Cooking

By Cook or by Crook

Here's why the griller deserves to sneak the best meat treats
Grill Cook's Treats
Photo: Dave Katz/Tasting Table 

There are certain cuts of meat you've got to earn. They take a little sweat, some soot and soreness. While your guests are chilling in the shade with a frosty beverage, waiting to be served, you're out in the unforgiving sun, toiling over a grill.

You don't mind. It's your favorite post at a summer party and no matter how lofty the temperature climbs, you know you're at your highest purpose, cooking over live fire. And you also know that you're entitled to some treats that most people don't even know exist.

That's because it's the grill cook's prerogative to slice off a few nibbles to keep hunger at bay. They're nothing anyone else will miss. You're not making off with a whole thigh, the choicest of the ribs or the center slice of brisket. What you're getting is even better: the cook's treats that pack maximum joy into a small bite.

Flap meat: If you've bought a slab of ribs and are trimming it yourself, chances are that there's a small flap of meat running diagonally along the back. Some grillers toss it out, and that's totally their loss. Slip it in the smoker for an hour or so and rejoice in the compellingly chewy pleasure. Bonus: If they're lamb ribs, you have hit the texture jackpot. Fake a grill emergency if need be and make sure no one nabs it from under your nose.

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Burnt ends: Half the reason to spend hours upon smoke-choked hours tending a fire is the opportunity to get first crack at this part of the brisket. The pointed end contains more collagen and fat than the flat, which is usually the part that's sliced and served. The way this melts and complements the long-smoked "bark" of barbecue rub is something akin to alchemy. It would be rude to hog it all, but you deserve to cherry-pick the prime pieces.

Chicken oysters: You can't buy these by the dozen, unless you're willing to shell out for six birds. They're the dark, stunningly rich and tender little lump of meat on either side of the backbone (don't sleep on the backbone meat, either), and they don't need any special treatment once they're cooked. There's a French term for them, sot-l'y-laisse, that roughly translates to, "Only a fool would leave them." And your mama didn't raise one of those, did she?

Pope's nose: That squishy, little nub at the tip of a chicken's backbone (a.k.a. the "pygostyle") is like a poultry cracklin' sent straight from heaven. The fat-to-skin ratio allows it to cook up to a knee-knocking crispness, while keeping it almost burstingly moist. Some people turn their nose up at this part, saying it's bitter because it contains the gland for the oil the bird uses to preen itself. Let 'em go ahead and believe that.

Offal: Many commercially sold chickens come with a bag of liver, heart, gizzard and neck in the cavity. It's definitely not enough to feed everyone, and Mom always emphasized the importance of bringing enough for the whole class. Make a marinade of sherry, soy sauce and salt, then slip the innards on a skewer, grill, and eat the evidence to spare your guests' feelings.

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