The grocery store meat section and display case is arguably the most convenient place to buy meat. It comes with a certain degree of peace of mind that modestly trained professionals are safely cutting, packing, and preparing proteins worthy of your grill or smoker.
Though most grocery store meat departments have limited selection. Depending on where you live there might also be a pretty high markup based on the store brand and labor costs.
Of course, the grocery store meat department isn’t the only place to look for quality meats. Especially if you’re looking for something high-end or exotic.
If you’re looking for meat that’s a cut above or slices a little bit differently, you might want to try one of these grocery store alternatives.
The Urban Meat Market
Urban meat markets sit in a sort of gray area between a full-service butcher and the grocery store meat department. Some even call themselves butchers because they occasionally slice deli meats, cut down steaks from whole primals, and can split a chicken in half.
Though outside of the display case, most everything you find in an urban meat market is in a sealed cryo bag. Many times, less common cuts and semi-exotic meats are fully frozen, though they’re easy enough to thaw in a cold water bath. So long as you keep them in the bag.
A lot of urban meat markets offer up a wide range of specialty bratwursts and sausages that are frozen in sealed packs. You’ll also likely find creative burger patties with bits of cheese and perhaps chunks of bacon ground into them and frozen.
If you ask the butcher for something special, like a roast petite or a bone-in leg of lamb, they’ll usually tell you that they can get it for you on special order. Though the markup here is usually a little high and depending on the season it might take a week for you to get it in its frozen form.
The Bulk Food Store Meat Department
Stores like Costco, Sam’s Club, and other bulk discount stores often have a meat department with massive cases of meat. This is a good place to get your hands on complete primal cuts of meat that are stored in sealed cryo bags.
Oftentimes the sealed primals aren’t frozen which will give you a better texture of meat compared to the same thing frozen in an urban meat market. You can also get multiple chickens at a discounted price per pound, multi-packs of ribs, and even double packs of Boston butt pork shoulders.
Though the best value here is probably in the steak primals. You can get whole beef sirloins, tenderloins, and even rib primals for a lower price per pound than the high-priced steaks in the grocery store display case. The trick is that you have to cut them yourself, which takes a little bit of know-how and some quality knife work. Though it also lets you cut a massive 2-inch thick New York strip steak or stuff your own roast petite.
These bulk stores are the first place to look if you need to feed a large cookout. The price per pound is almost always lower than anything the grocery store has to offer. You can then break it down and freeze it for yourself or you can cook it all to host the next big neighborhood block party.
The Country Butcher Shop
True country butcher shops are dwindling in number and continually find themselves running on thin margins. You only really find them in rural communities where small family farms bring their animals to be processed. Industrial farms don’t tend to use these smaller full-service butcher shops and instead sell their animals to commercial processing plants.
Honestly, the country butcher shop probably isn’t the best place to find a good deal on steaks and chops. Their overhead costs are staggering and demand for the steaks doesn’t always equal supply.
They are however a great place to get fresh primals, breed meats, sausages, and off-cuts. This includes things like:
- Fresh inside skirt steak
- Pork jowls
- Whole pork belly
- Whole slab bacon
- Untrimmed racks of ribs
- Bulk frozen riblets
Though the one secret gem you are most likely to find at a country butcher is flavorful, fair-priced country ring sausage. This is a sausage that’s made from the trim of the primals they cut down and butcher. Usually, there’s a proprietary seasoning blend “Passed down from their grandmother’s grandmother” in the mix.
If you find a place like this far from your home. I suggest stocking up on their ring sausage in a cooler and freezing it in vacuum-sealed bags.
Country butchers also tend to be closely tied into the local farmers and are happy to help you connect with special opportunities. They know about the Jenkin’s farm raising 20 head of grass-fed Scottish Highland cattle who like to butcher in the fall. They know about the Johnson farms Berkshire heritage breed hogs and the ranch two towns over that are raising elk.
Join a CSA
CSA stands for “Community Supported Agriculture.” This is a fast-growing trend that is a little bit like a curated subscription. Different farms specialize in different meats and garden-fresh produce. When you sign up to be a member, you pay an annual or monthly fee.
When things come in season, or they harvest an animal, they deliver it straight to your door. While there are a lot of CSAs offering fruits and vegetables, you can often find some that offer things like grass-fed beef, emu, elk, bison, and heritage breed meats.
Curated Online Specialty Meats
If you’re looking for meats that are truly a cut above or exotic offerings that go beyond anything you can find locally, then the internet is another intriguing option. These days there are more purveyors than ever offering high-quality meats like Wagyu and Kobe beef, heritage meats, and even exotic meats that simply aren’t available anywhere else.
The following are some of the more interesting options to consider if you’re looking for something out of the ordinary or a cut above what you can find in stores.