Curious about purchasing meat from a local butcher? Find out more here, in this interview with Bryan Butler
Some say the butcher is back! And with more consumers showing interest in where their food comes from, there is much for consumers to learn from these skilled meat artisans. We spoke with Bryan Butler an Austin, Texas master butcher with over fifteen years of experience. Formally trained at Texas State Technical College, he has worked as a butcher in a wide variety of settings. Bryan has been Austin’s neighborhood butcher for well over a decade, and spent six years as the butcher at Wheatsville Coop before joining Salt & Time in October 2010. He will also be competing this year in Cochon 555, a traveling culinary competition to promote sustainable farming of heritage breed pigs.
SG: How did you become a butcher?
BB: Ironically, I was raised a vegetarian till the age of 10. My joke has always been I became a butcher out of spite. I began my journey to being a butcher in 1996. I toured a culinary school that also had a very good meat fabrication and market management program which is closed now. I figured being a butcher would pay better and would give me a reliable way to support myself no matter where I went. So I spent 18 months at school. Afterwards, I apprenticed under several "well seasoned" older butchers. I was lucky that I got a formal education for modern standards and practices, like HAACP. But also I got to learn from old butchers. This experience is hard to find today. Most who call themselves butchers are self-taught. There's nothing wrong with that, it's just a sad reality. I have apprenticed four to five of my own students and gladly share any knowledge that I can.
SG: Do you notice any rise or fall in consumers’ interest in highly skilled butchers?
BB: Consumer interest in food traceability, and sourcing has led them to start asking more questions. More are seeking butchers for answers. Some cooks take their meat VERY seriously. As well they should. Quality can't be faked. Butchery has also seen somewhat of a renaissance. So just the mention that I'm a butcher peaks people’s interest. I've heard every question under the sun. Sometimes at in-opportune times, like while I'm eating a meal. I've more than once been the last one finished, eating a cold plate of food. I like it. Not eating cold food, but the fact that people are asking questions and not just blindly eating whatever. Every now and again I get returning carnivores. Most just want to eat meat they don't feel guilty about eating. Other's diets have led them to poor health. Per recommendation of their doctors, they seek out animal proteins.
SG: How important is buying local to your business?
BB: We buy as much local products for Salt & Time as possible. It's the same as being sustainable. People want to buy local, and they do. The more local options consumers get, the happier they are. For me, it's important to support local business and agriculture. That support goes both ways. Without Salt & Time and others like us, the ranchers wouldn't have any place other that the feedlots to sell their animals. Without those ranchers we wouldn't have high quality pigs to buy.
SG: How does a highly skilled butcher improve the quality of meat?
BB: There are great butchers everywhere, and not all of them do it like me. The motives of butchers can be all over the place. It depends on the incentives in front of them. So it depends on what you want from your butcher. In a large number of meat markets, profit margins are tight. That can put butchers and meat buyers in a place where they just buy commodity meats or bagged primal cuts in order to make their sales and margin goals. Some meat markets want to be as traditional as possible and offer good value, but they care more about staying true to their mission rather than just making money. Others want to work with whole animals and local producers, like me. So ask yourself what it is YOU want. The best price? Flavor? Local? Largest selection? Whatever it is, a skilled butcher should get you that. It's hard to walk up to him/her and ask them directly if they're more motivated by greed or passion. Usually it's obvious what the goal is. If you see a lot of bright neon colored signs with low, low prices, you know that butcher is trying to move cheap product. If you see signs like "humanely raised" or "local" you know the business has a purpose other than strictly cash. You should expect to pay more for better meat, always. But the old saying, "You get what you pay for" is never more true. One tip: ask a lot of questions.
SG: What are your long term goals?
BB: I just want to stay busy, and keep learning. I want to meet more butchers and learn from each other. I'm happy teaching people, so I'd like to offer some apprenticeships. I'm currently in the process of opening Salt & Time's first brick and mortar location with my partner and founder of S&T. With success, we want to have multiple locations in Austin and potentially San Antonio.
SG: Tell us a little bit about your experience in the butcher competition you will be participating in.
BB: I have not competed before but I'm looking forward to the experience. I don't really try to be the fastest, but speed does develop over time. I think Cochon 555 as a whole is amazing, I'm both humbled and excited that I'm getting to involved with Brady Lowe and his traveling pork circus. The event isn't until the 29th, and I won’t know if I win until the Grand Cochon. I’m just going to have a good time, win or lose.
For more information about Bryan Butler and Salt &Time, visit www.saltandtime.com.