Let’s face it, bones can be inconvenient. In these days of ultra processed food, people have become accustomed to eating food that goes from the freezer, to the microwave, to their stomachs without much pause in between. Also, a large number of American meals are taken in the car, another place where bones are just a nuisance.
After a while, if that’s how you eat, then that becomes how you cook (skinless, boneless chicken breast anyone?) and then the knowledge of how to cook meat on the bone disappears from our society. Please don’t let that happen.
So what are the benefits of food on the bone? First, and most important is flavor. The bones provide collagen, which gives a depth of flavor and satisfying mouth-feel to the dish. The meat closest to the bone tastes different (some say sweeter) because it has more collagen in it. Bones also slow you down. You can’t just gobble your food down in three bites if you have to deal with bones. Studies have shown that eating slowly can help with weight loss. There is also an economic benefit. If you save the bones from your roast meat you can make stock and stash it away in the freezer for the next time you make soup. Once you’ve made a soup with your own homemade stock you’ll never go back to cans or boxes; it tastes better and it’s cheaper.
Unfortunately, these days it can be difficult to buy meat on the bone. Unless you order in advance from your butcher, most likely all he will have is boneless cuts. Farmers’ markets can be a good source of local, grass fed meat and are more likely to sell cuts on the bone. Recently, I was at the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket in Brooklyn speaking with the guys at the Arcadian Pastures stand about this very subject. They said they’re never quite sure how to answer the question about bones because some customers really don’t want them and others do. Jokes about the difficulty of raising boneless animals aside, they usually bring both bone-in and boneless cuts of their meats to satisfy as many customers as possible.
Next time you’re thinking of having roast beast, try to get it on the bone. It’s worth having to order in advance or going to an unfamiliar store (who knows what else you may discover there).