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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Get to Know Your Butcher

I miss the old days when there were real meat markets. The butchers back then had hands like bears and arms as strong as iron. I lived around the corner from a family grocery store. They also owned the apartment building where I lived. 

Every month it was my job to bring them the rent money. To get to the tiny office, I would wind my way around the store, past the butcher shop and around where big men cut slabs of meat bigger than me. The office was just past the blood and the saw dust.

Being a quirky kid, I was fascinated.

Today, the only butcher shop I know is inside Kroger, where they let you see nothing of the inner workings of meat cutting. Men (and women) in clean white uniforms greet you. Their uniforms are so pristine you'd think they worked in offices. 

Still, they're quite generous and amenable to any request from a customer. Here are a few things most butchers will do for you.

• If you buy a big hunk of meat or roast on sale, ask them to grind up half, or take out the bone for you. The same cut already trimmed or ground could be significantly more.

• Whenever I go into town, I run a lot of errands. During Texas summers you don't want to leave meat in the car too long. Many times, if I do my grocery shopping early, I'll ask the butcher to hold back my selection until I finished my errands for the day.

• Many butchers will tenderize a piece of meat for you. 

• Check out the expiration date on the meat. Stop by the day before or the day of, you'll find it greatly reduced.

• Ask your butcher what time of the day they mark down meat. It's usually in the morning. By me, it's around 9:30am.

• If you don't know how to cook a particular meat, ask your butcher. They're very knowledgeable and eager to help. I've never had a bad experience with them. They're the friendliest of all the grocery personnel.

Have you ever been to an old time meat market? One of the things I miss are the big knuckle bones they'd give you for free. There was lots of meat on them and my mom would make wonderful beef stock. My favorite part was sucking out the marrow.

In later years we used to buy them for the dogs. They'd be content for hours.

Nowadays you can still get the knuckle bones if you ask, but they charge you for them. They are surprisingly expensive for something they used to give away for free.


Mike Keyton said...

My favorite part was sucking out the marrow. I was given sweets :)

Seriously, Monmouth has two independent butchers, in fact the area is full of independent butchers. Just to make you feel better about my earlier comment, as a child I used to love raw liver and raw sausage meat. Not too sure I would now ref sausage meat. Raw liver still good, though :)

Maria Zannini said...

Mike: Raw liver? Oy.

Still, you'll probably live to be 100.

Angela Brown said...

Never really had interactions with a butcher. I do have childhood memories of visiting the hole-in-the-wall fish shop where the cook sliced fresh catfish and served up delicious bone-in catfish steaks.

Maria Zannini said...

Angela: Oh, the fish market! I remember those from my childhood too. We had a place near us. The food would melt in your mouth.

The one thing I could always count on in Chicago is that the holes in the wall were almost always the best places to eat--if you knew where to look.

Sarah Ahiers said...

we have a crap ton of meat markets around here. Sometimes i hit the one a few blocks away, but also the butchery in my local grocery store is really excellent, so usually I just go there unless i want some fancy brats or need sausage casings for my own sausage making

betty said...

I'll have to remember what you said about the butchers, asking them when the meat gets marked down, etc. Great advice!


Barbara Ann Wright said...

I've only been to butcher shops in foreign countries, where there are legs and such hanging in the window. In Spain, I went to a bar, that had a cooked leg of pork in a big clamp. Whenever you ordered a drink, they'd shave some off for you and lay a napkin over the rest. Not a butcher story, but I found it interesting.

Maria Zannini said...

Sarah: You're lucky. I haven't seen a great meat market since Chicago.

When are you going to post an update on your sausage making?

Maria Zannini said...

Betty: Get to know your butchers. They do remember their customers and try to help when they can.

Maria Zannini said...

Barbara: That's pretty cool! I remember fruit and veggie markets in Italy but no meat markets come to mind.

Shelley Munro said...

A lot of the meat cuts that used to be cheap are trendy and expensive these days. Things like ox tail, neck chops and shanks. Hubby shops for meat all over the place and has lots of contacts and factory stores. There aren't many independent butchers around these days.

Maria Zannini said...

Shelley: Anything to make money, I guess. My mother used to make a terrific oxtail soup. I priced it once and had sticker shock. How they could charge that much for something like that is shameful.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I went to the butcher's with my mother as a child but the only part of it I really remember is the saw dust on the floor and playing with it/making piles of it with my feet. :)

Diane Carlisle said...

When I get Ribeye steaks, I get the entire roast and ask my butcher to slice them up into 3/4" steaks. When I get home, I individually seal them up in Ziploc freezer bags.

I can usually get this done, tax free at the commissary, for around $6.99/lb.

Anonymous said...

I'll do you one better and suggest getting to know your local ranchers. See if you can buy directly from them. Find other people to go in with you and buy a pig or quarter cow or whatever. The ranchers will "harvest" the animal and send the meat to local butcher who will make the various cuts and package everything and freeze it. One of your group picks up the meat and you have a distribution party. It's a lot of fun. You just need plenty of freezer space. I make do with my simple side-by-side.

But I also agree with you. Knowing and using your local butchers is an excellent idea.

Maria Zannini said...

Madeline: How cute!

Maria Zannini said...

Diane: Exactly. This way I get them the thickness I need. I like customizing my steaks. :)

Maria Zannini said...

Marlene: I'm surprised that's not more popular here. I'm sure there are meat coops local, but I've yet to find one.

Raelyn Barclay said...

I've never experience a butcher outside of the ones within my grocery store.

A fish market, yes. We used to have an amazing family run one close to where I worked in Oregon and I always got the best fish there.

I do remember getting the knuckle bones for free though. Those things would keep the dogs happy for hours (our Sheppard) or days (our Lab).

Maria Zannini said...

Raelyn: Those knuckle bones made terrific broth too.

I know you can give them to the dogs raw, but I prefer to cook them.