Meat cutting and butchering is one of the oldest professions in the world, and while this profession has seen its share of dishonesty and deception, the vast majority of butchers are decent, honest people. However, there is still some information your local butcher will be reluctant to disclose, so knowing these five tips can be helpful for any consumer.
5. Where the Meat Comes From
A butcher may be reluctant to tell his customers exactly where his meat comes from for several reasons, and virtually all of them involve price. The notion that the ground beef you’re eating is comprised of stray dogs, cats, wandering vagrants, and even lost children is an old wives’ tale. In America, the entire meat-packing and butcher industry was drastically changed as a direct response to the 1906 novel The Jungle by journalist Upton Sinclair. Since then, pressure from politicians, the public, meat inspectors, and the Food and Drug Administration have led to numerous changes to ensure that all meat products have high standards of quality.
While some butchers may be forthcoming with information about their meat’s origins, most refrain from telling customers which farm and/or facility they receive their meat from because of their competition. In towns across America, competing grocery and meat markets often send employees to pose as inquisitive customers to learn as much as possible about the local competition. The butcher’s silence safeguards his business.
4. If a Competitor Can Beat His Price
A butcher is very unlikely to let his customers know that they can receive a better price for a cut of meat elsewhere, yet customers will come in the shop and ask. Once a butcher has a customer in the store, the primary objective becomes making a sale. Consumers can avoid such situations by monitoring the prices of meat and poultry in local stores. Some cuts of meat will often be consistently more or less expensive at certain stores. Moreover, the price of certain cuts can vary greatly from day to day, so it is imperative to view sales ads in newspapers and on websites to shop at the market that has the lowest price on the desired cut of meat. It never hurts to ask your butcher if a certain cut of meat will be on sale in the next few days or next week. The butcher may honor that future sale price.
3. When to Shop for the Best Deals
The butcher runs a business like anyone else and has to make money to sustain that business. However, unlike a computer store, for instance, where a computer that goes unsold today can be sold next week, the butcher’s product has an expiration date. What a butcher cannot sell in an allotted amount of time is given or sold to employees, ground up and frozen, thrown away, or sold to the customer at a discount price. For example, a meat market that is open from Monday to Friday will always have the best deals on Friday afternoon and evening. Similarly, a market that is open from Monday to Saturday will always have the best deals on Saturday afternoon and evening. The last thing a butcher wants is to have meat sit in a cooler over the weekend. Therefore, a prime time to ask for discounts on meat is near closing time at the end of the week. Observe which cuts are left in abundance, as those cuts will always be the ones subject to the best discount.
2. The Freshness of the Cut
Again, the butcher’s primary objective is to make a sale and he will hold on to cuts of meat as long as possible without letting the meat go bad. The easiest way to tell freshness is by color. When meat is initially cut, it will have a darkened, brownish hue to it for 5-10 minutes as it undergoes an oxidation process. The meat will then take on the conventional, pinkish-red hue and maintain that color for days while under refrigeration. However, meat that has been exposed to the air for a sustained period of time will hold a brownish color but will be much darker in complexion. Always purchase meat that is pinkish-red in color. Be extremely wary of seasoned cuts of meat, as this is an old method of masking discoloration and meat nearing its expiration date.
1. The Butcher’s Wholesale Price
A butcher will be most reluctant to tell the consumer what he paid for the wholesale purchase of their meat. Like many businesses, a meat market operates in a common, wholesale fashion. The butcher purchases hind- or front-quartered portions of a cow to cut up into steaks for his customers. This is where the butcher makes his money for the work he’s done. While this is an inherent part of the business, it is certainly the last thing your butcher will ever tell you.
Beau James Diehl worked at a butcher shop in Iowa while in college.