For most, the three pounds of scraps that John Lehman trimmed from a 10-pound sirloin roast last week will be more desirable than what he was ultimately after.
The trimmings, which include the outer layer of the roast and any fat, can be stuffed into bratwurst, used in hot beef sandwiches or marinated in a burgundy sauce and ladled over noodles.
The seven pounds of highly lean sirloin that remained, however, will go to only a fraction of his customers who use the ground beef as the main raw ingredient in a Christmas and New Year’s tradition. Although it can also show up at tailgate parties, card games and cookouts throughout the year.
Known as tiger meat, cannibal sandwiches or for those who want to add more class to the appetizer, steak tartar, the sirloin — taken from the upper leg of a cow or steer — is typically served on a cracker or piece of cocktail rye bread and topped with salt, pepper and onion slices.
“I don’t sell a ton of it, maybe 20 pounds,” said Lehman, co-owner of Jim’s Meat Market & Deli, 1436 Northport Drive. “It’s guys (buying it) more so than women.”
Personally, I love the stuff. My 12-year-old daughter tolerates it, but my wife and 15-year-old son go nowhere near it. They call it “gross,” even though she has Lithuanian lineage and grew up in Sheboygan and he consistently depletes our refrigerator, freezer and cupboards on a daily basis.
Earlier this month, health officials warned us about eating raw meat after more than a dozen people in Wisconsin became ill last year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it confirmed four cases of illness with E. coli and 13 likely cases in people who ate the sandwiches last holiday season. Health officials say people should not eat uncooked meat.
Perhaps. But we probably shouldn’t eat a lot of things. And with proper precautions, risk of illness can be greatly diminished.
It starts with fresh cuts of sirloin that have been trimmed to almost fat-free status. Lehman, 45, who has worked at Jim’s for 25 years and purchased the business with Claude Mattie about three years ago from Jim Fosdick, said other measures can also help. They include making sure the grinder has been properly sanitized and isn’t contaminated with other meat products, and grinding the sirloin slowly to avoid partially heating the meat. Once the meat leaves the shop, Lehman advises customers to keep it cold, to set out only small portions at a time while keeping the remainder refrigerated, and to use the meat the same day it’s ground.
“We grind it fresh to order,” Lehman said. “It is a bit of a process. But people eat it. It’s awesome.”
Jim’s is known for its more than 30 varieties of bratwurst that fly out the door year round. At this time of the season, prime rib is a big seller, and there is pickled herring, smoked salmon and crab legs in the display case. Lehman also showed off a seasoning mixture he had custom made at JBC Flavorings in Sullivan. It includes rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper and garlic. It was fantastic on a tiger meat sandwich we made up at his shop, located across the street from Warner Park.
Milwaukee-area meat markets sell considerably more.
Ray’s Butcher Shoppe on West Loomis Road in Greenfield, a south suburb, expects to sell 1,100 to 1,400 pounds of the meat at $5.59 per pound from now through the end of the year.
Mike Martens, a butcher at the shop founded in 1976, said he used to sell tiger meat when he worked at a Sendik’s market on Milwaukee’s East Side, but the demand for it is much higher on the South Side.
“We have a lot of older German and Polish clientele. That seems to be the key,” Martens said. “We grind it fresh when someone orders it. We grind whatever amount they want.”
In Hartford, long known for its polka music, thanks in part to WTKM-FM, where the Polka Party runs from 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and non-stop on the weekends, Gehring’s Meat Market is the pit stop for tiger meat.
Bob Gehring, 31, whose father, Charlie, started the business in 1983, said he expects the shop on Christmas Eve to grind 80 to 100 pounds of sirloin specifically to be eaten raw. Five of those pounds will be for the Gehring family gathering.
Bob Gehring said he first tried it when he was probably 10 or 12 years old. His 4-year-old also likes it.
“He thought it was great,” Gehring said. “It’s the tradition factor of it. You’re putting salt, pepper and onions on it for the flavor, and you’re eating it because it’s tradition.”
Julia Montello, 55, of Madison, had stopped into Jim’s last week to pick up some chicken breasts and french fries. We got her attention when she found out we were talking about raw ground sirloin. She grew up near Dayton, Ohio, before her family moved to Portage. Both her mother and father made tiger meat a part of the family tradition around the holidays.
“I really love it,” Montello said. “I feel like I inherited my mom and dad’s love of life and love of hospitality. It was always a festive food.”