If you get intimidated at the butcher counter at your local grocery store, you aren’t alone. But your butcher can help, especially if you want to save money and don’t have expert-level skills in the kitchen.
Find out some butchers’ best tips when it comes to buying meat, including their most essential piece of advice (page 10).
1. Don’t believe the hype
Just like other departments, the meat case can include some sneaky labeling. Despite all the hype, expert butchers told Reader’s Digest “certified Angus beef” doesn’t actually indicate better quality. Instead, look for the label that says “USDA quality grade.” The “prime” label represents the best and most expensive level, followed by “choice,” “select,” and “standard.”
Next: The meat you see in the case undergoes the following cosmetic processes first.
2. Butchers do a lot of window dressing
Let’s face it: Meat doesn’t always look pretty. Your butchers know that, so they work hard to ensure the product appeals to the consumer. Butchers told Reader’s Digest they often flip brown meat over, trim off fat, and dab away that red liquid.
The increasing popularity of unusual cuts and snout-to-tail meals means more of us feel comfortable with the reality of butchering. However, a lot of people also would rather not know what their meat looks like fresh off the carcass. So butchers make sure your meat looks pretty enough to eat.
Next: The way your meat gets packaged also makes a difference.
3. Don’t get fooled by packaging
If you always go for the family pack at your grocery store, you might want to rethink that. Butchers say the regular size often comes out cheaper than larger packages. You also don’t have to stick to the case. Butchers will happily cut down larger roasts for you.
“Don’t settle for what’s in the case — if you don’t see something, ask your butcher,” butcher Justin Rosberg told The Street. “You’d be surprised how many butchers are happy to custom cut pieces of meat that they have in the back.”
Next: Butchers can also help you save, using the following trick.
4. You can save on different cuts
Your recipe might call for pork chops, but you can actually save money by buying a whole pork loin and having the butcher slice it up for you. The same also goes for a lot of other cuts, so ask your butcher for help. They know which meats work for which recipes.
“If you buy pre-cut meat for kabobs, it is going to cost you more than if you just buy a nice piece of top sirloin and cut it yourself at home,” butcher Kari Underly told The Street. “A bone-in ribeye is pricey, but you can ask your butcher to cut a chuck eye steak, which is sliced from the area right next to where the ribeye is found, but is more affordable.”
Next: We all want fresh meat, so remember the following methods.
5. Use these tips for fresher meat
For the freshest meat, use the same technique you do when shopping for milk and eggs. Grab the meat at the bottom of the stack or the farthest in back, where it stays coldest.
Also, don’t forget to check the packaging date. The freshest meat gets packaged a day or two before it ends up on display. Some companies pump carbon monoxide into the package to keep meat from turning brown, so you can’t rely on looks alone.
Next: Butchers also have advice on what kinds of meat to buy.
6. Yes, fattier meat tastes better
If you wonder why your favorite fast food burger tastes so much better than at home, you have fat content to thank. Hank Kornblut of Mister Brisket recommends looking for marbling in the meat, regardless of cut. Fat lends meat its succulent flavor.
“The [steaks] that taste the best will have the most interior fat. Fat and flavor are synonymous,” Kornblut told The Street. “If you see beef tenderloin fillets on display … purchase the ones that have the best marbling. Ignore the ones that look very lean. They’ll have less taste.”
Next: When shopping for any food, also remember to read the label.
7. Always read ingredient lists, even for meat
We all want the most natural food we can get, but don’t always take the sticker’s word for it. Even if a chicken breast package says “100% natural,” read the ingredients.
Manufacturers often still inject them with broth, salt water, or seaweed extract to give chicken breasts that plump appearance. You’ll find that information on the ingredient list, so it pays to do a little reading. When it comes to buying meat, knowledge is power.
Next: Keep your meat fresher for longer with the following tip.
8. Repacking can prevent freezer burn
We all hate freezer burn, but you can prevent it. Instead of throwing your packaged meat straight into the freezer when you get home, take a minute to protect it.
Take it off the tray and wrap it with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Next, place that in a freezer bag, and squeeze out as much air as you can. That method will keep your meat fresh much longer than the store packaging.
Next: Don’t fear asking your butcher for help.
9. Your butcher can steer you in the right direction
You can also afford to get a little picky at the meat counter. Don’t fear looking in the packaged meat case if you don’t see your preferred cut at the counter. Your butcher can help you adjust it.
“Let’s say you want fresh ground beef and don’t see any that looks appealing,” Kornblut told The Street. “Pick out your own piece of chuck (not too lean or it will be dry) and ask them to grind it for you. They’ll do it.”
Next: Finally, don’t forget the following valuable advice.
10. Make friends with your butcher
Underly encourages consumers to always talk to the butcher. “Think of him/her as your meat concierge who can guide you,” she told The Street. The butcher does this for a living and knows a lot about cutting and preparing meat.
If you have questions about cooking times, seasoning, or even storing your purchase, go ahead and ask. By making friends with the expert, you can save money and up your kitchen game, too.
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