If you’ve made it into an actual, real butchery, then…congratulations. You’ve already avoided the convenience of a supermarket, which is a step in the right direction. (And one that most people aren’t taking.) So, bloody well done on that. You now need to know how to handle yourself in there. Meat, as a category, can be intimidating but it really doesn’t need to be. Butchers love people asking questions and butchers who enjoy their work also love telling people how much they enjoy their work. Give us a chance to talk meat and we are hard to shut up.
- So start with that: a conversation. It will come easily from there. Here a re a few pointers to consider though:
- Be flexible. Recipes are just guidelines. If you’ve gone in there wanting a very specific cut of meat, don’t freak out if they don’t have it. Instead, listen to the person behind the counter. There will always be alternatives that will do the job as well, or sometimes better, than the piece of meat you were after.
- Understand that adjectives don’t mean sh*t. “Butcher’s grade meat”. What does that even mean? “AAA grade”. “Special reserve”. Seriously? Are we selling wine or meat? Unfortunately there is so much bureaucracy and red tape when it comes to labelling laws that calling something “Angus beef” has nothing to do with the breed it is. How ridiculous is that? Even buzzwords like “free range” and “all natural” don’t really count for much, sadly. What is important is traceability and animal welfare. Well, it’s important for butchers who care, anyway. At our shops we don’t get too hung up on calling meat grass-fed, free-range etc. (it is); we’d rather have a conversation about where the farms are, what breed the animals are, what they ate and how they lived. We will even get into how they were slaughtered, which is just as important. So don’t get thrown by fancy descriptions of meat. It’s all marketing nonsense.
- Pimp your meat. Butchers are there to butcher. So if there’s a piece of meat you’d like portioned, trimmed,rolled, tied, deboned etc. just ask. This should seem obvious but sometimes people are just so used to picking a pack of meat off a shelf that they don’t stop to think that there are guys who can cut it totally differently.
- Check the fat. Fat will tell you very quickly what kind of meat you’re dealing with. For beef, you want yellow fat which is a sign of grass in an animal’s diet. On pork you want thick, pure, white fat as a sign of quality. Watch our for too much fat though, as it could mean the pig was stuck in a pen or a cage, without any exercise. And check for muscles on a carcass or a piece of meat - if there is sign of them, it means the animal was moving around a lot which is another great sign that it was free-range. Again, ask your butcher to point these out.
- Get to love the cheap cuts. Yes, you will save money if you begin to experiment with lesser-known cuts and offal. But you’ll also learn that these are sometimes the best tasting meat in the case. You will need advice on how to prepare these; the person selling the meat should know how to cook the meat.
- Plan your week. Taking a trip to the butcher can sometimes be a hassle but only if you need to do it every day. Which you don’t. Map out a few simple recipes in advance and get the weeks worth when you hit the store. Also, remember that one cook (roasting a chicken, for example) can be stretched into two or three meals. Don’t be shy of freezing meat, either. The fattier the cut, the better it will freeze. (Fat has no water content, which is a good thing when considering what meat to freeze.)
- Be a regular. Look, I’d love to tell you I treat every customer the same. I don’t. I’m proudly prejudicial. If you’re a regular and you’ve been supporting us for a while I’ll make sure you get the last spider steak if you want it. If I have two pork bellies left and three people want them, if you’re on of those three you’re going home with it. This might sound silly but I believe in building neighbourhood communities through supporting small shops. If you’ve made the effort to do so, I’ll hook you up.