Cat’s Externship: Real, Meaty Experience.

Externship: Real, Life Experience.

As graduates of two of the nation’s most renowned culinary institutes, Chris and James both know about the importance of getting an externship during school, and they also know just how pivotal said experience can be in making a future career move.

When Cat Gleason, a current student at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY (James’ alma matter) reached out to inquire about doing her externship at Porter Road Butcher, the two immediately jumped at the opportunity to become a certified and qualified location in the eyes of the CIA.

Cat Gleason | Porter Road ButcherWE have our own extern now!” James said. “How freaking cool is that?! Maybe now we’ll get one every year…”

Don’t get ahead of yourself, pal.

According to Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts’ (Chris’ alma matter) website, “The goal of an externship is to provide students with industry experience. [This] is your opportunity to see how a company achieves [both] profitability and high quality.”

In other words, an externship is a learning opportunity. It’s research. It’s a time to explore all of the possibilities and potentially rule some things out. And it’s also a cool way for the “host” of the extern to give back to their roots.

For Cat, she wanted to learn and research and explore the world of butchering. She’s here for the meat. And we’re psyched to have her.

Unlike an internship, a term that has achieved four-letter-word sentiments in today’s job-hungry crowd, externships in the culinary world often occur in lieu of regular classes during the school year (versus during the summertime or post-graduation) and also provide students with the opportunity to apply the skills that they’ve learned so far to a real world situation. No coffee runs or copy-making here.

Cat began culinary school in December of 2014 and at just 18 years old, decided to drive down to Nashville to expand upon her fundamental knowledge of butchering. “We took a class where we learned about the basics and I really enjoyed that,” she said. “Lots of it was watching the professor break down the primals but we didn’t get too hands on; I want to feel confident about butchering and doing it all myself.”

Throughout her 15-weeks in Nashville, Cat will be working at all of PRB’s locations, switching back and forth between the East Shop and West, as well as taking trips up to PRB Meat Co. in Kentucky where all of our animals are processed. “I’m really excited to go to the slaughterhouse,” she said. “I’m a little nervous to see the animals actually get killed, but I still want to.”

Although Cat claims that she’s not a person who generally likes to have much fun (???), she said she is interested in trying her hands (and feet) at power yoga during her time here, in addition to exploring Nashville’s restaurant scene—don’t try to invite her to a movie though; she doesn’t like them.

We’re excited to have her here on our team, we’re eager to teach her, and we’re thrilled to pass the butchering torch down to an aspiring culinarian.

Welcome, Cat!

Smoking with the Master – Tips and Tricks of the Trade

“Matthew was born with BBQ sauce running through his veins,” said Matt Russo’s father in a comment on The Gambling Stick’s Facebook page, “He’s been in love with barbecue for as long as I can remember.”

The smoky love child of Matt Russo and Marshall Hamilton, The Gambling Stick is Nashville’s newest mobile BBQ joint that sits just outside of the east Porter Road Butcher shop. Russo, an employee of PRB for just shy of 3 years now, actually got his first real job working in a barbecue joint in his hometown of Louisville, KY when he was just 16 years old. He’s had smoke in his eyes ever since.

Not only did Russo get handed the position of “smokemaster” almost immediately due to his substantial smoking prowess—which came mainly a result of his love for sunny afternoons and sharing great food with great friends—but working at PRB he was afforded the opportunity to learn how to fully break down animals and quickly discovered the vast difference that high-quality meats make when it comes to cooking.

With his knowledge of whole animal butchery coupled with his classical training at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY and even further aided by his southern roots and love of smoke, what Russo has done with The Gambling Stick is unparalleled by any other BBQ joint in town. Or in the region.

Loaded Smoker at The Gambling Stick | Porter Road Butcher

Both originality and tradition clearly play into the menu, and likely their most popular item is one that exudes both: the “pigsket.” The pigsket (or, pig brisket) from the Gambling Stick is sweet and smoky, full of flavor, not the least bit dry, and has clearly been on the smoker for just the right amount of time: a typically tougher cut of meat, Russo turns it into something incredibly juicy and tender. Of course, beef brisket is a fantastic staple on their menu as well.

Another Barbecue classic-turned-original, Russo and Hamilton have been playing around in the world of ribs, giving hungry meat-lovers entire 12- to 14-inch “whole slab ribs” (for which they are still trying to come up with a suitable name) instead of the traditional rib cuts like St. Louis style, spare ribs, or rib tips. James said, “After eating a whole rib, I was almost full. Those things are serious.”

Following years and years of experimenting, playing, and learning on the smoker and in the kitchen, Russo can pretty much do it with his eyes closed and his hands tied behind his back. It just ain’t no thang. Which is why he’s giving us (and you) tips and tricks of the trade:

Matt Russo of The Gambling Stick | Porter Road Butcher

Smoking Tips from the “Smokemaster,” Matt Russo

Pigsket Sandwich from The Gambling Stick | Porter Road Butcher1. Use Good Meat
And like, duh. Of course that’s going to taste better. But there’s actually a good reason as to why you should use high-quality meat when you’re planning to smoke it. As a muscle works, aka as an animal roams around, it develops connective tissue and flavor. So, if an animal uses their muscles a lot, meaning they are roaming out on the field with their piggy and beefy friends, they will develop more connective tissue and more flavor than those who lived their entire lives in a small crate where they couldn’t move. In the smoking technique, you generally go for a long time and at a low temperature, aka “slow and low,” so that it will break down those well-worked muscled filled with connective tissues and then turn those tissues into gelatin. That gelatin is the meaty tacky goodness that makes your lips stick together and makes you feel happy when you eat BBQ. So, by using a pasture raised animal, the meat will initially be tougher, but with the slow and low smoking process, it will become more tender and gelatinous and amazing.

