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Do You Have A Butcher?

Just had a disappointing incident with the meat department of my local grocery. And now I'm wondering, does everyone have a butcher except me?

I get Empire kosher chicken and turkey breast at Trader Joe's. I also get the occasional rack of lamb there, too. We don't eat that much red meat, but when I do it is from the local grocery.

Is there a big difference in the quality of meat from a butcher?

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  1. Local butchers are few and far between in my area. Like bakeries, they just can't compete with the price and convenience of the supermarket.
    I find the quality and price of meat is much better at the wharehouse clubs, BJ's, Sam's & Costco, than at the local supermarkets.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Motosport

      I try hard to avoid the warehouse types like BJ's, Sam's and Costco for food. They are great for soap and paper products and even gas but not meat.

      I know their price is unbeatable on many things but they represent the opposite of local.

      I do have a butcher at the local market, costs a bit more but they know my name and they make the sausage daily and run out of things by mid day.

    2. Yes I do have one (two actually), from whom I buy the good stuff.

      There is a definite quality difference: meat is selected and handled appropriately (e.g. you want 5 week dry-age, I can get 5 week dry-age) and I can ask for whole primals or differences in cuts for specific applications. They're also better at finding the "lesser cuts" that might not ever get to a mainstream meat counter.

      I still buy supermarket stuff when I need something to practice on, but in general apart from the kosher/halal meats, most supermarket meat is generally of adequate to poor quality.

      1. I do have a butcher shop that I visit regularly. They're these old Croatian guys, known for having some of the best prime meats in the area. They also specialize in large swordfish and tuna. During certain seasons, they bring in some interesting game meats and are always accomidating.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Novelli

          Okay, I need to upgrade! I'm going to find out where there is a butcher in this area. I swear I don't think I've ever seen one except in a farmer's market that only runs 3 days a week.

          1. re: DaisyM

            For craft butchers, a good resource is the Butcher's Guild which also has a lot of interesting content and some local shop overviews.

            http://www.thebutchersguild.org/about...

            That will overlook a number of traditional and ethnic butchers. It would help to educate yourself on meat no matter what the source (a good butcher can help with this) and also meat sources/distribution (something covered in great detail on chowhound).

        2. Yes. There is at least one true butcher shop in every town where I live. I know several of them get there meat from the same source.

          The one in my town has one very knowledge person who is full of helpful suggestions and ideas but sadly, all the other employees seeem to know next to nothing about cuts and preparation.

          Two years ago, we started buying our beef, pork and chickens from a farmer but I do visit the butcher shop for other things.

          1. Like many people who have responded, I have a butcher shop where I shop occasionally. I'd love to say I shop there exclusively, but I don't. There's a gourmet grocery store where I also shop when I'm just picking up something for dinner, or if I'm not entertaining, or whatever. The quality there is okay.

            But if I want something very specific and/or I'm entertaining people I definitely go to the butcher. Also, I like to get bones for stock at the butcher; something you can't easily do at your local supermarket (or warehouse club, I wouldn't think).

            1 Reply
            1. re: egit

              I tend to get my bones from either the ginormous multi-ethnic supermarket (Saraga) in my area, or the large "Asian"/Chinese grocery I usually go to (the latter for fresh pork bones especially). Much, MUCH cheaper than the bones from my local butcher, *unless* I clearly wanted veal bones or bones I want to roast for the marrow alone.

            2. I get meat freshly butchered at the local halal market-in larger cities with big Muslim populations the quality of the meat tends to be very good, but if you are in a small town with only one halal market it may be frozen meat or very expensive and therefore not useful for you. I also used to go to a Mexican market's meat section for certain cuts of meat when I lived near to one.

              In terms of quality of meat, yes it is fresh, but at the halal market I have to be very specific. Like if I just say "two pounds of goat," they may give a bunch of bones with only a little meat on it. So instead I have to say "I want 2 lbs of goat, cut it from the shoulder, cut it in two inch chunks, make sure I get meat chunks and not just bone..." and I have to watch the guy. I see some people who are so specific that they go in the back cooler and select their own whole animal and have it butchered to their specifics. They don't buy the ground beef in the display case but ask for it freshly ground at the time of purpose and specify the fineness of the grind and all. But I mostly just let them cut from whatever animal is in the display case and take the pre-ground beef. It used to be the halal markets only carried South Asian cuts of meat and you would ask for it that way (like pasanda or whatever) but nowadays I see a steaks and chicken breasts and meats meant for non-Asian cooking. If it is Arab market or caters more to Arabs they will have lamb, and the general meats at halal markets are just goat, lamb, beef, and chicken. You can also get turkey near to Thanksgiving, and sometimes pre-marinated meats and some types of sausages. They don't carry fancy meat like veal as far as I have seen, and obviously there is no pork.

