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A Cut Above

Master butcher Gene Gagliardi elevates run-of-the-mill cuts of meat into something special.

BY Morgan Fecto

Ever heard of Steak-umm? How about popcorn chicken? These may be familiar names to most Americans, but to master butcher Gene Gagliardi, they’re just two in an arsenal of inventions. “Trial and error have always served me well,” says Gagliardi, who has worked with meat for 80 years—ever since, as a six year-old, his father handed him a knife at the family’s Philadelphia meat plant.

Throughout his career, Gagliardi honed inventions to improve food safety—the tender and palatable Steak-umm, for instance, was created to reduce choking hazards in very young and very old lovers of the Philly cheesesteak—but he’s also perfected home butchering techniques. “Historically, when something is cut a certain way, it is assumed that it’s correct—and that is a misconception,” Gagliardi says. “Avoiding pioneering new cutting concepts for fear of being wrong has always been a detriment to the meat business.”

Gagliardi’s cuts can bring the most underused cuts of meat to the next level, making them more tender, juicier, and more versatile. “If you take a Boston butt apart like I do,” says Gagliardi, “it’s like a diamond in the rough.”

The 3 Most Underappreciated Cuts, According to Gene

Chicken Thigh
Gagliardi loves this underused cut. “It’s difficult to overcook, it’s never dry, and it has so many uses,” Gagliardi says. The lighter, firmer meat is perfect for tenders, but thighs beat out breasts for juiciness when butterflied, according to Gagliardi.

The Cut: Chicken thighs are common at most grocery store butcher counters. Ask your butcher to butterfly boneless, skinless chicken thighs. You’ll get back a flat and versatile cut that won’t dry out.

 How to Sous Vide: Pound out with a mallet. Next, sous vide at 167°F (75 °C) for 45 minutes. Finish with a quick sear in your skillet.
—Grant Crilly, ChefSteps

Beef Shoulder Clod
Shoulder clod comes from the chuck portion of the cow. The portion’s most flavorful cut, flat iron steaks, are taken from the shoulder blade. “When I worked for the beef council I designed this [steak], and it outsells all the other steaks on the market,” Gagliardi says.

The Cut: Asking for this cut is pretty easy. Just ask your butcher for flat iron steaks taken from the shoulder clod — as many as you’re prepared to cook.

How to Sous Vide: Rapidly sear the steak before adding to the sous vide bag. Once chilled and vacuum sealed, cook in water bath at 135°F (57.2 °C) for 18 hours. After cooking, quickly sear steak again with a thyme-infused butter and oil mixture right before plating.
—Philip Preston, PolyScience

Boston Butt
Although the Boston butt is typically ground for pork sausage, this cut has far more diverse and savory applications, according to Gagliardi. Nothing from this cut goes to waste—the tip of the shoulder is a perfect London broil, the petite tender is tasty when grilled or added into stews, the clear muscle (called the serratus ventralis) makes a nice pork roast, the “CT butt” is a muscle that can rival the spare rib when cut the right way, and the rest makes perfect pulled pork when cooked sous vide.

The Cut: Of all these options, Gagliardi has a special fondness for the CT butt, or the cellar-trimmed butt. “You can unravel it and make it like a boneless rib,” he says. Ask your butcher for the cellar-trimmed butt from a Boston butt, then for it to be cut with the grain of the meat. Slicing this way renders the meat more tender and rib-like, Gagliardi says.

How to Sous Vide: For sous vide pulled pork, rub the Boston butt with your favorite spice mix and seal it in a bag with a few drops of liquid smoke. Cook at 165°F (74°C) for 18-24 hours. Finish on the grill or in the oven to char and crisp the outside, then shred and add barbecue sauce.
J. Kenji López-Alt, Serious Eats



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