2. NOT too HOT
As do most cooking processes, smoking meat elicits moisture. So when the temperature is high, more moisture will be drawn out from the meat, causing somewhat of a steaming effect and thus leaching moisture from the meat. Leaving you with dry meat. Nooo, gracias.

3. Pick Fruity Wood
“Fruity woods, like cherry, impart a sweeter smoke, whereas woody woods, like hickory or oak, impart less flavor and can sometimes leave you with an acrid or bitter flavor,” explains Russo. “When using good, sweet cherry wood you can smoke something for 16-18 hours and it will come off tasting sweet and smoky and delicious, but if you did the same with hickory the meat could become inedible.” Talk abut a waste of time.

4. You don’t need a smoker to be a smoker
Most people don’t have badass smokers like The Gambling Stick’s, but even without such a piece of equipment, you can still get great smoking results.
Gas grill – put wood into a small, shallow cast-iron pan on top of the grill’s heat source (on medium-low heat). Set your meat on the grill and then simply close the top and let ‘er go.
Charcoal grill – build a fire made of wood—not charcoal—on one side of the grill base and place your meat on the grill as far away from the heat as possible, so as to avoid direct heat, aka grilling. Close the top and smoke on.
Note: don’t wet the wood; instead keep it dry. That way you’ll get a better smoke on your meat instead of smouldering it.

Pigsket

5. Be on top of it but also be flexible
“It’s important to keep an eye on the temperature and try to keep it consistent,” advises Russo. A good range is 225o to 275o but that range can vary depending on what you’re smoking and how you want it to turn out. “With chicken I like to smoke it a little higher at first to get the skin nice and crispy, and then turn it down to finish it,” he says. But remember – recipes and rules are always subject to change when it comes to cooking. “You’ve got to keep an eye on things so that you can change strategies if you need to: turn up the heat, turn it down, or even taking the meat off the smoker way before or way after you’d initially planned. Just like grilling, after a while you’ll begin to get the hang of it.”

6. Don’t limit yourself
Smoking is not just for meats. Fish, like trout and salmon, are both excellent on the smoker. Smoking things like vegetables, particularly in a vegetarian setting, can add a sort of meaty characteristic to a dish that would be otherwise without. And even using smoked goods in baking—smoked lard, smoked salt, smoked fruits—can add in a little umami to what would otherwise be a traditional sweet!

The Gambling Stick is open Thursdays – Sundays from 11am until they run out. They are located at Porter Road Butcher East, 501 Gallatin Ave, and are available for catering events as well. Follow them on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Butchers in the Backyard

Quality is, first and foremost, the driving force behind everything that Porter Road Butcher does. From sourcing free range animals, to using local dairy, and cooking with fresh and local ingredients, we understand the real value of excellent food and are willing to stamp our names on nothing less.

Butchers in the Backyard - Porter Road ButcherBecause we are firm believers that cutting corners won’t create a product that matches our standards, we take lengths to understand each and every step of our animals’ lives, from grazing the fields, to hanging in our fridge, to being ground and stuffed and twisted into delicious sausages for you to purchase and devour.

Going hand in hand with our mission for top quality, we aim to use seasonal products whenever we can and also purchase our produce from local farmers when available. Sometimes however, those pesky seasons go changing on us and certain items render themselves unseasonable and therefore, unavailable. When the temperatures turn frosty and sage can’t exactly prosper in our crispy Nashville backyards, we buy our herbs elsewhere so that you can still devour our famous sage-laced breakfast sausage even when that red mercury plummets.

When the weather is nice however, we choose to use the fruits (or herbs) of our labor in the products we create.

Although our East Nashville store may appear like a suitable ornament to decorate the concrete desert on which it sits, there is one aspect about which you are likely unaware: the small, lush oasis that sits directly behind the shop, filled with basil, oregano, and sage.

It would have been easy for us to forfeit the many hours spent in the sun, dozens of menacing mosquito bites, and unfortunate bloody gashes in our hands (yes, James was severely injured in the making (or weed-pulling) of this garden) that accompanied the creation and utilization of our field of green, but that would be too easy. And also too tasteless. And also a lot less fun. We drink beer when we garden.

Porter Road Butcher Garden Progression

“I mean yeah, we could use dried herbs that we buy at the store, but why would we?” mused our pastry chef, Nora, “It would just make our products taste like something that was mass-produced, which they obviously are not. Since we put so much time and care into everything that we hand-make, we want it to taste as fresh and full of flavor as possible. Fresh herbs really do make things taste that much better, and I think it’s even cooler that we use herbs that come directly from our garden.”

She’s right. As a business, we pride ourselves on our quality and attention to detail, and this is just another one of those details that sets us apart from our competitors.

There exist plenty of online debates regarding the appropriateness of dried herbs versus fresh (for real; just Google it), and the fight for the dried variety has been a strong and honorable one. But when it all boils down, the fresh herbs are going to provide a more potent, full, and longer lasting flavor that you simply won’t gain from dried herbs. The oils they release and the richness they provide is superior to what you’ll get from flaky, dried herbs.

