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post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 
Good butchers are rare to come by these days and I fear that it is a dying profession. What can we do to urge people to buy meat from butchers rather than the cling wrapped styrofoamed pre cut meat in grocery stores? One-stop shopping is attractive to people but this is causing the diminishing of a vital industry for us foodies.

I'm a big Jamie Oliver fan and I love what he does to promote a healthy food industry in his native UK. He has created the Ministry of Food which is geared to helping small communities overcome nutrition issues, and has now tackled the pork industry, urging british folk to buy local pork products.

In several JO books I have he mentions buying meat from local butchers and stresses how important it is to build a good relationship with your butcher. Great butchers are a rare breed these days and many know only the basics of breaking down an animal. For example I have found it impossible to find a nearby butcher that can debone a chicken for me while leaving it intact.

So how does one go about "building a relationship" with their butcher? If your butcher does not carry local, organic, grass fed, prime cuts or game then should you ask for him to do so or move on to another butcher? Do you tip your butcher to ensure a good relationship? Do you complain if something didn't turn out as well as you hoped?

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."


"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

post #2 of 20
If you really want to solve the problem, there's just a few small things to fix in the American system.

First, you need to make your town centers and such into attractive, vital places where people like to go. Accessible to all, lots of parking (unobtrusively), good stuff for kids and families, etc. Make the parking free, too -- it is at the big WalMart, right?.

Second, you need to zone your town center such that big chainstores cannot open there. This requires very strict and complicated systems: no shops larger than X floorspace, special rules about chains, and on and on. Systems like this are always problematic, I should note.

Third, you need special rent-inducements and such to entice butchers, grocers (in the old sense), and so on to open small shops and give it a go.

Fourth, you need to do everything imaginable to keep the big stores from opening anywhere within a stone's throw of the town center -- make them open in the boonies somewhere.

If that sounds like a lot of money just on the off-chance that it might work, you're right. That's exactly why it never works: big conglomerates always have the advantages, because everything else is a bunch of non-experts trying to sort of get it together, and the big guns like WalMart can smash them easily.

What you have to achieve, of course, is a new kind of American shopper. You need, in vast quantity, the kind who gets 1-stop shopping via multiple small stores. This hasn't been done yet, that I know of, and I doubt it can be done. The primary difficulty being that it is every American's God-given right to drive a huge gas-guzzling car straight up to one single enormous store, fill the back with a lot of garbage, and drive it all home again. Asking that American to walk from store to store is, well, un-American.

The only way I can see revitalizing things is to create a new kind of store (such as exists in many parts of the world, but not, that I have yet stumbled upon, in the US): the mega-mom&pop. Basically you have a big mall sort of thing, but it's jam-packed with small stores. No chains allowed, apart from maybe one or two big ones that pay a whacking great surcharge to be the "anchors" or whatever. Everything else is a genuine mom&pop that happens to rent space from the mall rather than from some landlord who happens to own the land under the shop.

It could work, IF... you can get a critical mass of young-ish mothers who know each other from the local schools, sports, health clubs, spas, whatever, to go there. The idea is this: drop off the kids at school, go to the mom&popMall, have a coffee, chat with a pal, buy your meat, see a friend and have a coffee with her, buy your produce, see another friend and decide to meet up later for Spinning class, etc.

I know this sounds sexist, narrow-minded, whatever, but the fact is that every community I know has a significant group of people more or less like this, and most of them are women. If they start using a place like this for preference -- and it would help immensely if "mom" of the mom&pop butcher were personable, knowledgeable, and interested in knowing every little detail about her customers and willing to pass on the news -- that will be the kiss of death for WalMart et al., because you've got all the same conveniences with the newly added advantage of personability, service, and knowledge.

'Course, you're also going to have to convince all these people that when they buy meat, it doesn't have to be rushed immediately home and slammed in the fridge to avoid botulism and trichinosis and salmonella and AIDS all at the same time. Otherwise it's all moot: you can't get those customers to sit and chat with one another and take time at their shopping -- which is what this system would encourage -- if they think everything is going to rot while they do it.

