I never really thought I'd be the cooking kind of girl. I normally find it tiresome. An hour of labor, following an exhausting workday, for five minutes of gratification? Count me out. But of course, this pandemic has changed me and my food habits.
No longer do I rely on toasty bodega sandwiches or my ride-or-die Buffalo chicken wrap from my local bakery. Now it's on me — and my mom, who I'm happy to say is my partner in self-isolation — to think up every dinner, which means a lot of grocery shopping.
And as I'm sure you know, grocery shopping now feels like you're Tom Cruise in "Mission Impossible," all in the name of getting some bread and yogurt. It is terrifying and exhausting and something I try to do as little as possible.
Enter meat delivery. I had never used any sort of meat delivery — or grocery delivery — service before this. The concept struck me as something that was exclusively for kings and queens, or people simply too busy with their lives to even think about grocery shopping. But with going to the supermarket now something I loathe even thinking about, what better time to hand off some of my grocery duties to people who really know what they're looking for?
Porter Road, a meat delivery service that launched online in 2017, specializes in hormone-free, hand-cut meat processed from several local farms in Kentucky and Tennessee. What surprised me about the company at first glance was just how affordable its products are — for instance, $8 for a more than decent amount of Italian sausage — and just how much variety it has. Though it may be more expensive than your local grocery store, what you're paying for is quality and convenience. Also, while certain meat delivery companies specialize in steak and beef, Porter Road offers pretty much every imaginable form of pork, beef, lamb and chicken that you'd like to cook up in your dream kitchen.
How it works
What I immediately really liked about Porter Road, compared with other meat delivery services, is that it doesn't require you to buy a humongous variety pack of meat.
Though it does have handy curated boxes — like the Stay at Home Bundle ($90; porterroad.com), which includes lots of ground beef and sausage, and the Ground Beef Bundle ($90; porterroad.com), which has a whopping 10 pounds of ground beef — it also allows you to pick and choose any specific meat items you'd like, which start at just $8.
I found this sort of a la carte (ha, remember restaurants?) selection process much less stressful than trying to think, "Do I really want five different kinds of steak right now — and a dessert?"
Now, for this review, Porter Road sent me a lot of its meats to try. We're talking a whole chicken, a pork chop, Italian sausage, andouille sausage and more. That was terrifying at first, to be honest, because we already had so much in our freezer, but thankfully the company has really mindful packaging.
The box of meat came in a cooler made of biodegradable insulation called Green Cell Foam with gel cold packets inside, which held the compact, vacuum-sealed packages of meat that weren't frozen just yet, but refrigerated. According to the company, this is done to preserve the freshness of the meat, and it's recommended that the meat be consumed within seven days after its arrival, or frozen.
Standard shipping is $15 to anywhere in the contiguous US. Currently, Porter Road says orders placed today can take up to three to five days to ship, with an expected arrival of two to three days after shipment — which really isn't too bad, considering the world right now.
Delicious and flavorful meat, delivered
Steak is one of my love languages, so I was ready to judge Porter Road's flat iron steak ($20; porterroad.com) very harshly.
I went back and forth on how to really see how good it was. Should I smother it in the usual spices I like on steaks — salt, pepper, oregano and garlic? Should I add some mushrooms and onions on top? Ultimately, the stress got to me and in an effort to see how really, truly good this steak was, I decided to strip things down and only sprinkle on salt and pepper.
And, well, wow. I had thought that by now I had tasted the best steak of my life, but I was floored at the juiciness, the flavor and the tenderness of this steak. I also loved that it had very little fat, really just enough throughout to add that inherent delicious flavor.
The next day in my week of living as a devout carnivore I tried the Italian sausage ($8; porterroad.com). What I loved most — besides its spice and flavor that made the kitchen smell like heaven whenever it hit a hot pan — was just how versatile it was.
Because it came not in links but all ground up, I could add it on top of pizza, which rocked my universe. I put it in Porter Road's recipe for sausage, kale and white bean soup, which I made in my new favorite nonstick pan from Our Place ($145; fromourplace.com). And I put it into a sauce with spaghetti. All three meals were marvelous with it, and made me want to really never have plain ground beef again.
I'd always eaten lamb before in the form of lamb chops with mint jelly, but the way Porter Road sends its ground lamb ($12; porterroad.com) is, well, all ground up. So, much like the Italian sausage, the options were endless.
The first way I cooked with it was by forming lamb meatballs and loosely following this recipe for lamb patties, and adding in turmeric rice. It was excellent. With lamb, you run the risk of the meat getting too gamy or strong-flavored, but this was moist and flavorful and had a hint of spice as well.
Now for the boneless pork chop ($8; porterroad.com), which came as just one 2-pound chop that's advertised as being one serving, but it can easily be split between two very hungry people with plenty of leftovers. I followed Porter Road's pork chop with shallot balsamic jam recipe exactly and cooked it in a cast-iron skillet, and the pork turned out crispy on the outside and soft and delicious on the inside. I swapped dry thyme flakes in for sprigs of thyme, because who has the time, you know? But it was extremely simple and offered some outstanding flavor in just about 10 minutes.
I thankfully got the Porter Road box the week of Mother's Day, so naturally the Korean short ribs ($24; porterroad.com) had to be on the menu.
As someone who's never really cooked ribs before, I found the process a bit intimidating, and of course I kind of messed it up. According to Porter Road, you're ideally supposed to marinate these ribs for 24 hours, but naturally I realized that about four hours before dinnertime. Luckily, though, with the recipe I used, the marinade was just fine in four hours, and gave it a flavor I missed dearly — that of an extremely delicious Chinese restaurant. I think it was the sesame oil.
What I didn't love about this cut of meat was just how fatty it was. I'm not the kind of carnivore who gets thrilled by having to chomp down on any sort of fat, really, but I will say that the flavor of the meat I could eat was outstanding. And given how much comes in a package, we've got enough for at least one more dinner for two.
As far as the whole chicken ($21; porterroad.com), which actually came wrapped in a sort of coated bag for easy storage, this was, rather shamefully, my first time roasting an entire chicken myself.
I followed a family recipe (it involved herbes de Provence, olive oil, thyme and garlic), and the chicken was moist and delicious (thanks to the recipe in part, I'm sure), but not exactly the best I've ever had. It seemed rather standard in terms of good chicken, but like the sausage, it's found its way into lots of different recipes. A few days later I made crescent rolls stuffed with chicken and cheese, and then I enjoyed quite a few chicken salad sandwiches from its leftovers, and I think there's still some more of it in the fridge. Though it didn't blow me away (as if chicken really could), it gets bonus points for being enough meat to make at least five meals.
Lastly, when you get something like andouille sausage links ($12; porterroad.com), it feels mandatory to just throw them in with some rice and beans and a bunch of spices. Following this recipe, I sliced this thin, threw it in with yellow rice, kidney beans, celery and peppers. Delicious, of course, and even better the next day as leftovers.
The bottom line
Porter Road remains the least intimidating meat delivery service out there. Ordering is simple, your order arrives within a week, and geez, would you talk about variety. It's got every form of lamb, chicken, beef and pork you can think of. What it doesn't have, however, is any sort of fish, which many other meat delivery companies do.
One thing I loved about Porter Road was how genuinely good the accompanying recipes were, and how easy they were to find on the site itself. On any piece of meat (like the flat iron, for example), just scroll down and you can see the preferred way of cooking it, and there's a whole recipes page that I always referenced while cooking.
In my opinion, you should definitely try the steak, Italian sausage and delicious lamb, but maybe leave out the chicken. That is, unless your grocery store has been out of it for weeks and you're getting desperate.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailers' listed prices at the time of publication.