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20 Secrets Your Butcher Won’t Tell You

Butchers share how to save money and pick the freshest meat.

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Don’t be fooled by supermarket brand names

Avoid names like Butcher’s Brand, Rancher’s Reserve, and Blue Ribbon. The label to look for is USDA quality grade. Prime is the best (and most expensive), followed by choice, select, then standard. Watch out for these other 50 supermarket tricks you still fall for.

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A big part of our job is window dressing

We flip brown meat over, cut off fat, and dab away red that might turn you off. Find out what that red liquid in your meat really is (it’s not blood).

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High angle view of butcher holding minced meat tray at display cabinet in butchery
Tyler Olson/Shutterstock

Meat can have a long journey to us

Your beef may get ground in Iowa, stuffed in a long tube of plastic, and trucked to our store, where we regrind and package it.

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Midsection of male butcher weighing meat on scale in shop
Tyler Olson/Shutterstock

Check the price per pound or serving

Regular size is often cheaper than the family pack. Leave these other 27 foods you should never buy out of your cart, too.

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saleswoman offering fresh meat at display in supermarket

We can suggest cheaper options

Why are you so wedded to the cut of beef your recipe calls for? Save $1.50 to $2 a pound on boneless pork chops. Buy a whole boneless pork loin roast and slice it into chops an inch thick.

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Hanging tender, Hanger steak, onglet - after the meat has been trimmed by the butcher

I have a favorite cut

I love the hanging tender. Also known as a hanger steak or a bistro steak, it’s got great flavor at a good price. Learn which cuts of meat you’re probably throwing out, but shouldn’t be.

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Women purchasing a packet of meat at the supermarket

Here’s where to find the best meat

Take the meat tray at the bottom of the stack or the farthest in back. Just like milk, it tends to be fresher. Check out these other 29 secrets your grocer won’t tell you.

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Hands holding fresh delicious burgers with french fries, sauce and beer on the wooden table top view.

There’s a reason restaurant burgers taste better

Your favorite burger joint probably uses beef that’s much fattier. Yes, that 92/8 ground beef is lean, but if you make burgers with it, you might be disappointed. Learn which foods you should never eat at a barbecue.

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Man shopping in supermarket, reading product information

Always check the label

Even if those chicken breasts say “100 percent natural,” they may still be injected with sodium-laden broth, salt water, or seaweed extract, which you’ll see on the ingredients list. Here are more mistakes you make while reading food labels.

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Looks aren’t everything

Some of the best tasting cuts are the ugliest ones, like the flap meat on the belly part of beef.

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Frozen pork neck chops meat steakin the freezer. Frozen food
Ahanov Michael/Shutterstock

We know how to avoid freezer burn

If you throw your meat straight into the freezer in the packaging it came in, freezer burn is a virtual certainty. Instead, take the meat off the tray, re-wrap it with plastic food wrap or aluminum foil, then put it in a Ziploc freezer bag and squeeze out as much air as possible. Here are more myths about frozen food you should stop believing.

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High angle portrait of smiling butcher cutting meat at counter in butchery
Tyler Olson/Shutterstock

Here’s how to save a few bucks per pound:

Buy a whole top sirloin and ask me to cut it into steaks. Or get a whole chuck and ask me to make you some chuck roasts, beef stew cubes, and ground meat out of it. The bigger the cut, the more money you’ll save.

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Large cut of raw meat from butcher processing packaging plant on a conveyor
El Nariz/Shutterstock

You’ve been wrong about London Broil this whole time

London Broil is a cooking method, not a cut of meat. A package labeled that way is probably a top round roast, a very tough steak that otherwise wouldn’t be worth much. But if we label it as a London Broil—which means you should cook it medium rare with lots of seasonings, then slice it real thin against the grain—it’s at least edible.

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Frying beef bottom round roast cubes in cast iron skillet , meat flipped once
Ari N/Shutterstock

Most people cook their meat too long

Get a cooking thermometer and remember: Food keeps cooking even after you remove it from heat. So that filet mignon that’s rare when it comes off the grill will be medium rare after you rest it.

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Strip steaks in a butcher's window

Here’s the deal with “Certified Angus Beef”

Despite all the hype, most of us think “Certified Angus Beef” is a marketing gimmick that doesn’t necessarily indicate the meat is any better than other beef with the same USDA grade. Though I have to admit, it does look spiffy on that black tray.

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Raw meat

Grass-fed beef doesn’t taste as good

I know grass-fed beef is the hot thing, and it’s supposed to be healthier, but it sure doesn’t taste as good. Here’s what you need to know before you buy grass-fed beef.

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Different types of raw meat in plastic boxes, lamb shank on the bone, beef tail, beef neck, beef blade.
Sandro Pavlov/Shutterstock

A cheaper cut might taste the same

If you like steak well done, buy it cheap. That’s your call, but don’t bother buying an expensive cut. Once you cook it that much, it all tastes pretty much the same … kind of like shoe leather.

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Image of packaged meat with woman hand in the supermarket
Pavel Ilyukhin/Shutterstock

There’s a way to tell how fresh your meat is

Check the pack date. Ideally you want to get packages dated that day or the day before. Some companies pump carbon monoxide into packaging to keep the meat from turning brown. Here are some foods you should absolutely never eat past the expiration date.

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Crispy Roast Pork Belly. Slice Roast Pork Belly.

A little pink is OK

Your mother had good intentions, but a little pink inside your pork is fine. In fact, it’s preferable. Pork that’s white all the way through is likely to be dry and tasteless. Just make sure its internal temperature is at least 160 degrees. Next, check out these other common cooking mistakes you’re probably making.

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african male butcher packing meat pieces in a tray

Don’t always accept meat as-is

Ask me to help. Even if it’s already on a tray wrapped in cellophane, I can cut the fat off a roast, trim a flank steak into stir-fry strips, or grind up a chuck roast. Then I’ll neatly wrap it back up for you. All for no extra charge.

Sources: Butchers in New York City; Charlotte, North Carolina; San Francisco; Kingston, New York; and Timberville, Virginia; Lee O’Hara, author of Beef Secrets Straight from the Butcher; and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest