Meet the Best Butchers in the West
These are the top local butchers in the West you can trust with your everyday dinner needs—and some delicious sandwiches to go
You might have heard that pork lovers may soon be afflicted with a subpar product two federal whistleblowers are calling mystery meat. The gory details are here, but in essence, they’re worried that the new meat inspection rules reducing the required number of plant inspectors will result in a lot of unwanted stuff in your meat.
So what can you as a meat-eating consumer do? Go to butchers you trust, who know the farms they source from.
If you’ve read Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, you know just how extensively corn filters into all corners of our food systems, from animal feed to corn syrup, and how badly it affects animals’ digestive systems, requiring them to be treated with antibiotics. Grass, roots, leaves, insects, fruits, flowers, and food scraps are the natural option for many pasture-feeding and foraging animals.
The best butchers source grass-fed, organic, antibiotic-free meat from farms with sustainable farming practices. A few trends we’re noticing: More women are getting in the game. Butchers’ relationships with farms are stronger than ever, to the point where butchers are learning about how raising livestock affects soil ecology and land management. And classes and meat clubs are letting amateur butchers bring the butchery home. Here are the best butchers of the West.
The Heart & Trotter, San Diego, CA
This sustainable butchery takes their mission seriously. Purchasing whole animals directly from the rancher, The Heart & Trotter receives whole beef and lamb every other week and pork, chicken and duck every week. The meat is hung in the walk-in cooler and each cut is made by hand, not machine, meaning they can make most special cuts for you based on what you desire. The shop also sells lots of local San Diego area products, including produce, cheese, honey, beef jerky, hot sauce, barbecue sauce, mustard, oils and glazes, chocolate, eggs, pasta, and pasta sauces. They’re beloved for their deliciously dressed-up sandwiches, including cheesesteak, Italian meats, smoked turkey, pastrami, and roast beef. For those who want to slice better cuts of meat at home, they offer classes including how to make sausage and even a nigiri and sushi class.
Marin Sun Farms, Point Reyes and Oakland, CA
Marin Sun isn’t only a butcher; they’re a meat company whose work extends to almost every step of meat processing, including slaughtering the meat at the last remaining USDA-inspected slaughterhouse in the Bay Area, butchering it, distributing it, and using its waste for tallow, which is in turn used for soap, biofuel, and fertilizer. The meat is top-notch, grass-fed, pasture-raised and local—and of course, incredibly flavorful. All the usual suspects are present for Marin Sun’s meaty roll call, plus goat, veal, rabbit, ham, and even hot dogs. Both Oakland and Point Reyes have butcher shops, but you can bear culinary witness to their carnivorous godliness at the steakhouse in Point Reyes, where you should definitely indulge in a rib-eye steak or a lamb or goat burger. Even the fries and Brussels sprouts are crisped to perfection in lard.
The Ruby Brink, Vashon, WA
Hop the ferry over from Seattle to check out the superior meat that chef and butcher Lauren Garaventa sources for her restaurant and butchery The Ruby Brink. She serves up house-smoked chops, house-cured bacon, a variety of charcuterie, and maple and sage breakfast sausage at her small butcher counter, while serving up appealing cuts of island rabbit, East Island Kune Kune pork, and M+P Ranches lamb in the restaurant. But she achieves balance too, adding tart dashes of local, seasonal, house-made pickles to cut through all that richness and reawaken your tongue.
Western Daughters, Denver, CO
This renowned butcher shop owned by former vegetarian Kate Kavanaugh and her partner Josh Curtiss is making its mark in Denver’s LoHi neighborhood. It’s become not only a local but also a regional favorite for its aged steaks and unusual sausages, including mushroom and super greens and turmeric carrot ginger lemon. Using 99 percent of the whole animals it acquires, Western Daughters believes in making more of the animal and encouraging you to eat meat in moderation. Animals come from small family farms within a 250-mile radius of Denver, and are antibiotic- and hormone-free. Kavanaugh is strongly invested in improving the ecology of the land and maintains strong relationships with said farms. Special orders for special cuts like offal are taken, and the bone broth is made in-house from grass-fed beef and pasture-raised pork and chicken bones. There’s even a CSA meat box and custom box option.
Il Porcellino, Denver, CO
Denver is quickly becoming the capital of new sustainable butchers; Il Porcellino is cornering the salumi market but has also stepped into butchering. The butcher has garnered many accolades over recent years, including Best New Deli in Denver 2015, Best Sandwich Shop in Denver 2016, 2 Good Food Awards in 2017, and the Grand Champion of Charcuterie Masters in New York City in 2018. The delectable list runs long here, with an emphasis, of course, on salumi: Wagyu beef bresaola, Copa, rib-eye steak, spiced juniper salami, house-made kielbasa, dry-cured pepperoni, lonza, finocchiona, bison pastrami, head cheese, rillettes, bacon, and more. Their meats are local, antibiotic- and hormone-free, and fed a vegetarian diet with no GMO’s, corn, or soy. For a holiday party, picnic, or everyday entertaining, try one of their platters, which offers cured meats, rillettes, and pâtés with pickled vegetables, pickled mustard seeds, bread, and crackers.
