Updated on 09.26.10

Review: Confessions of a Butcher

Trent Hamm

Every Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance book or other book of interest.

confessionsI didn’t expect that I would like this book.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from Vickie Smith, the wife of John Smith (the author of Confessions of a Butcher). She had stumbled across The Simple Dollar and had read through some of the site’s archives. She thought I might be interested in her husband’s self-published book, outlining some of the things he’d learned about saving money on meat purchases through his thirty year career in the meat packing industry.

When I received it, I really didn’t get much of an impression from it at all. It was a thin volume that, when I leafed through it, seemed to mostly just list cuts of meat. Not very appealing. However, I’m starting to become a strong supporter of the self-publishing industry, so I decided to give it a read.

This isn’t going to be my usual “walkthrough” review, because that would be very difficult to do with this book. Instead, I’m going to simply summarize the three main sections of it and why they’re valuable.

The Cuts
The first half of the book essentially is a reference guide to various cuts of meat, as mentioned in the introduction of this review.

Why is this useful? First, this book is small enough that you could easily stick a copy of the book in your purse or back pocket when you head off to the grocery store or butcher shop when you’re considering buying meat. Second… well, it’s probably best explained if I quote an entry describing a cut, from page 36:

Beef for Stew
Money-saving alternatives: chuck roast, rump roast, cross rib roast, round steak, brisket, flatiron, chuck flat strip
Stew meat is made from the trim that is left over from the day’s cuttings. Even when stew meat is on sale, it may not be as cheap as many other cuts. Boneless chuck roasts and round steaks on sale will be cheaper, sometimes a lot cheaper. Find the cheapest and the leanest cut of meat and cut into cubes for stew or ask the butcher for his assistance. Now having said all that, the best meat for stew, in my humble opinion, comes from the brisket, flatiron, or the chuck flat strip. These three cuts should cost you less than the stew meat in the counter, but meay not be the best deal you can find. They will however be the best stew meat you can find.

Each entry in the book consists of the same basic elements as this entry: a list of money-saving alternatives to the cut you’re looking at, some notes on what the cut consists of and how to maximize the value of the meat at the butcher’s counter, and some recommendations on other cuts to choose. In other words, this material is a gold mine for a value-conscious meat eater, and it’s also a handy reference to have with you when you do shop for meat.

The Tips
This very short section is found in the center of the book. It essentially collects 14 key principles for saving money on meat purchases. An example (one I strongly agree with):

7. Do not buy ground beef. Wait until round steaks, chuck roasts or steaks, or any other cheap cuts are on sale, and have the butcher grind them for you. The quality will be great and, if you buy right, so will the savings.

In other words, by timing your purchases and taking advantage of the full service of a full-service meat counter, you can save a lot of money while also getting much better ground beef.

The Appendix
The latter half of the book consists of several essays, seemingly attached to the book as an appendix and quite possibly overlooked by people who pick up the book for a quick glance. The essays are quite varied, from a small collection of great recipes for leftover turkey to butcher etiquette as well as recommended “tools of the trade” for handling meat at home. This section provides almost as much value as the preceding one.

Is Confessions of a Butcher Worth Reading?
Recommending or not recommending this book is very simple: if such a money-saving meat-buying reference seems like it would be of use to you in your food buying routines, then this book is well worth purchasing. If you’re a vegetarian (or mostly vegetarian) or are very confident of your current meat-purchasing routines, then this book won’t offer much value.

I, for one, have started carrying my copy of this book in my glove compartment. The advice on specific cuts, particularly the stew meat material illustrated above, has already saved me some cash while also upgrading the quality of my meals. That’s a great resource, in my opinion.

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. Systemizer says:

    “If you’re a vegetarian … then this book won’t offer much value.”

    For once you got one of your sweeping generalizations right.

  2. Cheryl says:

    I would like to read a review of Confessions of a Dry Cleaners Daughter . This review was helpful to me.

  3. LBS says:

    is this book is available for online users ?

  4. Enza says:

    This sounds like a cool book. Useful and oddly interesting, I suspect.

    I like your style Trent. You are my number 1 favourite personal finance blogger.

  5. Victor says:

    Trent is providing this information to you for free. You don’t have to read it.

    Something to keep in mind.

  6. Rob Bennett says:

    This is the sort of thing that I most like to see on blogs — presentations of useful information that are hard to find in the conventional media. This fellow put a lot of work into sharing with us what he knows about a subject re which is he a true expert. You are performing a public serve by getting the word out, in my assessment.


  7. I love it! Until I met my husband I ate very little meat. He turned me on to meat and we purchase our own cow (last year he helped butcher it) every year. When people ask me if I taste a different from my cow vs. one a the grocery store my immediate response is that the difference is in the ground beef. The beef is ground from more prime areas rather then from all the combined leftovers.
    We also raise our own chickens for meat- the taste difference is minor but the way the USDA requires the chicken industry to butcher and dress chickens is disgusting.

