I have been MIA for the past few weeks – sorry about that. I have a few housekeeping items before we talk about yummy foods.
- I was a guest on a podcast that was released last Saturday. The podcast is called “Conference Talk,” hosted by my buddy, and very smart man, Matthew Watkins. It is a simple, ingenious concept: Each week the podcast features a discussion about a talk from the most recent General Conference. The talk featured on my episode was Elder Quentin Cook’s “Finding Peace in Troubling Times.” Matthew and I talked about it, and let the conversation take us wherever it would. It was a lot of fun. Check it out here: Conference Talk.
- I have a question for you: When I skip a week on the blog, would you prefer I re-post something from the archives, publish a guest post, or just leave it alone?
- Facebook is making it harder and harder for me to be seen in people’s feeds in a timely manner. A couple tips – make sure you follow me, and/or my page on Facebook; sign up for email notifications here on the blog (over there –>); or just get in the habit of checking this blog every week. (I’ve had people tell me they thought I stopped writing months ago. Nope!)
- When you see one of my posts on Facebook, please comment, like it, or share it so that the hateful algorithm makes it more visible.
That’s it for housekeeping, now we can talk about delicious food.
Question: What do Buffalo wings, baby back ribs, smoked brisket and crab all have in common?
Answer #1: They are some of my all-time favorite foods. I adore all of them, and have gotten pretty darn good at cooking all of them.
Answer #2: At one time each one of those meats was considered to be of very little value, even to the point of being a throw-away item. Over the course of time each one went from being disliked and disrespected to becoming one of our most popular foods here in the USA.
Let’s look at Buffalo wings first. Until 1964, chicken wings weren’t that exciting. They had a place in Southern cooking, but were the least appreciate piece of chicken. That changed when Teresa Bellisimo at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York whipped together the first batch of Buffalo wings for a late night snack for her son and his friends (link). (The wings at Anchor Bar are amazing.) That delicious event took us to where we are today: Buffalo wings are everywhere and are super popular – to the point that there is currently a nationwide chicken wing shortage (link). Wings were the cheapest piece of chicken you could buy. We used to get wings for 25¢ each back in the day – now you’re lucky to find them for under a buck. (I am also sad to report that I am older than Buffalo wings.)
Next up, crab and lobster. Personally, I prefer crab to lobster, but both are considered delicacies and are pretty pricey. It wasn’t always like that. At one point, back in the 18th century, crab and lobster were considered low-class fare and were often served to prisoners and slaves. It was considered a poor-man’s protein because it was dirt cheap and plentiful. People complained about having to eat lobster too often. Amazingly, lobster was also used to fertilize crops.
Pork ribs were also considered a “throw-away cut” by meat processors. The meat is tough and fatty. (link) During the mid 19th Century, you could drop by a meat processing plant and get all the ribs you wanted for free, just for the asking. Eventually people figured out that if you cooked them right, they could be delicious. Now, rather than a throwway, ribs can be pricey.
Brisket is much the same. The brisket is a tough, fatty cut of beef. The European Jewish community made corned beef brisket part of their tradition because that cut is considered kosher, and was really, really cheap. It was considered “peasant food.” They brought their recipes with them to the States, but it was still considered a “lesser cut” of beef. Where things got going in the right direction was in Texas, where beef was plentiful. Brisket was still a very cheap cut, so ranchers would provide it to the ranch hands. Over time, they found ways to cook the brisket to not only make it palatable, but delicious. It used to be cheap, but now I see slabs of brisket at the store that cost more than top sirloin.
All four of those meats are delicious, and quite popular nowadays. I love them. It is amazing to me that all of them were looked down on as being lesser quality meats – which they are. But people have figured out how to cook them to make them wonderful. Done right, there’s nothing better. Done wrong, you can see why those cuts could be considered low-quality eats.
Let’s talk about brisket. I got a smoker a couple years back and have had some success – but I never dared to smoke a whole brisket. Being scared to ruin a $70 piece of meat was part of it. The other part is that it is a lot of work.