Personally, I don't think it's going to happen. I'd say the American food system is doomed to chainstores until the distribution system dies almost completely and those who aren't very rich are genuinely forced to rely on what is more or less local.
post #3 of 20
You mean boning out a chicken but leaving all the flesh and skin in one piece? Learn to do it yourself -- it's fun and surprisingly easy. I can do it in about 6 minutes, or anyway I could before I moved for the year to Japan where you can't get a whole chicken without spending a fortune. Jacques Pepin, from whom I learned how, can do it in under 1 minute. You can do it in 15 minutes, tops, your first time out, and after that you will soon catch up to me. Besides, then you end up with all those yummy bones for soup.
post #4 of 20
We have what is called a "butcher" who is kinda local (about 20 minutes, which is far in central NJ).

Called Joes meat Market......

now....I walk in on Sunday, and they had....NO porkshops, veal, or hot italian sausage (dubbed as kinda an italian specialities store too). This place is supposed to be THE meat market when I asked for recommendations. but...."they can order it" Come on!! I'm not asking for pork shank, beef cheeks, or an entire suckling pig on demand!??!

so can I....and get it quicker, and probably better quality, on the internet. good grief. I suppose the overheard/waste is high, but's kind of frustrating when the only meats I can get in within 30 minutes is wegmans/whole foods (which are actually pretty good, but **** expensive) compared to Shoprite.

and dare I ask for something cut a little thicker anyplace, you'd think I asked for a first born.
post #5 of 20
now that I plan my menus a week or two in advance, I'm going to start looking for a GOOD place that ships.
post #6 of 20
The bird thing isn't something many butchers do or did, even back in the day when poultry/fish mongers were fairly common. We still buy about half our poultry from fresh poultry mongers (slaughtered on premise, to order if you want), and they don't do it either.

Separating the carcass from the bird without cutting into the skin (other than vent and neck) is pretty easy. Jacques Pepin does it in a minute, Chris in six, I've done it a few hundred times, mostly with duck, and it takes me as long as it takes.

Here's how: Presumably you buy your birds head, neck and feet off, vent opened; so we don't have to go through that.

Start at the head end, and with a small, sharp knife loosen the meat all around the collar. Get your thumbs under the meat and gently start to push the meat down and off the bone. You'll have to move your hands around the bird to get it to move evenly.

Use your knife only when you have to; but don't be afraid to use it if the meat sticks to the carcass. Then, always small cuts -- very sharp knife. If you don't have a smooth-edged sharp knife, forget about it. You can't do this with a serrated steak or "tomato" knife, you can't do it with a dull paring knife. You'll make a hash of what you're doing and break the skin. The good news is that you'll be using the knife less than you thought.

The fist obstacle will be the wish bone. You'll have to use very small cuts and scraping strokes to free it.

Then keep going until you get to the wings. Eventually you'll have to use your knife to expose the ball-joint. Once you've got one side of it open you can pull the wing down and out, and pry the joint free. Do the same thing on the other side, and push down 'til you get to the thigh bones. Dissect them from the carcass just as you did with the wings. You should be able to remove the rest of the meat with very little use of the knife.

If you're a little more ambitious, you can turn the skin/meat partially inside out and remove the thigh bones. The upper wing and lower leg bones are very difficult to take -- especially in duck -- and I suggest not bothering unless you have a very specific need.

There are a lot of butchering tasks -- poultry, meat AND fish -- which are better done by a fairly knowledgabe consumer than a butcher, because the consumer can take her time. With red meat, a lot of knowledge comes from handling some of the smaller primals and larger subprimal cuts. The different muscles are pretty easy to see and separate from one another. Steaking (portioning) is far more about a sharp knife than the "right" knife or any particular skill beyond an appropriate grip.

It doesn't take much in the way of skill or equipment to buy a pork loin and cut it into a small roast, a large roast, thick pork chops and thin escalope. But it does take a little of both.

Kouki -- IIRC, you have some ambivalence about getting and maintaining knives good enough to do fish and meat cutting because of the way your DH relates to kitchen equipment. I don't know what to tell you. You need smooth edged knives (not serrated) that can be made sharp enough to leave a very smooth cut, and will stay sharp through half an hour of cutting. Otherwise you're left to the mercy of the commercial "butchers" with their thick on one side, thin on the other, and never leave the right amount of fat in the right place cuts.

post #7 of 20
If you want the chicken (or whatever) laid out flat like a sheet, it can be done easier. You need 1 passably sharp knife, any shape or size, doesn't matter, and by "sharp" I mean "will, with some sawing, cut a tomato, usually." I.e. not especially sharp. You also need one very heavy knife, e.g. a big chef's knife, which can be as blunt as you like because we'll only use the back of it. A steel would do fine, too.

