Meet your meat 

The cow can be a complicated creature to understand in terms of its cuts of meat: Are New York strip and Kansas City strip the same thing? Does prime rib mean the beef is prime grade?

For unflinching answers to these questions and pretty much anything else you've ever wondered about the upper food chain animals we eat, Field Guide to Meat by Aliza Green (Quirk Books, $14.95) is one handy little manual. (Vegetarians, you can stop reading. The meat talk only gets more explicit from here. Y'all can refer to Green's previously published Field Guide to Produce). The book offers definitions, characteristics, selection and storage tips, and preparation techniques for beef, lamb, pork, poultry, game and other barely domesticated meats ("When cooked, armadillo tastes rich and porky," Green informs us).

I know. If you didn't grow up on a farm, frank information about meat can make you queasy. And the graphic color pics of whole baby goats and skinned rattlesnake -- which "should be brined overnight before cooking" -- don't encourage our cultivated sense of ignorance about animal flesh.

But once you get past the squeamishness factor, you see how this book clears up many mysteries. An in-depth section on sausage and cured meats offers pointed clarifications (don't confuse cured, ready-to-eat Spanish chorizo with fresh Mexican chorizo that needs to be cooked) and would be handy in an Italian deli to help decipher all those different salamis. Maybe you'll never want to make head cheese, but if you're shopping for lamb chops, it's good to know you need to "look for a well-rounded form with light colored meat, white fat and red-streaked bones."

And though most of us who frequent steakhouses have long identified our preferred hunk of meat, I for one am still curious: What exactly is the difference between a porterhouse and a T-bone? Now, with the Field Guide stashed in my car's glove compartment, I can amble into Bone's more informed than ever.

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