Bracket mania: Meat is very good   

Updated: March 23, 2009

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Face it: When it comes to food, meat's the treat to eat that can't be beat. Show me someone who doesn't eat meat and I'll show you me eating that person's pork chop. And please, spare me your vegetarian moralisms -- if we weren't meant to eat animals, how come they're all made out of meat?


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Ah, but which meat is the best meat of all? With so many meats to choose from, it can be hard to single out the champion meat, the crème de la meat, the meat de la meat. Fortunately for you, I'm here to sort the whole thing out for you. So loosen your belt and let's get started (winning teams shown in bold):

Beef Region

First Round
(1) Porterhouse steak vs. (16) Steak-umms
Steak-umms are the foundation of a good Philly cheesesteak. That's nothing to scoff at, but it can't compare to a well-marbled porterhouse.

(8) Smoked brisket vs. (9) BBQ beef ribs
Two classic Texas barbecue meatstuffs in a fight to the finish! Purists will opt for the brisket, but meat is always better if you can pick it up with your hands and eat it off the bone.

(5) Rib eye steak vs. (12) London broil
If they tell you that you can eat only one more steak before you die, a bone-in rib eye is the one you want. It's also the one you want if you're going to eat steak every single day for the rest of your very long life. Trust me.

Filet Mignon

AP Photo/Larry Crowe

Sorry fancy pants, but the filet is like the Knicks -- mushy and expensive.

(4) Filet mignon vs. (13) Hanger steak
I hate to break this to you, but filet mignon is for chumps. Flavorless and mushy (not tender -- there's a difference), it's meat for people who don't really like meat, sort of like vodka is booze for people who don't really like booze. A hanger steak, meanwhile, is 10 ounces of beefy bliss. This is like a scrappy mid-major beating up on a lazy, overconfident conference champ.

(6) New York strip steak vs. (11) Short ribs
Wanna mark yourself as a food rube? Try saying "New York strip" in New York. Nobody here uses that term (we say "shell steak"), except maybe at the local Ruth's Chris outlet, which is only for tourists and losers. But I digress. The real story is that short ribs are the bomb.

(3) T-bone steak vs. (14) Ground chuck
A T-bone is just a junior version of a porterhouse, and no self-respecting meat should ever be a junior anything. Ground chuck, on the other hand, is the basis of a great burger.

(7) Pastrami vs. (10) Corned beef
A world-class deli meat matchup! Corned beef is swell, but you can't beat a pastrami on rye with brown mustard. Wait, make it half a sandwich and a cup of soup, because man cannot live on meat alone (but don't tell anyone I said that).

(2) Standing rib roast vs. (15) Pot roast
Who doesn't love a good pot roast? Mom, if you're reading this (unlikely, since you don't know how to use a computer), I love your pot roast. But c'mon, not even the best pot roast can offer more than token resistance against a rib roast.

Second Round
(1) Porterhouse steak vs. (9) BBQ beef ribs
Remember how Fred Flintstone ordered those giant ribs that were so heavy that they tipped over his car? I'll take my beef ribs just a smidge bigger than that, please.

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(5) Rib eye steak vs. (13) Hanger steak
Sorry, scrappy mid-major -- this conference champ is ready for you.

(11) Short ribs vs. (14) Ground chuck
The only problem with braised short ribs is that they're perfect for fall and winter but don't really work in the warm-weather months. A good burger, however, is good anytime.

(2) Standing rib roast vs. (7) Pastrami
There's something so primal about a massive rib roast. Pastrami, as wonderful as it is, can't compare.

Round of 16
(5) Rib eye steak vs. (9) BBQ beef ribs
The sad truth: This one went into so many overtimes that I fell asleep on the couch. But when I woke up, there was a nicely marbled rib eye waiting for me.

(2) Standing rib roast vs. (14) Ground chuck
One of the many, many great things about a rib roast is that you can use the rendered fat to make Yorkshire pudding. Another is that you get to say "rendered fat."

rib roast

AP Photo/Harry Cabluck

If someone says "'I'm serving rib roast," they're basically saying, "I love you."

Regional Final
(2) Standing rib roast vs. (5) Rib eye steak
The bad news about a standing rib roast is that it's only suitable for holidays. The good news is that serving a standing rib roast basically makes any day a holiday. Even the grandest steak on the planet can't overcome that.

