll get discount coupons that you can apply to your first order.
44 Farms Ribeye Cheese Steak
1.) 44 Farms (Cameron, Texas)
Background: With a slogan like “know your farmer”, I was very interested to read more about this farm in Texas. They do a great job of sharing the details on how the cattle are raised and cared for at 44 Farms. The website also details how the meat is aged and some of the key differences between the fine cuts of beef that they offer.
What I ordered: I picked the prime angus beef from 44 Farms in November of last year to see if it was a good option for a unique Christmas gift. I was not disappointed. I really enjoyed the beautifully marbled (read lightning strike) Prime 28 day aged bone-in ribeye. The meat was tender and moist with the outstanding mix of flavor that we all love in a ribeye. We used part of the order to create some fall-apart tender pecan smoked ribeye cheese steak sandwiches, which were a big hit with friends. To top things off, the customer service at 44 Farms was outstanding. When we had some shipping delays from the storms that ravaged the South, 44 Farms was quick to provide updates and even offer to replace the order if it didn’t arrive to my satisfaction. In the end, they were also a great choice for providing a special gift.
2.) Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors (North Bergen, New Jersey)
Background: Made famous for some of us outside of the Northeast by the Food Network TV show “Meat Men”, the LaFrieda family has been providing butchered meats since 1922. Three generations of LaFrieda men have worked the butcher counter over the years as the business expanded from a small shop in Brooklyn to the famous block-long property on Pat LaFrieda Lane. In 2010, the company settled in North Bergen where the LaFrieda family continues their tradition and supplies meat to consumers and the restaurant industry. With a history like that, you know you’re dealing with the best meat men in the business.
What I ordered: I had to go with their famous short rib burger blend. I also ordered some of the Chef Zimmern specialty sausage that is produced by Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors for the “Bizarre Foods” star. The burger blend ground meat is such a treat. The nice fat ratio and flavor from the short rib really makes for a juicy burger that melts in your mouth. For those of you who really enjoy that nice crust from cooking a burger on a flat top or in a cast iron skillet, this is the mix for you. The sausage was equally delicious. We tried the spicy and mild Italian varieties and both were excellent.
1.) Joyce Farms (Winston-Salem, NC)
Background: To start, Joyce Farms has some of the highest standards in the business when it comes to raising their poultry. Since their start in 1962, they have pursued a more flavorful bird that is far superior to the large-scale farm raised variety. From chickens, they expanded into other heritage breed poultry and adopted several old-world methods for raising happy and healthy animals. While they offer a lot more than just poultry, it was their Poussin Rouge that caught my eye.
What I ordered: The Poussin Rouge was one of the most outstanding pieces of poultry, available for the home cook, that I’ve ever tasted. I could not believe the depth of flavor and it was so tender you barely have to chew. You will also want to try their capon roulade. The boneless capon is already trimmed, rolled, and tied, so all you have to do is season and bake it.
Summary: While I’ve only scratched the surface, I hope you have the opportunity to try some of these purveyors and enjoy some of the wonderful things you can create with their delicious proteins at home. If, like how this all started for me, you come across this article while looking for a good gift option for that foodie friend or family member in your life, then I hope this makes your task easier.