Most of us head to the grocery store when we’re looking for a good cut of meat. We’re used to the usual suspects—top sirloin, chuck steak, ribeye—but more and more, new cuts are appearing on the scene. Until recently, we haven’t seen cuts like hanger steak or boneless chuck short ribs at the meat counter. These cuts were so unpopular, you couldn’t give them away, and butchers usually kept them for themselves. In the last few years, chefs have started prominently featuring “butcher’s cuts” on their menus. Just like that, cuts like short ribs went from hidden to hip (which, consequently, made them much more expensive).
The influx of unfamiliar cuts of meat can be exciting, but it can also be confusing. Lucky for us, we have an invaluable resource—our butchers. They’re the local meat experts, and they do more than just stand behind a counter and cut steaks. I had a chat with Taste of Home’s Senior Food Editor, Rashanda Cobbins, about how to break the ice at the butcher counter.
Q: What made you start chatting with your local butcher?
A: Many people aren’t aware, but butchers are meat experts and can recommend the perfect cut of meat for any cooking occasion. They also can break down larger pieces of meat for you if you’re not skilled in that area.
Q: Do you go to an actual butcher shop to special order cuts of meat?
A: No, I don’t typically, as I don’t order special, large cuts of meat. I visit the meat counter at higher-end grocery stores, like Whole Foods, where they are often able to accommodate my needs. If you’re looking for a specialty cut of meat that may not be available at your local grocery store, like leg of lam or crown lamb roast, you may be better off visiting a butcher shop.
Q: I’m seeing a lot of new names at the meat counter these days—flap meat, clod heart, bistro steaks—how can the home cook know what these are and how to cook them?
A: It can be confusing, because the same cut of meat can be labeled differently at each grocery store. Ask the person at the meat counter for help.
Q: What is your favorite cut of meat?
A: Cube steak (which usually comes from the top round or sirloin) is one of my go-to’s—I like it for weeknight meals. It’s inexpensive and it doesn’t require a terribly long cook time; however, the longer it cooks, the more tender it is.
Q: How do you cook specialty cuts?
A: I love short ribs for braising. They can be expensive, but they’re great for special occasions. Chuck roast is perfect for roasting; I usually buy it when it’s on sale and freeze it so I can add it to my dinner schedule anytime. For grilling, good options are skirt steak, flank steak and tri-tip. Make a homemade marinade to help tenderize them.
Q: What advice do you have for the first-time special-meat orderer?
A: Ask questions! Don’t be afraid to get suggestions from the butcher or ask if the meat is locally sourced. You want to make sure you are getting the best cut of meat for your needs and your budget!
Now that you’re an expert in chatting up the butcher, check out our 32 favorite steak recipes to grill, broil or pan-fry your way to the perfect steak dinner.