Chicago has a long history with meat.
From the Civil War to well into the 20th century, we were the country’s meatpacking epicenter, slaughtering, packing and shipping cattle and swine via railroad freezer cars to the furthest reaches of America.
Today, the Meatpacking District is going back to its roots on a small scale with Tete Charcuterie, West Loop Salumi and Publican Quality Meats offering some of the best meat in the city, all within a few blocks of one another. The resurgence of butcher shops has spread across Chicago and the North Shore.
Restaurants are offering more interesting locally made charcuterie too, so don’t dismiss the charcuterie board as something you could put together at home the next time you’re dining out. Lessons in butchery and how to use different cuts of meat at your local artisanal butcher shop can even help home cooks become more socially conscious carnivores. After all, there are only two tenderloins on each cow, so we should all be exploring the tasty world of shank, round, chuck and brisket.
This new West Loop restaurant has an unparalleled selection of terrines, pâtés and charcuterie that meat nerds will appreciate and savor. Sausages here represent countries around the world from Germany to the Philippines (a best-selling longanisa with dried shrimp-fried rice and chili marmalade). Right now, all sausages and pâtés are made in house and they’re working on their own cured meats as well. In the meantime, they are serving a selection of salumi from West Loop Salumi, conveniently located right across the street. 1114 W. Randolph St., 312-733-1178 (Pictured above. Photo courtesy of Tete Charcuterie.)
Illinois’ only USDA-certified salumeria just turned one. Owner and salumiere Greg Laketek was inspired to create traditional Italian salumi from his childhood summers in Italy. After spending two winters apprenticing with “King of Ham” Massimo Spigaroli outside Parma, Laketek returned home to open his own shop, where he trusses every muscle for culatello, bresaola, guanciale and coppa by hand. 1111 W. Randolph St., 312-255-7004
Photo courtesy of West Loop Salumi.
Since his days at Markethouse, Chef Scott Walton has been famous for his sausages and pâtés with vivid mustards and pickle accompaniments—each component made in house, of course. At Howells & Hood, he’s continuing the meat magic with beef-heart pastrami, sour-cherry duck galantine, and jagerwurst. On a recent visit, the merguez sausage served over creamy couscous mixed with sweet and tart fruit chutney and a dash of spicy mango harissa was my favorite dish of the night. Decadent for sure, but a meat-lover’s dream. 435 N. Michigan Ave., 312-262-5310
Paul Kahan’s specialty butcher shop, across the street from The Publican, also doubles as a rustic café and gourmet market. On any given day, you might find galantines, terrines and meat pies in the case. There’s both corn- and grass-fed beef, along with whole raw birds and several different cuts of pork and lamb. 825 W. Fulton Market, 312-445-8977
Since 1949, this North Side butcher shop has been a place for Chicagoans to get hard-to-find cuts of grain-fed beef along with Wisconsin veal, Amish chicken and Colorado lamb. The smokehouse offers 10 different kinds of house-made bacon, along with smoked ham hock, beef jerky and more than 80 different sausages. They’ve even expanded into offering hearty entrees like chicken potpie and corned beef hash. 3501 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-248-6272
Photo courtesy of Paulina Meat Market.
A long-time staple for Chicago’s Polish community, this enormous European food emporium is a meat-lover’s dream. There are more than 30 house-made sliced deli meats and 40 different sausages, including more than 10 types of bratwurst, all preservative-free, made with freshly butchered pork and beef in natural casings. Three European smokehouses burn a variety of woods to achieve the nuanced color and flavor differences for each one. 4750 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-728-7243
After closing Mado, where they helped pioneer the whole animal and offal movements in Chicago restaurants, Rob and Allie Levitt opened their own butcher shop. The focus here is on locally and sustainably raised animals from small midwestern farms. Meat is cut to order and the Levitts often host butchering demonstrations as well. 1026 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-687-8280
The newest kid on the butcher block, Ehran Ostrreicher just opened up shop in Evanston this past April. He honed his skills curing and smoking meats at the now defunct City Provisions. Smoked ham and turkey might sound basic, but serve as a great benchmark for what quality deli meat should taste like. Ostrreicher is originally from Tel Aviv and says he incorporates Mediterranean flavors into his meats, such as the rosemary bacon that he first created at City. He’s even partnering withTemperance Beer just down the street, using their darkest, hoppiest beer to make deeply flavorful beer brats. 1305 Chicago Ave., Evanston, 847-868-8040
Being a butcher is in Sean Hofherr’s blood. His great-great-grandfather was a German butcher in Wurzburg, and his great-grandfather established a meat packing company on Chicago’s South Side. Now, Hofherr is sourcing meat from family-run farms in the Midwest, offering customers restaurant-quality steaks, chops and poultry along with specialty game meats and handcrafted charcuterie. Look for new items like scallion and hoisin-flavored duck sausage and Nashville-style hot chicken sausage.300 Happ Road, Northfield, 847-441-6328
This old-fashioned butcher shop has been around since the 19th century, evolving from the Wilmette Meat Market to a local grocery store and meat market. Their claim to fame is grass-fed USDA-prime beef from Creekstone Farms, along with naturally raised veal, lamb, pork and poultry. They also smoke their own sausages and salmon for a complete array of delicious options. 813 Ridge Road, Wilmette, 847-251-4000
Chops and steaks aren’t pre-cut here. Instead, they’re taken out of the cooler and sliced to order. Don’t be intimidated; the friendly butchers are happy to make recommendations depending on your cooking needs. This is a small shop, so call a couple days in advance with any special requests.1165 Wilmette Ave., Wilmette, 847-256-0070