Cut off the wings, leaving just the topmost bones intact.

Put the chicken on its side. Cut down the back, from neck to tail, to and not through the backbone.

Lift the topside skin and flesh around the wing shoulder. Cut through the wing joint there, wiggling the wing if need be to make the cut. Roll the chicken onto the other side and repeat.

Put the chicken on its back and lift the breast skin a bit, then feel for the wishbone. Cut on either side, all the way along, then push the wishbone off with your thumbs. Careful, as it may be broken on the plucking machine and have sharp ends.

Stand the chicken on its bum, cut back away from you. Put thumb of one hand in the neck, then with the other hand grab the flap of flesh on that side and the wing, and peel out and down until you see the oyster (chunk of flesh) at the lower back, just above the thigh. Reverse hands and repeat on the other side.

Continue holding the neck with one hand. With the forked two fingers of the other hand, stick fingers under the breast and peel out and down until you get heavy resistance, around where the oysters are but on the front side. Note that the tenderloins are left on the carcass -- don't worry.

Put the chicken on one side. Cut under the upper oyster. Fold the leg and point the knee to the neck, then fold the knee out and down, cracking open the thigh-joint. Cut that joint, then pull down until almost released. Repeat on the other side. When you pull, the whole flesh will release from the carcass.

To peel the tenderloins, run a thumb under each, from neck to tail. Reserve.

To bone out the legs, grab a thigh-ball with a towel and use your knife to scrape down the thighbone. When you get to the knee, push down, then cut around the joint and continue scraping down to the ankle. Push the bone back into the flesh, then with the back of your heavy knife whack just above the ankle-bone nub to break the bone. Pull out all the bone and the leg is done. Repeat on the other side.

To remove the remaining shoulder-bone: grab the nub, cut around the knuckle, push down with the first three fingers of the other hand, then pull sharply on the nub and the bone will release.

All done. Takes just a few minutes. Fun, too.
post #8 of 20
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the chicken replies. I'll keep it in mind in case I ever want to try it myself. The smell of raw chicken is too strong for me but I'll try to get past it.

Does anyone have a good experience with ordering meat online? I can't seem to find a pork belly around here.

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."


"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

post #9 of 20
i'm looking for online too. the main places all seem to prey on high end kobe and/or beefs. Be nice to place an order on friday and have it on monday though, things like belly, cheeks, etc. rather than have to scour 10 stores for the week. It becomes a pain.

I'm thinking it would be better I just move a little closer to NYC.
post #10 of 20
You also need to acquaint yourselves with the ethnic grocers in your area, many of which also have butchers/meat cases full of the specialty items you're looking for. While they're not a one stop shop, they're worth the trip.

Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #11 of 20
indeed, but like i said, going to 10 stores for 10 different things stinks sometimes. I can get pork belly, and rabit from Hong Kong supermarket, goat from shoprite or "bravo" mexican supermarket, etc. etc. but i can't walk into anywhere even the "local butcher" and get a nice thick cut pork chop. or when i can, its in whole foods and i pay say....6.99lb for things like short ribs (although I get them for 1.29 a lb at the Bravo place too)

kind of frustrating some times. took 5 stores to get some good simple veal last weekend.
post #12 of 20
I posted earlier in this thread, but seem to have managed to delete it, instead of edit!

I am extremely lucky. I have a local butcher, who only supplies organic meats, from his own family farms, no more than 5 miles from the city.

He also makes his own sausages, pies, black pudding (I hate it, but other family members really enjoy it), white pudding, 'square' sausage (aka Lorne sausage) haggis and suet.

