I had meat questions so I asked a meat expert

By Rebecca Firkser
Updated September 14, 2018
Credit: photo by Eric Medsker

When it comes to shopping for meat, I’ll admit I’m not an expert. We didn’t eat a lot of meat when I was a kid, and I was an on-and-off vegetarian for years. These days, I’m eating pretty much everything, and that includes trying to cook more meat at home. When I first comitted to this plan, I didn’t just buy a six-pound brisket and go nuts. I had far too many questions that needed to be answered. I decided to consult an expert, and found one in James Peisker, co-founder of Porter Road, an online, whole-animal butcher shop.

Should I Go to a Local Butcher or My Favorite Grocery Store?

“Making a weekly stop at your local butcher shop will go a long way, but if you don’t have one in your area, make it a point to pick your meat from the meat counter at your local grocer,” Peisker said. He explained that selecting a reputable butcher is a pretty personal choice, but you shouldn’t have to make that choice all by yourself, especially if you’re a meat-neophyte. “Ask your friends and family about where they’re buying meat, look at online reviews, and explore your surrounding area to get to know local butchers one-on-one.” Of course, if you’re still feeling stuck about who to buy from, Peisker has a solid general rule of thumb: “If your local butcher knows the name of his farmers, then that is a good first sign.”

Peisker also said it’s a good idea to have a general idea of what you’re planning to cook in order to have the most successful conversation with the person behind the counter. “For example, will you be roasting or braising a meat? Throwing a few things on the grill? Making a stew? And how many people are you serving?” Peisker says having a plan will help the butcher be able to give you more specific recommendations on which cuts of meat—and how much of it—you should buy. “Depending on what you’re going for, your butcher should be able to offer you some advice on what will work best or even encourage you to try something new that you hadn’t previously considered—be open to their guidance.”

On Local Meat

Your butcher may be located a few blocks from your home, but that doesn’t always mean the meat they’re selling is local. According to Peisker, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “Sometimes, if your local store is promoting local, you’ll be offered a higher-quality product,” he said. “But just keep in mind that local doesn’t always mean something is better. It’s all about getting to know your butcher or meat provider to better understand their practices and core values… I can’t express how important it is to ask about where the meat comes from and how it is raised.” The real answer is that you’ve got to get friendly with your meat-handlers. Just as you’d consult someone at a wine shop when searching for the best $20 bottle of sauvignon blanc, the people working at a butcher shop or meat counter are there to help you, and they should be able to answer all your questions. If they can’t, it might mean you shouldn’t buy their meat.

If You Can’t Find Good Meat for an Egg Sandwich

For the most part, when I’m cooking meat at home it’s for breakfast (and that’s not just because I work at Extra Crispy, I’m just genuinely more interested in Taylor Ham than I am in pork tenderloin). I had to know Peisker’s thoughts on breakfast meats. Luckily, “there really isn’t a wrong meat for breakfast,” he said, but he did express an understandable affinity for bacon.

To see just how committed Peisker is to meat, I had one more question. Say I can’t find good bacon, ham, or sausage, I asked. What would be your next go-to for an egg sandwich? “If you can’t find any good meat for your egg sandwich just don’t eat one,” he said. “Kidding.” Unsurprisingly, Peisker said that if he didn’t have access to quality meat for sandwich, he’d probably look for an alternative healthy fat to keep him energized. “For me, this might include a good cheese, sliced avocado, or some kind of spread.”