There’s magic in the way some women survey the display glass of a meat counter, [elevate their heels, and confide to the butcher, “Walter, I need six really prime filets next Friday.” 1 admire their posture because 1 have never known much about meat markets or the products they provide. But the fact is that for decades the butcher has been a homemaker’s accomplice, privy to the meals she masterminds.
Happily, good meat and conscientious market managers are still available to Dallas consumers who appreciate the difference between top quality merchandise and the meat most of us are used to buying. The sawdust floors are gone, but the butcher remains an institution. His apron is bloodied,
his hands are broad, and frequently, his build is as massive as a yield grade one steer.
I couldn’t coax even one Dallas butcher into slandering the meat sold through local supermarket chains. A butcher is not that kind of guy. Chances are, his father was a butcher and his grandfather was a farmer or small market owner. What they say instead is that grocery store meat isn’t better or worse than products from a specialty store: It is a significantly different product, so different in some cases, that comparisons are unfair. Supermarket meat merchandising has been refined and computerized for consistency. Safeway, for example, buys only USDA choice beef from midwest and Texas sources, yield grades two and three (yield grade, on a scale from one to five, indicates the amount of fat found on a side; so the higher the yield grade, the more fat you may be buying), in 450- to 750-pound carcasses. A side of this beef is no blue ribbon winner, but it’s dependably good.
The federal government sees to it that all USDA beef is chilled for thirty-six hours before primal cuts (quartered sides) are shipped to the warehouse; and it takes a minimum of five days for wholesale sub-primals (more recognizable cuts of meat) to be prepared and delegated to area stores. That’s okay, because beef is at its toughest three days after the kill. The Safeway meat you buy today was a dewey-eyed steer ten to twelve days ago. (Heifers run slightly lower in dressed yield and Safeway doesn’t buy them.) The chain doesn’t restrict its beef purchasing to any specific feed, but poorly-fed cattle are not apt to be graded choice.
Retail meat market managers will admit there’s nothing wrong with supermarket meat, but they’ll qualify that statement by telling you exactly what specialty meat stores do right. Sometimes they’ll imply that the cattle, hogs, and poultry they order lived a more respectable and prosperous life. In a sense, that’s true, because specialty markets really care about the quality of the merchandise they sell. But if you want a steer or heifer that was treated like a member of the family, you’ll have to order from Kobe, Japan, where cattle are reputed to be fed saki to soft music and massaged daily.
In Dallas.the longest and most visually impressive display of choice meat can be found at Simon David (7117 Inwood Road) which, oddly enough, is operated within a Tom Thumb store and owned by the Cullum Company. Austin Locklear, meat market manager, orders 95 percent of his beef from Gooch Packing Company in Abilene (also owned by Cullum), the same packing company that furnishes beef to neighborhood Tom Thumb stores. The difference is that Simon David orders special cuts to please discerning customers. The beef is aged at least one week, not nearly as long as some people would like, but long enough since today’s cattle are corn-fed, no longer roaming the range, and thus, more tender. You can also buy Wisconsin milk-fed veal, a rarity in most supermarkets.
Aged USDA prime beef is hard to come by. White fat as thick as your forearm sits on top, and the extra weight and heavy marbeling make prime an expensive treat, so expensive that most markets can’t afford the extra shipping and hassles it entails. Other establishments don’t have the clientele. When the Dallas Meat Market (100 Webbs Chapel Village) receives a rare shipment of prime, employees dash to the phone, rally loyal customers, then sell it at five cents more a pound than their choice beef. Promenade Meal Center (370 Promenade Center, Richardson) stocks prime regularly, aged three to five weeks. Other markets sell prime periodically, but it’s best to call and check beforehand. Fisher Food Store (4260 Oak Lawn) offers the largest quantity of prime as well as specialities that rank with Simon David’s. Fisher’s is particularly proud of its frozen cacklebirds and may be the only market in town stocking such a beast. All beef tenders, sirloin strips, lamb racks, and veal are cut to order. Neither Simon David nor Fisher’s carry what was once called “baby beef,” as most of today’s young cattle are fed and fattened for better profits.
Kuby’s Sausage House (6601 Snider Plaza) offers fine meats, deli items, and sausage. Karl Kuby has maintained an Old Country tradition in Dallas since 1961, following the footsteps of generations before him. His father, Friedrich, still operates a sausage house in Germany. Another Kuby bonus is Frank Negrini, the meat manager. On the morning we met, Frank was on the telephone with a woman who wanted him to duplicate a 36-pound steamship roast she’d admired at a friend’s dinner party. “I’ll find her a good one,” Frank said, “because her friend got the original here. That’s how it spreads: word of mouth.” Kuby’s also boasts a European smokemaster, Sigmund Sumaruk, who smokes grade-A Maine poultry and other items on the premises. Kuby’s sells extraordinarily large quantities of veal at $9 a pound, as well as 26 different kinds of sausage.
Rudolph’s Meat Market and Sausage City (2924 Elm, near Baylor Hospital) was founded 85 years ago by a German immigrant, Martin Rudolph. Sid Pokladnik worked under the market’s second owner for twenty years before purchasing the place and modernizing to accommodate manufacturing facilities for 20 different kinds of sausage. Rudolph’s retails 15-to-21-day aged choice, yield three. The market wholesales brisket to Dickey’s Barbecue and frankfurters to several restaurants including Goff’s and Chili’s. Customers come from Midland, Austin, El Paso, and Houston to purchase Rudolph’s smoked turkey and dry-cured hams. Pokladnik and Harry Rosenthal from Farmer’s Meat Market (906 S. Harwood) are part of a vocal minority praising Texas beef. Panhandle grain feed lots have been producing first-rate sides of beef for five years and more local retailers are buying them, although Fisher’s and Kuby’s still get most of their beef from Iowa.
Hans Mueller Sausage Company (2459 Southwell, 3 blocks north of Walnut Hill between Stemmons and Harry Hines) opened five years ago and has established a solid reputation with customers who swear by the grain-fed, choice Texas beef and Colorado pen-fed lamb. Manager Kenneth Quaid offers a 20-cent discount per pound on any custom purchase over 100 pounds. Forty different kinds of smoked meats and 45 different sausages are available wholesale and retail, and the Hyatt Regency Hotel is among Mueller’s bulk customers.
Woody Wurdeman, owner of Woody’s Meats (1155 Peavy Road at Garland) deals primarily in yield two choice beef, aged 12 to 14 days, and fills a lot of 20- to 25-pound freezer orders, all custom cut at no extra charge. Wurdeman keeps his prices down by selling plenty of hind and forequarter cuts, while some of the higher-priced markets sell tender hindquarters on a more exclusive basis.
Kosher meat from Iowa is what Saul Reichman markets at Reichman’s Kosher Meat, formerly Manny’s (215 Preston Royal Shopping Center). Ninety-five percent of his meat is choice, sold within ten days of traditional Kosher slaughter. Absolutely no hindquarter is available because it is too difficult and costly to vein. Everything is purchased out of state, and Reichman’s offers an extensive range of Kosher delicacies.
The best rule of thumb when gingerly approaching a retail meat counter and the butcher behind it is ask. Even if you know what you’re buying, ask anyway. When he’s not busy cutting a custom order, the butcher knows the time he spends with you in conversation is his best investment. There’s not much point in being excessively frugal. Today’s prices are his ulcer as well as yours. If you want truly top grade meat, you should be prepared to pay for it.