He will butcher meat, as asked - a crown roast etc. He used to make home deliveries - phone in and he would deliver the same day... nowadays, that service isn't available.
I love living in an area where the old skills/suppliers are still there, OK... not as readily available as in my Mum's day, but still there.... for a price!
post #13 of 20
Although the "cling wrapped styrofoamed pre cut meat in grocery stores" in this area is cut by a butcher, I think I know what you're saying.
They do butcher, but few are willing to cultivate a one on one relationship with their customers.
Special requests are a pain to those types.
But many that work in the big chains have the heart and soul of the butcher you are referring to.
The best way to build the relationship is to talk to them, let them know you share an interest in what they do.
They will then not only be more willing to do the special things you request, but will also be inclined to offer suggestions on where you might get what they can't provide.
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
post #14 of 20
Just Jim is right.. I've gotten some good cuts from the local supermarket as they are 'butchers' and are working there because there are no independents to work for!!!

They've given me special cuts and will cut to order if you give them some time. I've had parties where I've needed a bunch of steaks all cut the same and they've fulfilled.

Another good source is Whole Foods whose meat quality is pretty good if you want to spend the extra bucks..
post #15 of 20
Meet the "meat department manager" and make him/her your friend.
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
post #16 of 20
Even if you see them doing some cutting behind the counter chances are the meat is coming in broken down into the primal cuts. I buy locally raised organic but not as I need it. I buy a 1/4 of beef, 1/2 a pig, and a dozen chickens every year. I do fill in some of the cuts from the grocery store, especially if I am doing a big BBQ and need a case of ribs.
post #17 of 20
Exactly right, Mary -- if you ask for some cuts, the more knowledgeable among the butchers at the grocery store will tell you they can't do it because they don't cut their own meat from sides. If you ask for other cuts, of course, they'll just shrug because they have no idea what you're talking about. I was shocked, a couple years ago, to find that a famous, high-end butcher in a wealthy area just outside Boston doesn't cut its own sides. If you want, say, fatback, they say "we can order it for you," and the price is very high.
post #18 of 20


Although I haven't lived there for a few years now the old Englishtown Flea Market used to have some great butchers in that place. My sis still lives over in Piscataway and when I stayed there during the late 1980's I used to go down Rt 18 to the market and get them to bring in anything special I wanted to cook with, they also cut steaks to the size I wanted. Don't know if they are still there but if they are it might be worth a shot, also the local produce and dairy from the little farm guys there was the greatest.
post #19 of 20
Actually, it's very likely the large primals like the chuck and rump are broken down into sub-primals. Most meat markets buy meat from the packer by the case, rather than by the side or quarter -- and the packer's done quite a bit of the butchering.

In some ways that's a good thing for the consumer; if the butcher will allow him or her to pay cost plus a reasonable bump (say 25%) for untrimmed meat still in the cryovac. The skills and equipment required to break and steak subprimals down to elegant cuts are really pretty simple. It's the bit stuff, like cutting the leg out of the hip, or sawing the ribs, that are difficult

post #20 of 20
When I was knee high to a grass-hopper (in the dim distant past), I would visit the local butcher, within walking distance, where mum would buy her meats. The butchers in there were big bold and friendly, and you'd always get given a slice of fritz (bologna, I think) to keep you busy while mum and the butcher discussed what was needed for the day. I remember those visits well - the sawdust on the floor, the striped aprons, and the face to face interaction with the butchers that mum had.

She would order sides of beef cut into the way she liked them, they would flash freeze them (we had a big family and a deep freeze - most necessary!), and leave which cut she wanted unfrozen to use that night. It was the only way we could afford to feed us all. They'd phone us to let us know it was ready, we'd race off in the car, throw it all in, then rush home to get it into cold store.

When I got older she'd have me go to do it, so I would be able to later down the years. Little did we know it was a waste of time. Where I live I don't even know of a butcher in a town of 60,000. Its such a shame, but I guess it has ended up being a matter of economics for most.

Here at the supermarkets, yes, you can ring the service bell, and have a meat manager come out, but I guess for hygiene reasons, they are stuck behind a wall of glass and like goldfish in a bowl. Lord only knows what they are saying about us customers on the other side :)

Maybe its the fact it is a relatively small town. I visited Melbourne, Vic last year and went to the markets there - it was great! Real Butchtcheries, real people, ask what you want and you could get it. We're moving there next year...looking forward to it immensley.

Mum's butcher closed about 5 years ago - the supermarket in the same complex had killed their business.

Whew, that was long-winded, just my memories.....
 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

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