By Dan Curran   Published Jul 14, 2004 at 5:42 AM Photography: Neil Kiekhofer of Front Room Photography

{image1}You might imagine the typical butcher to be the quixotic sort -- the type who pines away for the pre-supermarket era, when most homemakers made weekly stops at the neighborhood butcher.

But two Milwaukee butchers we talked to paint a picture of a very practical mindset amongst meat vendors. Rather than appealing to nostalgia to attract customers, the butchers outlined a solid case for choosing them over the supermarket.

Here are the reasons for grocery shoppers to make that one extra stop at the butcher store before heading home.

Higher quality

Howard Weissenborn, owner of Hank and Charlie's Market, says that most of the meat found in supermarket chains is processed and packaged by machine. But in a small butcher shop, cuts of meat are individually inspected for wholesomeness and quality. Weissenborn says that as a result "the assurance that what you're buying is 100 percent good is almost guaranteed."

{image2}Chip Bunzel of Bunzel's Meat Market agrees that the quality of product at a butcher store like his is superior to that of a supermarket. "We show people what they're getting, we don't hide anything on the bottom of the package" says Bunzel, referring to the imperfections that can be found in pre-packaged meat.

Personal service

Both butchers say customers receive a level of personal attention in a small butcher shop that they wouldn't find at a supermarket.

"I'll take it personally, if someone comes back and says they didn't like it," says Bunzel. "I'll try to figure out exactly what happened, if they over-cooked it, if an employee gave them a bad cut, or if I got something bad from the purveyor."

Bunzel says he's willing to explain the grading system for meats to his customers, to give advice on cooking, or to recommend recipe ideas for entertaining company.

Weissenborn says he gets to know his customers and their preferences so that he can offer them suggestions. Every week Weissenborn e-mails his regular customers a list of sales and recipes.

{image3}Premium cuts

Butcher shops offer buyers the opportunity to splurge on restaurant-quality meats. For example, prime grade meats, which are exceptionally tender and well marbled, are usually found only in restaurants. However Weissenborn says prime graded meat can be purchased at local butcher shops.

Weissenborn names some other items for those looking to go high-end in their meat purchase: veal scaloppine, choice grade steer tenderloins and lamb loins and rack of lamb.

Bunzel says a luxury selection at his shop would be the center-cut, choice angus tenderloin. "That's the type of tenderloin you would get if you went to The Pfister or (the now-defunct) Grenadiers," says Bunzel.

Competitive pricing

Bunzel dispels the notion that the meat at butcher shops is more expensive. According to Bunzel, if you look at the price per pound rather than the total price on the package, butcher stores are very competitive with supermarkets. Bunzel says too often buyers look at the total price, citing the example of pork chops.

"Some places will cut the meat real thin so that it looks like you get 10 pork chops for this price. But we will cut them thicker to keep them juicer when you cook it, yet you'll only get five for the same price, because it's double the thickness."

Weissenborn says the pricing at Hank and Charlie's Market is fair. Despite the pride he takes in his customer service, Weissenborn recognizes that reasonable pricing is more important than "how nice and sweet we are."

Weissenborn says it's hard to compare prices at his store with a supermarket, because the difference in quality is so great.

Rotisseries and spits

For those who want to try something a little different for an outdoor gathering, many butcher stores rent out rotisseries and spits. You can get 10 chickens on a rotisserie from Bunzel's that will feed about 20 people. If you have a bigger budget, Hank and Charlie's will set you up with a pig and a grill to cook it in. The pig will serve 30 to 40 people. Weissenborn says that this is considerably less expensive than hiring a caterer to roast a pig for you.

Specialty items

Butcher shops offer items that can't be found at supermarkets, such as ethnic sausages and prepared meats that have been stuffed or marinated. Weissenborn says stuffed chicken breasts and stuffed pork chops with a variety of seasonings are popular with his customers.

Milwaukee area butchers include:

  • Bill the Butcher, 3533 W. North Ave., 447-1990

  • Bunzel's Meat Market, 8415 W. Burleigh St., 873-7960

  • Burbach's Market, 5308 W. Hampton Ave., 466-3290

  • Butcher Block Meat Market, 9340 S. Chicago Road, Oak Creek, 764-2910

  • C&R Market, 3001 S. Ninth Place, 747-9158

  • European Home Made Sausage Shop, 1985 S. Muskego Ave., 384-7320

  • Gerry O'Brien's European Meat Market and Fran's Italian Deli, 6732 W. Fairveiw Ave., 258-7310

  • Grasch Foods, 13950 W. North Ave., Brookfield, 262-782-9330

  • Hank & Charlie's Market, 7828 W. Burleigh St., 444-0105

  • Haus of Prime, 227 N. Main St., Thiensville, 262-242-3504, 662 Genesee St., Delafield, 262-646-3554

  • House of Home Made Sausage, N112 W14934 Mequon Road, Germantown, 262-251-9954

  • Karl's Country Market, W156 N5645 Pilgrim Road, Menomonee Falls, 262-252-3090

  • Nehring's Sendik's On Oakland, 4027 N. Oakland Ave., Shorewood, 332-3140

  • Ray's Butcher Shoppe, 4640 W. Loomis Road, 423-1322

  • Rupena's Inc., 7641 W. Beloit Road, West Allis, 543-7447

{image4}USDA Meat Grades:

According to "The Joy of Cooking," in 1927 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) instituted a voluntary system of meat grading. Meat processors hire meat graders to judge the meat based on uniform standards for tenderness, juiciness and flavor. The grades from highest to lowest are:


  • Comes from animals raised under special conditions to create a high degree of marbling.
  • Meat is tender, finely textured and well flavored.
  • Rarely purchased by consumers, prime is usually only sold to restaurants.


  • Comes from young animals with moderate marbling.
  • The highest cut of meat usually available in butcher shops and supermarkets.
  • Some meat producers will use unofficial terms such as "high choice" or top "choice," to further grade cuts within this category.


  • Leaner, less tender meat from lesser breeds or less well-fed animals.

Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter and Canner:

  • Meat with a coarser appearance and no marbling.
  • These lower grades are rarely sold in retail, and are mainly used for manufactured meat products.

Since grading is not mandatory, a small percentage of meat sold in supermarkets is ungraded. When evaluating ungraded meat, the consumer should look for "well-shaped cuts with clean, pure-looking fat and compact, evenly grained muscle."