Chicago virtually created industrialized meat production in the U.S. with the meatpacking district that earned us the title of "Hog Butcher for the World." And though there has been little turning back, some local butchers remain loyal to a more local, romantic idea of the neighborhood butcher shop. Most importantly, they're serving some excellent cuts. Whether you're looking to make a steak at home instead of heading to your favorite steakhouse, or interested in making a really great burger, Chicago has a few great places (from Lakeview to West Loop) up its sleeve. Here we celebrate the Chicago butchers keeping us fed with handmade sausages, interesting custom cuts and smoked offerings aplenty.
Butcher shops in Chicago
Derek Luszcz and his sister Yolanda grew up working for their dad at Gene's Sausage Shop, which opened in 1972 and still specializes in about 60 kinds of cured and uncured artisanal sausages. Their shop has traditional smokehouses with cherrywood and mesquite chips—you can watch the butchers bring the sausages out steaming and ready to eat.
Butcher's favorite cut: "Inner skirts. I love marinating them so that the fat just melts in your mouth."—Derek Luszcz
You're going to Publican Quality Meats for the charcuterie, like pâtés, rillettes, salami and sausages. And even if you're just stopping in to take home a steak, you should probably stay for a charcuterie plate, filled with the butcher's choices from the daily selection, before making your final selection.
Butcher's favorite cut: "Flap steak. Just give it a quick marinade, and grill it medium rare. It's beefy and juicy."—AJ Walker
Whole animals are the name of the game at the Butcher & Larder. From cattle to pigs and lamb, you'll find a crazy array here. The whole-animal deal means you'll find plenty of kidneys, hearts and tongues, but you'll also find regular ground beef and chicken breasts, too. Spend a few minutes talking to your butcher about what you're making, and they'll make sure your order is tailored to you.
Butcher's favorite cut: "The collar. It's the most versatile cut: You can cure it, you can roast it, you can cut it into steaks. Every way, it's delicious."—Rob Levitt
This Lakeview spot is the place for beef. It gets full quarters of cattle delivered, and the butcher can cut your meat to just the right thickness, depending on what you need. Butcher Bill Begale says to bring in your recipe and ask questions. You'll also find obscure cuts like boned pot roasts along with a variety of house-smoked and house-made sausages.
Butcher's favorite cut: "Rib eye or a prime rib roast. One comes with the bone and one without—the bone's for the grill."—Bill Begale
A visit to this snug 109-year-old Lincoln Park fixture will disabuse you of the notion that surliness is part and parcel of the butcher’s trade. Owner Otto Demke and his able team positively light up at meat-related customer queries, and take the time to explain their wares without putting on the hard sell. Oh, and the product’s great, too; call in an order for a memorable special-occasion roast, or pop by and browse the freezer cases for exotic finds like lamb bacon and gator sausage.
At the rear of this corner store (which shares ownership with gaucho steakhouse standbys Tango Sur and Folklore) stands a small butcher counter—presided over rather charmingly by faded Diego Maradona ephemera—where you can stock up on all the fixings for a DIY asado. Think garlicky Argentinian chorizo, mollejas (sweetbreads) and grill-loving beef cuts like falda (skirt steak) and matambre (flank). Don’t forget the tangy, house-made chimichurri sauce, and if you want to counter the meat sweats with something sweet, check out the shop’s impressive selection of that other Argentinian favorite, dulce de leche.
While the faux half-timbering and Bavarian mural scene that adorn its exterior may set shoppers up for a taste of Deutschland, it’s actually the Balkan region that gives this quaint Lincoln Square shop its unique flavor. Swing by for a batch of ćevapčići, the peppery, uncased sausages of pork and beef that have in recent years gained quite a following. Also worth seeking are loukaniko, a Greek pork sausage flecked with fennel and orange peel, as well as the shop’s selection of naturally cured items like hunter-style bacon.
Don’t expect anything flashy at this nearly 50-year-old outfit, set within the carnivorous environs of the West Loop. Rather, the family-owned spot earns customer loyalty with knowledgeable, attentive service and reasonable prices. Prime-grade beef is cut on the spot to your desired thickness, giving you the ultimate control over your steaks, while a range of package options allows you to stock your freezer with an assortment of meats without breaking the bank.
The stainless, all-cap Futura letters that comprise the exterior signage; the rows of deep-red salami dangling against the super-saturated turquoise tiling; the darling analog number machine—if Wes Anderson were to make a film featuring a butcher (and we think he should!), he’d have a ready-made set in Romanian Kosher. In addition to cranking out Andersonian vibes, the shop has been supplying Rogers Park residents with kosher delights since 1957. Its hot dogs enjoy something of a cult following, and its brightly spiced pastrami and corned beef make for satisfying sandwiches. Curious eaters might consider picking up chicken breasts stuffed with kishke, a seasoned mixture of matzo and schmaltz.
Given its crowds and closely packed shelves of products labeled in Eastern logograms, you might think this popular Avondale market would be unnavigable for those not intimately versed in Asian cuisine. In fact, the butcher counter here is a great jumping-off point for those new to cooking Asian (and, especially, Korean-inflected) dishes. Ready and waiting are tubs of pork belly, neatly packaged kalbi (short ribs) in varying thicknesses, the super thinly sliced brisket known as chadol baegi, and beautifully marbled bulgogi. Some meats are even pre-marinated, allowing you to cut out the guesswork and just fire up the grill. For a full-on Korean barbecue experience, pick up some of the market’s pre-made banchan (tasty side dishes, often veggie-based) and don’t miss the house-made kimchi, sold in colossal jars.