Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Meet 3 Butchers of the 'Burgh and Pittsburgh's ‘Brisket Boss’

We visit Salem's halal butcher shop, the butchery program at Whitfield restaurant and the Butcher on Butler. Plus, smoking tips from the Brisket Boss.



(page 1 of 2)


photos by Laura Petrilla

Salem's Market and Grill
2923 Penn Ave. Strip District 412/235-7828

The walk-in cooler at Salem’s Market and Grill is a menagerie of recently living ruminants: more than 50 kid goats, nags, lamb, mutton, veal and heifer cows hang on hooks, ready to be broken down into primals, steaks and chops by one of the establishment’s six skilled butchers. 

“Everything you see here was slaughtered yesterday,” says Abdullah Salem, owner and general manager of the operation.

Salem’s is a halal butchery, meaning that all meat must be processed according to Islamic dietary law known as Dhabīhah (). Animals must be humanely raised and healthy before slaughter, and a blessing is said over the animal before it is killed with a swift pass of a sharp knife through its jugular vein. 

​Halal butchery shares many similarities with kashrut, a set of Jewish dietary laws that includes instructions on animal processing, as well as the prohibition of consuming certain animals, such as pork. In fact, it was a kosher butcher, the late Wilfred Weiss, that helped Salem’s to move from Oakland to its current Strip District location in 2010 thanks to a $400,000 no-interest, no-contract loan. “Just a handshake. Him and my dad, straight-up,” Salem says.

His father, ​Massaud, founded the business in 1981. 

Salem’s clientele is a study in diversity. One of the strengths of the family-run butcher shop is that it can cater to the specific needs and desires of its mixed audience in a way that mass-market grocery stores can’t. For example, Salem says, “Our Italian customers come in, and if the goat is under 20 pounds, they don’t want it. Our African customers come in, and if it’s not an old goat, they don’t want it.” 

The majority of the meat sold at Salem’s was raised in Washington County and later slaughtered at Nema Food Co. in McKeesport. Salem’s stocks harder-to-find yet now in-demand off-cuts such as hearts, intestines, hocks and brains. “You’ll rarely find a farmer that isn’t happy to cater to an international population,” Salem says. 

A diverse clientele and chef-driven passion for offal have made his butcher shop a draw. “Livers used to be nothing. My dad would give them away for free. He’d take all the tails and make lentil soup for the workers. Same with the heads. Now we have to order extra,” he says.

Because Salem’s practices whole-animal butchery and has an adjoining restaurant (one of Pittsburgh Magazine’s 2017 Best Restaurants), it can offer custom cuts of meat while keeping prices relatively low in relation to the quality of the meat it’s selling. “Whatever doesn’t sell out of the meat counter, or if someone wants a couple of steaks from a rack, we’ll take it next door and do something with it. We’d have to sell stuff double the price if we didn’t have the kitchen,” Salem says.

Still, price remains the biggest challenge to the future of the butcher shop. Feedlot-raised and industrially slaughtered beef in the United States, as well as imported lamb from as far away as Australia, retail for significantly less money than animals from small farms, even if they are locally raised and processed. Whole Australian lamb, for instance, recently sold for $3.49 per pound compared to $6.49 for local lamb (the local price is more variable; Salem works with county fairs to purchase 4H animals in the summer). 

“It’s physically impossible to compete with them on price. We focus on quality and service. Some things I can win, some things I can’t. So we’ll just keep on moving forward,” Salem says.
 


Whitfield
120 S. Whitfield St. East Liberty, 412/626-3090 [whitfieldpgh.com]

On Monday mornings, a team of chefs lines up in a loading dock outside Whitfield in East Liberty to haul hunking primals of a cow from Jubilee Hilltop Ranch in Bedford County to the restaurant’s subterranean kitchen. The restaurant at Ace Hotel, conceptualized by Brent Young, a Pittsburgh native who co-owns the high-end butchery The Meat Hook in Brooklyn, is committed to using as many whole animals as it can on its various menus.

Most restaurants in Pittsburgh and elsewhere order selections of meat delivered vacuum-sealed in pre-cut portions. This particularly is the case with cattle, massive beasts weighing several hundred pounds. Each cow contains a smattering of prime steaks, a good portion of less-prestigious cuts and heaps of bones, fat and gristle. 

