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Chefs Weigh In: What Are The Benefits And Challenges of Sourcing Local Meat?

Welcome to Hot Topics, in which food industry people chime in on a major issue in food.

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Austin is all about sustainability and local-sourcing, but what does that mean when it comes to meat? The restaurants below are seeking out direct personal relationships with farmers and ranchers in order to provide the best Texas beef, pork, and lamb.

For Salt & Time, it means using as much of an animal as possible, from cutting steaks to using those trimmings in its burgers. For Banger's, it means keeping personal relationships with their sources, even from Instagram. For Epicerie, it means having fun with butchering pigs. Read on for how some of Austin's best restaurants navigate the landscale of meat.

Ben Runkle, co-owner of Salt and Time

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saltandtime_benrunkle_ashleychengeatx.jpgHow do you go about finding sources for meat? Do you have specific criteria or requirements in mind?
We started working with ranchers trying to find people who shared our vision for how things should be. We like to have a personal relationship with the people raising the animals, within the borders of Texas. Another part in my considering sourcing is utilizing every part of it for the best possible use.

The idea is to have as little waste as possible.
Or as little as possible. It's both an ethical thing and an ideal we like to pursue, but it's also just a necessity. The margins on meat are not great at the level that you'd buy and sell them at. If we waste just a little bit, it can definitely make it not a pretty picture.

What are your relationships like with your meat sources?
We've visited almost every single ranch that we buy meat from. There's a few that we haven't, but we know the owners personally. We've met them, talked to them about how they raise their animals, and hope to get down there to visit them soon. We're a resource for them as well. They'll have questions about how to get a cut that chefs are requesting that they're processing and not know.

Do you butcher in-house? How does that work?
Everything, yeah. We have a rail, which is something that you see usually in more commercial or larger processing facilities. We use the rail both to receive and store and butcher. We have a cutting room that's refrigerated that you can see from our retail and dining area, so you can watch it happen. We have a really great breadth of experience of guys that lets us do a lot of cuts that most people just haven't seen before.

Like what kind of cuts?
We try to cut as many steaks as we can, or roast, things that could be cooked whole. We don't grind specific cuts [for our burgers], because that's not our model. We want to sell short ribs, we don't want to grind them. But when they're cutting short ribs, there's going to be a couple pounds of trim. Yes, there is short rib in our burgers, but we're not buying cuts to grind. Steaks don't come right off an animal that perfectly shaped. There's a little bit we cut off, and the part that gets cut off is what goes into our burger. We kind of jokingly call it a single origin burger because it's all off one cow.

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[Photo: Katie O./Yelp]
thaifresh_jamsantichat_jotekhalsaphotography_new.jpgJam Santichat, owner of Thai Fresh
How do you go about finding sources for meat? Do you have specific criteria or requirements in mind?
I start off at farmers' markets and get to know the meat ranchers/farmers. I like to buy my meat direct. We are now only using local meat that are raised sustainably.

What meats do you source and where do you get them?
We use beef from Bastrop Cattle Company and Richardson Farm. Our pork is from Peach Creek Farm, Richardson Farm, and Peaceful Pork, raised by Loncito Cartwright. Chicken is from Dewberry Hill Farm or Vital Farm.

Is local sourcing important to you?
Yes it is. It allows me to get to know my farmers and their practice. I believe in a relationship with your food source as much as I can. We are completely sourcing meat locally. The shorter amount of time the food can get to you, the better.

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[Photo: Spencer Elvidge/EATX]
bangers_tedprater_eater_new.jpgTed Prater, executive chef of Banger's
How do you go about finding sources for meat? Do you have specific criteria or requirements in mind?
We do our best to source based on how the animals are being raised—a healthy environment and cared for from the time they're born, to the time they are slaughtered. We want the person raising the animal to have as much respect for the animal as we do. Being a large, high volume restaurant has been very challenging to find producers that meet those standards and can also meet our demand. Because of the popularity of farm-to-table in Austin, most suppliers can sell their stock directly to the customers at retail prices. As a restaurant, we obviously can't pay retail and still earn a profit, so that has been another big challenge we have faced.

How did you start working with your meat sources?
Jason at Yonder Way Farm is outside of Houston in a small town called Fayetteville, Texas. He raises our pigs and eggs. He started following Banger's on Instagram and then the owner Ben Siegel started following him. Ben ended up exchanging contact info with Jason, and within one day of talking, we visited him. Within one day of visiting him, he came down to Banger's, and from there we started building a relationship. Before I even moved down to Austin from Tennessee two years ago, I was using Broken Arrow Ranch. I've known the salesperson Patrick for over eight years. The guys over at Windy Hill Farm are really great. I met them through the HOPE farmers market when I first moved here. Got their business card and anytime I need goats, I call them up.

Is local sourcing important to you?
I find sourcing locally to be very important. For one, I like having the connection of knowing where my food comes from and where it is being raised. I like having the opportunity to work with local produce and knowing the person raising and taking care of the animals. It's also really good for our local economy.

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[Photo: Raymond Thompson/EATX]
epicerie_sarahmcintosh.jpgSarah McIntosh, chef and owner from Epicerie
How do you go about finding sources for meat? Do you have specific criteria or requirements in mind?
Referral. At the beginning, I asked my chef friends around here who they source from, and then it was based upon my experience working with different vendors. We go for natural, local, farm-raised—not feedlot animals.

