It’s easy enough to walk into a supermarket, pick up some pre-packaged meat and give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done. But this doesn’t always mean you get the best cut or the best piece of meat, which can leave your dinner tasting a bit like disappointment.
The idea of going into a butcher shop to order meat may fill you with dread and a sense of panic, resulting in you just buying sausages or minced beef because those are two things you vaguely understand. However, ordering your meat from a butcher means you get a better cut, higher quality and help support a local business, so it’s worth getting over your fear.
This doesn’t mean you need to go on a butcher course and learn how to fillet your own steak, but having a plan of action can be a good idea. Not only will this help you with your cooking and ensure your dishes are delicious, it will also mean you don’t just end up with a fridge full of sausages or pork pies every time you go to the butchers.
Although butchers may look a bit intimidating stood behind a counter of meat in their white apron with a selection of knives, they aren’t actually scary – well, most of them aren’t. They also have a crazy amount of knowledge when it comes to all things meaty, so you’d be mad not to make the most of that.
If you don’t know exactly what you’re after or what would be best for a meal you’re planning, just ask what they would recommend. Even if you have no clue where to start, talking to your friendly neighbourhood butcher will ensure you leave the shop with the perfect cut and probably a bit smarter about meat than when you initially walked in.
It will also give you a better idea of how the animals were fed and cared for, as well as how the meat is prepared, all of which means you can ensure you’re getting the best options.
Trust their recommendations
You may not believe this after years of shopping for meat in supermarkets, but beef comes in more ways than steak, minced or roasting joint. There are loads of cuts you might not have heard of before, with some of them being better for certain dishes and coming with a lower price tag.
If you’ve asked your butcher for advice and they recommend something you’ve never heard of or used before – like shin, tri-tip or sirloin flap – trust them when they say this is the best option. They know their meat – after all, have you ever heard of a vegetarian butcher? – so they will have tried all the random cuts and understand which is best for roasting or stewing.
The chances are, these recommendations will be cheaper too, so they’ll save you a bit of cash. They’ll also likely be better quality than anything you can pick up off a shelf in the supermarket.
Don't try and fake it
Pretending you know what you’re talking about may help boost your confidence as you head toward the butcher shop, but it isn’t going to fool anyone. Plus there’s the fact that you’ll probably leave with something totally wrong for what you’re cooking, or you’ll bottle it and it will be sausages for dinner again.
If you haven’t got a clue, you’re best off just telling the butcher that. No, they aren’t going to scam you into buying a more expensive cut just because you’ve effectively got ‘clueless’ written on your forehead. Instead, they’ll ask you some questions to get a better idea of what you want and help you find the right bit of meat.
Of course, it does help to have a general idea of what you’re after or what you’re cooking – there’s not much point in buying pork if you’re making chicken casserole – so they have somewhere to start.
Keep going to the same butcher
If you build a rapport with your butcher, there’s less chance of you freaking out about your lack of meat knowledge and just running to the supermarket instead. They’ll get to know you so they can make more personalised recommendations and you’ll feel a lot more confident about your meat choices – see, we told you the person with all the knives wasn’t actually all that bad.
Once you’ve found a butcher you like that sells good quality meat and who gives you good tips, stick with them. Not only will you be supporting their business, you’ll also have a good relationship with the person who has the power to make your meals as good as they can be.
It also ensures you look like a grown up to all of your friends as you can talk about the cut you chose for a specific dish at your next dinner party and feel smug when none of them know what you’re chatting about.