For The Record: Every Man Needs A Good Butcher


Michael Weber. Shutterstock Images.

No reason to make this too complicated with the 4th of July around the corner. More of a simple combination here of recognizing butchers while encouraging outsiders to think differently about their meat. Under no circumstances should you feel defensive. 

Instead, let’s celebrate our butchers the same way we do our doctors, lawyers, accountants, drug dealers and the like. 

A huge difference off the bat is cost. Good service professionals come with higher price tags but that’s generally not the case with your local butcher. Often times you can beat the grocery store because inventory is better managed and you don’t have to cover overhead on the produce section. The typical exception here is lunch meat, but that usually comes with higher quality brands from your butcher. Artisan Hungarian Salami is a delicacy and will be priced as such. Otherwise, you’re generally getting more value at your price point. 

Next up is selection. I don’t mean to disrespect Jewel, but they’re heavy on pork for a reason. Some chops, but mostly prepackaged, vacuum-sealed loins. That’s fine in a pinch but you’re going to have serious problems finding a decent ribeye much less local sausage. 

A traditional butcher shop obviously carries much more variety. That could be a range of wagyu strips to southwest-seasoned chicken fajitas. They could stuff portobello mushrooms and keep a freezer of frozen meatloaves. Or a party tray of Italian beef for your next block party along with every pasta/potato/macaroni/ham salad you could dream of. 

If anything, selection is where the divide between butcher and grocer grows strongest. Most places you can call ahead for POUNDS of beef tenderloin. Most butchers love accommodating a special order for that special family gathering. That’s the business. 

Processing is another game changer. A solid butcher processes a lot on site. Strips and chuck and brisket all carved from a fresh carcass in back room refrigerated to 47 degrees. Decades worth of knife skills preparing each cut with maximum handcrafted precision. Compare that to the mechanically separated ground beef from your local chain and turns out there is no comparison. No more than Hawk Tuah vs. your crusted fleshlight. 

Expertise is another huge selling point. Do you recommend a rub for this pork shoulder? Nobody at Whole Foods is answering that question and I don’t even know if they’re slinging a decent shoulder in the 1st place. Meanwhile your local butcher has a slate of recommendations, but first he wants to get to know you better. Do you drink espresso? Are you allergic to paprika? How much dijon mustard can you spare? 

Butchers are willing to get extremely specific just to give you the most fitting answer to any question you could have. Don’t believe me? Tell a butcher you need help picking between the hanger, flank, and flat-iron. Then watch the follow-up questions flood in. How many people? How are you preparing? Is there a marinade? What’s the occasion? What else is on the menu? Butchers want to get it right and they’ll educate you along the way. 

Meanwhile the guy at Mariano’s doesn’t give a fuck about your uncle’s retirement BBQ. Best he’s got is an uneven batch of lemon chicken kabobs where the depth of collaboration is expressly restricted to the weight scale. 

Is 1.8 pounds enough kabobs? Another kabob would put you over 2 pounds and you said "about 2 pounds" so I just want to make sure that’s cool with you before adding another kabob?

Yeah another kabob is great 

Okay cool let me grab you another kabob.


Alright that comes to 2.06 pounds. Is that alright? 

Yeah that’s about 2 pounds of kabobs. That’s perfect.

I got you bro

The butcher will catch, kill and clean another chicken if you don’t have enough kabobs. That’s a fact. 

Some more considerations: 

- A really good butcher shop is borderline irreplaceable in life. Especially if you can build a personal relationship where they’re proactively recommending new things. Walking into Paulina Market and hearing “we actually just finished a new bratwurst with jalapeño” is its own category of self-fulfillment. 

- Most butcher shops carry a much deeper roster of mustard and hot sauce, which is really nice. 

- Homemade hot dogs should be called something different because they’re so much better than your national branded dogs. I can’t stress this enough going into the 4th. If you plan on a big tray of dogs, now is the time to convert to your local meat market. 

- The deli counter at a butcher shop doesn’t get pissed off when you order it shaved

- It’s a cornerstone masculine errand. That matters more when you get older and you need reasons to get out of the house for a little bit on your own. A lot of you may roll your eyes now but that shit adds up in the long run. I’ll hit the butcher while you clean the bathroom and do laundry. Work backwards from there and you’ll see what I mean. 

- Last thing is a public policy point. We need to go to butcher shops so that we have butcher shops. That sounds simple but so is Walmart’s ability to undercut poultry prices. So buy local or one day we’ll be eating bugs and telling grandkids about filet mignon. (Fuck that.)

Otherwise have a nice 4th. 

PS - Paulina Market in Roscoe Village is my #1. Reams in Elburn off rte. 47 is my #2. And currently there is 3 but I'm listening.