The past few years have been nothing short of revolutionary for the world of butchery. Ten or so years ago, when we thought about a butcher shop, we most likely thought about an ancient storefront, a well-worn butcher block, a grizzled old man in a bloodstained smock, and possibly some hanging sides of beef in the back. While this caricature certainly wasn't too far from the truth throughout history, there's been a butchery renaissance in recent years and a new wave of butcher shops has sprouted up, redefining the common perception of butchery and also helping to bring organic, grass-fed, local meat to the people. In order to salute the old guard as well as the new wave, we've assembled a ranking of America's 25 best butcher shops. (Photo Credit: Lindy & Grundy)
From an ancient Italian meat market in the Bronx to a San Francisco boucherie specializing in hard-to-find French cuts, today's butcher shop takes many forms. The old-guard shops are carrying on tradition, cutting meat the same way their grandfathers did, in many cases in the same location, on the same block, and are unfortunately a dying breed. The new wave is committed to building relationships with local farmers and educating the public about sustainability and the benefits of whole-animal butchery. Both are equally commendable, and are indispensible parts of the American culinary landscape.
In order to determine which butcher shops are America's best, we considered several factors. Do they offer all-natural, sustainable meat? Do they practice whole-animal butchery, sourced from hand-picked local farms? That's not to say that butcher shops that don't practice this were automatically disqualified, but it's something we took into account. We also considered whether they offer classes on simple butchery, sausage-making, and the like; if they offer unique cuts of meat and could cut those to order; and if they offer "extras" including sausage, charcuterie, and sandwiches. One other aspect we couldn't overlook was historical relevance. Some of America's best butcher shops don't sell local pastured meat, but they've been neighborhood fixtures for decades, generations of the same family selling expertly cut, high-quality meat. We made sure to take both new wave and old-world legends into account. We started with a list of more than 150 shops from across the country, and narrowed it down to the top 25.
One question that's worth exploring is why, exactly, butcher shops are coming back into vogue after years on the sidelines. For decades, walking into a supermarket and seeing rows and rows of individual plastic-wrapped steaks was considered the height of convenience and modernity. But today, in a time when it's fairly common knowledge that one 4-ounce ground beef patty could contain meat from more than 1,000 individual cows, it's comforting to be able to walk into a shop where you not only know the person who's trimming your steak (or grinding your hamburgers), you know exactly where that steak came from and what the cow ate during its life. Meat purchased at a supermarket is also rarely, if ever, grass-fed, locally-raised, and antibiotic-free, which is to say it doesn't often meet the high standards of today's meat-buying consumer. In a "Slow Food" era when we're desperate to get back to the land and learn as much as possible about the food we put into our bodies, the trusty butcher shop is there, ready to make sure that the meat we eat is of the highest possible quality.
-Dan Myers, The Daily Meal
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