`The Complete Meat Cookbook' by leading meat authorities Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly is a wonderful reference cookbook for all and any foodies who really cook. The pair have written three other books, primarily on cured meats before issuing this general work.
One symptom of the depth of Aidells' authoritative knowledge of meat cookery is the fact that he singlehandedly changed a long standing attitude about cooking meat and using salt. The conventional wisdom was that salt on raw meat before cooking drew out moisture from the meat and made it dry. Aidells demonstrated that salting the surface of beef before searing greatly enhanced the flavor of the cooked meat. This event was quoted, without necessarily giving credit to Aidells himself, on more than a few Food Network shows, most notably by Sara Moulton and the culinary world has changed ever since. The stature of that demonstration may be measured by the fact that the combined efforts of Harold McGee and Alton Brown, both with major forums in books and TV shows for their opinions, have not been able to stamp out the myth that searing meat `seals in moisture'. The difference, of course, is that a good sear has other positive benefits, so the myth is an empty talking point and culinary declaimers have no reason to change their cant, since getting people to do something good, if even for the wrong reason, is beneficial in the long run. But enough of this rant on small matters.
The Aidells / Kelly book can and should be compared directly to a similar book by an equally prestigious pair of authors, Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby, who published their book, `How to Cook Meat' two years later, so they would have the advantage of reading the Aidells / Kelly book. The two books, like almost everyone else in the professional culinary world, consider `meat' to be flesh from cows (beef from mature animals and veal from animals one year of age or less), pigs, and sheep (mutton from older animals and lamb from animals less than a year old). In truth, neither book really talks much about mutton, so the `big four' are beef, pork, lamb and veal.
Aidells/ Kelly is a bit longer in page count, but I suspect the two are about the same length, as Aidells/Kelly uses somewhat larger print and is a bit more generous with margins. Of the two, Aidells/Kelly spends much more space on talking about general cooking techniques while Schlesinger / Willoughby spends more time on individual recipes. What that means to me is that while Schlesinger / Willoughby is a better source for fast recipes to do a particular type of cooking, Aidells/Kelly gives a better overview of general cooking techniques and a better understanding of meat cooking in general. Aidells/Kelly also gives much more information on picking the right cut of meat for each recipe and for each cooking technique. As one reads a lot of different material on cooking and spends all too much time watching Alton Brown on the Food Network, one gradually learns that shoulder and rump cuts are good for braising and other slow wet cooking methods and rib and loin cuts are good for fast, dry heat cooking, but things can get a lot more complicated than that, especially when you add the the creativity of supermarket marketing types who give fancy labels to cuts of meat which may obscure the meat's source and quality.
Aidells / Kelly earn their title not by giving us every known meat cooking recipe under the sun. No book short of a multivolumed encyclopedia could do that. On the other hand, the authors do a good job of providing a pretty wide range of famous recipes. Among the beef recipes, for example, they give `beefsteak Florentine, the Philly cheese steak, barbecued beef ribs, and Italian-American meatballs. I was a bit disappointed that their `barbecue' recipe was really just grilled marinaded beef ribs with a sweet barbecue sauce.
Their claim to completeness comes from the depth of their information given before and between the recipes on general cooking techniques and how to make the best use of them. To enhance our experience in reading the book, the authors also throw in some short histories of how these three great animal families joined the human food chain and contributed to the improved health of herding tribes over the grain eaters.
The authors give us a lot of other nice little tools such as labels on recipes to indicate whether they are best for quick cooking, entertaining, economy, or high leftover value. The most valuable extra may be the level of detail they give to determining whether a cooked piece of meat is `done'.
The very best aspect of the book is the number of cross references given for correlating cuts of meat with cooking methods, brines, rubs, and marinades. I was initially just a little surprised at how simple their animal butchering diagram was, in that it divided the whole carcass into no more than a half dozen primals and spoke about these basic regions as if everything from the beef round could be treated the same. But they redeemed themselves as they developed their subject and gave much more detailed treatments of more finely differentiated cuts of meat.
I recommend this book very highly to anyone who enjoys reading about cooking. It is just a bit less useful to someone who simply wants a book they can grab now and then to find a new way to do pork chops of lamb shoulder. For that, the Schlesinger / Willoughy book may be slightly better, as their organization of recipes is great for fast reference.