He walks into the other cooler and points out two and three-sided rib cuts, each about a foot long on the top shelf of a steel rack. They are gray, dry, and cracked on the surface. "It doesn't really look like something you want to eat. But when you cut it open, you see the red meat inside."
Tapping the dry surface of the meat, he says, "Dry-aging is expensive because we trim all of this off and discard it, so you lose weight there, and you lose weight through dehydration. These are three to four dollars a pound more than a regular rib eye. But, we have customers who are ready to burn the building down if we run out of these things. We can't do too much dry-aging; it gets a little tricky because of the time commitment involved. These have been exposed to the air, dry-aging, for 11 days, but they were killed almost two months ago."
What are the good cuts of beef and where do they come from on the cow?
"Again, meat is muscle and the muscles that work the most are the least tender. The muscles in the middle of the back are the most tender. The muscle that filet mignon comes from actually lies underneath the spine, and it works very little. Very tender. The two muscles that are on either side of the spine on the top of the rib are the New York and the rib eye. They also work very little and they are very tender. The front shoulder, where the sirloin comes from, works the most and it's the most tough. But the middle of the back, from the hip to the back of the shoulder are the tender parts."
But what about flavor?
Glenn smiles. "Flavor and tenderness are inversely related," he explains, moving his hands up and down in opposite directions. "The tougher the meat, the more flavor it has. The more tender it is, the less flavor it has. So if you chart the steaks, the most tender is the filet; it has the least amount of flavor. The least tender of the steaks is the top sirloin, and it's the most flavorful.
"But one of the biggest selling steaks we have is a prime top sirloin. Prime is the top grade. It constitutes anywhere from 2 to 4 percent, you'll hear. Of all the animals that are slaughtered [in the U.S.], only 2 to 4 percent will go prime. It's a very small number. We're only talking about 125,000 head of cattle a day. You can figure it out. But prime sirloin, cut thick, is the best thing you'll ever eat. I don't know why, but with sirloin, the thicker you cut it, the better it seems to cook. Cook them on a covered grill, like a Weber. Put them right on the fire, put the lid on with the vents open for 10 minutes, and then turn it for 15 minutes, and it will just about come out perfect every time. It's extremely flavorful. It's one of the best combinations of tenderness and flavor that you can buy."
Meat, Glenn says, makes up 80 percent of Iowa Meat Farms' business, the other 20 percent coming from produce, canned goods, cutlery, condiments, beer, and a fairly extensive wine selection. Of the meat sales, 80 percent is beef. Poultry, venison, buffalo, seasonal game birds, various sausages -- which he says are "killer" -- and pork make up the remaining 20 percent. But Glenn hasn't been happy with the quality of pork lately.
"The pork industry," he complains, "has arbitrarily said that the consumer wants a leaner animal. Bullshit. I want something that tastes good. So, these days, we find it to be too lean most of the time. It's a little trickier to cook now because it's easier to dry it out."
Asked how his shop, which he admits is high-end, can survive in the supermarket world, Glenn at first shrugs and says, "I don't know. I took this place over six years ago. Since then, our sales have gone up 60 percent. But in that same time, three other shops have closed up. One out in El Cajon, one in Escondido, and one in Hillcrest." Then he offers this explanation. "The supermarkets' philosophy of operation is completely opposite of what ours is. Our thrust is on one thing, that's movement. Their thrust is on selling. They are two different things. What has happened in the supermarkets is the grocery industry has taken over the meat industry. They use meat as hot-ad item to bring the people in so they can sell them toilet paper. So the meat departments have been used to pull people into the store. My focus is not on making a sale to you; it's making your next sale to you. I want what you buy to be so good that you come back. I want to know if you're going to be back next week, because I've got to have that movement. If I don't have you back, I'm dead."
As a test, I took a couple of New York steaks from Iowa Meat Farms ($10.99/lb) to a friend's house to grill alongside some New Yorks from Vons ($6.99 with Vons card). Before cooking, the slightly thicker Iowa steak had a deeper color than the Vons version and a softer, more pliable feel. Also, the Iowa steaks grilled -- seven minutes per side -- to a more uniform brown on the outside than the Vons steaks. The real revelation was in the cutting and chewing. The knife slid through the inch and a quarter of beef in a couple of soft strokes, while the one-inch Vons cut required more effort. Each chew of the soft Iowa Meat Farms steak released a flood of flavorful juice into the mouth. The Vons steak was dry by comparison. With a pound of good Midwestern beef in my belly, I pushed back from the table feeling satisfied, feeling healthy, feeling American.