How not to embarrass yourself at the butcher counter

butcher staring you down
All photos by Lee Breslouer

Approach the meat counter at a local butcher shop or supermarket and you'll find a smorgasbord of marbled meat with bizarre names. Stare at the meat long enough, and someone with blood on his (or her!) apron and a huge knife will stare at you, waiting for you to figure out what you want. Don't act intimidated: Just take out a bloody knife of your own and stare back at the butcher let us teach you how to not look like an idiot when you order.

Check out these deep-cut tips from butcher Kate Kavanaugh, co-owner of the Denver-based Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe. They'll make you a master of meat selection and guarantee you never get into another terrifying staring contest at the counter.

breakfast steak sign

1. Don't pretend you know all the cuts of meat
It's okay that you don't. "Cows aren't growing awesome new steaks you haven't seen before," Kavanaugh says. But people are making up new, exciting names for them, which can make things confusing. Instead of just grabbing the "breakfast steak" and hoping it's what you want, ask the butcher.

2. Stop thinking of your butcher as just a meat slicer
Start thinking of a butcher like a bartender for your stomach. You know how you can go up to a good bartender and go, "I like whiskey. Make me a good drink!"? A good butcher will be able to find you the right cut of meat if you tell them you want something "for grilling" or "hearty and braised". Or just be honest and ask for "$2.50 worth of meat, because that's all I have on me".


3. Don't be afraid to ask where the meat came from
Your butcher should know where it's from and how it was raised. If they think their cows were raised "on a farm somewhere", go to another butcher shop where they know the name of the farm. And the farmer. And the farmer's daughter's name, because what if she's The One?!

4. Don't just order a rib eye, tenderloin, or strip
"Tender" doesn't always mean "better". You can order the most popular cuts if you wanna be like every other schmo out there, but you're no schmo! Kavanaugh counts flat iron, bavette, and pork sirloin steaks as underrated and worthy of your love.

meat at the butcher shop

5. Stop asking for the lean cuts
Fat is not the enemy. In fact, pasture-raised fats are a big part of the Paleo diet, as they are full of healthy omega-3's and conjugated lanoleic acids. If you don't feel like eating it with your steak, you can use it to whip up fantastic-tasting veggies and/or eggs.


6. Don't judge a butcher by his or her blood-soaked cover
Female butchers know just as much about meat as male butchers. But not as much as sentient robot butchers, which so far only exist in our nightmares. Until then, treat your human butcher with the respect that somebody who knows how to disassemble a body by hand deserves. They are your greatest ally at the butcher shop, and also in that horrible, robobutcher-dominated future.

Lee Breslouer writes about food and drink for Thrillist, and misses the Wendy's SuperBar. Follow him @LeeBreslouer, because you can't make a name that good up.