Thymus Glands: Fried Sweetbreads from Big Earl's BBQ

Despite what the supermarket aisle may lead you to believe, there's more to an animal than neatly wrapped styrofoam trays of meat. From tongue to tail, offal (pronounced awful) encompasses all those taboo edibles that don't make the cut at your local grocer. Just Offal is here to explore these oft-neglected byproducts of butchering, featuring different offal meals from establishments across the Valley.

This week: Fried Sweetbreads served up by Big Earl's BBQ.

The Ick Factor: Sweetbreads are an intriguing and mysterious offal bit that you would probably skip right past on a menu. Like its equally sneaky cousin, headcheese (who doesn't like cheese?), sweetbreads are neither sweet or made of bread. Instead, they're the thymus glands from calves. How many glands do you regularly consume in your daily diet? We're guessing that the answer is between ziltch and zero, which is unfortunate because sweetbreads are clearly the king of the offal realm.

(bite into all the juicy details after the jump)

The Offal Choice: Nuggets of fried sweetbreads, nestled in a basket with a side of green goddess dressing for dipping, served up by Big Earl's BBQ.

Tastes Just Like: Chicken nuggets. Honest to goodness chicken nuggets, with none of the weird, mechanically-separated strangeness that can sometimes characterize nuggets of questionable origin. Their mild meaty flavor and firm texture make sweetbreads an ideal introduction for newbies interested in expanding their offal palate.

Sweetbreads have a miscellaneous meaty flavor that isn't readily defined as beef, pork, or chicken. They tend to have more of a mild, white-meat flavor than a more robust dark-meat offering. The texture of sweetbreads is really where this offal shines. Sweetbreads have a toothsome and meaty bite to them that is wholly unlike some of the more gelatinous and jiggly offal meat on the market, making sweetbreads the other, other white meat.

You Know It's Cooked Improperly When: Sweetbreads need to undergo a pretty rigorous soaking and trimming process, given that they were once funky glands pumping hormones. Sweetbread preparation includes soaking (to rid the 'breads of their offal funk), blanching (to firm up those glands), and trimming (to get rid of any weirdness). Skip any of these steps and consume at your own risk.

Always been a DIY-er? Southern-fried sweetbreads are just one way to prepare these glands, which also go well with a variety of French-sauces. Hunt down a butcher for the best odds of scoring fresh sweetbreads, which can consist of the long and thin thymus gland, or the much larger and more oval pancreas.

Know of some offal that we just have to try? Let us know in the comment section.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Erica O'Neil