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I’m what you’d call a “flexitarian.” My dietary habits are guided by a few key things: taste, health, climate, and cost. In college that meant I rarely ate meat, save for the occasional late-night chicken tenders (sorry -- they’re delicious!!) Now that I have a bit more freedom and a slightly larger budget, I’m dipping my toe back into the meat market.
Unfortunately, it’s not as straightforward as you might think. High-quality, ethical, climate-conscious meat at a decent price is hard to come by. And while you may be thinking, “Who needs meat when there are so many great alternatives?”, I’m here to tell you that there are some things plants just can’t replace.
When I first found out about ButcherBox, the thing that struck me most was the sourcing information that sits front and center on their website. While plenty of butchers and meat producers try to obscure their sourcing and confuse consumers with a flurry of buzzwords and labels, ButcherBox leaves no questions unanswered. Their sourcing page and FAQs clearly lay out their commitment to supporting fair labor conditions for farmworkers, humanely raised animals, and climate-smart farming practices. Their cattle are all 100% grass-fed and -finished, their pigs are all heritage breeds, their chickens always roam free, and their seafood is always wild-caught. The one strike I have against them is that their meat is sourced from around the world, not from local farmers. While this global reach does enable ButcherBox to source from regions with more stringent climate and animal welfare regulations, it’s important to weigh this against the impact of supporting your local farmers and butchers.
Simple, Quick, and Easy
When shopping for humane, environmentally-friendly groceries it’s pretty common to feel overwhelmed by the number of labels to decipher and choices to make. ButcherBox took all of the guesswork out of making the right choice. The only decisions I needed to make were which box I wanted -- all beef, beef & pork, beef & chicken, or a mix of all three; how much I wanted -- Classic Boxes ($129) range from 8-11 lbs. while the Big Box ($238) averages between 16-22 lbs.; and how often I wanted it -- every 4, 6, or 8 weeks. If you’re looking for a little more say in the matter, they also give the option to build a Custom Box from their impressive selection of high quality beef, chicken, pork, and seafood.
When you’re dealing with highly perishable goods, time and logistics are of the essence. Once my order was placed, I immediately got an email from ButcherBox giving me a receipt of my order and an estimated date of arrival. Less than two days later I had received confirmation that my order shipped, which was filled with tracking information and FAQs about proper meat storage and thawing. Not 24 hours later, my ButcherBox arrived in all of its frozen, insulated, meaty glory. I had barely brought the box inside when I received a THIRD email letting me know my box had been delivered. Now I know I’m a sucker for communication skills, but this really wooed me.
Better Meat, Better You
For $129, my box was packed with classic cuts like organic chicken breasts, pork chops, and strip steaks, as well as some fun new cuts to experiment with (read: 7lb. pork butt -- now accepting recipe suggestions).
I’ll spare you most of the photos of my raw meat cornucopia because uncooked meat isn’t the cutest to look at, but trust me when I say that this was an impressive spread. For $129, my box was packed with classic cuts like organic chicken breasts, pork chops, and strip steaks, as well as some fun new cuts to experiment with (read: 7lb. pork butt -- now accepting recipe suggestions).
I started my taste test with the chicken thighs. It’s a more familiar option and one that stands as a true test of quality. Most chicken tastes pretty much the same, as in, like not very much. So I chose a simple recipe that would let the meat flavor really shine through rather than get buried under powerful fragrances and aromatics.
The verdict? It tasted like actual chicken — in a good way! The thighs were tender, but meaty and juicy, and full of rich flavor. You could literally see the diversity and quality of the bird’s nutrient-rich diet in coloration of its meat and fat, which is part of what produces a deeper and more complex flavor. I also appreciated that they were regular-sized pieces of meat. Those jumbo cuts you see in the supermarket, while definitely more economical, often come from birds fattened with steroids and confinement. I liked being able to tell that my food came from a regular ol’ chicken pecking around in some green pasture.
For round two I went with red meat — a cherished rarity in my home. When I saw the 80/20 grass-fed ground beef in my box, I immediately knew I wanted to make Marcella Hazan’s iconic bolognese. So when I found myself on a cold winter Sunday in NYC with an afternoon to spare and a couple pounds of top-of-the-line ground beef, I knew the time had come.
The first thing I noticed was the deep red, almost maroon, color of the meat. Conventional beef might get you a dark pink at best, but you can really only find this bold a color from cattle with room to roam and a diverse, nutrient-dense diet. Similarly to my experience with the chicken thighs, the 20% fat in this blend carried an extraordinary amount of earthy depth. Each time I tasted the luscious sauce over the course of its, yes, 5-hour cook time, it’d feel like my mouth was coated in the velvety decadence of a glamorous Old World widow. Luckily, the commanding meatiness of the beef, aided by the recipe’s vegetal and acidic supporting actors, could cut through all that richness.
It’s safe to say that these meats have star quality. They shine as much as stand-alone centerpieces as they do standing up against a slew of bold flavors. I love ButcherBox’s upfront, no-holds-barred attitude towards transparency and thoughtful sourcing, and I was genuinely impressed with how simple and easy it was to get from zero to doorstep to delicious dinners. As in everything they do, ButcherBox was incredibly communicative and delivered only the highest quality.
As with any subscription service, what you gain in efficiency, you often lose in choice. While you have the option to build a custom box, your options for sizes and re-order time frames are limited. The Classic Box is meant to feed individuals and small families, but if you’re like me and only eat meat a couple times a week at best or if you live alone, you might find yourself with more than enough to last you the 8 weeks maximum. If that’s the case, I’d recommend splitting a box with a friend, neighbor, or fellow meat-lover so that you can keep your freezer from overflowing and can cut down on costs.
Speaking of cost, at $129 for a 8-11lb. box, you’re paying about $13 per pound on average. But it’s important to keep in mind that you’re not only paying for the quality of the meat, you’re also paying for the more ethical, but often less profitable, farming and labor practices, combined with the convenience of having it arrive at your doorstep. In general, I’ll always advocate for getting to know your local farmers and supporting your mom-and-pop butchers when possible, but if you’re looking to take the hassle and guesswork out of meat eating, you can feel confident that ButcherBox will deliver.