I never used to be a butcher person. As a poor grad student I was under the impression I couldn’t afford their high-end meats, and most of the time the selection at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods was, well, good enough. And it was good enough–until we moved to San Francisco last March and met Joey.
Joey’s our neighborhood butcher–the man who slices our sirloin and filets our flank steak. My husband knows him much better than I––you can tell who fetches the food and who cooks it in our house––but after a nice roast-related chat recently, Joey and I are now on a first name basis.
On my walk home I realized the hubs and I rarely purchase meat anywhere but our butcher these days. We’ve gotten to know the staff, trust their meats and very much appreciate their insightful cooking tips. I would never have thought I’d say this but having a butcher has made purchasing meat a culinary experience rather than a routine errand every Sunday morning.
For that reason, I thought I’d write a little ode to butchers everywhere. Here are 5 good reasons you should have one too:
1. They love animals as much as you–maybe more. If you talk to a butcher you’ll realize they have a deep respect for animals, which is precisely why they buy from farms where animals have happy lives. Their animals are fed natural diets, not pumped full of steroids or antibiotics and are slaughtered as humanely as possible. On top of that, hardly any of their animals go to waste which, to them, is honoring the life of the animal. Animals are a butcher’s livelihood and they nourish the people who support their business.
2. You’ll always know what you’re getting. The recent horsemeat in Ikea meatball scare has exposed the lack of care at mass meat processing facilities and strange happenings behind the supermarket meat counters. A proper butcher can tell you the farm the animal was raised on and what part of the animal that particular cut came from. More often than you’ll even see your butcher grind or cut pieces of meat right in front of your eyes.
3. Butchers offer better selection & quality. Walk into a butcher shop and I guarantee you’ll see a cut or type of meat you can’t find at the average grocery store. Not only that, it will have been humanely slaughtered, properly cut and stored. You won’t find chicken breasts plumped with saline water or vibrantly red steaks gassed with carbon monoxide. And you definitely won’t find pink slime, ever.
4. They deliver top notch service. Expect meat buying to become a personal experience. Unless of course you go the day before Thanksgiving or Christmas… but that’s to be expected. Butchers want nothing more than for their meats to be the best thing you ever tasted. That’s why they’ll offer meats cut to order, less expensive suggestions, cooking tips and as many free samples of their deli meat as you like. For you venison- and boar-lovers, a butcher can also give you a heads up on seasonal specials like game and the ability to special order less common cuts.
5. You keep your dollar local. I thank Michael Pollan for opening my eyes to industrial farming and the benefits of eating more locally. Sure farmer’s markets can be more pricey but I can honestly say I’ve never experienced sticker shock at our butcher, who’s meats are usually priced below what I see at Whole Foods. By going to a local butchers, less dollars end up in pockets of the large meat manufacturers and distributors which means more for the farmer & small business owner.
That pot of beef stew or grilled chicken breast may cost a few cents more than if you shopped at Costco in bulk, but buying from a butcher has made us more appreciative of farm animals and more knowledgeable meat eaters—-which in my opinion is worth more than what I’m paying our butcher, Joey.
Local butchers: If you’ve got one, what do you love about yours? Supermarket meat-shoppers, are you willing to give one a try?
PS. Did you see this butcher’s response to a PETA billboard that went up right next to his shop? Love.