Porter Road Butchers have Green Thumbs!–But okay, okay, we know there are exceptions: when it’s the middle of December, you’re working with a modest budget, and a $5.00 2 oz. package of basil just isn’t really in the cards for you, that’s one thing. The dried kind will suffice. But for us? For Porter Road Butchers? We don’t like ingredients that simply “suffice.” We tend towards things that “fulfill” or “exceed” when it comes to our food.

And using home-grown ingredients does just that: exceeds the expectations and makes our products better. Plus, it instills an even greater sense of pride into the products that we create and then sell to you. Using our local animals, fresh produce, and home-grown herbs fits perfectly in line with the farm-to-table ideals that we embody. You can’t get a whole lot local-er than directly from our backyard.

Ever since early springtime, we have been working on weeding, planting, and tending to the beautiful herb garden that now graces the space between the fence and our back door (it formerly looked like a decrepit jungle). So since it’s hibernation is now on the horizon, we thought it would be a good time to let you all know about our pal, Herb (Herb Garden, that is) and give you the opportunity to appreciate him and his bounty before he succumbs to his winter slumber.

Thanks for everything; see ya next year, Herb!

Sage from Porter Road Butcher's Garden

Putting Porter Road To The Test

Sean Martin - a Porter Road Butcher RegularA lifelong fan of excellent food and a self-proclaimed “food snob,” Sean Martin has been a fan of Porter Road Butcher since the get-go but he only became a “regular” when we opened our West Nashville doors almost a year ago. “I occasionally made it over to the East side,” he said, “but when they opened up on the west side of town I was able to get into the habit of going in at least once a week.” Sean was there the day our doors opened.

Growing up in southern California with parents who were restaurateurs, Sean’s first fine dining experience came at the age of 10 when he went to Wolfgang Puck’s LA flagship, Spago. From there it didn’t take him long to discover the difference between just food and great food. He soon began comparing the two.

As a young kid Sean enjoyed setting up blind taste comparisons, where he challenged himself to taste the difference in different food items. He experimented with a variety of bites, ranging all the way from different types of salt, to local versus imported tomatoes, even to a variety of bottled water brands.

After his inaugural visit to Porter Road Butcher East, during which he merely picked up a steak and a bone for his dog (an unexpected bonus), Sean said he was hooked: “The guys there were awesome—so friendly—and my steak was noticeably better than any I’d ever had before.”

That’s how his old hobby crept back into play.

Sean has been comparing our Porter Road products to meat from both upscale grocery stores and regular ol’ supermarkets for over half a year now, and his findings make excellent evidence to prove that our products really are superior. It’s not just because of the high price tag 😉

Italian Sausage - Supermarket vs. Porter Road Butcher His research ain’t no joke.

Not only does Sean take photographs to compare the color, texture, and overall appearance of the meat during each culinary experiment, but he also takes detailed notes about the entire experience from start to finish.

In the past year or so that he’s been conducting these carnivorous comparisons, Sean has used the following products: beef (ground beef, sirloin, filet, and NY strip), chicken (cut, whole, brined, and un-brined), pork (chops and bacon), eggs, and sausages (kielbasa, bratwurst, and Italian).

Here’s how it works.

The first step is coming into the shop and taking a look at what we’ve got in the case. Once he picks a Porter Road product that looks especially enticing, then it’s off to the other two stores to find what would be considered an equivalent. For upscale groceries, Sean shops at Whole Foods and Fresh Market, while the likes of Kroger, Costco, and Harris Teeter lay claim to the supermarket category. This way, by using three sources for meat, he is able to evaluate the entire spectrum of meat quality. Once he hits the kitchen, salt and pepper are generally the only seasonings that touch the meat, thus allowing the flavor of the meat to truly tell the tale.

“One of my favorite experiments was probably the whole chicken,” he said, after thinking it over for a moment. To Sean, the difference between Porter Road and Harris Teeter poultry was tenfold. In the eye of an average American who is used to this phenomenon of more, the Harris Teeter chicken likely looked better: it was bigger, plumper, fatter. The PRB chicken was comparable in size of circumference, but looked a little lackluster in muscle volume.

But remember, friends: bigger isn’t necessarily better when it comes to food.

Even though the supermarket chicken is larger and looks like a better “bang for your buck,” in reality that added weight and heft comes from unhealthy and unwanted additives: hormones, steroids, salt, and water. But although he is neither a scientist nor a professionally trained chef, Sean was easily able to see and taste a huge difference.

Upon cutting off the breasts, the PRB chicken look denser and more solid, and additionally our Jolly Barnyard bird held together better when it was both cut into or bitten. The supermarket bird, on the other hand, had a flakier and looser texture, which made it break apart easily.

The most prominent difference though, was the flavor. “The Porter Road chicken had a noticeably stronger and more pronounced chicken flavor; it was super juicy, and the juice literally tasted like chicken stock,” said Sean. “The other chicken had a much weaker flavor and tasted pretty watery.”

Porter Road's chicken is on the right; it's a little smaller and tighter - not swimming in sodium solution.

Porter Road’s chicken is on the right; it’s a little smaller and tighter – not swimming in sodium solution.

Fun fact! Since the water content of PRB chicken is far smaller than that of the supermarket chicken—ours has zero added water—the meat is able to better soak in the flavor of a brine, sauce, marinade, seasonings, or whatever you so choose. And, as previously stated, this lack of water lends the chicken to a more concentrated, delicious chicken flavor. Sean was able to notice the flavor difference using just a simple brine on both birds.

Now…steak? When it comes to beef, he says the filet test holds a soft spot in his heart.

