Meat: Finding the Right Cut (and Butcher)

Everybody’s doing it, from nose-to-tail to unique cuts. Lamb kidneys, anyone?

“I’ve always equated sustainability with the concept of ‘leave no trace,’ or as my father would tell us, ‘Leave it in better shape than you found it,’” says Ryan Fibiger, CEO of the grass-fed and organic-meat mecca Fleishers Craft Butchery. While the “S” word might be greatly overused in culinary circles today, it’s one Fleishers — which includes the beloved Kingston butcher shop — thoughtfully abides by, beginning with well-cared-for animals roaming on healthy land and leading to happy customers and a positive impact on the local community.

While Fibiger acknowledges there’s been an increase in concerned carnivores seeking out grass-fed beef, he admits it’s been slow-going despite the robust national dialogue surrounding the issue. “Our industrial meat system still dominates the industry. At the end of the day, it comes down to pricing. Even the least-discerning customer would prefer the better-tasting product that was humanely produced without the use of hormones or antibiotics. Unfortunately, people are used to paying artificially low prices for their meat, and the sticker shock on the pasture-raised products often turns them off,” he explains.

Plenty of patrons do seek out more choice meats, however, and in colder weather Fibiger says it’s braising cuts that get the limelight. “When the lamb shanks start selling out, we know that the fall/winter season is upon us,” he points out. Fleishers encourages guests to try the less ubiquitous lamb and goat, but “this country has a love affair with beef and chicken. The only protein able to rival them is pork. I love what’s happened with pigs in this country. Through campaigns to bring back heritage breeds that are raised on pasture, we’ve finally put the awful ‘other white meat’ campaign behind us,” Fibiger says. That’s why along with beef chuck roast, oxtail, and crosscut beef shanks for osso buco, Fleishers customers are also queuing up for the likes of pork shoulder and ham hocks.

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As Fleishers is a whole-animal butchery, Fibiger is excited to see customers — many of them ex-pats homesick for the offal they were reared on — order more unconventional meats. “The bulk of our customers appreciate that their favorite chef can work magic with lamb liver or beef heart, but they feel intimidated to try this themselves. Our meat mongers are happy to offer advice and cooking-preparation suggestions. They take much more pride in selling a $3 lamb kidney than a $65 porterhouse.”

In the midst of the holiday season, it’s big birds — like turkey, goose, and pheasant — Fibiger seeks out. “We almost never eat these during the rest of the year, so for me the smell and taste have become inextricably linked to great memories with family and friends. The type of bird we choose has definitely changed over the years, though. Butterball doesn’t cut it after you’ve had a pasture-raised, heritage one from Frank Reese or Bill Niman. It’s like apples and oranges.”

ribs at fleischers beef at fleischers

The Whole Cow

It’s becoming increasingly popular for adventurous customers to head to the butcher shop not just for two pounds of ground beef but to order a whole cow. At Fleishers, the request is made all the time. Fibiger says an information sheet at the counter lets customers differentiate between cuts. “There are a lot of decisions to make, so our butchers are there to help them with this. For example, do they want steaks or roasts, tenderloin or porterhouse?” he says. “If they want it packaged for multiple people, we need to know that, as well.” Typically, it takes two weeks to fill such mammoth orders.

The Right Method

Knowing the differences between cuts of meat, like ribs and cheeks, is certainly important, but Fibiger says it’s far more useful for people to understand the cooking methods that suit them best. “Grilling steaks — rib-eye, strip, tenderloin — typically come from seldom-used muscles in the middle of the animal. Because these muscles aren’t used often, they have weak links between their collagen fibers and don’t need a long cooking process to break them down to make them tender. A quick sear on the stove or grill is sufficient,” he explains. “Beef shanks and chuck roasts, by comparison, are heavily worked muscles with dense, strong links between collagen fibers. They would be incredibly tough if cooked quickly on a grill, but braise them in moist heat for several hours, and the collagen turns into gelatin, and the muscle will fall apart into tender, juicy threads.”

Making the Cut

Fibiger offers helpful tips for the next time you visit the butcher:

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  1. Ask a lot of questions: Where are your animals raised? How are they raised? Who is the farmer? What do they eat?
  2. Ask what they recommend. Appropriate responses include: “What do you like?” or “What type of meal do you want to cook?” or “How much time do you have?” Inappropriate responses include directing you to their most expensive cuts or anything that has been pre-marinated.
  3. If they pass steps one and two, put your trust in them and keep an open mind.

lisa hall
Lisa Hall, co-owner of Marbled Meats in Cold Spring, is taking charge of a growing business

Other Meat Must-Trys:

Barbara Fisher, a math teacher-turned-butcher, puts the spotlight on small farms found within a 200-mile radius of Barb’s Butchery, her Beacon shop. In addition to grass-fed beef and locally pastured pork and poultry, she also stocks up on smoked goods, like sausages and hot dogs. Don’t miss the highly touted beef jerky.

Related: Meet Beacon’s Barb the Butcher

Throughout the winter, Marbled Meat Shop will continue to illuminate local pork, beef, lamb, chicken, rabbit, and duck, but there’s another reason to hightail it to this Cold Spring shop: Marbled Meals. On Thursday and Friday evenings, pre-order comforting dinners of pork and garlic ramen, or meatloaf with pimento mac ‘n’ cheese and roasted Brussels sprouts.

Smoked and fresh kielbasa, plump knackwurst, and from-scratch bologna are among the delicacies found at Quaker Creek Store. The Goshen delicatessen also turns out freshly ground meat, cut-to-order Black Angus steaks, and homespun treats like farmer’s cheese and mashed-potato pierogi alongside sausage-stuffed mushrooms.

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An Italian-inspired mainstay, Frank’s Village Market and Deli in Marlboro is known for its trifecta of housemade sausages: sweet Italian, hot Italian, and cheese and parsley. It also serves up the likes of hefty subs, roasted peppers, and filled-to-order cannoli.

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