How To Ask Your Local Butcher For Meat Advice

It's easy to order meat online. Click, pay, receive sausage. In the parlance of the internet circa 1995, You've Got Meat! But where's the fun in that? Meat is a tangible, perishable commodity. A porterhouse is not a pair of shoes. A tri-tip is not a bag of dog food (seriously though, ordering dog food online is the best thing ever). Buying meat online is the equivalent of listening to music created by drum machines: it's a soulless process. In my opinion, you've got to buy meat where it's supposed to be sold: the butcher shop.

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The butcher shop is a place for dudes. It may not be able to replicate the manly communal aspects of the barbershop, but then again you don't have to listen to Cedric the Entertainer for half an hour either. When so much meat mixes with testosterone, it can be a little intimidating. It shouldn't be, though. A real butcher shop should feel like a classroom where the subject is always carcass. It's like a carnivorous Apple Store where the Meat Geniuses know a hell of a lot more about rump roast than iPads.

I never quite know what to say in a butcher shop besides "can I get two pounds of that?" So I turned to a real butcher for some advice. Bob Sparrow has owned Sparrow Market in Ann Arbor, MI for more than 30 years. It's a full-service old-school butcher shop and this man knows his meat. He says the best advice is to essentially stop being a hipster know-it-all and trust your butcher. "Listen to what I've got to say," Sparrow says. "It's the same thing when I hire a plumber or anybody else. If the guy's been doing it for 30 years, I just listen to exactly what he says and let him do it."

Don't come in with a recipe you printed off the internet and expect Bob to take you seriously. Just tell him what you want to do with the meat and he'll lead you towards the stockyard promised land. If you want to seem like an insider, go for abbreviations. Porters instead of porterhouse, flats instead of flatiron, you get the picture. Another great tip from Sparrow is that price is negotiable when you're buying in bulk. That's another benefit of buying from a real human. The more you buy, the less you pay. It's a beautiful system and one that both your local grocery store butcher and the online guys can't offer.

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There's pride involved when you go to a real butcher shop. If you don't like something, come back and tell the butcher. Chances are he's going to make it up to you. Butchering is a craft and butchers take their craft very seriously. As Sparrow says, "I'm not going to sell anything that's not top-quality." You shouldn't buy anything that's not top-quality either. Trust your butcher, people. Let him (or her) be your meat spirit guide.

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