Like a neighborhood butcher shop, which can special order hard-to-find cuts of meat and offal, butchers and meat cutters at national and regional grocery chains can help you find specific cuts of meat, and may be able to do some basic tasks, like trussing, scoring, butterflying and grinding custom burger or meatball blends. If you see a cut of meat you’ve never cooked before, they might offer cooking suggestions, such as whether it should be quickly seared or would benefit from a long braise.
Likewise, store fishmongers can help with descaling, fileting, deboning and deshelling. Stores that offer these complimentary services include Harris Teeter, H-E-B, Wegmans, Whole Foods, some H Mart locations and many smaller, regional and independent grocers. Services will vary by store, availability and sometimes time of day — butchers and fishmongers may not work all store hours.
There are a few basic tasks that butchers and fishmongers can almost always help with, but if you’re looking for something specific and you see a meat or fish counter, it can’t hurt to ask. Here are a few things to consider:
Custom cuts. Meat department employees at Harris Teeter can “custom cut and hand trim most requests from shoppers, depending on product availability,” according to Danna Robinson, communication manager for the grocer.
I recently asked a butcher at an independent grocer for help butterflying a turkey breast while I completed the rest of my shopping; I picked up the butterflied breast 20 minutes later, on my way to the check-out line. Meat department staffers may be able to score or remove the fat from large cuts of meat, cut steaks or chops fresh and break down whole birds.
Deboning. “We can cut or debone poultry. … If you want it broken down into breasts and thighs, we can do that. If you want it spatchcocked, where the backbone is removed and chicken is flattened, we can do that,” says Theo Weening, vice president of meat and poultry at Whole Foods.
Cooking tips. According to Weening, in-store butchers can “cut steaks to order, tell you how to cook a certain cut of meat. If a particular cut catches your eye or is on sale, ask us how to cook it.” Whole Foods keeps seasonings and marinades in its meat and fish departments, and can add a marinade or spice mix to meat, poultry or fish before wrapping it up.
Trussing and tying. Many store butchers will truss or tie whole birds or large cuts of meat while you wait.
Custom grinds. Whether you’re looking to make a specific recipe that calls for a blend of beef and pork, or you want to try a new combination of ground chuck, turkey and short rib, store butchers can help create those blends, and may be able to grind them fresh.
Fish and shellfish. Fishmongers at Harris Teeter, Whole Foods and other stores will debone, descale and fillet fish. Further, they should be able to tell you the origin of the fish or shellfish you’re buying, and whether it was farmed or caught wild. At Harris Teeter, fishmongers also “have the ability to steam various selections of crab and shellfish,” according to Robinson.
Special orders. Finally, if you’re looking for a specific cut of meat or type of poultry or seafood, store personnel will be able to tell you if they can order it, and, if so, when it can be picked up.
Ultimately, the only way a store employee will be able to help is if you ask.