How 9 Cuts of Meat Got Their Names

Ever find yourself standing in front of a butcher's counter and wonder where in the world certain cuts and preparations of meat got their names? Here are the stories behind a few popular meals.

1. Boston butt

Don't be too grossed out when you hear this name; it doesn't mean "butt" as in "rear end." Instead, the cut comes from the front shoulder of the pig. So why "butt"? During colonial days New England butchers tended to take less prized cuts of pork like these and pack them into barrels for storage and transport. The barrels the pork went into were called butts. This particular shoulder cut became known around the country as a New England specialty, and hence it became the "Boston butt."

2. Porterhouse steak

The origin of the term "porterhouse" is surprisingly contentious, as several cities and establishments claim to have coined it. The name might have originated on Manhattan's Pearl Street around 1814, when porter house proprietor Martin Morrison started serving particularly large T-bones. The Oxford English Dictionary lists this etymology as the likely origin of the steak's name while noting that there's no contemporary evidence to support or contradict the tale.

This origin story gained traction in the late 19th century, but other carnivores contend a Cambridge, Mass. hotel and restaurant proprietor named Zachariah B. Porter lent his name to the cut. Still others claim that the steak takes its name from the Porter House, a popular 19th-century hotel in Flowery Branch, Ga.

3. Filet mignon

The term filet mignon is French for "dainty fillet." Somehow this makes eating one seem a bit less manly, although no less delicious.

4. Canadian bacon

When you chomp into a slice of pizza with Canadian bacon on it, are you sending a little bit of culinary support to our neighbors to the north? Not quite. Canadian bacon is simply a leaner, brined type of bacon that comes from a loin cut further back on the pig. Americans started calling this type of pork "Canadian bacon" because we were under the impression that Canadians particularly loved their back bacon.

5. Swiss steak

At least Canadian bacon has some theoretical tie back to the Great White North. Swiss steak, the bane of school cafeterias everywhere, has nothing to do with Switzerland. Instead, the term "Swiss steak" refers to the meat having gone through a process called "swissing" before being cooked. Swissing, which is also used in textile production, refers to a process of hammering, pounding, or rolling a material to soften it up. In the cast of Swiss steak, butchers take tough cuts of beef and pound them or roll them to make them tender.

6. Hanger steak

The bistro favorite is so named because it "hangs" from the diaphragm between the rib and the loin of the steer from which it is cut.

7. Chateaubriand steak

Chateaubriand steak
iStock

This preparation for a thick cut from the tenderloin allegedly takes its name from the first diner to enjoy it, Vicomte Francois-Rene de Chateubriand (1768-1848). Chateaubriand was a foodie, but he got quite a bit done away from the dinner table, too. He served as France's ambassador to Prussia, and his writing earned him praises as the father of French Romanticism.

Chateubriand enjoyed a good steak, too. At some point during his life, the writer's personal chef whipped up a dish of a very large peppered beef tenderloin topped with a buttery wine-and-shallot sauce, and a new meat sensation was born.

8. 7-Bone roast

Don't let the name fool you; this isn't a particularly bony piece of beef. The 7-Bone roast actually comes from a cross cut of a cow's shoulder blade, which leaves a large bone shaped like the number seven in the meat. Although it's not as bony as you'd think, it's not a particularly easy cut to cook. It's generally so tough that it's best for braising.

9. Flat iron steak

Flat iron steak

This trendy, tasty cut is a fairly recent development. In the early 21st century meat science professors at the University of Nebraska and the University of Florida searched cattle with a fine-toothed comb in the hopes of finding an exquisite new cut they could bring to market. After much research, they found an underappreciated muscle in the shoulder that would provide a delicious, well-marbled piece of beef if cut correctly. The new cut was dubbed the "flat iron steak," supposedly because it is shaped somewhat like an old-fashioned flat iron.

The Most Popular Christmas Cookie in Each State

Jen Tepp/iStock via Getty Images
Jen Tepp/iStock via Getty Images

While opinions about peppermint bark, reindeer corn, and other Christmas candies are important enough to warrant a map of their own, we all know that the real crown jewel of any kitchen counter during the holidays is an enormous platter of homemade cookies.

