What All Beginner Cooks Should Know About Buying Meat

We walk you through the whole process: from buying your meat to taking it home.

Photo by Lilen Uy

Nothing beats fresh meat. Found at both groceries and wet markets, these cuts of meat are noticeably softer than their frozen counterparts. Don't be afraid to look, smell, and touch to make sure it's really as fresh as you can get. Fresh meat is especially susceptible to mishandling so make sure you get this right. If you can, it's best to buy it first thing in the morning or during your grocery store's delivery days.

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As a beginner cook, handling meat can be quite intimidating. No worries; we have your back. Here's what you need to know so you know what to do the next time you're shopping for meat. However, before you even go to the store, this is the one thing you should always remember:

Never buy meat that has a foul smell!

When meat has been exposed to the elements for too long, it emits a foul smell due to bacterial growth. Nobody wants that! If the store or the area of the store, which has the butchery, already smells funky, go somewhere else to shop for your fresh meat. (Yes! Even the place shouldn't have a funny smell!)

Now that you're ready to look at the meats, here is all you need to know:

What to look for when buying chicken

Look for chicken that has firm, pink meat. There should be no dark spots or purple and gray discolored marks. However, certain breeds of local chicken will have noticeably yellow skin - this is an exception. These are most probably native chickens or were fed yellow-tinged feed, usually corn. This is normal and perfectly okay to buy.

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Learn more about chicken cuts here:

Illustrator Bianca Laxamana

What to look for when buying pork

Pork needs to be a pinkish red except for the fat, which should always be white. Don't get anything with dark spots. Pork meat should be soft and firm, but not mushy.

Learn more about pork cuts here:

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Illustrator Jona Bisuna

What to look for when buying beef

Beef should have a bright blood red color. The muscle fibers or the flesh should be firm and taut.

Learn more about beef cuts here:

If any of these meats, whether chicken, pork, or beef, have a slimy feel or coating to the flesh, skip it and look for another cut that's fresher.

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The other thing you should remember when shopping for meats is to talk to your butcher. Butchers are there to help you. In fact, they should and you should take advantage of their expertise to get the best meats they can offer.

Here are some of the things you can ask from them:

The best meat is meat that's been freshly ground from chunks.
Photo by Pexels 

1 Customize your ground meat.

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You can always request your butcher to grind meat you've chosen. This means that instead of ground chicken made with chicken breasts, you can request the tastier chicken thigh fillets to be ground instead. You can request a blend of meats for beef and pork that will give you your desired ratio of fat to meat.

Need more tips on ground meat? Click here.

2 Request for a specific meat cut.

Can't see the cut you're looking for or perhaps you're looking for something more specific, like an innard, and can't find any? Don't be limited by what's in front of you, and ask your butcher. Innards aren't always displayed, and you can often request to get freshly cut meat if it's not presented in the chiller showcase.

Photo by Cat Altomonte

3 Ask which are the freshest meats.

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They'll actually gladly tell you which are freshly cut or delivered. Knowing when your meat was cut will also give you a better idea of its best-by date.

4 Learn from them.

Your butcher is just the professional you need! Take advantage of their knowledge and ask them which cut best suits the dish you're making. More often than not, they'll be glad to guide you in the right direction.

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How to buy frozen meat

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Buying frozen meat can be a little different simply because they're often sealed, and of course, they would feel rock-solid. Instead, there are other characteristics to look for when buying frozen meat. Here's what you should know:

1 Trust the brand.

A good brand consistently delivers. Sure, you can experiment with different brands, but make sure you remember how it turns out for next time. Choosing the brand also includes knowing the country of origin.

2 Look at labels.

Not all beef is the same. Australian grass-fed beef is leaner than most beef but tastes beefier. If you love your that beefy flavor, take a look at these cuts. American beef meanwhile is often more expensive (it travels farther to get to us, after all), but is more widely available in stores. These options are best when looking to cook steak. 

3 Steer clear of freezer burn!

Freezer burn is the tiny ice particles on your frozen meat. This affects the flavor and texture of meat. If processed and packaged correctly, freezer burn is avoided so this is an indicator of mishandling or even, thawing and then refreezing of meat-a serious no-no. 

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At home, when you freeze your meat, make sure you store these in airtight containers to avoid freezer burn. If you're freezing them for much longer, tightly wrap your meat in plastic wrap to minimize contact with air, which causes freezer burn.

Hold the meat for last!
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4 Buy meat last at the groceries or wet market.

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The longer your meat is out of the freezer or refrigerator, the less fresh your meat becomes and might develop a foul smell. The best thing is to place all the dry goods you need in your shopping cart before heading to the meat section.

What to do after buying your meat

How you handle meat right after buying is just as important as picking the right pieces!

1 Pack your meat right.

Use a plastic bag to avoid any liquids from leaking onto your other food. It's best to bring plastic containers to be kind to the environment.

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2 Keep it away from produce.  

Separate it from ready-to-eat foods. This can cause cross contamination.

3 Separate frozen from fresh.

Have your frozen goods all together to help them keep each other cold. You want to keep your frozen meat frozen for as long as possible.

4 Bring a cooler.

If you can, bring a cooler filled with ice to keep your meat chilled, no matter how long it will take for you to get home.

5 Shop nearby.

Choose a wet market or grocery so you can travel home as quickly as possible unless you have a cooler.

6 Store your meat immediately and sanitize reusable containers and bags.

As soon as you get home, refrigerate or freeze your fresh and/or frozen meat immediately. Unless you're cooking it immediately, keeping it chilled or frozen as long as possible will keep the meat as food-safe as possible, too.

You're all ready! Now you don't have to shy away from those meaty recipes you've always wanted to try.

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Need tips on shopping for fish? We've got pointers for that, too.

Need more confidence in shopping at the groceries? Check these tips out.

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