Featured photo: Matt Pleasants of Smoke City Meats cuts meat behind the counter. All photos by Carolyn de Berry.

I have fond memories of the times I would accompany my grandmother to the grocery store after school. We would bypass the refrigerated section with its pre-packaged meats, make a beeline for the deli and then slide over to the meat counter to chat it up with the butcher. I was mesmerized by the rows of beef, pork and chicken lined up between columns of plastic shrubbery, ground meats molded like Play-Doh with designs pressed into the mounds of fat, sinew and muscles. And as people continue to enjoy grilling season, they’ll find that a butcher is a carnivore’s best friend. The finesse and skill of a butcher is unmatched by any other profession in the food industry. Not only can they turn a side of a cow into chops, steaks and other neatly trimmed pieces of meat, oftentimes the butcher can be the genesis of a night’s dinner or a weekend of grilling.

A butcher works with whole animals and is able to fabricate or break them down into more unusual cuts of meat and body parts to make available to clients. Kidneys, livers, intestines and other organs which are not available through commercial distributors are available at the butcher’s counter. They can also offer unusual cuts of steaks and roasts that require more artistry than a meat distributor or commercial grocery store can provide, and tend to be more knowledgeable about meat. Customers who want more information about where the meat comes from and how to cook it often prefer going to a butcher for this reason.

Smoke City Meats is a new butcher in Winston-Salem, touting itself as an artisanal butchery shop. Matt Pleasants, formerly of Earl’s, the Honey Pot and Bahtmobile food truck, is the in-house slaughterman responsible for filling the case with a plethora of cuts and in-house spiced meats. In the refrigerated case you can find everything from perfectly seasoned breakfast sausage and smoked meats to prepared shish kebobs, spiced hamburgers and smoked pork chops. Featuring beef and pork from Apple Brandy, Harmony Ridge and Joyce Farms, the artistry is showcased in the sausages and housemade spice rub.

“All you need is a grill, this rub and a Miller Lite,” says Pleasants. Sold in 16-oz Mason jars, the rub is rife with flaked salt, dried herbs and a proprietary blend of spices.

Boutique butcher shops are cropping up all over. Fifty years ago, the butcher shop was as common as the gas station. While these shops are seeing a resurgence, the carnicería remains the same. Carnicerías are butcher shops with a distinct Latin flavor. The carnicería specializes in cuts and marinades like ranchera and arrachero, and will produce their own chicharrones, chorizos and housemade spiced cuts.

At Los Juanes off Jonestown Road in Winston-Salem, many go for the fresh meat but stay for the tacos, chilaquiles, flautas and pupusas . The butcher, Chuchy, who identified himself by first name only, was eager to help me navigate the case.

It’s all about the meat, but they’re also a treasure trove of Mexican and Latinx specialties. You can buy plenty of cuts of beef and pork, but most carnicerías are filled to bursting with Mexican beers, sodas, cheeses, produce, hot sauces and breads, alongside piñatas, paper goods and even the occasional impulse aisle full of juguetes or toys.

Part bodega, part taquería, it’s a center of commerce and social life, a place to connect with the familiar flavors of home for people who now live north of the border. But they’re also convenient places to shop for anyone who appreciates authentic products and meat at reasonable prices.

Shopping at a carnicería can be an adventure in learning new food terms and methods of cookery. Speaking a little Spanish helps, but isn’t necessary. What is helpful is knowing what the various meat cuts are in Spanish. You won’t find too many marbled cuts of beef or porterhouses, but you will find lots of flat, thin cuts suitable for marinating, grilling and braising, along with spices, chiles, tortillas and other staples of Mexican cooking.

So whatever you’re looking for in your next quest for an outdoor barbecue, whether it’s a butchery or a carnicería, you can be sure that you’ll find exactly what you need and more.

Learn more about Smoke City Meats on their website. Los Juanes is located at 355 Jonestown Rd. in Winston-Salem.

RECIPE: Spicy marinated skirt steak tacos

Serves 4-6, 3 tacos each

  • 2 lbs aracherra or skirt steak, cut into 4-inch pieces

MARINADE

  • 2 Tablespoons fresh mint
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley
  • ¼ cup fresh oregano
  • 1 bunch chives or scallions, chopped
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
  • ¼ cup jalapeno, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • 1 Tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon oil
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste
  • 2 10-count packages corn or flour tortillas

GARNISH

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro or flat-leaf parsley

1. Put all ingredients except tortillas and garnish in a resealable plastic bag, a large bowl or resealable container and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it against the surface to eliminate excess air. Marinate steak for 30 minutes up to 12 hours in refrigerator.

2. Heat grill pan or cast-iron skillet over high heat. Use a scant 1/2 teaspoon of oil on the pan. Sear on one side until golden brown and slightly charred, about 3 to 4 minutes. Turn the steak over and cook to medium-rare doneness, about 3 to 4 minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper. Let rest 5 minutes then slice against the grain into 1/4-inch thick slices.

3. Fill each tortilla with 3 to 4 pieces of meat and garnish with chopped onion and cilantro or parsley leaves.

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