“With the filet you could tell the difference from a combination of the texture and the flavor” said Sean. “When you get a filet at a nice steakhouse like Fleming’s or Ruth Chris, you get that tenderness and buttery-ness and obviously that familiar steak flavor. But when you get a PRB filet, you’re met with a superior butter-like texture, and then surprised by a deep, delicious, robust, kind of sweet flavor of the meat—it’s almost akin to baked butter. I kind of can’t describe it; it’s just so big and distinct.”

Indescribably good? We’ll put that in our pipe and smoke it.

Comparing Steaks  with PRB

Check out the deep purple hue to our steak on the far right

In the realm of sausage experiments, Italian exhibited the largest difference. The texture proved superior, the color more vibrant and appetizing, the flavor more pronounced and fresh, and overall the sausage excellently complimented each dish he tried without overpowering or overwhelming. The grocery store brand however, didn’t perform so well.

When it came to pork chops, he was delighted with the fat cap that his butcher suggested he leave on—something that people often times shy away from due to fear of the word “fat”—and additionally surprised by its sweet and almost spreadable nature. “In the past I might cut off the fat because of that tough, grisly texture that no one likes,” he said, “but the fat on my PRB chop was delicious: sweet and almost syrupy.”

On the bacon spectrum, Kroger’s high-end Wright® Brand bacon, running at around $10 per pound, tasted mostly like salt and had little of that savory-sweet pork flavor. Additionally, it fell apart more easily and somewhat disintegrated in the mouth. Our David Byler bacon on the other hand has a subtle sweetness to it and a whole lot of delicious smoke. With a soft chew and a bold flavor, it’s easy to realize that this is what bacon should really taste like.

In every experiment that Sean has conducted so far, our meat proved supreme. Not to brag or anything buuuut…. Just sayin’.

Of course, with so many experiments under his belt and so many different meats under his critical lens, it would take far too long to go into each test in detail, but that doesn’t mean you wont be able to notice the differences on your own.

Maybe you don’t have enough time, money, or friends to cook three times the amount of meat each time you fire up the grill or cast iron skillet, but the difference in our products can be distinguished while standing solo. And aside from the taste, we here at the shop can tell you all about what makes our products so delicious and distinct.

Plus, doesn’t it feel good to eat good meat? 1) It tastes better, 2) You can rest easy knowing the animal lived a happier life, and 3) You aren’t pumping additives and drugs into your system. Not to mention you get to hang out with us for a minute or two. THAT sure doesn’t suck.

If Sean’s findings didn’t convince you or you’re still a little skeptical, then we challenge you to try it yourself! Come on in, pick up some meat, and go home and cook it. We’re sure you’ll notice a difference in both what you taste and how you feel.

How ya like that for a sales pitch?

Where the Locals Meat

Shop local at Porter Road Butcher Surely you’ve heard the adage, You are what you eat, but did you ever think that the saying might go deeper than that—deeper than just what you eat? Because really, being healthful and mindful about what you put into your body begins before you start tossing things into your cart at the grocery store; it begins by knowing what you eat…eats, and where it’s coming from.

And in reality is that specific information the kind that you can readily find in a grocery store anyway? Not usually. Labels can be so confusing and misleading that it’s a challenge for customers to know exactly what they are consuming and exactly where it’s coming from.

That’s the benefit for those large, commercial grocery stores: they don’t worry about proving that kind of information.

Since large grocery chains focus more on selling a large volume of their products than focusing on catering to each individual consumer and enhancing their experience, they can take shortcuts when it comes to sourcing.

Here at Porter Road Butcher however, this is not the case. The meat that we cut and the market items that we sell are sourced either locally or regionally. This not only ensures that we have a relationship with each farmer or craftsman, but it also provides us with a keen knowledge that the quality of what we sell is the utmost. Supporting local businesses does aid the local economy and can reduce your carbon footprint, but more importantly shopping locally provides you with a connection to the product, and therefore a connection to the source of what you’re putting into your body.

When we make a personal connection to the source of our products and form a relationship with that person, he or she A) feels accountability for what it is that they’re selling and for their own reputation, and B) they feel pride for their work, knowing that it is being sold at a kickass place like PRB, which drives them to continue working harder. Put A and B together, and you’ve got a better and healthier outcome for you, the consumer.

Take David Byler for example: bearing in mind that David’s pigs are raised humanely, that they are given free range on his land, and that they eat hormone- and antibiotic-free feed, our Amish pig farmer is proud to sell us his pigs and stamp his name on our product—metaphorically, of course. Furthermore, because of our strong relationship with him and our respect for what he does with his piggies, we have found both the best product around and the peace of mind that our hog had a healthy life.

Porter Road Butcher's James Peisker is very knowledgeable about the benefits of shopping localYou see, in many other cases they don’t receive that same quality of life.

The pound of bacon that you buy in the shrink-wrapped, air-vacuumed, Styrofoam trey at the grocery store likely has adrenaline pulsing through each smoky strip due to the fear and anger that hog felt as it was confined to a 2×5” pen, allowing it enough space only to flop on it’s side or stand in a pile of its own shit.

Pigs are smart. They know those conditions aren’t right.

Or perhaps, along with those aforementioned “natural” yet grossly unwanted hormones, the breakfast sausage you’re planning to throw in the skillet carries traces of the antibiotics that your pig was fed in order to keep it big and strong and “healthy”—while in reality it dined on the likes of chicken shit, drugs, feathers, and Lord only knows what the f#ck else.

