Curious Cooks: Tips for Getting to Know Your Butcher

So many recipes seem to assume we have this friendly first-name relationship with our local butcher. Or that we have a local butcher at all! These recipes advise us to "ask your butcher for this..." or "have your butcher do that..." Well, what if we're not quite there yet?

Step one should properly be "find yourself a butcher." Small neighborhood butchers and meat markets are becoming much more common than they have been in the past several decades. Take a look at this list to see if there's one near you:

Old-School Butchers in Your Neighborhood

Even if you don't have a butcher near you, keep your eye out at farmer's markets. Those vendors selling meat from coolers are often butchers, too! But even befriending the guy or gal who runs the meat counter at your local Whole Foods or chain grocery store is a great idea and will be a big help when it comes to making requests.

Once you've located your butcher-of-choice, the next step is making friends. Here's our advice on that:

1. Smile - You'd be surprised how far this gets you...and how often customers don't smile when making requests.

2. Make Eye Contact - Not only is making eye contact polite, but it will help fix your face in your butcher's mind (and vise versa!).

3. Go Regularly - Make it a point to buy meat from this butcher frequently enough that you start to establish a relationship. Also, vendors of every kind love repeat customers and will be more than happy to welcome you back.

4. Ask Questions - A good butcher knows much more than simply how to chop a steak. They can answer questions on recipes, advise on different cuts, and suggest cooking methods. Just being curious goes a long way toward establishing a friendship.

5. Give It Time - Don't be offended if your butcher doesn't recognize you on the second or even third visit. Just keep returning and keep smiling, and you'll gradually develop a relationship over time.

Why bother to befriend your butcher at all? Other than the fact that it's just a nice thing to do, having an established relationship with your butcher makes it much easier to make special requests when the time comes. More than likely, once your butcher becomes familiar with your cooking style and interests, they'll make suggestions or save special cuts that they think you'll like. It becomes a way for you to grow as a cook.

Do you have a friendly butcher that you go to? Any more tips on establishing a relationship with them?

Related: Smart Shopper: What to Look for When Buying Meat

(Image: Flickr member Northampton Museum licensed under Creative Commons)