A friend called us recently, raving about a local butcher shop. She’d never been to one before and she spoke with all the gushy enthusiasm of the newly converted. “They have all the meat,” she said. “And they’ll do whatever you want to it—he spatchcocked my turkey!” And, to think, she could have had it ground, sliced, cubed, tenderized, or transformed into a turducken.
Her enthusiasm is understandable. Since the 1960s, most supermarkets have been getting boxed meat from national processing plants. It’s inexpensive and it’s convenient—we can roll by the meat case, grab what we want, and carry on.
But it only takes a trip to a local butcher shop to realize we give up a lot for cheap, convenient meat. Butchers will cut to order, they’ll talk you through recipes, and, most importantly, they’ll generally sell you higher quality meat. And going to the butcher shop is the kind of experience, like going to a bakery or farmers market, that a lot of us crave—maybe we don’t want to see the meat being processed, but we’re pretty happy to meet the butcher.
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On Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis, Lowry Hill Meats is a clean, well-lighted place for meat. Its front windows run almost floor to ceiling and even on a snowy February morning the natural light pours in, bounces off the white tile, and fills the space. Erik Sather, co-owner and butcher, stands in the open kitchen, deftly juggling a steak au poivre he’s peppering for an Instagram post, wrapping meat, and putting up breakfast orders.
The shop has such a pleasant cafe vibe, we’re not surprised to hear a boy ask his parents, “What is this place?”
“It’s a butcher shop.”
“What do they do?”
“They sell meat.”
For Sather, it’s bigger than that. When the chef opened the shop in 2015, he’d been cutting meat and cooking around the Twin Cities for years: at Seward Coop, Bar La Grassa, Solera, La Belle Vie, and Clancey’s Meats & Fish. Along the way, his perspective on meat shifted. “I grew up on a farm,” he says, “but it wasn’t until I started cooking professionally that I started really thinking about sourcing. You know, there’s more to this product than just muscle and it was nice to reconnect with the farmers.”
All of the shop’s meat comes from Minnesota farms, including poultry from Wild Acres, beef from Blooming Prairie, and Berkshire pork from Harmony Neighbors. During our conversation, Sather brought up, again and again, the fact that he talks to the farmers every week, stressing how well he knows their farming practices and their meat. The animals he’s sourcing are 100-percent pasture-raised. They’re fed a mix of grass and locally grown, almost all non-GMO feed, and they’re never given hormones or antibiotics. The meat comes to the store fresh—not vacuum-packed or frozen—and, in some cases, within days of processing.
That thoughtful approach means the meat costs more. For example, Lowry Hill’s housemade ground beef costs $9 a pound. At Lunds & Byerlys, you can get nationally sourced ground beef for anywhere from $5 for a house brand to $11 for grass-fed.
Sather says good meat should cost more; it’s about economic fairness. “When I buy directly from the farmer, they get the price they need to raise the animal well and have a sustainable living,” he says. “That means we may pay a little bit more for product, because GMO-free feed costs more or a pastured animal takes longer to raise or it needs more land. But when my neighbors support me, my sales support local farmers rather than a big broker.”
Still, he concedes, meat is expensive. His goal is to get folks to think about eating less but better meat—maybe share an 8-ounce steak. It’s worth it. “People talk about secret meat rubs, but I feel like our meat is flavorful enough that, a lot of times, salt and pepper is about as far as I need to go,” he says. “I have people come in and tell me, ‘Wow, I had a pork chop that tasted like pork.’”
Sather gets in one or two hogs, half a steer, lots of ducks and chickens, and either a whole goat or a lamb every week. He and his team break down all the meat themselves right there in the kitchen, so if you happen to be sitting at the bar you can watch them work. Since they’re working from whole animals, they try to use everything, from roasting bones for broth to rendering beef lard to bake the brioche buns for their critically acclaimed burgers. “We all think like chefs,” Sather says. “We trim the meat properly so it’ll eat well on the plate. […] We make everything from scratch and we try to use up whatever the animal will give us.”
Lowry Hill’s case carries all the standard cuts of meat, plus their housemade goodies like cotto salami, marinated chicken breasts, and sausages. Sather brings in salumi, bacon, cheese, and other pantry items they don’t make in the shop from sources he and his team respect and that they enjoy cooking with. All in all, it’s not a ton of meat, but he hopes the case is more approachable than the wall of meat you find at the supermarket—perhaps more so because the butchers are always on hand.
Four years in, Sather says the shop is working out. In addition to the meat and sandwiches, they offer hog butchering and sausage-making classes, and the shop’s shelves are full of meat accouterments: mustards, housemade pickles, hot sauce, dry pasta, Maldon salt, you name it—all of which has helped to offset the high labor costs associated with old-school butchery.
