The 12th of March marks the start of National Butchers Week 2018 and to celebrate this, we’ve teamed up with Q Guild of Butchers to talk all things meat.
As you can probably tell from our previous food posts such as our best burgers guide, we demand quality when it comes to food here at Slaters, whether that be in our cooking or when it comes to eating out.
Butchers are famous for providing the best quality meat on the market but the 120 butchers that form the Q Guild of Butchers are some of most experienced and talented butchers in the business which is why we’re so pleased to have worked alongside them to create this guide.
We chatted with David Lishman, master butcher and owner of Lishman’s of Ilkley and he’s helped us provide you with the best advice for choosing, buying and cooking meat.
Know Your Cuts
If there’s one thing butchers know all about, it’s the different cuts of meat and although you may think you know your stuff, we’re pretty confident you don’t know all of this:
Rump – a reasonably flavourful steak with minimal fat, David told us how rump steak gets a 3.5/5 for tenderness but is great for those wanting a leaner steak.
Sirloin – a 4/5 for tenderness and high in flavour thanks to the marbling of fat throughout the cut.
Rib Eye – similar to sirloin in tenderness, rib eye steaks have quite a lot of fat but that just adds to the flavour.
Fillet – your most premium cut, although fillet is the leanest with next to no fat, it carries the least flavour.
T-Bone – as well as looking impressive on the plate, T-Bone is cut from across the loin so combines two cuts of steak. Half fillet and half sirloin, you get the best of both worlds with this steak.
Flat Iron – a cheaper alternative, flat iron is cut from the ‘forequarter’ and is a thinner, slightly tougher cut but softens nicely when cooked properly.
When it comes to choosing beef joints for roasting, David told us how brisket is a great cut for slow roasting. Initially a tougher piece of meat from the front of the cow, with slow cooking, low heat and lots of flavour, brisket starts to fall apart and becomes incredibly soft.
For faster roasting, topside, silverside and sirloin joints are ideal.
If you’re looking to make a beef casserole and want great tasting meat, chuck steak comes highly recommended. This steak breaks down really well on a low heat over a long cooking period. The Q Guild of Butchers are also passionate about using ox-cheek in casseroles. This less popular cut has a high fat content and releases great flavour because of that. When cooked slowly, the layers of this cut soften and break down nicely.
Whole Chicken – as a smaller animal, if you want enough chicken to feed the whole family for a roast dinner, a whole chicken is your best bet and has something to suit everyone’s tastes.
Breast/Fillet – as the skin is removed from these cuts of the chicken, there is next to no fat in these cuts, making them the leanest and one of the healthiest meats on the market. Breast is best paired with a strong flavour as due to the lack of fat, doesn’t naturally carry much flavour.
Thigh – a really flavourful part of the chicken thanks to being close to the bone and being covered with skin, the thigh is great for using in curries as it breaks down so well.
Drumstick – popular for marinating and throwing on the BBQ, drumsticks also carry great flavour thanks to being on the bone and having the skin still attached.
Wings – a similar meat to the drumstick but a slightly smaller cut, wings also have the same rich flavour thanks to the bone but carry less meat than other cuts of chicken.
Aside from your classic bacon and sausages, here’s what other cuts of pork are great for:
Loin Steaks – said to be nearly as lean as a chicken breast, pork loin steaks have next to no fat and any fat will be around the edge and easy to remove. This cut is also very tender and easy to chew.
Tenderloin – this cut of pork has become increasingly popular and is the pig’s equivalent to fillet steak in shape and texture. You can either cook the whole tenderloin or cut into medallions and grill or fry.
Belly – known for carrying a larger layer of fat, it’s this that gives belly pork such an iconic flavour. David recommends slow cooking and roasting belly pork to soften the meat and fat while enhancing the flavour.
Ribs – although the whole rib cage can be removed and used, it is often cut into two kinds of meat: shorter ribs known as baby back ribs and longer ribs called ‘St Louis ribs’. Both have the same juicy taste for being cooked close to the bone and work well with an intense glaze.
Chops/Steaks – a lamb chop has a bone whereas a steak does not, both carry different flavours but the boneless steaks are leaner as they carry less fat. The bone of the chop gives a great flavour while the steak will need more flavouring.
Leg – one of the most popular roasting joints and for a very good reason, leg of lamb can be served pink and is very tender and full of flavour.
Shoulder – the team of butchers recommend cooking lamb shoulder on the bone for the best flavour and suggest you cook it slowly to allow the meat and fats to soften and the flavours to enhance. Cooking like this allows the meat to become soft and fall away from the bone.