Pork Region

First Round
(1) Bacon vs. (16) Hog jowl
Hog jowl is very trendy right now in certain foodie circles. Bacon, meanwhile, has been trendy forever among everyone. Next!

(8) Pork chops vs. (9) Deli ham
Want to make a really good pork chop? No, I mean a really good pork chop? Start with an inch-thick chop and season it with salt and pepper. Sear it in a super-hot skillet for two minutes on one side and one minute on the other side. Then reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet, and cook for four more minutes per side. You can thank me later.

(5) Glazed ham vs. (12) Pulled pork
Glazed ham is soooooo overrated. Why put all that sugary coating on a nice piece of meat? Especially when you could have a good pulled pork sandwich instead?

(4) Roast suckling pig vs. (13) Boston butt
The funny thing about Boston butt is that it's not from the back end of the pig. It's the butt (i.e., short end) of the shoulder, which is at the front of the pig. And it's very good -- but it ain't no suckling pig.

(6) Pork tenderloin vs. (11) Scrapple
As Robbie Fulks sings in "The Scrapple Song," "Any old piece of the hog will do / The neck or the nipples or the toenails too." To my knowledge, no songs have ever been written about pork tenderloin.

(3) Crown roast of pork vs. (14) Canadian bacon
Did you know that 83 percent of the Canadian bacon consumed in this country is served on Egg McMuffins? Probably not, because I just made that up, but it sounds plausible, right? Anyway, slice me another chop off that crown roast, would you please?

(7) Prosciutto vs. (10) Cracklins
Good cracklins -- cooked pork skin, hot from the oven, a little salty and a little garlicky -- are one of life's most sublime pleasures. Good prosciutto is just good prosciutto.

(2) Spare ribs vs. (15) Baby back ribs
Quick quiz: Does the term "baby back ribs" refer to the ribs being (a) from a baby pig, or (b) small ribs? Answer: It doesn't matter, because baby back ribs suck. If you want a real rib experience, get a full slab of spare ribs and prepare for some serious bliss. (The real answer, by the way, is (b).)


AP Photo/Larry Crowe

From burgers to breakfast, bacon is the Michael Jordan of meat: It makes everything around it better.

Second Round
(1) Bacon vs. (8) Pork chops
Don't be embarrassed, pork chops -- there's no shame in losing to one of nature's most perfect foods.

(4) Roast suckling pig vs. (12) Pulled pork
This little piggy when straight to my plate. And if you play your cards right, maybe I'll leave a few scraps for you.

(3) Crown roast of pork vs. (11) Scrapple
If you really want to live high on the hog, use scrapple as the stuffing in the center of the crown roast -- the best of both worlds! But until that happens, the roast wins this showdown.

(2) Spare ribs vs. (10) Cracklins
Cracklins are a great snack, but spare ribs are a great reason to wake up in the morning. Cue Homer Simpson: Mmmmm, rrriiiibbbs.

Round of 16

(1) Bacon vs. (4) Roast suckling pig
Have you heard about the bacon explosion yet? Mildly intriguing, I suppose, but it seems like gilding the lily. Why turn bacon into such a production when it's already ideal on its own?

(2) Spare ribs vs. (3) Crown roast of pork
Little-known fact: Every Chinese restaurant in America is required by law to serve Chinese spare ribs with an exterior hue of Pantone 188. The ribs are also required by law to be the best thing on the entire menu. Interestingly enough, compliance is 100 percent.

Regional Final
(1) Bacon vs. (2) Spare ribs
Ask vegetarians what they miss most, and what tempts them to fall off the wagon, and most will tell you, "Bacon." There's a reason for that.

Sausage Region

First Round
(1) Bratwurst vs. (16) Bologna
Yeah, I like that Oscar Mayer song too, but let's be honest: Bologna is like boredom on a stick, only without the stick, and its primacy in our lunch pantheon is a sad commentary on life's very worth. A grilled brat, on the other hand, is what life is all about.


AP Photo/Srdjan Ilic

If you don't like sausage then you probably don't like America or freedom either.

(8) Breakfast links vs. (9) Breakfast patties
Tricky choice here, especially since one's preference on a given morning can depend on so many variables (how much sleep you got, how hung over you might be, whether your favorite team just announced that it's going to be wearing history's most embarrassing sleeve patch for the entire 2009 season, etc.). On this particular morning, however, I say patties are sounding a bit more appealing.