And hell, the eggs that you’re planning to give a good scramble and serve alongside said bacon and sausage probably come from that “free range” chicken coup where about a thousand chickens are stuffed into a big ole box chock-full of their feathery family members, and built with one sole doggy-door that leads to outside! These lucky birds are afforded the opportunity to venture outside to that gorgeous gravel lot and explore—if they so choose to venture away from their food and their family and the only living space they’ve ever known. How magnificent!? Their heart is pulsing with anxiety, adrenaline is rushing through their body, their stomachs are grumbling as they attempt to digest chemicals and drugs alike, and you, my friend, are so lucky as to be receiving all of those delicious flavors as you embark upon your Monday!

Aren’t you so glad you chose to pay the $2 extra at the grocery for those free-range eggs? And the all-natural bacon? And the sausage with the green label on it—because that color denotes health!?

The big grocery chains can pull a fast one on you. They can lie through their teeth and do so with a smile on their face. They don’t care about you or me because they don’t have a relationship with you or me; they don’t feel accountability to you or me; they don’t have to look you or me in the eye the next time you come into the store and kindly inquire as to what you thought of your previous purchase.

They already got what they wanted from you: your money.

But riddle me this: have you been into Porter Road Butcher more than once? You’ve absolutely hit the aisles of a large, chain grocery store a number of times, but if you shop at a small local business, you’ll notice one big difference: they know you; remember you. Not just one cashier; not just the lady behind the deli counter; everyone.

“Heeey! Terry!” they’ll crow as the door cheerily bing-bongs while you swing it open.

It feels good. And it makes you want to keep coming back.

After that initial trip when James or Chris or Tim or Alex get to know you; after one of us Porter Road butchers figure out what it is you want and get the best possible product to suit your needs, we’ll remember it next time. “How’d that tri-tip turn out last week?” or “Did you enjoy the breakfast sausage?” or even “What’d you think of our beef stock?

We care and want to know.

“There’s a sense of community here,” said James as he talked about shopping local. “When people come into our shop, we get to know them and we can make an effort to get the products they want. Then meanwhile, as they’re waiting for their order, they talk with the other customers, or they talk with us, and they get to know us; they begin a conversation; and they get to the core of what we’re really trying to do.

Community Dance Break at Porter Road ButcherAnd what’s that, you ask?

          Our goal at Porter Road Butcher is to make every one             of our guests healthier and happier with fresh local                 products.

Healthier? Check! With hormone-free, antibiotic-free, well fed, humanely raised, and all-natural meat, plus the freshest foods from Tennessee and other surrounding southern spots

Happier? Check! With friendly people, better-for-you food, meat that lacks additives that could turn you mad, support for other small businesses, a sense of community, and maybe even a good laugh—not to brag or anything, but we’re known to be kinda funny.

 

You may hear that shopping local tends to take up more of your time, and you might notice that the price tag runs a little higher. But is there a price you can put on your health? If you take that extra time now and pay a little bit more to buy better quality food, you’ll find yourself with a big payoff as you reap a lot more time in the future.

Maddie From The Block

Don’t be fooled by the blog that I got; I’m still, I’m still Maddie from the BLOCK.

  Butchernoun/bú-chər/
    – One who cuts and sells meat in a shop
    A shop that sells meat

Trimming Pork at Porter Road ButcherOne of the oldest trades in the world—second to prostitution!—butchers have been systematically processing animals and cutting and selling meat since ancient times. Although in the United States actual butcher shops seem to be somewhat antiquated due to the popularity of meat-filled supermarkets, the skill of butchering animals is anything but lost.  And it’s still exactly that: something that takes immense skill.

Then again, when you walk into either PRB shop it might not necessarily look that way: sure, customers are able to peek in at the guys in the cutting room and watch while their nimble fingers work away on hunks of meat both large and small, bits of silver skin peppering the floor, but most likely you’ve got no clue as to what’s going on and therefore can’t really appreciate it. Am I right?

I mean, an average Joe or Jane could likely differentiate between the pig and the cow and maybe even decipher the ribs and from the loin if you so much as slid by with a C in Anatomy 101, but actually experiencing what these guys do first-hand really lends to a deeper understanding of the craft.

And that, my meat-loving friends, exactly what I wanted when I started my stage at PRB West last Monday, March 10th.

  Stagenoun/’stahj/
    – An apprentice at a butcher shop
    – One who learns the skill of butchering by interning at a butcher shop or shadowing a butcher, often times for no or little pay.

Butchery and Sawing of Cows at Porter Road ButcherAs the social media coordinator, AKA the person who is promoting, pushing, photographing, Tweeting, and overall socially-loving on Porter Road’s products, I felt it was important for me to get to know more about…well…everything. So I geared up for a weeklong stage to really get into the meat of what goes on behind the scenes at PRB.

I arrived at the shop at 10:00 on my first day totally looking the part: baseball cap in hand, Shoes-For-Crews on my feet, and a plaid button-down hanging on my torso. I was ready to get down, and dirty, and meaty. And I was also really nervous. I was planning to spend every single day of this week, from ten in the morning to five in the evening, in a seriously chilly room, filled with large slabs of meat, surrounded by a group of knife-wielding men—and occasionally Nora, if she happened to pop her head in to say hello.

Sure, I’m conversational, but would I have enough to talk about with this group of dudes? Yes, I have years of at-home kitchen experience under my belt, but would they criticize my novice meat-trimming skills? Duh, I use a sharp knife probably every single day, but would I somehow end up chopping my finger off, rendering myself unable to return to the butcher block for the rest of the week, embarrassing myself wholeheartedly, and subsequently wasting both my stage and the blog post that was supposed to follow? God bless.