              I have seen some Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean markets around have extensive meat selection from butchers, too.

              1 Reply
              1. re: luckyfatima

                In my area the Mexican supermercados (Guanajuato) have gigantic meat counters. The one I go to sometimes (Carniceria Guanajuato) has a meat counter that's probably around a hundred feet long, stuffed full of meat at very good prices. Large, constant clientele there. Oh, there's also a food court area with some of the best (and cheap) Mexican food around. :-)

                The "Asian"/Chinese/Vietnamese supermarkets/stores with a meat counter often have offal/organ meats, less-common (to Western cuisine) cuts and meat parts (big whopping beef tendons, for example).

              2. It's a basic difference ---usually though not always---between urban versus suburban communities. Cities with ethnic or a retained sense of history often have butcher shops aplenty. Suburbia with massive supermarkets and such make small business less tenable (though I have seen any number of specialty stores such as "Pork Stores" in suburban areas--again, in my view, a vestige of ethnic history in the area.)

                In New York City--we are lucky to have real butchers in all boroughs...And yes, the quality is extraordinarily different...

                1. I have a butcher I go to twice a year. In Maine and a five hour drive from Brooklyn. You're just not going to get better tenderloins, ribeyes and seasonal turkeys from anyone in the NYC metro area. And yes, I've tried Fleischer's. A few times. And while I enjoy the trip very much, I find it a sad state of affairs that NYC is void of a decent butcher.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: David11238

                    Are the quality of steaks at a butcher shop comprable to steaks you would get at a high end steak house or are they only found online from places like Allen Brother's?

                    1. re: DaisyM

                      My grammar needs work on that last post. The butcher I go to, located in Maine, is a five hour drive from where I live in Brooklyn. I trek up their twice a year with a cooler, before Thanksgiving (for fresh kill turkey) and the during summer. The owner has told me he'll ship if I ask, except the delivery charges will be prohibitive. As far as taste & quality goes, yes, it's just as good if not better than a high end steak house.

                      1. re: David11238

                        That's pretty amazing! But I'm also thinking that you grab a loster roll, too which would make the drive completely worth it.

                        1. re: DaisyM

                          I'm more of a fried whole clam belly fan.

                    2. re: David11238

                      Being a butcher in Brooklyn, and being originally from Maine, I am curious to know the name of this butcher you trek so far to buy from. And who they get their animals from. The farms that supply the high-end NYC shops also supply many of the 3-star Michelin restaurants as well, their quality is not lacking, you just have different tastes.

                      Edit: And no, I don't cut at Fleishers :)

                      1. re: David11238

                        "I find it a sad state of affairs that NYC is void of a decent butcher."

                        How's that? NYC has some of the best butcher shops in the country. I'm 15-20min from Dickson's Farmstand Meats, The Meat Hook, Japan Premium Beef and two different Whole Foods.

                      2. I'm envious of those with butcher stores, and "mongers" of the fish or cheese variety. Grew up in a very small town, and we had 2 butchers, but times have changed. Now it's the chain grocery store, and the chicken there is tastelessly blah.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: pine time

                          Give yourself a treat and place an order from Murray's Cheese. They send it out fed ex next day for $10. They always have amazing cheeses perfectly ripe. Last month I ordered 4 types that I had never even heard of from the sale they were having. It is a real joy to get a package from them. http://www.murrayscheese.com/products...

                        2. I am exceptionally fortunate that I live in close proximity to 3 butchers. One specialises in smoked meats, one specialises in sausages and the other, which I like to believe is the best butcher in the world, just does what an awesome butcher should do; have amazing meat, interesting cuts that your average grocery store wouldn't carry and have a wide and varied variety of meats available. If they don't have it in stock (unlikely, they seem to carry everything!) you can order it in. I have never been turned down for any odd request I have ever had - indeed they have always stocked or cut to order exactly what I want. Yep, I love my butcher :)

                          1. Where do you live? I use several good butchers. I go to kosher butchers, and they are usually very good, but more expensive. I am in L.A. and there are some good non kosher ones too.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: paprkutr

                              I'm in Western Australia...not much use to everyone here :) My amazing butcher is a bit more pricey than the grocer, but it is truly worth every cent for the quality and the variety. I don't use the smoked meat and sausage butchers as often, usually when I'm chasing something specific to their speciality, but they are actually very well priced. Keeping kosher is not something commonly done in Australia, to be honest I don't know what would separate a kosher butcher from a non-kosher butcher. I can't believe I just had to admit that!

