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A Guide to Gnarly Beef That Can Kill You

This past weekend, the nation was put on an emergency meat alert when 9 million pounds of beef were recalled after the USDA declared them "unsound, unwholesome, or otherwise unfit for human food." I've compiled a guide of meats to fear so we can stop...
February 12, 2014, 7:41pm

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The nation was put on emergency meat alert this past weekend when 9 million pounds of beef were recalled after the USDA declared them "unsound, unwholesome, or otherwise unfit for human food." That is saying a lot; the USDA is typically about as stringent as a pro-wrestling referee. Not to worry, though: These were neither hamburgers nor steaks, but rather hideous offcuts that few of us will ever encounter on purpose. That said, I like all of them. Here, with my comments, is a working list of meats to fear, culled from the USDA's recall:

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"Beef Carcasses” (Wholesale and Custom-Sale Only)
I don't understand this one. If whole animals are bad, why bother with the rest of this list? Or with any list at all? It is precisely this kind of obfuscation that has turned everybody against the beef industry. By "everybody," of course, I mean "nobody."

Two-Per-Box "Beef (Market) Heads" (Retail Only)
This is another item that baffled me. How many beef heads have you seen in the supermarket case recently? Besides in hamburger meat, I mean. If ever there was a wholesale beef product, this is it.

Four-Gallons-Per-Box "Beef Blood" (Wholesale Only)
I don't even want to know who is buying quarter kegs of beef blood. Third-world hospitals? Vampires? Horror-movie producers? Or is it something worse?

Twenty-Pound Boxes of “Beef Oxtail”
Finally, something tasty. Oxtails look disgusting, because they are nearly all bone, and they actually do resemble the body parts that they are. I don't know why the beef industry doesn't call this "osso buco medallions" or something. Even so, they are one of the few low-grade cuts that taste as good as high-grade ones—the key is slow-cooking them in liquid for whole days.

Thirty-Pound Boxes of “Beef Cheeks”
These sound awful, but you know what? They are one of the richest, densest, and most collagen-rich parts of the entire beef carcass. Interestingly, they are seen more in the hands of the best chefs; Naomi Pomeroy of Beast restaurant, in Portland, made the best one I ever have eaten. It was just incredible.

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Thirty-Pound Boxes of "Beef Lips"
Ew.

Thirty-Pound Boxes of "Beef Omasum"
I have to admit that I had to look this one up. As you may or may not be aware, cows have four stomachs, through which their herbivore feed is processed. I don't know what kind of tripe you like best (probably none of them), but I can guess it isn't omasum, also known as “book tripe,” for some awful reason.

Thirty-Pound Boxes of "Beef Tripas"
Although often mistaken for tripe, this cut, which appears frequently in real-deal Mexican restaurants, is actually the small intestine, familiar to pork lovers as “chitlins”—basically a hideous ring of rubber-like tissue with no known relation to any form of meat or fat.

Thirty-Pound Boxes of "Mountain Oysters"
You don't want to know what these are, and I don't want to tell you. Let's move on.

Thirty-Pound Boxes of "Sweetbreads”
The king of organ meats is surely this one, whose dainty name is a much-needed euphemism for calf thymus glands and pancreas. I know that sounds terrible, but, along with cheeks, this is one of the most prized so-called "offal" cuts.

Thirty- and Sixty-Pound Boxes of “Beef Liver”
Beef liver is so awful that even the most transgressive of Brooklyn chefs have never found a way to use it. It's tough and bitter and bilious, and looks even worse than it tastes. If somebody is buying 60-pound boxes of beef liver, it's a good bet they're not in the food-service business. I hope. More than likely, they are buying it for pet food or other industrial uses.

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Thirty- and Sixty-Pound Boxes of “Beef Tripe”
The first or second stomachs of the animal are actually pretty good; like oxtail, they need to be cooked forever, but, unlike them, they have no real flavor of their own. They are a basic vehicle for tomato sauce or whatever. Again, this is disturbing, because even clean beef tripe is inherently awful.

Thirty- and Sixty-PoundBoxes of “Beef Tongue”
Though another good bet to land in Rex's dinner bowl, beef tongue does have the distinction of being frequently found in old-school Jewish delis, in the form of a tasty cured meat. What you never see is a whole beef tongue, which looks disturbingly like a giant human tongue; the tongues of beef animals are large and muscular, even for their size. They're so powerful, in fact, that they basically function as an oral arm and can open pens and take the paint off a truck.

Thirty- and Sixty-Pound Boxes of "Veal Cuts"
The fact that this is a catchall category makes me shiver.

Forty-Pound Boxes of "Veal Bones"
It's worth noting here that the most dreaded of all beef epidemics, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, a.k.a. mad cow disease, was carried 100 percent by bones, especially the spinal cord. That said, veal bones are also completely indispensable to classical cookery, as the basis of beef stock and, by extension, demi-glace. So this is really a danger zone—the most fearful and ubiquitous of anything on this list.

Fifty-Pound Boxes of “Beef Feet”
Revolting as this sounds, I have eaten these more than a few times in my life. You'll sometimes find them in tacos, where they are very good, and in jellied calf feet, where they aren't. Of course, both of those dishes require calf feet, tender and petite things, rather than cow or steer or bull feet, which are likely to be as hard and tough as anything in the animal kingdom. For all intents and purposes, these are basically edible horns.

Fifty-Pound Boxes of “Beef Hearts”
You sometimes see these, in the very worst part of the worst supermarkets' meat cases. They are intensely nutritious—I will say that. You may have read about the practices of certain warlike tribes who made it a habit of eating their enemies' hearts. But who has a steer as an enemy?

Sixty Boxes of "Veal Trim"
Anytime you see the word trim in the meat business, run. Just run.

Previously: My Brooklyn Neighbors Hate Me