I Had a Moment
There are different meat markets around my hometown of Edinburg. I stopped by one of the larger ones, Junior’s Super Market, just on a regular shopping errand, and had this moment.
After the first 10 paces, it dawned on me that this was the longest fresh meat counter I had ever seen. 7 cases, each 12 feet long. That’s 64 feet or 21 yards. I don’t think I could spiral a football 21 yards (yes, my upper body strength is a fiasco, my version of arm day is using a heavier fork …) That’s not counting the 64 foot case of deli meats, bacon, and sausage right beside it, or the 24 feet of ready-to-serve carnitas, barbacoa, guisados and fried chicken cases at the front of the store. Oh, and 20 feet of miscellaneous meats, such as freshly pickled pig skin, pork rinds and slice to order pic-nic supplies. Adding all the cases together, that’s 57 yards, or over half a football field of meat cases.
That is a lot of meat. And I’m an enthusiastic local carnivore. I should be accustomed to gargantuan meat counters, but like I said, it was a moment.
With this being Easter weekend, all the butcher counters in town are loading up for one of the biggest barbecue weekends of the year. Fourth of July is big for outdoor grilling as well, but Easter is the first opportunity of the year since Christmas for a family gathering. The weather has recently turned gorgeous, and we just can’t wait to get into the sunshine, gather the kinfolk, light a fire, and eat until we burst.
Even though I had seen this fresh meat case over the last 10 years, its size had never impacted me as it did on this day. I’m sure there is no such meat counter in Manhattan, nor in Los Angeles. Loaded ribs, seven types of marinated fajitas, seasoned chickens, chamorro, shish-ka-bobs, diezmillo, T-bones, peinecillo, ground beef, mountains of tripe, sweet breads, tongue, brisket, ox-tail, and so on…
Most of the fresh beef selection was, uh, select. Prime or choice beef is more expensive for this super market that serves a hard working clientele. It’s obvious that the meat counter is the reason that throngs of customers come here. All sorts of economical cuts, fresh and ready for the week-end carne asada or barbecue.
The Best Meat Markets
Curious, I stopped by a few of our other meat markets around my town, and shockingly, I uncovered a local meat counter competition. There were more incredibly long fresh meat counters throughout the town. Vera’s King-O-Meats has a fresh meat counter that was equally long, but the best meat counter was Aguilar’s.
Clean, well-lit and beautifully tiled, the staff of Aguilar’s took obvious pride in running a tight, clean, meat selling machine. Beautiful produce, charcoal and Styrofoam ice chests for the weekend cook-out line the perimeter of the store, and of course, there is a good selection of frosty cold beer. Aguilar’s has two locations in Edinburg, with a larger location underway in the next town over, so in the local fresh meat counter competition, it seems they are winning.
All of the businesses mentioned above are independently owned, old-fashioned types of meat markets, with real butchers who will advise you on your recipes, or direct you to the special of the day. They will custom cut your order, and some will even help take your order to your car. Chain store super markets have gotten rid of most of their butchers, opting to sell from open, cold displays. Open, cold displays indeed. My amazing weekend barbecue needs more real butchers involved, thank you very much.
South Texas is Famous for Mesquite Barbecue.
Regardless of the economy of the cut, one lick of a mesquite wood flame converts any piece of meat into the best grilled meat in the world. As a kid in Catholic school, I always imagined the roasted meats mentioned in Exodus as tasting like mesquite grilled carne asada. Maybe manna from the sky was flour tortillas? Sounds good to me. (Was the Burning Bush a chile piquin?)
So I hope for all the local Edinburg residents reading this post feel incredibly proud that we have such a strong community with a clearly defined culinary heritage. Nobody in the US takes grilling beef as seriously as we do in the Rio Grande Valley. We are the land of the family get-together and the carne asada. Take that, all you other culinary destinations, like New Orleans, Santa Fe, and San Francisco. South Texas carne asadas beat the pants off whatever weenie roasts those other folks have planned for Easter weekend.