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Variety Meats

Also indexed as: Brains, Heart, Kidneys, Liver, Organ Meats, Pig’s Feet, Sweetbreads (Thymus Gland), Tail, Tongue, Tripe


Preparation, uses, and tips

Before cooking brains, blanch them briefly to firm them, or soak in several changes of cold, acidulated water, made by adding a small amount of vinegar or lemon juice to water. Sweetbreads should be soaked in several changes of acidulated water for best flavor.

Remove membranes or excess fat from the exterior of specialty meats. Split kidneys and remove fatty tissue and veins. Scrub tongue. To disjoint oxtail, cut into sections with a sharp knife; avoid cutting the bones.


Slice sweetbreads, brains, heart, or liver and dredge in flour and spices if desired. Heat butter or oil in a skillet. Sauté over medium heat until brown on each side and done in the middle.


Heat cooking liquid with herbs, spices, and vegetables in a Dutch oven. Add brains, heart, kidneys, tripe, tongue, oxtail, or pig’s feet (it is best to use just one type of meat at a time). Cover and cook in the oven at 325°F (160°C), or simmer on the stovetop from 45 minutes to three hours, depending on variety meat used.


Bring court bouillon (broth or wine with vegetables or herbs) or cooking liquid to a simmer. Add brains or sweetbreads and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Drain and serve.


Arrange split kidneys on skewers and brush with oil and seasonings. Place on a broiling pan 3 inches (7.6cm) from the heat source. Broil until brown on the outside but still tender on the inside, approximately 5 minutes on each side


Place liver in a dish and cook on High for 7 to 8 minutes per pound. Place heart in a dish, add broth, cover, and cook on High 45 to 50 minutes per pound (454g). Place kidneys in a shallow baking dish and cook on High 11 to 12 minutes per pound (454g). Place oxtail in a shallow baking dish, cook on high for 5 minutes, turn, and cook another 6 to 8 minutes. Add water, cover, and cook 6 to 8 minutes. Put tongue in a casserole with cooking liquid and cook on Medium until tender, about 70 minutes for 2 1/2 pounds (1.125 kg). Place brains in a casserole and cover with broth. Cook 6 to 8 minutes on High, then 10 to 12 minutes on Medium. Drain, dredge with bread crumbs, and cook another 5 minutes on High. Cover sweetbreads with cold water and cook on High until boiling. Drain, add broth and butter, cover, and cook another 3 to 5 minutes on Medium.

Buying and storing tips

Calf’s liver should be pale and pinkish in color; beef liver is darker and has a stronger taste and odor. Pork liver has the strongest flavor; chicken liver has the mildest. Liver should have a bright color with a moist but not slimy surface and a fresh smell. Prepare it the day you buy it, or store it loosely wrapped in the refrigerator for no more than 1 day.

Beef, pork, lamb, and poultry hearts tend to be tough; younger hearts are more tender. Hearts should have a fresh smell and red color—not brown or gray. Store loosely wrapped in the refrigerator for no more than two days.

Veal or lamb kidneys should be firm, pink or pale red rather than purple, and should not have a uric acid smell. Calves liver should be a deep rose color, not red or purple. Look for kidneys that are evenly colored and do not have dry or dull spots. Store loosely wrapped in the refrigerator and use the same day as purchased.

Beef, pork, and lamb brains should be firm, plump, and pinkish-white. Store meat loosely wrapped in the refrigerator and use the same day as purchased.

Veal, beef, lamb, and pork sweetbreads should be plump, firm, and white. Store loosely wrapped in the refrigerator and use within 24 hours of purchase.

Tripe should be pale white. Store loosely wrapped in the refrigerator for no more than one day.

Fresh tongue should be refrigerated for no more than one day.

If you want to keep variety meat longer than 24 hours, it’s best to freeze it as soon as you get it home. Check with the butcher to make sure the meat has not been previously frozen. To freeze, wrap meat in foil or place in freezer bags and store in the freezer. Plan to use it within two to three months.

Defrost in the refrigerator overnight; smaller organs may need only several hours.


Variety meats include beef, pork, lamb, and poultry liver, kidneys, sweetbreads (thymus gland), brains, heart, tongue, tripe, feet, and tail. Generally variety meats from young animals are milder and more tender than those from older animals.

Liver and heart are available frozen as well as fresh.

Tongue is available fresh, pickled, corned, and smoked.

Sweetbreads consist of two lobes—the throat lobe and the heart lobe. The heart lobe has a more delicate taste and texture.

Tripe, the lining of a cows’ stomach, comes in three kinds: honeycomb, pocket, and plain or smooth tripe. Honeycomb is considered the most tender.

Pigs feet, or trotters, are available fresh, pickled, and smoked.

Nutrition Highlights

Heart, chicken, 1 heart (raw)
Calories: 9.3
Protein: 0.95g
Carbohydrate: 0.04g
Total Fat: 0.57g
Fiber: 0.0g

Liver, chicken, 1 liver (raw)
Calories: 40
Protein: 5.7g
Carbohydrate: 1.09g
Total Fat: 1.23g
Fiber: 0.0g
*Excellent source of: Selenium (20.5mcg), Folate (236mcg), and Vitamin A (6,575 IU)
*Good source of: Iron (2.74mg)

Brains, beef, 4 oz. (113g) (raw)
Calories: 142
Protein: 11g
Carbohydrate: 0.0g
Total Fat: 10.5g
Fiber: 0.0g
*Excellent source of: Niacin (5.2mg), Vitamin B12 (12.3mcg), and Vitamin C (18.7mg)
*Good source of: Iron (2.4mg)

Kidneys, beef, 4 oz. (113g) (raw)
Calories: 121
Protein: 18.7g
Carbohydrate: 2.45g
Total Fat: 3.5g
Fiber: 0.0g
*Excellent source of: Iron (8.3mg), Vitamin B12 (30.5mcg), Vitamin A (994 IU), and Folate (90.4mcg)

Tongue, beef, 4 oz. (113g) (raw)
Calories: 253
Protein: 16.8g
Carbohydrate: 4.2g
Total Fat: 18.2g
Fiber: 0.0g
*Excellent source of: Zinc (3.2mg), Niacin (4.8mg), and Vitamin B12 (4.3 mcg)

Tail, Ox (soup), 1 packet (74g) (dehydrated, dry)
Calories: 280
Protein: 11g
Carbohydrate: 35.6g
Total Fat: 10.1g
Fiber: 0.67g
*Good source of: Niacin (3.3mg), and Vitamin B12 (0.74)

Feet, pork, 1/2 foot (95g) (raw)
Calories: 251
Protein: 21g
Carbohydrate: 0.0g
Total Fat: 17.8g
Fiber: 0.0g

Sweetbreads (thymus), 4 oz. (113g) (raw)
Calories: 267
Protein: 13.7g
Carbohydrate: 0.0g
Total Fat: 23g
Fiber: 0.0g
*Excellent source of: Vitamin C (38mg), and Vitamin B12 (2.4mcg)
*Good source of: Iron (2.3mg), and Zinc (2.3mg)

*Foods that are an “excellent source” of a particular nutrient provide 20% or more of the Recommended Daily Value. Foods that are a “good source” of a particular nutrient provide between 10 and 20% of the Recommended Daily Value.

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