Whether you’re lighting up the grill (or firepit) this summer for a party, a camping trip, a pig roast or just for dinner, starting with quality meat is key. In Washington, we’re lucky to be close to many small farms that raise their animals humanely and sustainably.
According to local butchers, sustainable practices aren’t just good for animals and the environment, they also affect taste. “If you buy local meat that’s well-raised … you don’t have to do much to make it as flavorful,” says Salena Zellers, manager of the Butcher’s Block in Alexandria. For example, Zellers says, commercially raised pork is often bred to be lean, producing a drier product. The Butcher’s Block gets fatter pigs from Eco Friendly Foods in Moneta, Va., resulting in juicier, well-marbled pork that needs little more than olive oil, salt and pepper. “It’s the most flavorful pork I’ve ever had,” says Zellers.
This summer, the Butcher’s Block is also carrying dry-aged Angus beef from Martin’s in the Plains, Va. For the grill, Zellers recommends Martin’s chuck steaks, which cook up as nicely as ribeyes, but for just $9 a pound. The butchery gets a new cow each week, so all of the cuts at the shop come from the same animal.
Similar prices can be found at the Organic Butcher of McLean, which is currently selling local hanger steaks for $10 a pound. Owner Don Roden says Washingtonians shopping for sustainable steak should look for beef raised on lush green pastures. “They don’t have to be 100 percent grass-fed,” he explains. “As long as they are raised humanely in a natural environment, without the use of antibiotics or hormones, that’s really what we look for.”
In addition to local beef, lamb and pork, the Organic Butcher carries sustainable seafood, including wild-caught Alaskan salmon, and a wide variety of wild game for the adventurous outdoor cook. Choose from sustainable rabbit, venison, elk, wild boar, bison or game birds like Richmond quail and pheasant.
If sausage is more your speed, head to Wagshals in Spring Valley. There you’ll find bratwurst, Moroccan lamb sausage, Irish bangers, chorizo and chicken sausage, all handmade with no preservatives, byproducts or fillers. Most of Wagshals’ products are locally sourced and sustainable.
Over in Del Ray, Let’s Meat on the Avenue also makes its own sausage. But owner Steve Gatward says another reason meat-lovers should come by his shop is that it’s one of the only places in the area to get tri-tip steak — the cut at the tip of the sirloin. Gatward’s tri-tip, which comes from Fauquier County, is very versatile, as it can be prepared with or without marinades or rubs, on the grill, in the oven or on the stove.
Locavores can also go straight to the source and purchase directly from farms at FreshFarm farmers markets. And, if you don’t feel like cooking yourself, Red Apron Butchery sells cooked and cured local meats at the farmers markets in Penn Quarter, Glover Park and Dupont.
And yes, local and pampered meat is costly. Cheaper sustainable options can be found at grocery stores including Trader Joe’s or even Giant. Look for labels that say “hormone-free” and “antibiotic-free.”
» The Butcher’s Block, 1600 King St., Alexandria; 703-894-5253. (King Street)
» The Organic Butcher of McLean, 6712 Old Dominion Drive, McLean; 703-790-8300.
» Wagshals, 4845 Massachusetts Ave. NW; 202-363-0777. (Tenleytown-AU)
» Let’s Meat on the Avenue, 2403 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria; 703-836-6328.
Written by Express contributor Suemedha Sood
Photo by Suemedha Sood for Express