Arguably the two greatest things about shopping at a butcher are the freedom of choice, and the wealth of knowledge your butcher can offer. Buying meat from a butcher allows you to buy exactly what you want, in the exact quantity you want – something that's not an option with pre-packaged meat. For some helpful advice on how to get the most out of a visit to the butcher, I talked to Ryan Fibiger of Fleishers Craft Butchery.
Your butcher has a tremendous amount of knowledge to offer, so be sure to ask questions. "Butchers love to talk about food. Chat them up like your grandma used to! Be clear and honest about your goals in the kitchen," says Fibiger. Your butcher knows meat, and there's a lot they can tell you and even do for you.
1. They'll make sure you leave with the right cut of meat and a solid game plan.
When it comes to buying meat, your butcher is your greatest resource. Ryan notes that a butcher is the key to buying the right cut of meat for what you want to cook, and having a solid game plan for your meat.
Whether you want to grill, roast, or braise, there are copious options for cuts, and each have specific attributes. Take braising, for example: If you want to put something easy in the slow cooker in the morning for a weeknight supper, we would send you home with a classic chuck eye. But if you're looking to impress a crowd of friends on a Saturday night, we might recommend that you braise a royal short rib tied up with an impressive Frenched bone.
2. They'll offer you cuts of meat you can't buy in a supermarket.
There's greater variety, along with more specialized and unusual meats, when shopping at a butcher. While you're generally not likely to find things like rabbit, goat, offal, pork cheeks, or a crown roast of lamb at the grocery store, these are all things a butcher can help you with.
3. They'll unlock the secret to making the best chicken meatballs.
The dark meat in chicken thighs is the most flavorful part of the bird. Pre-ground chicken typically includes much leaner breast meat, which doesn't have nearly as much flavor, but your butcher can grind the chicken thighs for you. No more dry chicken meatballs!
Get a Recipe: Thai Chicken Meatballs with Coconut Curry Sauce
4. They'll trim and prep meat just the way you want it.
The butcher will also help you with trimming and prepping the meat. Ryan mentions that the role of the butcher is to give you a great experience in the shop and make you feel comfortable. You should ask for help with whatever is going to make you more confident in the kitchen. Some customers ask for basic advice about how to do something themselves; others want their roast tied so that the twine is exactly two centimeters apart because that's what the recipe told them to do.
5. They can special-order exactly what you need.
While butchers tend to carry a greater variety than you'll find in the meat section of the grocery store, there may be times when they don't have what you're looking for. When you're after something particular, call ahead to see if the butcher has it available. If not, many can special-order it for you — just be sure to plan ahead.
(Image credits: Leela Cyd)