Sure, you know what you want, but you may be making an inadvertent mistake if you're too intimidated to ask the right questions. Should you choose boneless or bone-in cuts? What are some uncommon cuts that are flavorful and different? What's the secret for cooking tender, juicy chicken on the grill?
Standing at a meat counter can be intimidating, which is why we turned to Rusty Bowers, a chef turned craft butcher who helped champion the concept of whole animal butchery in Atlanta. Currently, Bowers is the owner of Pine Street Market, a whole animal butcher shop, and Chop Shop, Atlanta's first butcher-and farmer-owned retail store.
Here are the questions that Bowers says you should ask your butcher next time you're at the counter.
"What are some uncommon but flavorful cuts?"
“As a society, it’s so important to minimize waste. Plus, there’s much more to an animal than chicken breast, ribeye, New York strip steaks, and pork chops. These are popular consumer choices, but you don’t know what you don’t know! Every good butcher has a favorite, less expensive, lesser known, flavorful cut of meat in mind that they would love to tell you about. Most of these lesser known cuts are ignored because of lack of customer demand, but the more we try these cuts the more common they become.”
"Where do you source your meat?"
“It matters. Knowing whether you’re buying commodity meat from a box that has likely been frozen for long periods of time or meat that’s fresh and hand-cut from a humanely raised, local animal matters –– not only for ethical and sustainability reasons, but you can taste the difference. A seasoned butcher is excited to share their passion and can tell you how that animal was raised, where it came from, what it ate, and the right way to cook each cut.”
"What cut would you recommend for what I am doing?"
“The butcher is there to help you navigate and find the right piece of meat for your recipe or desired cooking method. Different cuts of meat shine with certain cooking methods. A good butcher can tell you what cut is best for hot-and-fast-cooking, such as grilling and pan-searing, or what cuts are better for slow-cooking, roasting, and braising.”
"How should I prepare/slice/serve this cut of meat?"
“Seasoned butchers are a trove of sage advice that ranges from how much meat to buy, to how long to let the meat rest before and after cooking, and how to slice the meat to ensure you prepare the most tender, delicious meal. All you have to do is ask.”
What is the secret to cooking tender, juicy chicken?
“Many people have been taught to fear raw chicken. Undercook and we go to the hospital, or overcook and we’ve ruined dinner. Perfectly cooked chicken should have golden, crispy thin skin and soft velvety meat. A good butcher will advise on the right internal temperature, when to brine or use a dry rub, and when to leave the skin on and bone in.”
Can you source or custom cut this item for me?
“Whether a creative meat adventure or a recipe, sometimes you need a specific cut that isn’t a standard in the meat case. Asking your butcher for a custom cut will not only ensure it’s fresh and done correctly, but it can also serve as a great icebreaker and help you develop a good relationship with your local butcher.”