Butcher

People trust a butcher. What he advises, they heed. What he recommends, they consume. The apron is part of it, yes—the apron gives him power. But it’s much more than the apron.

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  1. The sink is full of tongues. Beef tongues, each as big as a man’s shoe, frozen into one icy clump the size of a propane canister, defrosting for an afternoon pickup. There’s a lot of mouth, too, I guess, or palate—I’m not sure, because the top tongue is unfrozen enough that I can see a bone that looks like a little saddle. But right now the guys in back are breaking cows—sawing the hindquarters down with a handsaw, cutting the hip on the band saw, then the shank, thumbing out the ribs for short loin. Short loin is their money cut. No one is particularly worried about the tongues. You don’t have to rush the tongues, they tell me.

    “Who ordered tongues?” I ask. Sometimes it’s loud in a butcher shop. The grinding saws or the clattering, the cuber, the vacuum sealer, the hasp and slam of the walk-in-refrigerator door, the radio. Not a cruel, industrial noise—no one wears earplugs. This is the loudness of commerce, the fail-safe cadence of call-in orders, the rattling meter of the morning butcher-shop routine.

    So far today I’ve hung three bone-in rib roasts for aging, trimmed and trayed out eighty boneless-skinless chicken breasts, retrayed the rib eyes and the pork chops—rotate the meat, replace the green paper between the layers, restack the cuts on narrow, slide-in aluminum trays, which are notched, edge to edge, into the store-length glass counter—and collected a shop’s worth of trim for cut-down and grinding. I’ve wiped the blocks with bleach water twice. And I’m doing the...

Originally published in Esquire, August 2008