Meat of the Matter: 4 Local Places To Get the Best Cuts

Sometimes you want a Snickers bar. Other days it’s got to be Godiva. Same thing with meats — there’s nothing wrong with a burger made with on-sale ground beef, but what do you do when you need a centerpiece for a knockout dinner?

Head to one of Little Rock’s premier meat markets and ask for advice from the pros behind the counters. Here are a few of our favorites.

1. Hillcrest Artisan Meats (H.A.M.)
671-6328 | 2807 Kavanaugh Blvd.
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday

H.A.M. opened Nov. 15, 2011, in a narrow space between the U.S. Post Office and Hillcrest Gallery on Kavanaugh Boulevard. Owner Brandon Brown and wife Tara sell mostly locally sourced natural meats and charcuterie along with grab-and-go sandwiches and soups. Brandon shares what visitors will find at H.A.M.

Let’s start with beef: “We always have teres major (a shoulder tender that’s found by bisecting bigger muscles and finding smaller muscles on the inside) and hanger steak, which outsells our other steaks four to one. It’s middle-of-the-road lean, very tender and flavorful. We’ve got a lot of people addicted to it. And we have ribeye and beef tenderloin.”

Pork products? “We get whole hogs and break them down so we have different cuts of pork, including shoulder roasts and bone-in chops. We smoke hams and bacon and sell ground pork and 30-40 kinds of sausage. We just got in the most amazing ham – Jamon Iberico from black Iberian pigs, the most prized prosciutto in the world. We’re selling it for $90 per pound. You don’t have to buy a whole pound, though.”

Then there’s … “We’re starting to carry a little lamb. Anything you want, chances are I can get it in a day or two.”

Your favorite? “Hanger steak; I love it. And we eat a lot of sausages since they’re quick to fix.”

What’s all this about USDA Prime, Choice, whatever? “None of our locally sourced meat is graded. A lot of people are confused by that. But grading costs money. For the same reason, a lot of our farmers aren’t certified organic because getting certified is expensive. We tour the local farms we deal with – Freckle Face Farm for pork and beef, whole hogs from Farm Girl, Falling Sky Farm for pork, chicken and duck – and trust that their meats are organic.”

Pricing? “It’s all local, all organic, so it costs more. I’ve seen customers balk at a $20 chicken, but then they’re back for more.”

A common mistake you see people make? “The biggest thing is grilling sausages – direct heat will break the casing. I like to sear them in a pan with a little butter, a little olive oil, then finish them in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes.”

2. Hestand’s in the Heights
663-1417 | 5915 R St.

After the August issue of Soiree went to press, Hestand’s announced it would close the first week of August. If you’ve never shopped there, here’s what you missed:

Hestand’s is a neighborhood grocery known for quality meats, regional favorites (like Arkansas black apples in season) and customer service. Meat department manager Damon Boykin is our guide:

How about beef? “We carry certified Angus beef. It has a tendency to marbleize more than other breeds and is consistently tender and flavorful. The most popular cuts are ribeyes and beef tenderloin. Our meats are the upper two-thirds of USDA Choice. That makes a difference. And our sirloins are USDA Prime.”

Talk about chicken: “We offer Sanderson Farms’ ice-packed chicken, a small chicken that’s very fresh and never frozen. We cut all our chicken parts in the store, including three kinds of chicken breasts. They’re all big sellers.”

On to pork … “We have 15 varieties of pork – the basics and not-so-basics such as pork tender filets and a pork ribeye wrapped in Petit Jean or applewood bacon.”

Something else? “We carry anything that anybody wants, including lamb – we prefer the domestic variety from Performance Food Group but some of our customers like New Zealand lamb – veal, and exotic meats; if it’s not on the endangered species list, we can get it. We have two or three varieties of fresh fish along with wonderful shrimp – slightly sweet – from Bon Secour, Ala. We make our own Italian sausage using pork from Petit Jean Meats. Right now I’m looking for a good bratwurst recipe; I’m not satisfied with what I’ve found so far.”

What’s your favorite? “The bone-in ribeye. It carries the flavor of the bone and does well on the grill.”

A common mistake you see people make? “Overcooking.”

3. Terry’s Finer Foods Inc.
663-4152 | 5018 Kavanaugh Blvd.
Hours: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday

Nathan Horn, meat department manager at elegant grocery Terry’s in The Heights, explains his exemplary meat counter this way: “We try to carry the best.”

What steaks do you carry? “Just two top grades: Choice and Prime. We bring in Wagyu, a ranch-raised American version of Japanese Kobe beef. And we offer in-house aged beef.”

Beyond beef? “I try to get fresh seafood every day, flown in from Hawaii, East Coast, West Coast, Alaska, Copper River salmon – all of it swimming two days before. We spread the word with a sign in the window that says ‘Fresh Fish Today.’

“I carry all-natural Berkshire pork tenderloin, kabobs, butterfly chops and stuffed chops with andouille sausage and rice.

“We have some beautiful chickens – no antibiotics, steroids or hormones – and ducks from Falling Sky Farms. And we have fresh lamb from Australia and New Zealand, veal scallopini, veal ribeyes, veal loin chops, fresh rabbit, and foie gras.”

Can you get …? “We live for special orders. We tell customers that our meat case is just an example – if you don’t see it, we’re going to get it.”

Mistakes customers make? Sometimes I hear, ‘You told me to get this much, but I didn’t get enough.’ That’s a problem I can handle.”

4. Argenta Market
379-9980 | 521 Main St., North Little Rock
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday, 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday

Argenta Market, which opened April 15, 2010, provides “food you love from people you know,” according to its website. Store manager Kerri Kremer talks about the store’s full-service meat market.

Steaks in stock? “Black Angus beef – ribeyes, filets, strips – any type of pork, some fish and shrimp. We also barbecue and smoke our meats and take special orders, like when people ask if we can smoke three racks or ribs for a party.”

Other options? “We have a whole section of local meats, from buffalo and elk to free-range chickens. We strongly support local sources. We have trained meat cutters who can take care of special orders. Prices vary depending on season and what we’re charged.”

Customer education: “What’s really neat and sets this market aside is that we are available to answer questions. Our chefs come out and tell you how to prepare it, what to pair it with; we get a lot of questions and we’re happy to answer them.”

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