We are living in an age of industrial meat production—chops, shanks, ribs and steaks are precut and Cryovacked at slaughterhouses before traveling thousands of miles to supermarkets. But a new generation of butchers is reviving the traditional approach. They’re buying whole animals raised locally (often humanely and eco-consciously) and breaking them down by hand.
Working with whole animals can mean a limited supply of luxe cuts—a 1,500-pound steer has just two three-pound tenderloins and only a single one-pound hanger steak—so these forward-thinking butchers encourage their customers to try commonly overlooked parts. Instead of veal chops, for instance, they might suggest veal shoulder. Then the butchers act as cooking consultants, letting their customers know that veal shoulder, which can be tough, should be slow-braised until it becomes meltingly tender. It’s no coincidence that a number of the most successful butchers have restaurant credentials and have even worked as chefs.
The best of the new butchers are bombarded with requests from professional and amateur cooks who are curious to learn about their craft. One store, Avedano’s in San Francisco, recently offered a three-hour, $300 course that sold out almost instantly; another, Fleisher’s in upstate New York, allowed memoirist Julie Powell, author of the best-selling Julie & Julia, to research her forthcoming book there. The recipes and tips on the following pages, from three of the country’s top butcher shops, share some of this sought-after wisdom.