If you're baffled by weights and measures, how much to buy and different cuts when you visit your local butcher, you're not alone. The number of local independent butchers has decreased rapidly in recent decades, with many people choosing to buy meat from the supermarket instead.
However, shopping at your local butcher can save you money and present you with variety that isn't always available from the supermarket. Your local butcher is here to help, and with our butcher's buying guide you can make the most of your local meat expert.
Butcher's Buying Guide
1. If you don’t understand weights and measures – don’t stress. Butchers are the experts and they are here to help - just tell them how many people you will be feeding and he/she will guide you on quantity. A general rule of thumb on portion size as recommended by the NHS is 75g per person or roughly the size of a deck of cards.
2. Consider buying a roasting joint instead of individual steaks from the butcher. A loin roast gets sliced into steaks, and a pork loin turns out boneless pork chops. You'll save money and a roast stays fresh for a few days longer than when it’s sliced up. Have the butcher slice it if you're eating it the same day; otherwise, do it yourself -- all you need is a sharp knife.
3. There are some key words to look for when choosing your cut. Expect anything labelled "marinating", “stewing" or "sirloin” to need a long, slow cooking time. On the other hand, anything labelled "grilling", "tenderloin," "rib eye" or "T-bone" can be considered a luxury cut. Cook these fast and high.
4. Try buying and cooking cuts with the bone left in. Bones are excellent meat conductors so they help radiate the heat through the meat, resulting in quicker cooking times. In terms of taste, some say meat on the bone has a better, more intense flavour than filleted meat. Meat on the bone should also be cheaper than filleted meat as it requires less preparation by the butcher and will cost less per kg. Bones are also brilliant to boil up afterwards to make stock. Your butcher will be able to advise if you tell him/her what the meat is for and how you would like to serve it. He/she will happily fillet and tie the meat up for you, while you wait, if that is what you prefer.
5. Remember: fat equals flavour. We are all programmed to look for lean cuts with no fat, but a little bit of fat goes a long way when it comes to taste. With luxury in particular, you should choose a piece that has nice flecks of white fat throughout; this is called marbling. A well-marbled piece of beef, pork or lamb will baste itself during the cooking process and the meat will stay moist, juicy and tender. Ultra-lean cuts of meat can dry out if they're not basted, so think of a well-marbled piece as self-basting.
6. Cheaper cuts like neck, shoulder or chump are readily available at the butcher and can save you a fortune on your family budget, as well as being more flavoursome too. The only thing you really need to remember is cook them slowly. Butchers can often tell you how to cook them and could even probably share some recipe cards with you too.
7. Think of different meats as ‘working cuts’ and luxury cuts’. Working cuts need ‘low and slow’ cooking methods to ensure super tasty dishes but are very economical – they usually come from the front of the animal – the neck, shoulder and flank. The luxury cuts come from the back of the cow and pig, for example, rump, rib and loin and generally can be flash-fried quickly. Since they make up a much smaller proportion of the animal, they cost a bit more.
8. Finally, never be afraid to ask questions. Your butcher is there to help and will happily share recipe suggestions, cooking tips and advice on what is seasonal and good value. A good butcher will enjoy helping you find the best meat for your needs – family, purse and taste.