                              1. re: TheHuntress

                                As I was taught, a kosher butcher starts with the animal standing and a rabbi. The non-kosher starts with the animal hanging.

                                After that, it all depends on personal expertise.

                            2. There's a butcher in our village but, to be frank, the quality of his meat isnt as good as the supermarket.

                              That said, I buy most of my meat over the internet direct from a farm (which butchers it) or from the farmers market in a nearby town.

                              1. I don't have a butcher, but I found out recently that a meat market opened up two weeks ago in Washington, D.C., and I intend to check it out on a weekend very soon. There is an Amish market that is open Thur-Sat, and they do cut their own meats and make their own sausage. Their sausage is excellent. They cure about five different kinds of bacon, and they make their own turkey bacon. They are really crowded on Saturday mornings.

                                I do not expect any of my local grocery stores to do any butchering for me. Sure is different from where I grew up in Pittsburgh years ago.

                                1. The people who cut meat in supermarkets are butchers. I'm satisfied with the service and the quality, but these vary. If you are not satisfied with the quality at one supermarket, there may be a better one nearby.

                                  10 Replies
                                  1. re: GH1618

                                    actually, most of the employees who cut meat in a supermarket are NOT butchers, they are meat cutters. There is another thread about this on CH.

                                    The meat cutters in the supermarket take boxed beef and cut it into retail packages. It's not like the old days when beef arrived at the supermarket hanging on the hoof, the carcass was brought in and a butcher cut the primal cuts and then retail packaging was done.

                                    Most of the supermarket meat cutters would be clueless as to how to butch a side of beef.

                                    1. re: bagelman01

                                      It's not an important distinction to me. A butcher breaks the carcass into pieces, and a meat cutter finishes it off. What matters are the quality of the product and the service, not what you call the person in the retail meat department.

                                      1. re: GH1618

                                        That is not only untrue (A meat cutter cut steaks from a subprimal cut, which is usually done at the processing house, and an actual butcher gets in a whole animal and breaks it down from the whole carcass into retail cuts, sausages, charcuterie, etc) it's insulting to people who work as proper butchers. A real butcher has a working anatomy of the animals they are cutting, they know the sources, know the farmers. They have an appreciation and a respect for the animals that they are cutting. They know how to properly showcase each individual animal based on the size and characteristics of each individual carcass. They know how to use all of the animal in various forms, through either sausage production, or various forms of French/German/Italian Charcuterie. A real butcher can tell you exactly how to cook every single cut of meat in their case in a variety of preparations. If you truly value the quality of your meat, it is essential to recognize the difference in buying a piece of meat cut by someone who knows how to turn on a band-saw, versus a skilled tradesmen.

                                        1. re: BKbutcher

                                          No insult intended. I recognize there is a difference. But it is certainly true that the difference is not important to me.

                                          1. re: GH1618

                                            Unfortunately, you don't realize that the lack of a butcher could be imporytant to you. Too many interesting cuts get thrown into the ground beef hopper at the supermarket by meqat cutters who have no idea what they are wasting or how it should be cut.

                                            Go ask the guy in a white coat at you supermarket for an inside skirt steak (as opposed to the tougher outside skirt) and you'll get a blank stare, absolutely clueless.

                                            1. re: bagelman01

                                              Good point. Next time you're at a good butcher, ask him about the Teres Major muscle from the Chuck section. We call it a 'Faux Filet', but I actually prefer to the Filet Migon. Also, if you ever see the 'Secreto' cut from a pig, that piece of meat is amazing. Essentially a skirt steak from a pig. Mostly seen in butcher shop in Spain, but if you're going to a really good shop here in the US, they may have it.

                                              1. re: BKbutcher

                                                BK...............
                                                Having been a kosher caterer in an earlier life (more than 35 years ago). I am ell aware of the Teres Major, as Filet Mignon is not kosher and we comnstantly had to find substitute cuts from the forequarter of the beef.

                                                I love brisket, but top of the rib makes a great pot roast on top of the stove at 25% of the cost. I love to marinate a hanging or butcher's tenderloin and broil, but it ends up in the ground beef hopper at most processors, it doesn't make it to the retailer in the boxed beef selections.