  8. valleycat1 says:

    We buy whole roasts or steaks on sale & then grind it in our food processor just before making the hamburger patties. In addition to probably being less contaminated (the NYTimes did an article awhile ago about contaminated butcher-ground meat), we can select how finely ground we want it & the fat content. Most better meats make better burgers because the fat content is higher – I find that when I buy ground meat, I tend to go toward the leaner unless I make the conscious choice to get the regular.

  9. valleycat1 says:

    I recommend comparing organic chicken to conventional. We buy only organic now, because the taste is much better and roasting it doesn’t stink up the whole house, even when prepared exactly like we used to make the conventional chicken.

  10. Michael says:

    Last Thursday I was reading the local Fareway flier. Beef stew meat is $3.49 per pound and bone in round steak is $1.99 per pound. After throwing away the bone and some fat the lean meat in the round steak costs you $2.20 to $2.30 per pound.

    I commented to my wife that if we want stew this week we would be money ahead to buy the round steak and cut it up our selves. I should go buy a couple for the freezer before the sale ends Tuesday night.

    I spent two years working part time at the local Fareway meat counter and learned a lot. The book sounds interesting, there is always more to learn.

  11. Matt Jabs says:

    I too am excited about the self-publishing market, it seems to be a great way for the average Joe to stick it to the market status quo… if he/she can market their own material. Kudo’s to the author’s wife for seeking a SD review, and to Trent for his support of this growing industry.

    The book does sound like a solid resource for those shopping meat at the store.

    My wife and I buy bulk, grass-fed beef from our local Amish butcher. This year we ended up with 125 lbs of beef for $360. We write the amount into our yearly budget, so we only have to buy meat once/year then go shopping in our freezer all year long.

  12. Annie Jones says:

    The tips you mentioned are things I already do, but I would take a look at the book just to see if there are any new-to-me tips. This is the type of book I would enjoy reading if I could get it used or from the library; I don’t think I would ever buy it new.

  13. Chandra says:

    The last thing this vegan needs is to open your blog first thing in the morning and see a book about slaughtered animal parts! Do you not know that a plant based diet is not only more frugal, but also healthier? And that being healthy is FAR less costly than being sick? It’s a disconnect that on a blog which advocates frugal living to see so much emphasis on meat. Please unsubscribe me.

  14. Steve says:

    I have been considering writing something like this from my experiences in college as a deli clerk. My writing style is so direct and straightforward that I don’t think I could get a book out of it – probably something more like a pocket guide with a page or two for each type of meat and cheese.

  15. Peggy says:

    Sadly, this book is about 10 years too late. In major metropolitan areas, “butchers” in major grocery stores are no more than shelf stockers. Of the 12 grocery stores within a ten-mile radius of my home, not one has the machinery available to even cut a roast into steaks anymore, much less grind beef. There is only one freestanding butcher, and all his cuts arrive pre-packaged and cut as well.

    I bought the meat grinder attachment to my food processor and have been using that for ground beef which I buy from my grass based farmer. Superior in every way to grocery store meat, but more expensive by quite a bit.

  16. julie says:

    I was wondering if you know of any place beside Amazon that carries this book since they are out of stock. Thanks

  17. jacquelin says:

    My family also raises and butcher’s our own bee, pork and chickens. One thing I would recommend is looking into a meat locker. Here in Indiana, they sell pork and beef packages well below the grocery store price.
    When we butcher a cow, we butcher the whole thing. I never ask for stew meat, I cut it myself from roasts, and then keep the bones for soups. My family was a family of 5 with an income of $50,000plus a year to a family of 6 with a gross income of $28,000/year, we have learned to become very frugal-especially with food.

  18. chacha1 says:

    Looks great to me. I’m not all that cost-conscious in buying meat, but there is a lot I don’t know about it, so thanks for featuring this title – now I can broaden my buying range with a little more confidence.

    @ Peggy, sorry your grocery meat depts suck. Ours here in West L.A. are pretty darn good.

    p.s. Trent hope your little girl is doing better.

  19. Stephan F-- says:

    @Peggy: That has happened to us as well, expect for one freestander with the Got Elk? sign. Great place.

    But as long as the meat is boneless all you need is a big knife and a ruler to make steaks. I use a 10 inch Chef that works fine. A pork loin is a great place to start practicing, Big enough to be cheap, boneless and it makes great chops.

    If the meat has bones it often isn’t all that hard to debone and then cut. The bones are fantastic for stock.

  20. Hannah says:

    The book sounds interesting. I really like seeing a review of a self published book, because I probably wouldn’t have considered reading it without someone else’s recommendation. However, I am trying not to buy anything but ebooks at this point, if the author or his wife is reading this, please let us know if an ebook is available!

  21. Kai says:

    To Chandra

    A plant-BASED diet is very healthy, and much healthier than the typical north american grain based with large hunks of meat, and only a smithering of veggies diet.

    But the healthiest is a diet primarily based on plants, with some meat for the nutrients it contains. We are natural omnivores. Our bodies are made to eat occasional meat.

    Get over yourself – this site is not written just for your inbox, and there are many healthy meat eaters who will enjoy this information. There are probably other articles you enjoyed that were useless to others.
    If you can’t appreciate that sort of variety, your sanctimonious self will not be missed around here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *