It's no secret that prices for fresh meat are going up all across the nation. There are many reasons driving costs up – everything from increasingly strict regulations to differences in consumers' preferences have been blamed as causes for the sudden jump in prices over the last several years.
The higher cost is forcing many people to make different decisions about the meat they buy. Consumers are purchasing lower-quality cuts, smaller quantities, and are constantly searching for any way to save even just a few pennies per pound.
What many people don't realize is that they are paying a premium price for a product that is seldom premium. Large-scale industrial factory farms and meat processing facilities are still producing, they're just making more profit now than they used to. Because of the large and diverse nature of the business, these companies are able to defray cost increases with modest price increases across the board.
The people that are truly hurting are the small, local butchers. They don't have the volume to compete with the big-brand processors and often rely on relationships they have spent years – sometimes decades – fostering to keep their businesses afloat.
In fact, there is a common misconception that shopping at your local butcher means you'll be paying higher prices for practically the same thing you get at the big box store.
One thing we hear all the time at the meat counter at Whitefeather Farms is how surprised people are by the affordable prices and superior quality they find. We hear it a lot – people who say "I've always thought about going local, but thought I couldn't afford it."
While it is true that you'll pay a little more for certain items at the butcher counter, there are significant trade-offs that go far beyond the cost of the meat you buy.
Pros and Cons of Supermarket Meat
Before we start to sound like we are just trashing the supermarket meat counter, let's set a few things straight. You can get excellent quality, affordable meat products at the supermarket. It will just take more work on your part to identify a good cut – but it's doable.
The biggest pro for supermarket meat is the convenience. Most Americans live closer to a grocery store than a butcher shop. Shopping at the local butcher can be intimidating, particularly if you aren't really sure about what you're wanting to buy. When you go to the grocery store, you just grab what you want and go. It's convenient, fast, and typically affordable.
The biggest cons of buying supermarket meat are that you don't know much about the way the animal was raised, how it was slaughtered, or when it was processed. Labeling requirements in the US are not robust, and there are many things that processors can put on the label that don't give you very much information about what you are buying.
For instance, it is fairly common for processors to gas beef prior to packaging to give it a bright red color. This hides older meat and makes it seem like you are buying fresh, even when that meat might have been hanging around in a freezer, then stuffed in a truck for several weeks before it finally hits your shelf.
Pros and Cons of Buying from the Butcher
The main difference between butcher meat and supermarket meat is that your butcher will know where their meat came from, when it was slaughtered, how it was slaughtered, and they will know exactly what the quality is.
It's simply not possible for supermarkets to know this stuff because they are buying in bulk – usually from a central office somewhere – and distributing it to the stores. Your local butcher has spent lots of time building relationships with farmers to ensure quality and consistency.
There are a few cons that are worth bringing up about buying local. Probably the biggest con is finding a butcher that you like and trust. In some parts of the country, you might be looking at a long drive just to get to a butcher, and then you aren't guaranteed that you'll walk in and grab what you want.
A butcher shop can also be intimidating when you are unsure of what you are looking for or if you aren't sure about what questions to ask. Chances are also good that you'll pay anywhere from a few cents per pound to several dollars per pound over supermarket prices for some cuts.
Saving Money By Going to the Butcher
There are a number of ways to save money by shopping at the butcher counter rather than going to a supermarket. Let's start with the biggest thing – quality. When you buy meat at the supermarket, you never know what you are getting. It's pretty common to unwrap a package of meat and realize that gross, nasty, inedible parts are tucked away and hidden behind a label.
You aren't saving any money when you buy meat that is disgusting. So while buying meat from the grocery store may save a few pennies, are you really saving anything when your steak is tough, flavorless, and tastes old?
When you walk into the butcher shop, you can simply ask them about what they have that fits within your budget. A good butcher will have options and will be able to make suggestions so that you are getting a cut of meat that you are happy with, even when shopping on a budget.
5 Reasons to Get Yourself a Butcher
We could probably go on at length listing all of the reasons shopping from your butcher is a better deal than going to the supermarket, but we know you don't want to read all that. We'll give you our top five reasons why finding a local butcher is going to give you the quality and value that will make sense to your wallet.
Reason #1: Your Butcher Loves Animals
This one might not be super obvious, but look at it this way: Your butcher wants to know that the animal they sell was raised well, humanely slaughtered, and properly handled from start to finish. The supermarket doesn't really care –they just want product to sell. So if buying meat that was raised correctly, slaughtered humanely, and safely handled matters to you, consider finding a butcher.
Reason #2: Quality
We've touched on this already, but this is actually a big deal. Butchers source meat from local farmers, building relationships over years to ensure they are getting healthy and fresh, high-quality meat. When you go to the butcher and buy 80/20 ground beef, you know that's what you're getting. The butcher can probably even tell you exactly what cut it came from.
Your grocery store can't do that.
We have a lot of customers who tell us that they stopped by and picked something up on a whim, only to get home and cook their meat and realize they didn't know it could taste so good. That's quality and it's what the butcher offers.
Reason #3: Selection
Your butcher is going to have cuts that you won't find very often in the supermarket. In fact, lots of butchers have their own way of making certain cuts that you haven't even heard of before. That's where cuts like tri-tip came from –butchers experimenting with how to get the most out of an animal.
The other side of this is that you may want to pick up a prime rib, but you don't want the entire roast. Maybe just two or three bones for a nice meal for two. Your butcher will cut it, your grocery store probably won't.
Finding cuts like lamb shanks might be a challenge at most supermarkets except for around major holidays, your butcher will be able to help you out.
Reason #4: Service
The folks at the meat counter at your local grocery store are nice and they work hard, but they're also doing a bunch of different things. Being a butcher isn't one of them. They might answer a few questions, but they won't be able to give you cooking tips on how to prepare a cut, interesting ideas for seasoning, or even offer advice about how to save money buying less expensive suggestions while getting higher quality.
Reason #5: Keeping Money Local
When you buy meat from the grocery store, your dollars are going somewhere, but you know they aren't staying in the local economy. Buying from a butcher means that your money goes directly into the community, enhances the overall quality of animal husbandry, and ensures that small business owners can continue to offer the highest quality possible.
The next time that you are thinking about smoking a prime rib, grilling a filet mignon, or roasting a chicken, check out the local butcher offerings first. You might be surprised to find that you don't spend all that much more money and the quality of the meat you buy is almost certainly going to be better tasting, higher quality, and sustainably harvested.
Once you visit your butcher a few times, you might even find that you would rather spend a little more just for the opportunity to spend a few minutes talking about meat with someone who loves talking about meat.
Can't find a butcher? Here is where we like to order meat: E3 Ranch (Grain Fed Beef), Sakura Farms (American Wagyu Beef), and Greensbury (Grass Fed Beef). All three of these companies offer high-quality meats, fantastic selection, and best business practices.
The Bearded Butchers are dedicated to providing as much information as we possibly can to help you understand how to best process and prepare meats of all kinds. To help you, we maintain a blog and Youtube channel with lots of free, high-quality information. The Bearded Butchers and Beardedbutchers.com are also a participant in affiliate advertising programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to products we love. This means that The Bearded Butchers may receive a commission if you click on a link above and make a purchase using one of our codes.