It used to be commonplace to stop and talk to the butcher. You could ask what cuts of meat are on sale or what is best to use for a special dinner.
Then supermarkets gave us big carts, long aisles and prepackaged ground beef, pork chops, boneless chicken breasts.
Butchers are still around; you just have to ask for one, whether he runs his own business or works for a big store.
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1. First, butchers are there to help you. Questions are welcome, encouraged. If you bring a recipe, they can offer suggestions on the best cut of meat, if you’re unsure, and tell you how to prep it.
2. Substitutions are allowed. Don’t feel obligated to always buy the meat your recipe calls for. Your butcher can recommend substitutions. If pork chops aren’t on sale this week, your butcher might direct you to the less expensive pork loin, which can be cut into pork chops for you while you wait.
3. Don’t be shy; request custom butchering. Often a larger, whole piece of meat will cost less than the same amount already cut into smaller pieces. Take a budget-friendly roast off the shelf and ask your butcher to cut it into steaks for you. You get to take advantage of the cheaper prices on the whole piece of meat but still get the convenience of going home with individual steaks.
4. Fat is good, in moderation. Think twice before reaching for the more expensive, very lean ground beef. Juicy burgers typically require a little fat. You can also choose a piece of meat like a sirloin and ask the butcher to grind it for you. Hit a good sale and you’ll pay less for higher quality burger meat.
5. The only words that are important when talking about quality of meat are “USDA grade,” followed by prime (considered the best), then choice, select and standard.
6. It’s OK to shop markdowns. Many people think of meat markdowns as meat that’s already going bad. No store wants to intentionally sell you a product that could do harm. In most cases, if you buy the meat and cook it within 24 hours or freeze it, you’ll be just fine and save as much as 50 percent.
7. Check the pack date. However, if you’re paying full price, you might as well get the freshest meat on the shelves. Like the rest of the store, butchers use stock rotation and constantly rotate the oldest product to the front of the shelf. Reach in the back to the bottom of the stack to find the most recent pack dates.