What You Don’t Know: What Butchers See

  • June 21, 2011 8:49 am

Most of us do not have the opportunity to inspect the entire pig or steer or lamb before we buy our loins and shanks, but butchers do–if they’re cutting whole animals and not just selling boxed parts.  There is apparently a lot to learn about how an animal was raised by “reading” a carcass. Doing this informs Joshua and Jessica Applestone about the animals they carve and sell. I was fascinated by listening to both of them describe what they look for and what it means as I helped them write their book. Here is an excerpt from The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat about Josh’s experience finding pork he felt comfortable selling at Fleisher’s — and eating after 16 plus years as a vegan.


Conventional supermarket pork comes from animals that have never lived or breathed outside a sterile factory farm, never stepped a hoof on the earth, never rooted in the dirt.  Animals that have been bred to live exclusively in confinement are so scrawny that they would freeze outside anyway.  They’re also so delicate that people entering their confinement operation have to wear masks and shoe covers so the animals don’t get sick(er).  To prevent disease outbreaks and to simulate faster growth, the commercial hog industry is said to add more than 10 million pounds of antibiotics to its feed yearly, which is, by some accounts, up to eight times more than all the antibiotics used to treat human illness in that same time frame.

In addition to the antibiotics, confinement pigs are fed cheap crap.  So it should come as no surprise that their meat tastes like it.  Even if you do the research and know something about how your ham was raised and treated, you won’t see what a butcher sees.  We see, for instance, that pastured pigs have clean glands – they’re almost the same color as the flesh.  Glands are the filters for the body, and they reflect what the animals have been through.  On our pigs , they are pearlescent and clear.  On a conventionally raised pig, those glands are brown to black.  One of our colleagues told us this before we saw it, and we didn’t believe him.  Then one time while I was learning to make charcuterie at someone else’s shop, I ran into a gray/black gland.  It was disgusting.  Often these glands are not removed before the meat is ground or processed.  If well-raised and -fed pastured pork isn’t available near you, USDA organic is absolutely a far safer, better bet than conventional.  Always read labels and ask questions; just because something is certified organic doesn’t mean it’s local or that it has roamed free.

The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat On TastingTable.com

  • June 15, 2011 1:13 pm

Holy lovely review! Thanks TastingTable.com!

A mini excerpt:

“As we read the new book from butchering power couple Joshua and Jessica Applestone, however, the term [rock star butcher] seemed apropos: The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat is at once a political manifesto on the agricultural climate, a memoir and an instructional how-to with lessons on tying roasts and breaking down lambs. Theirs is the philosophy that has spawned a movement of imitators….

….The book is a worthwhile read, providing context for the many practices that have now become ubiquitous phrases on menus; here, such terms as primals and nose-to-tail are explained (and encouraged) through useful recipes and tips.”

The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat in Bon Appetit

  • June 15, 2011 12:36 pm

Not sure who looks better? The book cover or Josh? Fun to see both of them in Bon Appetit! And love love love that they’re calling it “The new bible for conscious carnivores.”

The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat in Publishers Weekly!

  • May 2, 2011 2:56 pm

Thanks to PW for a lovely write up of The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat. Pub date — June 7th — is around the corner. Can’t wait.

A little excerpt:

“…[the] book provides clear, useful instruction on dealing with cuts of beef, lamb, pork, and poultry, interesting meditations on sustainable dining, and a dozen or so recipes thrown in for good measure. The literature of butchery is hard to resist, and the Applestones with Zissu (The Conscious Kitchen) manage to wield both a skillful pen and clever cleaver.”

To read more, click here.

Steer to Steak on RecipeClub.net

  • February 21, 2011 10:14 am

I finished the final read of the final draft of The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat at some point this week. Phew. A book is a looong process and it is always amazing to near the end of writing one. We still have a few tweaks to go–art and illustration things mainly, and the index. But now my attention is turning to what it will be like when it is published. In a few weeks, we’ll be meeting with the publicist to start that conversation.

Meanwhile, my publisher has launched a new website where they share information from their writers — RecipeClub.net. And they asked me to write a little something for the site about what it has been like for me to witness slaughters this year. If slaughter is something that makes you uncomfortable, no need to click through to the link below.

Fleisher’s–my butcher shop and the topic/co-authors/reason for The Butcher’s Guide–offers weekends where interested people can witness a slaughter and then follow the system of how that animal then becomes meat. They do a pig to pork day and they do a steer to steak day. A month or so ago, a bunch of people from the publisher came to a steer to steak event. They all had strong, positive reactions to it. And we were thrilled to have them there. One came with a camera and shot a lot of thoughtful pictures. My text about the experience and these pictures of the experience can be found here.