Homemade is Better—Butchers

I have found a butcher that I really like.  In culinary school, we had a rotation where we learned about ordering for restaurants and food establishments.  We sort of had a meat place we used, but it was more like a commercial meat producer.  Or, if not them, the larger food sales companies sold meat.

Our job was to get the best quality for the lowest price.  Most restaurants do this; serve the best quality you can afford.  The problem with that training is that average consumers can’t just call up a Gordon Foods or Sysco and place a grocery order.  We use local grocery stores and are subject to their prices; we can’t negotiate as restaurants can.

Oh yes, restaurants negotiate the price they pay for their groceries.  Let’s say that the striploin steak they are looking to buy is $15.00/kg (I’m just making up numbers), and a restaurant owner can negotiate that price down.  Maybe they only want to pay $13.00/kg, but the salesperson can only go down to $13.50.  A good salesperson won’t sell it for rock bottom, and they will also negotiate for a higher price, using tactics like the quality of the item, or in the case of meats, the letter grade or the size.  Sometimes the added benefits the company claims to have are a selling feature.  Regardless, price is negotiable when you own a restaurant or food establishment.  However, for most of us?  We pay whatever the sticker price is for the product we buy.

So why, then, does it benefit us to pay a butcher a couple of dollars per unit more for their product when your local grocer likely has it cheaper?  Depending on the grocer, they might have a meat department with meat cutters available.  Safeway, Costco, Sobeys, and Superstore, to name a few, have on-staff meat department workers.  Some are Red Seal butchers, apprentices, or just workers, yet the meat you get there can still be Triple-A, number one quality, or of a high standard.  I’m not going to turn my nose up those these companies or the products they carry.  I have, however, written previously about some of the tricks that meat companies play.  Costco is a great example; they offer a good product.

I use Costco Steaks; I’ve bought striploin, briskets, tenderloins all in whole muscle or broken down.  One thing I like about Costco is that their meat doesn’t have a lot of age on it, so if you buy it whole muscle, you can age it in your fridge (if you have the room) for however long you want, even though there is a bit of a limit.  Sixty days is getting up there in aging meat, and most places will age around a month, maybe twenty days.  The aging they would use is called wet aging versus dry-aging, which is used in temperature-controlled environments and is closely monitored.  The difference in either product affects the end price.  Dry aging means that more of the moisture is lost and more of the dried meat is removed; thus, a five-pound roast might have lost up to 15% of the total weight by the time it’s done aging.  That increases prices, and the restaurant will want to make up for that loss, so they will charge up to 15% more depending on the loss of product.  Now the steak that was $25.00 at one restaurant is more expensive at another because each place ages its meat differently.

Similarly, in the food sales companies, each company might age their meat before selling it.  The typical aging would be wet in these places.  But that takes up inventory, which is money, so they charge a premium to store the meat then sell it at a higher price.  Costco, I have found, sells their meat closer to the packaging date.  We might understand better that they are packaging the meat closer to the slaughter date.  An animal usually rests a few days after being processed, but before they are broken down.  Then packers will break down the meat and package it into cryovac bags.  And the date it is packaged is the date they must put on it.  So, if you were to buy a striploin from Costco, that whole muscle loin may have been butchered a few days before, thereby making it less expansive because it has taken up less inventory space.

I titled this article, Butcher, and I make a case for using your local butcher and not always buying from the local grocer (where this makes sense).  Local butchers, like Darcy’s, Olde Country, or Acme Meat market (to name a few in Edmonton) will have relationships with the farmers they buy from.  They will know more about the product in their store than most of the grocers we frequent.  There will be butchers in grocery stores that are very knowledgeable about their products, and yes, they are great resources.  But a standalone butcher is likely to have that extra relationship that we can trust.  They cut the meat in front of you, wrap it up and then serve it.

Plus, they are local.  They buy local, they support local, and, just like your local grocer, they hire locally.  The people who work in our local grocer are residents, friends, maybe family, and they provide an excellent service.  I am so glad I know the owners of my local grocer, plus my family knows a few of the employees.  They have a great selection, and the meat department has quality, but if I am looking to source more local products, my local butcher is the place to go!

We always hear about supporting your local stores.  If you have a butcher close by, and you can spend a little more on better meat, visit them.  Ask them questions about their products, get some dinner ideas or pick up some beef jerky, heck, buy a pork belly and make some bacon (which might be a future article).  My local grocery store probably sells Alberta beef, I’m sure if processed somewhere in Alberta, but I know that my butcher buys from farms close to Edmonton, towns like Legal (for those who don’t live in Berta, it is pronounced Le Gal).

I hope you learned a little bit from this article.  Until next week, keep making it homemade.

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