Looking for that steakhouse-quality dinner at home? It all starts at the butcher counter. In this everything guide to buying your favorite cuts of meat, we share tips from expert butchers and decode complicated USDA labels, so you can be sure you return home with the perfect cut of meat for your recipe.Rob Levitt of The Butcher & Larder. Levitt’s shop, located in Local Foods, a local food hub and public market in Chicago, specializes in local, sustainable, and whole-animal butchery.
Looking through the selections at the butcher counter in your local supermarket or butcher shop can feel a lot like deciphering a code for anyone who doesn’t know the difference between certified this and grass-fed that — but having trust in the guy behind the counter can simplify the experience.
Any butcher working hard to deliver a great product is there to answer your questions. As you walk up to the counter, look for familiar cuts, Levitt says, “I like to see a lot of fat. Fat is a good way to assess quality and it shows minimal processing and makes for a more customizable experience.”
Don’t get bogged down in labeling. It is important to know the difference between USDA Prime and Choice, but Levitt warns labels don’t always tell the whole story.
“To me, they are not important. The animals I buy come from small family farms that aren't interested in paying the fees for quality grades. They know their stuff is good, and so do I. I would rather tell a customer the story of the farm and of my relationship to the farmers than let a government stamp try and prove anything.”
Finally, we’ve all heard about marbling, but how important is that to final flavor of your cooked steak? Levitt says, “Marbling isn't always a good thing. It is a good indicator of how an animal was raised and what it ate, but it doesn't always determine quality.”
Grass-fed beef typically won’t have a ton of marbling, and don’t be afraid to question labels if the meats appearance doesn’t match what is written on the sign. According to Levitt, “often pastured beef isn't going to be heavily marbled, but it will taste beefier than grain fed beef that is full of heavy marbling.”
Angela Carlos is the Cook Editor at The Daily Meal. Find her on Twitter and tweet @angelaccarlos.