There’s an advantage in sourcing the prime steaks this way (the restaurant will order more of these if demand outstrips supply). “You can’t get meat that tastes like this if you’re cutting it into smaller portions,” says Whitfield Executive Chef Bethany Zozula. 

But that benefit comes with a challenge — what do you do with the secondary cuts, which vastly outweigh the prestige parts? “You have to get creative with what your dishes are,” Zozula says. “We have breakfast, lunch, dinner and events, so we’re able to use everything.”

Whitfield’s head butcher is Steve Beachy; he is also the restaurant’s sous chef. Beachy started butchering about eight years ago while working at Craft in New York City and honed his skills as the lead butcher at now-closed Marty’s Market in the Strip. 

It takes Beachy about an hour to break down a half-cow into the parts that later will appear on Whitfield’s menu as steaks, roasts, burgers and broths. He starts from the front section of the cow — the chuck — and works backward. 

​Beachy says he has “an arsenal of knives” at his disposal but primarily uses his boning knife to break down the beast. After years of practice, he knows where muscle separates from muscle, where tendon can be cut from bone and when brute force is a necessary choice. 

“It’s a lot of pushing and pulling to move the muscles and then light work with the knife,” he says as he heaves part of the shoulder, exposing a gap between muscle and bone before delicately cutting through a ball-and-socket joint, holding his boning knife with what’s known in the trade as a pistol grip.

​Beachy uses a two-foot hacksaw when he cuts through smaller bones such as the chine bone, but only for the final bit. He delicately slices through the meat with a knife so as not to damage its fibers, something that would diminish a diner’s experience; only when he hits bone will he use the saw.

He rips through stock bones with an industrial band saw and uses the same machine to divide the restaurant’s porterhouse steaks. Since they’re a prime cut — the 2-plus-pound steaks go for $80 — he cleans each one with a device known as a bone-dust scraper. 

​Zozula says that she and her staff have embraced the challenge, always playing with how to use the less-prestigious parts of the cow. Potatoes cooked in tallow — there’s a lot of fat to melt down in half of a cow — are a big hit as a side for steaks. And beef shanks cooked for a special event were such a success that Zozula now orders additional ones for events. 

The kitchen team always is exploring different ways to use every part of the cows they get, so keep an eye peeled on the butcher’s section of Whitfield’s menu as that’s where these “projects” are featured.
 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Pittsburgh to Host Nation’s First Black Beer Festival

Day Bracey and Ed Bailey of Drinking Partners Podcast and Mike Potter of Black Brew Culture online magazine will bring 12 Black-owned breweries to Pittsburgh in August for Fresh Fest.

Coming Clean: Why We Aren't a Green City ... Yet

Pittsburgh is no longer a smoky city, but that doesn’t mean it has cleaned up its act. Pittsburgh's air quality still ranks among the worst in the nation. What steps are being taken to reduce Pittsburgh's ongoing dependence on fossil fuels?

Ultimate Comfort Food: The Joy of Dumplings

Why our dining critic thinks dumplings might be his ultimate comfort food.

Our Seven Favorite Dumplings in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, of course, is best known for the pierogi. Our love of dumplings extends beyond that, however. These seven dumplings are our favorite restaurant versions of their various styles.

The Tailor's Dumpling: Kreplach

A Pittsburgh chef and his family continue to craft a family recipe with roots in Poland.

The Pittsburgh Region's Top Dentists 2018

Our annual list, which contains 376 dentists across 11 specialities, as determined by topDENTISTS.

A Weekend Mission of Mercy in Pittsburgh

More than a thousand people come to PPG paints arena once a year for free dental care, thanks to an ambitious, all-volunteer effort.

Jump Into the River: Open Waters Beckons Strong Swimmers

It takes a strong swimmer and the right timing to dive into the three rivers. for those up to it, the difference between the pool and open water is profound.

Pirates Are Still a Long Way From a Hollywood Ending

Despite an 8-1 winning streak going into the All-Star break, the Bucs are in desperate need of a sequel, not only to win back some credibility with fans, but also to convince their owner not to sell off more pieces of the team.

National Aviary's New Renovations Make it Essential Pittsburgh

It's time to add the National Aviary to the list of local favorites you visit again and again.

PM on KD: Family City Guide 2018

PM Associate Editor Sean Collier appears on KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live to discuss our Family City Guide for 2018-2019.