What began as me very timidly attacking a cow leg? arm? or maybe shoulder? soon turned into me semi-skillfully approaching the round and separating it into top round, bottom round, eye of round, knuckle, heel, tri-tip, and sirloin, identifying the spider steak, removing all of the silver skin, and finally slicing the remaining pristine hunks o’ beef into small chunks that would be tossed into the grinder to make fresh ground beef.

It took me the entire day. I stood still in one spot—my industry-approved, non-slip shoes a total waste—using the same butcher block from ten in the morning until five in the evening. Seven hours I trimmed beef. As I walked out the doors on Monday night at 5:17, my neck and shoulders ached, my lower back was stiff, and I needed a drink.

How do these guys do it every day?

Day two proved more exciting, as I had companions in the cutting room, enjoyed the questionable rap music that streamed from James’ iPhone, received helpful advice from a few guys who were watching me with a wary eye, and I was able to try my hand at cutting pig in addition to my former friend, beef.

Stage, Maddie Teren, trimming Pork at Porter Road ButcherNot only did I learn that slicing in an arc—which the yoga teacher in me translated into “half moon cuts”—would remove the silver skins more effectively than the sawing motions I had previously employed, but I also learned how to identify and pull at the seams of the meat in order to section out the various parts; I deciphered the difference between the good, savable fat and the bad, trashable fat; I figured out how truly difficult and tiring it is to saw apart the shank from the round; and most importantly, I learned that someone (who shall remain nameless) has a really small willy.

Isn’t it fascinating what you can learn while you’re cutting meat?

For five out of the six days that I staged, I spent varying amounts of time in the cutting room trimming down hunks of cow and pig, and taking my sweet time so as to avoid wasting any good meat. I was both shocked and elated that, even at my glacial pace, the guys assured me that my work was, “really a huge help.” I was having fun. I felt like I belonged. And I felt like a butcher.

Well at least until Chris came in, turned on the band saw, and sliced off a thick and perfect T-bone steak in the blink of an eye; or until Alex scooted me over a foot so he could swiftly chop off a couple of fresh, bone-in pork chops with a flourish; or until James waltzed in with a whole lamb slung over his shoulder and broke down the entire thing in roughly 5 minutes.

It was in those moments that I felt humble, curious, watchful, and overall in awe.

Pig Head from Porter Road ButcherThe opportunity to take a closer look behind the scenes made me feel like I was in a first-rate science class; I held a couple of lamb kidneys, I examined a pig head, I saw joint fluid ooze from a cow knee, and then I watched in wonder as each animal eventually turn into familiar cuts of meat. It was pretty damn cool.

You see, when you’re standing on the receiving end of the counter, separated from your butcher by a big ole refrigerated case that reaches the level of your chin, it really is hard to see back there! Much less understand what is going on. But if you can get a good view, and if you are able to ask some questions, and if you don’t really care how idiotic you might sound in asking them, you are afforded the chance to see and appreciate skill that each and every one of PRB’s team members has.

Although I’ve still got a thing or two to learn before I can really call myself a butcher (which, in all honesty, I doubt will ever happen—and at this point, I’m fine remaining at the status of a mere meat trimmer) I gained a greater sense of respect for, understanding of, and appreciation for the craft of butchering, but I also realized how much more there is to learn!

Thank God I’m just the girl behind the blog, the voice behind those Instagrams, and the eye behind the lense of the camera. I’ve got way too much catching up to do to really become a butcher—but I am still Maddie from the block. At this point, that title can never be revoked.Maddie From the Block - Staging at Porter Road Butcher

Cole & Abell

If you often purchase your meat at the hand of a beautiful Porter Road butcher instead of simply picking up a cling-wrapped Styrofoam tray from Kroger, you might feel as if you’ve more or less gotten to know the people who work for us. If you’ve checked out our website of late, you might have noticed the updated and expanded biographies of the outstanding folks who make up our one-of-a-kind PRB crew, and you might feel as if you could strike up a conversation with one—or all—of them while paying for that pound of andouille.

On the other hand however, there might be one face, one guy, one seemingly quiet John Deer-clad young lad whom you’ve seen prowling both the east and west shop, but whom you didn’t know much about. That’d be Cole.

Cole Abell definitely learned the Ropes from Porter Road ButcherOriginally from Lebanon, Connecticut, Cole Abell grew up on his family’s dairy farm and during his teenage years found work in the meat department of a grocery store. After graduating from high school last June, 18-year old Cole was uncertain about what would come next. He enjoyed his job at the grocery working with meat but both he and his mother knew that there was something else that he could and should be doing. So mom Kim set to the Internet, and after a little bit of research stumbled upon Porter Road Butcher all the way down in Nashville, Tennessee. “Wanna move to Tennessee?” she asked him.

Before he knew it, Cole had packed up his forest green Jeep Cherokee and was steering himself south, Nashville bound and eager to begin his six-month stage, or internship, at Porter Road Butcher.

Cole comes from a long lineage of farmers and cow lovers, so his interest in butchering is a no-brainer. His mother, father, and stepdad all spent their adolescence growing up on farms and his grandfather had one of the biggest dairy farms in Lebanon back in the day, laying claim to over 300 cows. With such a rich farming background Cole is familiar with caring for pigs and cows, but throughout his time in Nashville he’s been spending the past few months really getting into the meat of the animals (har har har).