                                                I have seen the 'secreto' at some of the pork stores on 86th Street in Brooklyn.

                                              2. re: bagelman01

                                                Supermarkets are not all the same. I used to go to one that had a large meat department, gave personalized service, and may have had an actual butcher (who asks?), but they folded a few years ago. Several of the better supermarkets in the SF Bay Area have folded, so it's coming down to the larger chains, boutique butchers, and Whole Foods. WF seems to be successful, but I don't understand why. I go there only for the occasional item which only they carry.

                                                I doubt that my current supermarket (Nob Hill (Raley's)) could provide an "inside skirt steak" but I might try asking at Piedmont Grocery (in Oakland) someday.

                                                1. re: GH1618

                                                  If youre in the Bay Area, I recommend 4505 Meats. Ryan Farr is something of a celebrity in the Butcher world.

                                                  1. re: BKbutcher

                                                    There's no way I would drive to SF for a celebrity butcher. When I want better sausage, I can get it at Taylor's Sausage in Swan's Market in downtown Oakland, a few blocks away.

                                    2. I do have a butcher! But I confess that I shop there only for special or specific cuts of meat as opposed to the usual stuff.
                                      For example, I can get great grain fed free range chickens from our local grocery store at a great price so those there. Same goes for chicken wings, and pretty much any chicken product.
                                      For pork tenderloins and ribs, I hit Costco. Can't beat the price and size and relatively good quality, and if I'm using these two items I have a gaggle on hand so I need the value for amount that bulk buying can give you.
                                      For Thanksgiving turkey, Standing Rib Roast, any steaks, and any ground meat products I go to my butcher. I know that our grocery store/Costco has butchers but they won't deal with the public on an individual basis. My butcher will rack and roll my roasts, grinds beef on demand so I can see what goes into it, and knows the origin of all of his products as he locally sources 90 percent of what he sells. It does cost, though, but it is money well spent on special occasions.

                                      1. I have an excellent butcher about a half-mile from my house. :-) However, I tend to get most of my meats from various local supermarkets or the "ethnic" supermarkets I mention elsewhere on this thread. I go to this butcher for specific things or when I feel like splurging on an excellent piece of meat. "Special requests" - I also go to him, or for some other things I go further to a locavore charcuterie/meat shop (Goose the Market). When I make phở at home, I tend to go to him to get really fresh & clean ribeye which I then get him to "shave" for me into pretty thin slices. Oh, sometimes I get a hunk of foie gras from him too - when I don't get it directly from Hudson Valley. Etc etc. :-)

                                        1. No proper butcher anywhere near me. I wish there were one around. Whole Foods has about the most helpful meat counter within close proximity to where I live.

                                          1. We have quite a few small stores and butcher shops where I live. I have yet to find one that is not selling factory farmed meat, the same CAFO products that are sold at the grocery store.

                                            1. Working as a butcher (cutting down whole, free-range grass-fed animals, using them nose-to-tail in a small family owned shop in NYC) I can attest to the quality of the animal and the care and thought put into each cut when you buy from a butcher. I think that it is important to consider the source of your meat to be of equal importance as well. Many ( I will not name-names) of the famous 'old-school' butcher shops in NYC do not cut down whole animals, and do not source responsibly raised animals. They simply receive boxes of the most popular and most expensive cuts, and portion them accordingly. While these sort of places are certainly better options than a supermarket, they still are not providing what is best for you, or for the animals. If anyone is looking for a good source of responsibly raised and well-butchered meat in the NYC area, shoot me a message and I can direct you to a few places in the area.

                                              1. Yes, I have an excellent butcher, the Swiss Pork Store in Fair Lawn NJ. I can ask for any cut of meat, German delicacies and cold cuts. And the best Russian Rye bread to go with the cold cuts.

                                                1. How lucky am I to be my own butcher! Although I must admit, with a certain sense of shame, to actually being a meat cutter, as my shop deals with primals and subprimals rather than whole carcasses.

                                                  That being said, I can offer far more than the bandsaw jockeys at the supermarket. I know my cuts, how to cut and present them beautifully, what to recommend for good value and quality, even how to cook them all. I can accommodate special orders and requests, and I almost always smile when I do it! The best thing I can offer my customers is the time I take to answer questions, help with cooking advice, or just be the friendly girl at the farmers market who asks you how your grandkids are. I'd like to see the grocery store white-coats manage that!