Tom Hanks May Have Found Co-Star for Fred Rogers Film

One of the stars of FX's “The Americans” is reportedly in talks to appear in the Mister Rogers flick “You Are My Friend.”

Competitive, High-Tech Driving Range Coming to Pittsburgh

The Topgolf complex opening in Bridgeville features a driving range with microchipped golf balls that score themselves, plus plenty of food and drink options.

The Eight Best Frozen Treats in Pittsburgh

Our dining critic picks his favorite ice cream, ice pop, frozen custard, vegan delight and more.

5 Great Ways to Enjoy Picklesburgh

The city’s fourth annual pickle festival will feature more food, more music and even pickle-inspired beers.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Tom Hanks May Have Found Co-Star for Fred Rogers Film

Tom Hanks May Have Found Co-Star for Fred Rogers Film

One of the stars of FX's “The Americans” is reportedly in talks to appear in the Mister Rogers flick “You Are My Friend.”

Comments

Competitive, High-Tech Driving Range Coming to Pittsburgh

Competitive, High-Tech Driving Range Coming to Pittsburgh

The Topgolf complex opening in Bridgeville features a driving range with microchipped golf balls that score themselves, plus plenty of food and drink options.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Pittsburgh to Host Nation’s First Black Beer Festival

Pittsburgh to Host Nation’s First Black Beer Festival

Day Bracey and Ed Bailey of Drinking Partners Podcast and Mike Potter of Black Brew Culture online magazine will bring 12 Black-owned breweries to Pittsburgh in August for Fresh Fest.

Comments

A Pop-Up Bar in Pittsburgh that Serves a Sober Alternative

A Pop-Up Bar in Pittsburgh that Serves a Sober Alternative

Empath provides the vibe and social space of a bar, as well as stepped up beverage service ... without the alcohol.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Eight Best Frozen Treats in Pittsburgh

The Eight Best Frozen Treats in Pittsburgh

Our dining critic picks his favorite ice cream, ice pop, frozen custard, vegan delight and more.

Comments

Six Underrated Kennywood Rides You Need to Try Again

Six Underrated Kennywood Rides You Need to Try Again

Leave enough time in your next visit to Kennywood to revisit some old favorites and these underrated gems.

Comments


National Aviary's New Renovations Make it Essential Pittsburgh

National Aviary's New Renovations Make it Essential Pittsburgh

It's time to add the National Aviary to the list of local favorites you visit again and again.

Comments

Stop Using Uber and Lyft, Renting a Bike is Better

Stop Using Uber and Lyft, Renting a Bike is Better

You'll save money and have an easier time hopping between neighborhoods on a Healthy Ride bicycle.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pirates Are Still a Long Way From a Hollywood Ending

Pirates Are Still a Long Way From a Hollywood Ending

Despite an 8-1 winning streak going into the All-Star break, the Bucs are in desperate need of a sequel, not only to win back some credibility with fans, but also to convince their owner not to sell off more pieces of the team.

Comments

Compelling World Cup Worth a Periodic Embrace

Compelling World Cup Worth a Periodic Embrace

The competition is as fierce as the fans are passionate and both can be appreciated without a firm grasp of the details.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Skyscraper

The 400-Word Review: Skyscraper

If you want "Die Hard" with half the brains but three times the building, the new Dwayne Johnson flick will do a passing job.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter

The 400-Word Review: The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter

The Netflix exclusive Josh Brolin flick is pleasant enough, but light on laughs.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Perfect Proposals that Flashed Back to First Dates

Perfect Proposals that Flashed Back to First Dates

Return to your roots before your relationship blooms into a beautiful marriage.

Comments

I Do, Now Let’s Have Some BBQ

I Do, Now Let’s Have Some BBQ

A five-course meal doesn’t fit with every wedding. These laid-back couples opted for casual — and delicious — cuisine perfect for their outdoor and barn receptions.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Wow Factor: Empty Nest Inspires Timeless Makeover

Wow Factor: Empty Nest Inspires Timeless Makeover

When her last child graduated from college, Ingrid Meenen did something she had been wanting to do for 20 years — renovate the first floor of her Upper St. Clair home.

Comments

Head to the North Hills for Two Blooming Garden Tours

Head to the North Hills for Two Blooming Garden Tours

The Wexford Garden and Pond Tour and the Southern Butler County Garden Club tour both take place this weekend.

Comments