You wouldn’t buy a car without asking the dealer a lot of questions, and you’d never get fitted for a new suit without asking the tailor more than just “Can I get this in gray?” Whether you’re buying a computer or visiting the doctor, there’s no such thing as a stupid question. And yet, when we shop for our food—you know, the stuff we put inside our body—we become like the cliché male driver who won’t ask for directions.
When was the last time you spoke to the guys stocking your local shop? All too often we walk in blindly and exit with a bagful of best guesses.You have experts at your disposal, experts who want to help you, so don’t ignore them. Get these three wise men on your side and start reaping the benefits today.
Rob Levitt of The Butcher & Larder in Chicago
When you buy meat from Rob Levitt, the co-owner and head butcher at Chicago’s The Butcher & Larder, he doesn’t need to know what cut or grade you want. He would rather hear what you’re planning to do with it. “If you come in and say, ‘I’m having 16 people over, and I want to do steak tacos,’ ” he says, “or ‘I want to make carnitas and it’s a romantic dinner for two,’ we can steer you in the right direction.”
Like most butchers, Levitt doesn’t expect you to have an encyclopedic knowledge of meat. “If you’ve never heard of a sirloin flap, I’m OK with that,” he says. “You don’t have to know what you’re talking about. That’s what I’m here for.” Levitt is especially enthusiastic about working with customers buying on a budget. “I don’t judge,” he says. “I’m on a budget, too. If you come in and say, ‘I’m doing a roast. I have 10 people coming over, and I don’t have a lot to spend,’ I can recommend a lot of different things on the lower end of the price scale. For example, buying a chuck eye instead of a rib eye doesn’t mean you’re slumming it. You’re just getting a different cut of fantastic meat.”
Levitt’s Guide to Buying Better Meat:
-All butcher meat is fresh, even if it’s a few weeks old. A 14-day-old steak at a butcher shop is going to be much fresher than any steak at a grocery store, even if you buy it a week after we cut it.
-If you’re buying chicken that’s packaged with an ingredients list, you’re buying the wrong chicken. The only ingredient should be “chicken.”
-Prime rib is just a grade, and you have to pay the USDA for that grading. Not all farmers do that, and I’m OK with that. When people ask for prime rib, what they really want is a rib eye steak. It’s still prime rib, we just don’t call it that.
-At a restaurant, if you ask where the meat is from, and they say, “Our commissary in Idaho,” that’s not enough information. They should know the cow’s name.
-The ugliest cuts are usually the tastiest. There’s a cut called the arm roast, and when we pull it off, it’s got tendons and it’s all nasty looking. But put it in a slow cooker for five hours, and you’ve got the most delicious meat you’ve ever tasted.