(5) Italian sausage vs. (12) Merguez
I'm fond of merguez, an underrated lamb sausage that shows up in a lot of Moroccan cooking. But merguez is way too skinny to serve on a hero roll, which means it loses this matchup on that basis alone.

(4) Pepperoni vs. (13) Bangers
Bangers and mash is a quaint British dish eaten by quaint British people who wouldn't know a pepperoni pizza if it walked up to them on the Fourth of July and yelled, "In your face, Redcoats!" Not even a fair fight.

(6) Kielbasa vs. (11) Boudin Bracket-buster alert! Unless you live down in southern Louisiana, you probably don't know about boudin, which is a shame, because those Cajuns know what they're doing when it comes to food. Take some pork scraps, some rice, some lard, maybe some crawfish, stuff it all in some sausage casings, and then give me a call when you wake up from your boudin-induced stupor. That's right, buddy, it's that good.

(3) Hot dogs vs. (14) Blood sausage
Yo, if I want a blood transfusion, I'll get in a car accident or something. Until that happens, keep that blood to yourself.

(7) Chorizo vs. (10) Andouille
We've got a multi-culti sausage grudge match here, with the Spanish chorizo barely eking out a victory over the French andouille.


AP Photo/Hermann J. Knippertz

... and on the eighth day, God created salami.

(2) Salami vs. (15) Slim Jim
You realize there's almost no actual meat in a Slim Jim, right?

Second Round
(1) Bratwurst vs. (9) Breakfast patties
When are they gonna get around to putting a bratwurst illustration on the Wisconsin state flag?

(4) Pepperoni vs. (5) Italian sausage
Turns out Randall Simon isn't the only one who can beat up an Italian sausage.

(3) Hot dogs vs. (11) Boudin
Best hot dog of my life: a Kosher dog at the "O" in Pittsburgh in 1998. Love their fries, too. Only thing I can't figure out is why they bother to have salads on the menu (see the orange panel at lower left), since everyone knows salads cause cancer and hot dogs are good for you.

(2) Salami vs. (7) Chorizo
Until someone comes up with a chorizo version of this sign, salami's gonna win this matchup every time.

Round of 16
(1) Bratwurst vs. (4) Pepperoni
You know, the bratwurst song is even better than the bologna song.

(3) Hot dogs vs. Salami
Look, can you eat a salami at the ballpark? I rest my case.

Regional Final
(1) Bratwurst vs. (3) Hot dogs
OK, so I'm sort of oversimplifying here, but in many respects a brat is like a bigger, thicker, spicier better hot dog. Brats even take similar condiments. So why would you go with the smaller, blander version when you could have the bigger, tastier version? Two brats, please, with onions and mustard. Wait, make it three. And put another one on the grill, just in case.

Meatscellaneous Region

First Round
(1) Veal chops vs. (16) Deli turkey
Here's a good measure of how stupid we are as a nation: Our annual per capita veal consumption has been stuck at about 0.6 of a pound since the early 1990s. That translates to about one veal chop per person per year. Look, I eat about that much veal every week, and I'm sick of picking up the slack for all the rest of you!

(8) Chicken vs. (9) Osso bucco
I love me some good roast chicken. But I love osso bucco (braised veal shanks, an Italian classic) even more, in part because I can suck the marrow out of the bone in one big slurp. If that grosses you out, well, you probably stopped reading this bracket a long time ago anyway.

(5) Duck vs. (12) Cornish hen
I've never understood the complaint that duck has "too much fat" -- as if such a thing were even possible!

Lamb Chops

AP Photo/Larry Crowe

The only bad thing about lamb chops is when they're gone.

(4) Lamb chops vs. (13) Venison
I've tried really hard to like venison. The only thing I have to try hard to do with lamb chops is to keep from saying, "You gonna finish that?" to everyone else at the table.

(6) Lamb shanks vs. (11) Rabbit
When people say a particular food "tastes like chicken," it usually means they're too lazy to come up with a real description. But guess what: Rabbit really does taste like chicken. Braised lamb shanks, however, taste like heaven and a half.