Shank – lamb shank is cut from the back of the leg and comes on the bone. A great use for lamb shank is to put it in a casserole and cook slowly to allow it to break down.
Things to Know When Buying Meat
Whether you head to a supermarket or a local butcher’s shop, there’s more to consider when choosing meat than you may think if you want to get the best product possible.
David and his fellow butchers have shared with us their top things to look out for and remember when choosing meat without the assistance of a professional:
- Meat Flavour Depends on the Season – As with many foods, some meats come in and out of season and although they’re available to buy all year round, they may taste different depending on what time of year it is. Lamb is known for having a season but it is available all year, it just takes a slightly different taste and different breeds of beef become available in different seasons that carry a slightly different flavour.
- Fat Means Flavour, Not Bad Quality – We’re all guilty of avoiding a cut of meat as it looks as though it is carrying too much fat but that doesn’t mean the meat is bad quality, it actually means it will probably carry more flavour. Fat alone has a different flavour to the meat itself but it also carries any extra flavours you add really well, so if you’re not on a health kick, don’t avoid fattier cuts.
- The Colour of Your Meat Matters – When buying meat, the colour it is when it’s raw says a lot about age and flavour, so you should pay attention to ensure you’re buying the best. Darker meat usually comes from more mature animals and will therefore probably carry more flavour whereas lighter or pinker meats are from younger animals and may need more flavouring. Any meat that is looking grey or an ‘off colour’ may be past its best or have been butchered badly and should therefore be avoided.
- Meats with Bones Carry More Flavour – if you want no fuss cooking then you probably avoid cuts of meat with bones but it’s being cooked close to the bone that adds a distinctive flavour to all meats, one that can’t be found in boneless cuts.
Supermarket VS Butcher – What You Need to Know
Although the convenience of the supermarket can make it very tempting to just buy your meat there, a trip to your butchers is well worth your time if you want quality meat that will result in great cooking.
Here’s a few key differences between buying your meat from your local butcher and your nearest supermarket:
- It’s a Myth That Your Butcher is Always More Expensive – many of us are guilty of being stuck in the mindset that meat from the butchers is always more expensive but in fact, that’s a bit of myth. Butcher’s are very competitive with price and will always try to offer their customers the best price to ensure good business and will often do you a good price to thank you for your custom. Although a supermarket price may seem better because there’s a deal on, you can’t guarantee the quality you can when you visit a butcher.
- Less Packaging – plastic waste and over packaging is a hot topic at the moment and if you want to avoid purchasing food products with excessive plastic packaging then visiting your butcher is your best bet. Butchers will never vacuum pack meat and generally use a lot less packaging when wrapping up your meat.
- Don’t Be Drawn in By Long Use by Dates – many of us choose to buy meat from the supermarket as it is labelled with a ‘use by’ date that is a few days away whereas fresh meat from the butchers may need using sooner. If meat has a long date on it, it may have been vacuum packed and lost a lot of the flavour in the process. The Q Guild butchers told us how you shouldn’t keep meat too long anyway, so having to use meat within a few days of buying it just ensures flavour and quality.
- Butchers Know Best – the supermarket shelf isn’t going to help you find the best cut of meat for the meal you’re planning or trim the piece to meet your needs or provide you with seasoning and cooking tips but your local Q Guild butcher will. Butchers have years of experience in their trade and are keen to help you make the best choices, which is why you’re guaranteed to get a better piece of meat from your butcher.
Final Words from David and the Q Guild of Butchers
When David Lishman spoke to us on behalf of the Q Guild of Butchers, he told us how passionate each and every member of the Q Guild association are about not just butchering but helping their customers too and that’s why supporting your local butcher is essential.
Convenience is great for some things but when it comes to buying one of your main food staples, that is a process that shouldn’t be rushed. David described to us how he and his fellow butchers aim to create a tailored experience for each customer who comes through their doors to ensure they get the best meat possible for their individual needs.
He explained to us how in his eyes, cooking a meal can be a big task, so if you’re going to put the effort in to cook, you should choose the best ingredients and that’s why he thinks buying meat from a butcher is always the better option.
So, there you have it, everything you could possibly need to know about choosing, buying and cooking meat, all courtesy of the best butchers in the business. If you’re keen to keep up to date with the 120 butchers in the Q Guild, follow the Q Guild Twitter!
We hope you’ve enjoyed this National Butchers Week celebration, we’d love to know the reasons you choose your local butcher over the supermarket, so let us know on our Twitter or Instagram!