His favorite thing to do in the shop is cut up chucks (that’s the front shoulder of a cow) but as owner Chris said, “he’s learned everything. I mean, everything.” Cole was educated on the arts of making sausages, smoking meats, grinding beef, plus other vital butchering skills, and he now knows how to break down whole pigs, cows, and chickens. But most important of all, Cole learned who Bob Dylan is, thanks to his pals at Porter Road. Isn’t it amazing what you can learn at a butcher shop?

Although he hails from the northeastern parts of the country, Cole is really a country boy at heart. While not helping his mom with their M&K Dairy Farm, he finds himself street racing with his friends, going muddin’ in those giant-tired trucks, and taking selfies with his closest friends; he almost exclusively wears John Deere apparel, covering his torso with brown and green sweatshirts, and keeps his noggin warm with a JD cap; and once upon a time, Cole had a pet pig named Charlotte who went everywhere with him, even accompanying him to McDonalds for a casual lunch outing.

Cole and his pal Russo, getting cherrywood ready for the smoker

Cole and his pal Russo, getting cherrywood ready for the smoker

Here in Nashville, he’s stayed true to his country ways: he enjoys filling his ears with some of Music City’s best tunes over at the Exit Inn, he spends his free time hunting and fishing with Matt Russo, and he cooks Hamburger Helper for himself for dinner—using PRB ground beef, of course…talk about an oxymoron—when Russo can’t help a brother out with some real life food.

Staring down his final month as our butcher shop intern, Cole says leaving Nashville will be bittersweet: “It’ll suck to say goodbye to all of my new friends here and it will be weird to return to Lebanon since Nashville is a much bigger city than where I’m from. But I am looking forward to hanging out with my old friends back home and seeing my brother and sister again.” Ain’t that sweet!

We’re going to miss Cole’ dry sense of humor, hard work ethic, and general friendly way of being, but we’re also happy that he’ll [hopefully] start eating real food again when he goes back home…instead of the Hamburger Helper and canned chili with which he chooses to nourish his body.

If you haven’t gotten to know Cole yet—don’t delay! His days in Nashville are numbered and you don’t wanna miss out on the opportunity to chat with this country Connecticut boy before he heads back to the homeland.

Banh Mi, Oh My!

In Vietnam where it originates, the term banh mi is simply used to describe bread, or more specifically a light and fluffy, single-serving, French-style baguette. In Western cultures however, the meaning of the term has been expanded; we think of banh mi as a meat-filled sandwich on this same style of banh mi, or bread. The term is even loosely used in reference to the toppings on this now westernized sandwich, such as a “banh mi style slaw,” even though the word really has nothing to do with pickled vegetables whatsoever.

While the meat that frequently fills this yummy sandwich ranges from pork to chicken to tofu, even all the way to headcheese, the toppings generally remain traditionally Vietnamese, including pickled vegetables, fresh cucumber, chili sauce, and of course plenty of fresh cilantro.

Meat, bread, and a few veggies. Seems like a pretty simple sandwich, right?

Maybe. Potentially. It could be. If we rolled that way.

IThe Banh Mi Sandwich is a Labor of Love for David SellersBut the Banh Mi Sammy at Porter Road Butcher is nothing close to simple. From start to finish, this sandwich takes 48 hours to prepare. Sure, assembling the sandwich takes only 3 minutes to do once the components have been prepared, but our lunch chef David really has to plan in advance if he wants to put this bad boy on the menu.

The process begins by showing a little lovin’ to a big ole pasture-raised pork butt, as David rubs a cure of pink salt and sugar all over that voluptuous hunk of meat. He then allows it to cure for 24 hours before popping the butt into a screaming hot oven for roughly twenty minutes, just searing the outside. When the twenty minutes are up, the sugars from the cure are beautifully browned and caramelized and that butt looks like it’s ready to be pulled and devoured.

Au contraire. Still more or less raw on the inside, this piece of pork is heading to the oven—this time on an extremely low temperature—to hibernate and slow-cook for a solid 12 hours, generally overnight while the butchers are resting their weary heads.

David first wraps the seared pork butt about a gazillion times in oven-safe cling film, and then finally swaddles it with a layer of aluminum foil, making sure there are no holes or escape routes for any of the deliciousness to leak out. This heavy insulation keeps all of the juices and fat locked in, which keeps the meat juicy and tender. When the twelve hours are up, he pulls the butt out of the oven and allows it to cool before pulling the pork by hand.

While the pork is busy cooling, David is busy preparing the slaw. Very busy. Instead of using a mandolin or shredder or something equally as efficient to trim his veggies down into matchsticks, David hand-cuts the cabbage, carrots, radish and jalapeno that make up his slaw. “I’m not very trusting with a mandolin, and I find I get a more consistent cut when I just do it myself,” he explains. Rice vinegar, fresh ginger, and a few other Asian-style ingredients give this slaw a Vietnamese flare, and after pickling for at least a day or two, add a delightful crunch and tang to the banh mi.

Porter Road Butcher's Banh Mi Sandwich takes over 48 hours to prepare!Finally, the last time-consuming component to this complicated creation is the pâté spread. Pasture raised pork liver, Belle Meade Bourbon, Hatcher’s cream, Willow Farm eggs, fresh thyme, and two hours under the press make this pâté so incredibly outstanding, but when we thin it down and turn it into a luxurious spread—which we dubbed Pâté Mayonnaise, a nod to our favorite yellow-haired hunny from Nickelodeon’s cartoon show, Doug—it turns into a perfect, rich and creamy accent.