Standings Butchery, Los Angeles, CA
Standing’s Butchery is owned by Jered Standing, yet another former vegetarian trying to impact the meat industry for the better. Standing has a reputation for making the most of lesser-known cuts of meat that others might throw away, and he sources local, pasture-raised animals only. His sausages are a cut above, and his shop makes beef jerky in-house. There’s no pretension in this shop, which is just as happy to sell you a couple pounds of burger patties and meatballs as it is duck confit and lamb skewers. The shop also carries local eggs, bread, and cheese, plus the fixings to make an Italian meal of those aforementioned meatballs, like pasta, canned tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Head to the shop every Saturday and Sunday for grass-fed cheeseburgers and check out his Instagram, which will simultaneously make you hungry and make you laugh.
Rain Shadow Meats, Seattle, WA
Opened by Russell Flint and Renee Erickson, this shop was the result of Flint’s five years of learning when he worked at Whole Foods. Flint worked for Erickson at the Boat Street Cafe and the duo opened Rain Shadow Meats in a cozy corner of the Melrose Market, peddling beautiful lamb belly bacon, dry-aged rib-eye steaks, ribs, duck legs, pancetta, sausages, terrines, rillettes, and mousses. Local, grass-fed meat is the norm here, and the names of farms are listed in the case. Rain Shadow also offers butchery classes and delivers.
Gwen, Los Angeles, CA
The charcuterie program at this Hollywood restaurant and shop aims to impress, with its gorgeous red bresaola, silky ribbon-thin black strap ham, and spicy nduja. Focusing on humanely-raised, heritage meats from reputable farms, Gwen provides pork, lamb, beef, veal and poultry—and when they say poultry, they truly mean a wide variety, including squab, quail, pheasant, and geese. Seasonal meats are a big focus too, like providing guinea fowl when they are at their peak, between September and November. Dinner in Curtis Stone’s restaurant is a treat, providing an eyeful of the central pit fire, where you can see the chefs roasting and smoking the meat you’re more than ready to eat.
Nicky USA, Portland, OR
Geoff Latham is the king of Portland meat, sourcing grass-fed and locally-raised meats to please the pickiest Portland chefs. His company Nicky USA also supplies sustainable game meats like venison and boar, which are wild-harvested from areas where the animals are destructive to the environment, like Hawaii and Texas. The butcher purchases and breaks down whole animals, supplying over 1,000 items to Portland-area restaurants and retail, including some of its James Beard Award-winning chefs like Gabriel Rucker and Cathy Whims. With an order of $125 or over, the large-scale operation will also service individual customers; if you haven’t got a tall bill like that, check New Seasons, Charlie’s Produce, Metropolitan Market, Sheridan’s, and Long’s Meat Market for their one-pound packages of patties, sausages, stew, and ground meat.
Olympia Provisions, Portland, OR
Olympia Provisions owner Elias Cairo grew up on his father’s homemade charcuterie, and perfected his technique in Europe, while apprenticing under master salumieri. They use locally raised, antibiotic-free pork to make dozens of varieties of salami, ham, pâté, and highly addictive snack sticks, readily available in West Coast markets or shippable anywhere. They also have a few restaurants in Portland; their new Northwest location allows you to place an order from the meat counter while you dine—they’ll bag everything up and bring it at the end of your meal (the eggs Benedict with house-cured ham is positively ethereal).
Tails & Trotters, Portland, OR
If you’ve ever wondered what Jamón Ibérico would taste like if it came from the Pacific Northwest, look no further than Tails & Trotters. They use heritage-breed pork (a combo of Duroc, Berkshire, Landrace, and Yorkshire), but let them go 2-4 months longer, during which time the pigs graze in hazelnut orchards, fattening up on sweet nuts much in the way that the aforementioned Spanish ham is fattened on acorns. The best way to partake of their porky offerings is by going in on a half pig share; they’ll butcher and pack everything for your freezer (you get to decide whether or not to keep the bones and head—do it) and they’ll any scraps left over, soon to become the best Bolognese and mapo tofu you’ve ever dreamed of. Recently rebuilt following a fire, their inner-Northeast Portland butcher shop has added a grab and go retail case, sandwich counter with daily soup specials, and a few taps so you can take a seat and have that hot Mortimer sando with a cold Oregon beer or cider.