From our historic meatpacking district and beef & sausage combo on every corner, to a city obsessed with bacon, Chicago is for meat-lovers (is that a bumper sticker yet?). And behind every good cut is a good butcher and butcher shop that want you to put as much respect into your beef shopping as you do your hot dog -- here're the eight folks who do it best.
Devon Avenue Meats (address and info) Park Ridge How long he’s been hacking at meat: 30 years How he got his start: Giardina was originally on the other side, working produce at a shop in Chicago once known as Farmer’s Market, but was given the opportunity as a novice to run his own butcher shop that started and continues as a family business. Favorite cut of meat: Ribeye Pro tip: “Marbleization! You want flavor? You have to indulge in that fat! You also have to trust your butcher. If you want a good selection you must first start off with a good butcher who knows what they're doing and is willing to work for you and with you!”
Gepperth's Meat Market (address and info) Lincoln Park How long he’s been hacking at meat: 50 years (yes 50!) How he got his start: Demke became a butcher by accident, starting as a dishwasher and working his way up. In 1981, he and his wife took over Gepperth’s and have been continuing the tradition of one of Chicago’s oldest markets. Favorite cut of meat: Prime ribeye Pro tip: “Go to your local or favorite butcher and ask for advice. If they've been cutting meat for anywhere near as long as I have, there's not much they can't answer.“
Butcher & Larder (address and info) Noble Square How long he’s been hacking at meat: Six years How he got his start: Levitt first became interested in charcuterie and sausage-making when he was a sous chef. A copy of Cooking by Hand came his way and caught his interest in using the whole animal. He and wife Allie took the leap from BOH to opening their butcher shop in 2010 and bringing whole animal butchery to Chicago’s carnivores. Soon you’ll be able to view his work on display at the soon-to-open Local Foods. Favorite cut of meat: Levitt prefers to love the whole animal and not favor a single cut, and believes that if you source good meat, the best cut should be the one most appropriate to what you're doing at that time. Pro tip: “Come in with an idea, and we'll talk you through it. Be willing to trust us, we know what we're doing.“
Dragan Lola Miletic
Beograd Chicago (address and info) Irving Park How long he’s been hacking at meat: 20 years How he got his start: Serbian-born Miletic comes from a tradition of farmers and has been working with his hands since day one. Favorite cuts of meat: French-cut, bone-in pork chop and ribeye (bone-in of course) Pro tip: “Go back to basics -- know your butcher, ask, be curious and look for marbling - the more the better and juicer.”
Paulina Meat Market (address and info) Lakeview How long he's been hacking at meat: 30 years How he got his start: Looking for a start-up position in the food business, Begale applied at Paulina Market in 1984 and never left Favorite cut of meat: Prime New York strip and a ribeye -- tied Pro tip: “Always look for meat that has a little marbling in it and is either choice or prime.”
Publican Quality Meats (address and info) West Loop How long she’s been hacking at meat: Three years How she got her start: Corey’s interest in butchery started in the kitchen, working as a sous chef across the country, but it wasn’t until the head butcher position at PQM opened up that she honed her skills, eventually working her way up to head chef. Favorite cut of meat: Cheek Pro tip: “Be open-minded and try some of the more creative cuts. Also feel the season: if it's cold get a braising cut, if it's warm choose something you can slap on the grill.”
Holzkopf’s Meat Market (address and info) Edgewater How long he’s been hacking at meat: 36 years How he got his start: Pesola was working at a pizza restaurant when the meat department manager from a nearby store noticed his knife skills. He joined as an apprentice and the rest is history. Favorite cut of meat: NY Strip Pro tip: “Look for white fat, high marbling, and soft to the touch.”
Gene's Sausage Shop & Delicatessen (address and info) Lincoln Square How long he’s been hacking at meat: 15 years How he got his start: Derek began working at the family’s original shop near Old Irving Park in 2000 under the eye of the original Gene, and long-time sausage maker, Stanley Majka. He then moved into the flagship location in Lincoln Square that he co-owns and operates with his sister. Favorite cut of meat: The Hanging Tender, also known as the "Butcher's Steak" -- most butchers keep it for themselves since there are only two per beef cattle. Pro tip: “Look for steaks that have a nice marbleization as it gives the steak a more flavorful taste.”
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Brandy is a food and beverage writer and co-founder of Daily Urbanista. Her work has also appeared in Gapers Block and the Chicago Tribune.