(3) Chicken wings vs. (14) Turducken
I'm gonna let you in on a little secret: Turducken isn't very good. It's just a freak show masquerading as a meal. Chicken wings, on the other hand, are what made Buffalo famous, yee-haw!

(7) Turkey vs. (10) Veal cutlet
Y'know, there's a reason most people make turkey only on Thanksgiving. It's bland, it's a pain to carve, it's hard to cook it without either drying out the white meat or undercooking the dark meat, and the mere sight of it makes you instinctively think of the Detroit Lions losing yet another boring, lopsided game. Gimme a veal parm hero any day of the week.

(2) Leg of lamb vs. (15) Chicken tails
Here's another secret: The best part of the chicken is the tail. Equal parts crunchy, chewy and gooey, it's like a piece of candy, except it's savory instead of sweet. It's the chicken's secret weapon, and it's right up there with any other meat in this entire tournament.

Second Round
(1) Veal chops vs. (9) Osso Bucco
One of those hard-fought contests where it's a shame anyone has to lose. The favorite holds on to win, just barely.

(4) Lamb chops vs. (5) Duck
Why are lamb chops so often described as "fist-thick"? I don't know why, but it's an appealing comparison. And as much as I love duck, it has never inspired a cool metaphor like that.

Chicken Wings

AP Photo/Larry Crowe

A good chicken wing can even cushion the blow of your busted bracket.

(3) Chicken wings vs. (6) Lamb shanks
Conventional wisdom holds that there are two parts of a chicken wing: the drumette and the flat. But there's a third, overlooked part: the wing tip, located at the end of the wing. Most Buffalo wing recipes inexplicably call for removing the tip, but don't remove it -- it's the best part! Crunchy and chewy, it's a serious treat. Not quite as good as a chicken tail, but close.

(10) Veal cutlet vs. (15) Chicken tails
How good are chicken tails? So good that I plan to open a chicken tail restaurant one day. It will have an open kitchen, so customers can watch the staff chopping off the tails from the chickens and contemptuously discarding the rest of the bird in the trash. The menu will consist of two items: an appetizer-sized skewer of chicken tails ($27.95) and an entrée-sized skewer of chicken tails ($49.95). The only problem is that I haven't figured out how to incorporate chicken tails into a dessert. Yet.

Round of 16
(4) Lamb chops vs. (5) Veal chops
Easter is fast approaching, which means a lot of people will be eating lamb for the first and only time of the year. A pity, really, because lamb is delicious anytime. Then again, veal is delicious too. But all other things being equal, the redder meat always wins.

(3) Chicken wings vs. (15) Chicken tails
My chicken tail restaurant, incidentally, will be called The Pope's Nose, which is slang for chicken tail. And I will give a free dinner to any card-carrying pope! Which means the pope is gonna be racking up some serious frequent flier miles commuting from Rome to Brooklyn, because there's no way he'll be able to resist the lure of a free chicken tail dinner.

Regional Final
(4) Lamb chops vs. (15) Chicken tails
I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, "He's not really gonna take this chicken tail obsession all the way to the Final Four, is he?" Darn right I am, because chicken tails are this tournament's Cinderella story. They've languished in obscurity for too long, and this is their moment, baby!

Final Four

Standing rib roast vs. Bratwurst
There's something appealing about a brat's workaday, lunch-pail character, especially when compared with the upper-class aura of a fancy-schmancy rib roast. So brats make for a sexy underdog here. And like a lot of sexy underdogs, they get slaughtered once the game actually starts.

Bacon vs. Chicken tails
You know, most Cinderella stories don't have happy endings.

Championship Game
Bacon vs. Standing rib roast
In your heart of hearts, you knew it would come down to the king of beef against the king of pork. Let's try this the rock-scissors-paper way: Bacon covers rib roast (mmmm, bacon-wrapped rib roast!), but rib roast squashes bacon. Or to look at it another way, bacon is a perfect food but a rib roast is a perfect meal.

Paul Lukas has written almost as much about meat as he has about sports uniforms. His collection of vintage recipe booklets with the word "meat" in the title has been exhibited at the City Reliquary in Brooklyn, and his grilled chicken smells so good that it once convinced a friend to break her 12-year run of vegetarianism (prompting the friend's husband to say, "I think you just saved our marriage"). He doesn't really think salad causes cancer, but he has his suspicions about tofu.


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