In a festive endeavor to guess which type of cookie is most likely to be on your counter this Christmas, General Mills collected search data from BettyCrocker.com, Pillsbury.com, and Tablespoon.com, and created a map that shows which recipes are clicked most often in each state.

Those universally adored Hershey Kiss-topped peanut butter cookies, known on Betty Crocker’s website as Classic Peanut Butter Blossoms, took the top spot in seven states, including Florida, Pennsylvania, California, Kentucky, Nevada, South Carolina, and Wyoming. And people don’t just love peanut butter in blossom form—Easy Peanut Butter Cookie Cups, Peanut Butter-Chocolate Cookies, and 2-Ingredient PB-Chocolate Truffles also made appearances on the list.

general mills christmas cookies map
General Mills

Peanut butter treats are definitely a popular choice among holiday bakers in general, and cookie decorators are likely responsible for the prevalence of plain old sugar cookies across the nation. Sugar Cookie Cutouts, Easy Spritz Cookies, and Easy Italian Christmas Cookies all offer a deliciously blank slate for your artistic aspirations.

Apart from peanut butter- and plain sugar-based desserts, the rest of the results were pretty scattered. Iowa most often opts for the figure eight-shaped Swedish Kringla, while Michigan loves a good jam-filled Polish Kolaczki. Surprisingly, Hawaii was the only state to choose gingerbread cookies as their seasonal favorite.

If you’re thinking classic chocolate chip cookies are suspiciously absent from this map altogether, you have great dessert-related detective skills: General Mills decided to omit them from the study, since they’re Betty Crocker’s most-searched cookie recipe all year long, and they would’ve dominated in a staggering 22 states.

Whether you’re looking for a new show-stopping cookie recipe or just wondering how your long-standing family traditions compare to others’, you can read more on the study—and see all the recipes in full—here.

[h/t General Mills]

Why Do Fruitcakes Last So Long?

iStock
iStock

Fruitcake is a shelf-stable food unlike any other. One Ohio family has kept the same fruitcake uneaten (except for periodic taste tests) since it was baked in 1878. In Antarctica, a century-old fruitcake discovered in artifacts left by explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910 expedition remains “almost edible,” according to the researchers who found it. So what is it that makes fruitcake so freakishly hardy?

It comes down to the ingredients. Fruitcake is notoriously dense. Unlike almost any other cake, it’s packed chock-full of already-preserved foods, like dried and candied nuts and fruit. All those dry ingredients don’t give microorganisms enough moisture to reproduce, as Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, explained in 2014. That keeps bacteria from developing on the cake.

Oh, and the booze helps. A good fruitcake involves plenty of alcohol to help it stay shelf-stable for years on end. Immediately after a fruitcake cools, most bakers will wrap it in a cheesecloth soaked in liquor and store it in an airtight container. This keeps mold and yeast from developing on the surface. It also keeps the cake deliciously moist.

In fact, fruitcakes aren’t just capable of surviving unspoiled for months on end; some people contend they’re better that way. Fruitcake fans swear by the aging process, letting their cakes sit for months or even years at a stretch. Like what happens to a wine with age, this allows the tannins in the fruit to mellow, according to the Wisconsin bakery Swiss Colony, which has been selling fruitcakes since the 1960s. As it ages, it becomes even more flavorful, bringing out complex notes that a young fruitcake (or wine) lacks.

If you want your fruitcake to age gracefully, you’ll have to give it a little more hooch every once in a while. If you’re keeping it on the counter in advance of a holiday feast a few weeks away, the King Arthur Flour Company recommends unwrapping it and brushing it with whatever alcohol you’ve chosen (brandy and rum are popular choices) every few days. This is called “feeding” the cake, and should happen every week or so.

The aging process is built into our traditions around fruitcakes. In Great Britain, one wedding tradition calls for the bride and groom to save the top tier of a three-tier fruitcake to eat until the christening of the couple’s first child—presumably at least a year later, if not more.

Though true fruitcake aficionados argue over exactly how long you should be marinating your fruitcake in the fridge, The Spruce says that “it's generally recommended that soaked fruitcake should be consumed within two years.” Which isn't to say that the cake couldn’t last longer, as our century-old Antarctic fruitcake proves. Honestly, it would probably taste OK if you let it sit in brandy for a few days.

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