What are your relationships with your meat sources like? How long have you worked with them?
Felix from Blackhill Ranch, we have worked with since we opened Epicerie. Really like him. He will get us what we need when we need it. He is a smaller operation, and we like that.

Is local sourcing important to you?
Yes. Supporting the economy around us, better products, and you can develop really cool relationships where they can get you the best stuff and take care of their local client base.

Do you butcher in-house? How does that work?
Yes. It's fun, education, everyone likes to do it. We get a whole or half pig, depending on our needs that week, in every Wednesday. A lot of what we do with the pig is dry curing for sausage or smoking for the pulled pork we use in the boudin. Chickens, we get in whole every Wednesday and break them down to make the terrines.

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[Photo: Meghan McCarron/EATX]
thehightower_chaddolezal_elarbol.jpgChad Dolezal, co-owner/chef at The Hightower
How do you go about finding sources for meat? Do you have specific criteria or requirements in mind?
Most of the time, we find new sources by word of mouth. Austin is still a pretty small cooking community, so if someone if doing something that has impressed someone in another kitchen you'll hear about it. Most of the places that we source from we have a good relationship with, so we will go to them and find out if they have a product we can use.

What are your relationships with your meat sources like? How long have you worked with them?
We have a great relationship with our sources. We use Tenderbelly a lot, as well as Salt and Time. These are people that stand behind their product. You can tell it when you talk to them. They know what they are doing and take great pride in it.

Is local sourcing important to you?
Local sourcing is important, but sometimes, being a neighborhood restaurant, we have to focus on price as well, so there are times when we are priced out of using local cuts.

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[Photo: Patrick Michels/EATX]
jeffreys_larrymcguire_official_new.jpgLarry McGuire, chef/owner of Jeffrey's
What is your process in terms of working with meat sources?
First, on a high level, working with our big purveyors who are like US Foods.Then, I would say our secondary meat purveyors, like a family-owned butcher shop/distributor in Austin. And then finally going direct with a farmer/rancher, trying to figure out how to get cows directly from the farm/ranch, get them processed, get them to the restaurant, and figure out what to do with all the different cuts.

How do you go about finding sources for meat? Do you have specific criteria or requirements in mind?
We're trying to get carcasses that all graded USDA prime, which is less than one percent of all beef right now raised in the US. You have to be able to find a processing house that's got a USDA grader that actually can stamp and grade the carcass, which is tough, because only big packing houses can afford to have a USDA grader on site at all times. You have these boutique ranches around Texas that are starting to raise these all-natural very high end cattle. They have nowhere to take them to get processed because they don't have enough head to take them to a big facility. There's really only two big facilities in Texas that are left.

What are your relationships with your meat sources like? How long have you worked with them?
We're working with our meat sources almost every day. Right now, we're sourcing three different kinds of beef from Lone Star Meats in Austin, a medium-sized family-owned operation. They also are unique enough they have a dry aging room, which I think is the only one in Austin. We're talking to our reps all the time to help us find small ranches that are trying to grow the kind of beef that we're looking for, which is never seeing antibiotics, being raised all naturally, being as sustainable as possible, being raised on as much grass as possible.

Do you butcher in-house? How does that work?
We do a lot of butchering in-house, but breaking down whole sides of beef, we're not doing. The butchering process is pretty disjointed. Most packing houses are slaughtering the cattle, and then creating boxed beef, where the meat's cut into primals, pretty large chunks, and then is shipped to a secondary wholesaler. They're taking orders from restaurants and cutting the meat to spec. Then we'll get the whole cuts of steak, cut them, and portion them down for service every night.

It sounds very exciting. Have there been problems that you've encountered?
When it works, it's amazing, but when it doesn't work… Like last week, we had a 975 pound steer get delivered to Salt and Time from our ranchers. It was processed in a small-town packing house, and by the time we got it here, the quality of workmanship that was done in the small-town packing house was not acceptable to a high-end restaurant and use in Austin. We actually had to send the cow back.

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[Photo: Raymond Thompson/EATX]
barleyswine_jonwest.jpgJon West, chef de cuisine at Barley Swine
How do you go about finding sources for meat? Do you have specific criteria or requirements in mind?
We usually find sources for meat by going to the markets and networking with the farmers there. When we do use meat, we want to serve an animal that was raised with respect. All the animals have the same end, they will be slaughtered for consumption, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't live pleasant lives.

What are your relationships with your meat sources like? How long have you worked with them?
We are very close with Germaine at Munkebo Farms. We have been to her farm and saw how she truly cares for the well-being of her animals. She made us soup and gave us homemade kombucha. Her jealous goose, Gooseman, tried to kill me. Every time she comes in, we give her a lot of things to taste, and she loves it, and has a lot of questions for us, and knowledge to give to us about her product.

Is local sourcing important to you?
Odd Duck and Barley Swine are both restaurants that are based on sourcing locally. It is important to us that we support our local economy and that we stay true to what is in season. We aren't a restaurant that sources locally when possible, it is a necessity. But anyone who is at the downtown market on Saturdays at 9am knows that because we are there every week.

Do you butcher in-house? How does that work?
Shih-Yu is our butcher at Barley Swine. He is precise and thoughtful and good at what he does. Odd Duck has a much bigger butchery program where they get whole and half animals in and they have a whole chicken on the menu. Mark, chef at Odd Duck, is really good at making sausage.

Barley Swine [Closed]

2024 South Lamar Boulevard, Austin, TX 78704 Visit Website

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