Plus, how fortunate are we than Bobby John Henry has perfected the art of baking that banh mi style roll? Even in the final step of wrapping your sandwich in an insulating layer of tin foil, David takes care in maintaining the bread’s original form: no smashing. “I learned from a Vietnamese woman that keeping the bread fluffy is what can ‘make or break’ your banh mi” said David. “She told me mine was the best in Nashville, so that was an incredible compliment.”

While the active time on this sandwich doesn’t amount to anything to terribly daunting, the planning ahead, the eternal waiting, and the preparation that go into making the seemingly simple banh mi are what make this sandwich a true labor of love. No shortcuts are taken, no corners are cut, and only the best products are used.

It’s just a shame it will most likely disappear into your belly in roughly two minutes. Bon appétit!

Banh Mi Sammy $12 – Pasture raised pork butt slow roasted with a brown sugar glaze, house made Thai slaw, pork pâté spread, Asian chili sauce, and fresh cilantro on a BJH bun

Our Dogs Deserve a Good Home

Hot dogs. Just the thought of them effects images of unmentionable, grotesque body parts that are then chopped up and packed into a bun. But Porter Road Butcher’s hot dogs are something else entirely…no lips, no buttholes—in fact, our hot dogs are made from 100% beef short rib meat!

Nothing but beef short rib meat in Porter Road Butcher hot dogsAs a whole animal butcher, we insist upon not only using local, sustainably-raised animals, but also make sure that every edible morsel is put to great use. The meat that surrounds the ribs has the perfect ratio of meat to fat, which makes them ideal for creating the best hot dogs you’ve ever wrapped your lips around. But we don’t just grind it up and stuff it into casings; that would be too easy. Making hot dogs at Porter Road Butcher is a labor-intensive seven-day process.

It all starts on day one when we trim the meat from the rib bones and cut it down into cubes. Then we toss it with a special salt blend to begin a curing process. The cure helps balance the moisture levels in the meat, provides flavor, and helps the emulsification process that makes those dogs so dog-gone good!

After a full 48 hours of curing, day three begins the three-day grinding process. But we don’t take this grinding lightly; each day, we grind the meat not just once, but twice. Using a manual grinder we feed each icy cold piece through the gears to create the proper consistency before sending it right back into the fridge. When day five rolls around, they go through this process once third and final time, further grinding and emulsifying the meat and fat before chilling yet again.

On the sixth day, the process gets a little more exciting: the meat finally begins to resemble the hot dogs you know and love. We remove the meat from the cooler, grind it twice again (of course), and then add a blend of special seasonings. While we’re not willing to give away all our secrets, we can tell you that among the seasonings are ground coriander, garlic, and ground mustard, among others. We then finish our dogs with a house-made thyme simple syrup before filling all-natural lamb casings. These casings are key to giving our dogs that sought-after ‘snap’ when you bite into ‘em.

But wait- we ain’t done finished yet…we return the links of hot dogs to our cooler to allow them to air-dry before the final step on day seven.

Our smoker is fired up with local cherrywood and we smoke them dogs on high heat. This not only provides that signature smoky flavor, but it also cooks the hot dogs so that they’re ready to go into our meat case, chillin’ once again, but this time ready for guests to snap them up and take ‘em home!

If you’ve ever tried a Porter Road Butcher hot dog, you certainly know why they’re so popular. The blend of seasonings and 100% short rib meat makes them criminally delicious…and knowing that they are free from organs or extremities only helps enhance that enjoyment!

Hot dogs are just one of many unique homemade sausages we make here at Porter Road Butcher. Knowing how much attention we put into making a simple hot dog, you can only imagine the love and care we put into everything we do here at PRB.

Butcher Demo with James Peisker

Sure, you’ve come in to visit the shop; you’ve perused the meat that resides in the case; you’ve tried to peak at the studs hacking away in the back; and you’ve probably drooled down your chin as one of our guys to cut you an extra thick filet off that big ole tenderloin.

Porter Road Butcher's James Peisker stops to explain during his Butcher DemoBut did you ever find yourself wondering about the mechanics of what it is these guys really do? Ever wonder exactly where on the pig the loin really resides? Ever thought to yourself, “Man, this PRB sausage is delicious…I wonder what they actually put into it to make my Wednesday morning breakfast so mouthwatering and titillating?”

Now all your questions can be answered.

On Sunday March 9th, PRB’s very own James Peisker is holding an exclusive Butchering Demo for a group of just 10 lucky pig-lovers.

The Butcher Demo, which will be held at our Charlotte Avenue shop, begins at 12 pm and will end at approximately 3:00–leaving you plenty of time to go home and get your grill on afterwards. James, who has been working in the food industry since his early adolescence and butchering since the age of 18, will start off by sharing a little about his experience with the restaurant biz, and then move on to processing a pig right before your eyes: butchering the animal, breaking it down into various parts and cuts, making fresh and delicious sausage, explaining the process of makin’ bacon, and then sending you home with goodies to cook! And a T-Shirt. Don’t forget the t-shirt.

If you’re the type that likes pigging out on a Sunday afternoon, Sunday March 9th is gonna be just the ticket. And then some. This demo puts “pigging out” into a whole new arena.

Tickets are $200 a person. Guests may sign up for the event at either our west or east shops, but the ticket amount must be paid in full in order to hold a spot.

With only 10 spots available, tickets will go fast; so sign up today!

Half a pig is ready to be processed at Porter Road Butcher

This big piggy is gonna go wee wee wee all the way to your home.