Here is what a raw brisket looks like:
Yes, those are huge chunks of fat, layered with really tough, stringy meat. The best thing to ever come out of Texas was the knowledge that if you cook it for a long, long time over low heat, you can turn that fatty blob into something that looks like this:
Yeah, that’s the first one that I smoked, and I must say, it was delish. However, it took some time to get there. I put it on the smoker at midnight, got up every couple hours to check it and spray it to keep it moist. By 5:00pm (17 hours later) it was ready to serve to the family.
The reason it takes so long is that you want to cook it low and slow so that the fat renders out, leaving the flavor behind. Cooking it that way also causes the fibers in the meat to break down, turning a tough, stringy piece of meat into something tender. (Pork ribs require similar treatment- they need to be cooked a long time to render the fat and make them tender.)
Hungry yet? What do we learn from all of this? A few things: Each one of the meats I referenced were, at one time. considered of little value and looked down on, until someone discovered the potential they had to become something wonderful. Not every cut of meat is already tender and easy to cook like a filet mignon.
In the case of brisket and ribs, the process of making them great requires work, heat and a lot of patience. The process can’t be accomplished in quickly if you want a good result.
No two briskets are exactly the same. Some are tougher, some are fattier, some thick, some thin, etc. Because of these differences, the process and timing of the cook are different each time. It is not a “one-size-fits-all situation.
Spiritually, I am a brisket. We are all briskets. My heart is not as tender as it should be, and there are things in my heart and head that need to be rendered out to make me better, more refined. It is a slow process, as explained by Elder David A. Bednar:
“Small, steady, incremental spiritual improvements are the steps the Lord would have us take. Preparing to walk guiltless before God is one of the primary purposes of mortality and the pursuit of a lifetime; it does not result from sporadic spurts of intense spiritual activity.” (link)
How do we get more tender? Elder Marvin J. Ashton suggested we look to the Book of Mormon for guidance:
“The Book of Mormon is a study of interesting contrasts between those who hardened their hearts and those whose hearts were softened by the Spirit of the Lord. How does one have his or her heart softened under the influence of the Holy Ghost?
Nephi’s testimony provides an answer: “Having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did … soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father.” (link)
Of course, rendering and tenderizing require heat, and that isn’t very fun. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught:
“Thus, the scriptures cite the fiery furnace and fiery trials (see Dan. 3:6–26; 1 Pet. 4:12). Those who emerge successfully from their varied and fiery furnaces have experienced the grace of the Lord, which He says is sufficient (see Ether 12:27). Even so, brothers and sisters, such emerging individuals do not rush to line up in front of another fiery furnace in order to get an extra turn!” (link)
If you have endured a personal fiery furnace, you understand how it can either soften our hearts, or leave us charred and ruined.
Finally, and I think this is the most salient point, is that even if we don’t think we have much worth, we do. All of us do. “Remember, the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” (D&C 18:10)
Elder Dieter Uchtdorf taught:
“This is a paradox of man: compared to God, man is nothing; yet we are everything to God. While against the backdrop of infinite creation we may appear to be nothing, we have a spark of eternal fire burning within our breast. We have the incomprehensible promise of exaltation—worlds without end—within our grasp. And it is God’s great desire to help us reach it.” (link)
That’s the same paradox the Lord taught Moses: “Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.” (Moses 1:10)
We all are nothing, but have the potential to become everything.
And so does everyone around us. How dare we look down on people who we think are lesser, when in reality, they have the same potential as you and I to become something wonderful.
How dare we criticize our leaders who say something wrong, or awkwardly, or say something we disagree with. They are also in the process of rendering and become more refined, just as were are – and it is a life-long process.
We are all very different, yet we are all going through this same refining process. We all have times when the heat gets turned up, and we can allow those fiery trials make us more tender, or ruin us.
I find it ironic that the most worthless, under-appreciated meats, ones that were once considered waste, are now counted among my favorite, most desirable things. Now, I just need to look at myself, and others, that same way.