Sather says it’s gratifying to see chefs and food critics frequenting the shop and to see Lowry Hill sausages in a handful of restaurants, including Burch Steak, Icehouse, Esker Grove, Lake & Irving, Martina, and Penny’s, among others. “We’re not exclusive, not at all, but sometimes it’s fun to look at the clientele and think, damn, this is where the professionals come to shop,” he says. “They’re interested in what we’re doing and they trust us.”
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Everett’s Foods in South Minneapolis has been holding down the corner of Cedar and 38th since 1932, and to walk through its cavernous kitchen is to tour an old curiosity shop of meats. There’s an ancient cast iron Fairbanks-Morse scale meant to weigh whole cows, the original hook and rail system still in place. There’s even a switching gear, like a train yard, so that racks of sausages can travel diverging lines to the walk-in or the smokehouse. On the counter, a massive automatic slicer from the 1950s whirs to life, clickety-clacking with infectious efficiency. “That’s the cheapest employee I have,” says Evan Pregler, the shop’s co-head butcher. “And probably the reason I still have all my fingers.”
Pregler’s been working at Everett’s for half his life. He grew up in the neighborhood and his grandmother bought meat at the butcher shop. So when, at the ripe age of 15, a family friend told him they needed a bag boy, he walked over and applied. “I’d never thought about being a butcher,” he says. “I’d always leaned toward fireman or policeman, but when I got here, I thought, ‘This is cool,’ and it kind of took off from there. I was a quiet, shy kid, but […] this place opened me up.”
The heart of Everett’s, back then and now, is Jack Pflepsen, its long-time owner and co-head butcher, alongside Pregler. Pflepsen bought the butcher shop from its original owner back in 1956 when he was just 26 years old. His father had been a butcher, so it was something he knew how to do. There’s a picture from those early days hanging in the shop: Pflepsen and his brothers are standing in the walk-in next to a full rail of beef sides. The three of them have on matching white shirts, bow ties, and jaunty white butcher caps. They look prosperous and happy.
All these years later, Jack’s brothers have passed away and he runs the business with his daughter, Nancy Klatke. But when we visited the shop recently, he looked remarkably the same, standing behind the counter in his paper cap, a kind smile on his face. He shied away from talking with us, preferring to let Pregler handle it; he was busy wrapping meat for his customers. “He’s 89, and he works six days a week, lifting 50-pound boxes,” says Pregler. “I think this keeps his bones right. […] It’s definitely an inspiration.”
Young Pregler elbowed his way into the butcher side of the business by following Pflepsen around the kitchen, watching him work and listening to him talk with customers. “He’d show me the right way to cut meat and be safe about it. That’s the real reason I still have all my fingers,” he says. “Eventually I just started saying, ‘I can do that,’ and they’d say, ‘Oh, he can do that.’”
There’s a lot to do at Everett’s: the case is huge and packed, and though some of it comes from other producers—like the deli salads, cheeses, cured meats, and frozen fish—the butchers have a hand in the bulk of it.
The shop gets its fresh meat from farms in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Pregler says the animals are free-range and fed a mix of grain and grass—and that Everett’s sells a lot of it. Each week, the shop’s three butchers break down around six quarters of beef, four or five pigs, a couple of lambs, and something like 150 chickens. “That’s not a huge amount of chicken,” says Pregler. “We’ll triple that during the summer barbecue season, and we sold about 500 pounds of wings in the couple of days leading up to the Super Bowl.”
Other popular items include the shop’s housemade ground beef, bologna, meatloaf, and hilariously giant Renaissance Festival–style turkey legs. And, of course, anything that comes out of the shop’s two smokehouses, which are the size of bank vaults. Pregler opened one while we were there and a blast of heat rolled over us like a meat sauna, redolent with smoky sweet bacon, beef jerky, and sausages.
Pregler is particularly proud of the sausages, which range in flavor from the expected—hot dogs, spicy andouille, Polish sausages—to some of Pregler’s own, wilder inventions, like the bacon-cheeseburger brat. “I also make gluten-free sausages using rice flour instead of wheat,” he says. “It’s actually a little smoother, a little more neutral so you taste more of the meat, and they still have a nice snap when you bite into them.”
When we ask him to tell us about some of his more unusual orders, he mentions a pack of Yorkies that eat a very exclusive diet of chicken thighs, hearts, and bones. And there’s a guy that brings him a gallon bag of Trinidad scorpion peppers every year. “He grows them at home, and we make him up a whole batch of beef sticks. They’re like Slim Jims, but better.”
But, Pregler says, day to day it’s mostly just folks buying meat for their families, and he’s always glad to see their faces. “It’s like ‘Cheers’ in here—we know everybody’s name,” he says. “And you know, this has been my one and only job, so I’ve been here to see a lot of kids grow up, and a lot of people have seen me grow up. That’s really nice, not everybody has that.”