Summertime means grilling time. And if you’re heading to a farmers market to buy locally grown meat directly from a rancher, you’ve got Debbie Paver of Charter Oak Style Meats to thank.
After earning an animal science degree from UC Davis, the Templeton native wanted to sell her high-quality, humanely raised beef directly to consumers at farmers markets. Yet, at the time, there was no existing inspection framework within U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines.
Paver persisted, doggedly working with USDA representatives to develop the necessary guidelines. It took 20 years, but in 1998, “I became the first one in the state of California to sell cuts of meat at a farmers market,” she said.
Paver originally sold meat under the name Charter Oak Beef.
About 10 years ago, that evolved into Charter Oak Style Meats when Paver added pork and lamb to the lineup. She sells her frozen cuts every Saturday at the Templeton farmers market and every other Friday at the Cambria farmers market.
Charter Oak Style Meats’ beef comes from Angus cattle that are “never given any antibiotics, hormones or animal by-product,” Paver said. She lets her animals graze on grass when it’s available, but also feeds them a barley-based grain hay throughout the year.
“They aren’t exclusively grass-fed, but they’re well-fed,” she explained. “I’m very conscientious about what I feed my animals, and I know where all that hay is locally grown. I’m doing what’s best for them, and what’s best for you (the consumer).”
The beef cuts are dry-aged for at least two weeks to further enhance the flavor before Paver brings them to market. Because she’s sourcing from her own herd, “When a certain cut runs out, it runs out,” she said.
That can throw a temporary wrench into summertime menu planning. Due to the Central Coast tradition of Santa Maria-style barbecue, the go-to for grilling is often beef tri-tip.
“However, there are only two of those (cuts of meat) on each animal,” Paver explained. That can put tri-tip at a premium, both in cost and availability, when you’re trying to support local beef producers.
“But if you’re looking to feed a group, there are other options,” she said, adding that she often gets ideas from her customers. “I’m continually learning from them about how to use my meats.”
One idea her customers suggested is to take a cue from the Lone Star State.
“What tri-tip is to California, brisket is to Texas,” Paver said.
It’s a larger cut of beef, so there’s more to go around. It’s also a lot easier on your pocketbook than other cuts, even tri-tip.
“Brisket needs attention,” Paver cautioned, explaining that, because it comes from some of the harder working muscles on the animal, it’s a cut with a lot of connective tissue versus fat.
“You can’t just toss it on a hot fire and expect it to be tender,” she said. “It has to be cooked low and slow.”
That approach opens up opportunities for cooking techniques that give you more time to spend with your guests. For example, braise the whole brisket in a slow cooker for a few hours with some root vegetables. You’ll come back to perfectly cooked and flavorful meat.
To use a gas or charcoal grill, cut the brisket into three or four larger pieces and wrap each in foil with its own seasoning profile: basic salt and pepper, Mexican, Asian, etc. Put the pieces on the grill over indirect heat for about four to five hours, depending on the cooking temperature, and turn them every so often so they cook evenly.
With either of those techniques, menu ideas can include thinly slicing the brisket for hot or cold sandwiches, slicing it for lettuce wraps or shredding the tender meat for enchiladas, decadent nachos or make-your-own taco parties.
Obviously, these recipes don’t hew exactly to the tradition of using tri-tip for Santa Maria-style barbecue. However, they do celebrate the tradition of bringing people together for a tasty grilled meal with locally raised beef.
Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero. Contact her at email@example.com.