Buytopia.ca is offering a group-buying deal, $99 for $400 worth of meat from The Butchers in Toronto, that has attracted a lot of attention on Twitter. Here’s a rough timeline of my involvement with this story:
- Around 10 AM @coreymintz tweeted about a deal, $99 for $400 of meat from The Butchers, by buytopia.ca.
- I took a look and just before noon tweeted that I thought that this looked like a deal worth considering. I wrote an email to The Butchers asking for more information but haven’t heard back as of this posting.
- By 3 PM word was spreading from some of the people I follow and trust on Twitter that there might be something amiss.
- By 4:30 I had read this Trueler story that takes aim at the deal, and previous ones offered by The Butchers on other sites, and I had tweeted that “Looks like that buytopia deal at The Butchers is too good to be true. http://bit.ly/fYMWjG“
- That tweet has been retweeted several times and I’ve received some feedback. From those I’ve heard from the strong trend has been that those who bought previous deals were generally (very) satisfied but if they tried the sausages they didn’t like them.
The feedback in The Butchers’ favour and my lingering doubts have inspired me to take a closer look at the Trueler condemnation.
I’m going to try and put aside the subjective or soft conclusions. On one hand there are some seemingly strong points against The Butchers (like the number of deals they have participated in and the comments on the Trueler post which are generally (though not entirely) negative) but also the vigorous use of bolding and an inflammatory post title make me wonder about the poster’s objectivity. If you’re interested in including these in your evaluation follow the link and do so for yourself.
There are, I think, four more (potentially) objective tests completed and observations offered by whomever is behind the Trueler post and I’ll stick to those. These are:
- The water in the bag after defrosting;
- The iodine test for starch fillers;
- Cooking the sausages and observing the results, including letting them cool over night;
- Leaving a piece of sausage at room temperature for two days and observing the appearance and smell.
I like the idea of testing food and the means we use to cook it with scientific experiments. I hate the idea of a poorly-designed cloak of science being used to cover subjective venom. By reading the original post and my comments below I’ll let you decide which side you come down on.
Bag water: That is a lot of water and this observation concerns me the most of the four. What we aren’t told though is who froze these sausages? One good reason to shop at a local butcher shop is the convenience of always buying fresh meat and if I do have to buy frozen I want it to be vacuum-sealed, not in a standard meat-counter bag. If all of this moisture did come from the sausages it may indicate that they were not properly handled before being frozen. The poster does not say that they were bought frozen so we have to consider the possibility that he froze them himself and allow for the conditions, like a frequently opened freezer door or an old, humid freezer, that would make this an unfair test.
My Test: Conveniently I have a variety of homemade (and therefore, I know, well-made) sausages in my freezer. I thawed one overnight in the refrigerator, sealed in a Ziploc bag. I removed the thawed sausage, weighed the bag, and then weighed a clean, unused bag. The difference is approximately the amount of moisture lost by the sausage during defrosting. Both the bags weighed the same (6g) so I’m willing to conclude that my 100g homemade sausage lost less than a gram of water while defrosting.
Iodine test: Meat, salt, spices, flavourful liquids, and maybe some aromatic vegetables or dairy are all that should be included in a good sausage. Starchy fillers, like carrageenan, would be inappropriate for sausages from a butcher shop that bills itself as offering organic, naturally-raised meat products. But is this a fair and accurate test to detect that? Are there other ingredients (e.g. salt, garlic, beer, or fats in the meat?) that would react to turn the iodine black? This is a difficult question to answer because Trueler doesn’t tell us what flavour of sausage this is. It looks like it might be bratwurst but what if it were something like veal-leek, would the leeks have enough starch for a positive result on the test?
I think the choice of a potato and a pear are regrettable controls. I would have much preferred to have seen The Butchers’ sausage compared to a sausage that was known to be just meat and other “natural” flavourings.
Also, it looks from a quick Google search like iodine is used to test for other things like saturated fat (that test does not expect a black mark, though) so again I’m unsure if it is one variable we are testing.
My Test: I dropped tincture of iodine in a “?” on the homemade sausage I defrosted. I will repeat this test (on another slice) when I have a sausage from The Butchers for comparison. The iodine remained red and the question mark faded as it evaporated. This definitely makes me curious to see the results of a well-designed test with a slice of sausage from The Butchers.
Cooking: We don’t get nearly enough information about this test to make an evaluation. What temperature was the oven set at? For how long did the sausages cook before each photo was taken? I almost always start sausages in a low, wet cooking method and then finish them with higher, drier heat so I’m not particularly surprised (or troubled) that they burst. I can say from experience that any sausage will look shriveled and unappetising twenty-four hours after being cooked so, again, that photo doesn’t really bother me. And here I sense that the Trueler author was trying to stay in an objective groove but why are there no comments on how the sausage tasted? Or smelled? Isn’t that the information we’re really after? And again why no control against good examples of sausages?
Left at room temperature: I’m pretty sure this test was inspired by those “let’s see what happens if we leave a McDonald’s hamburger in a cupboard for a year” “tests”. To my satisfaction these have been shown to be thoroughly unscientific garbage by this Kenji Alt piece from the Burger Lab. In the burger example it is shape and size that control moisture loss and affect spoilage. That the burger test is debnked does not mean that this test is necessarily useless and I’d try to recreate the sausage experiment but here, again, we aren’t given enough information. How big was the piece of sausage? Warm or cool room temperature? A bright, sunny spot or inside a cupboard? And why no photo of this experiment?
I have some problems with the Trueler post–not least of which is the presentation style–and the experiments they did. But, it should be stressed that that does not prove The Butchers innocent of the claims made against them. The close-up photo of this particular sausage does not really make me want to eat it but then again when considering the deal I never really planned to buy sausages from them. I plan to visit The Butchers today, gather more information and share observations here. My sharing of the Trueler link yesterday means that I feel obligated to continue participating in this discussion and I encourage you to be skeptical of both sides (and this post) and ask your own questions as well.
Update: Comments have been temporarily closed on this post.