Last December, Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe picked up where Pig & Block Charcuterie left off when it opened in LoHi at 3326 Tejon St. Since then, the shop—owned by Kate Kavanaugh and Josh Curtiss—has become a go-to for high-quality cuts, deli meats, dry goods and even sandwiches. A second outpost also recently opened in the Source.
Eater sat down with Kavanaugh to discuss her philosophy on meat as a food source, overrated and underrated cuts, educating customers on butchery and more.
How did you get into butchery?
When I met my partner I was a vegetarian and I had been for a really long time. I was that kid that donated to save turkeys every Thanksgiving. I decided I wanted to start eating meat and if I was going to do that I wanted to do so in a way that made sense for me and felt sustainable and felt humane. And we started getting meat from farmer's markets, I started visiting ranches and I just fell in love with meat. I grew up out here in Colorado in Denver and my family and I spent a lot of time up in the plains and up in Wyoming and I really loved the eastern part of Colorado and I kind of wanted to marry these two ideas of meat and being a steward of the land.
Can you tell me about the first time you broke down a whole animal. How did it go?
The first time...it was a lamb. It went well. Before all of this I was in academia and I really wanted to move into working with my hands and I felt really passionately about the idea of learning a craft. And it went well; I was nervous. The first thing I did was a lamb neck, and they're really complicated and really intricate and I was shaking really badly. That went ok. But by the time I broke down a whole lamb it felt good. It felt natural.
Can you describe your overall philosophy on meat as a food source?
Our philosophy on meat as a food source is No. 1 eat better meat less often, as odd as it might be to hear a butcher say that. We really believe that we should all be eating meat on fewer occasions and meat that is better. And that also helps with the economy of it. Other than that we really believe that for this to work, for meat to be a sustainable industry, it has to work for the land. So all of our farmers and ranchers use rotational grazing practices and holistic land management. It has to work for the rancher; if it doesn't work for the rancher or farmer it's never going to work. So the breeds have to work for them temperamentally, as far as how hardy they are. And it has to work for the consumer. And then at the end of the day the only thing we really want is for this to work for the animal. For them to get to spend their life outdoors.
Where does most of your meat come from?
All of our meat comes from within 150 miles and all of it actually comes from the eastern plains.
What's your favorite aspect of what you do?
My favorite aspect is sort of being this window between the city and this rural environment where these animals are being raised. And kind of bringing both the rancher and the consumer together. And it's neat to see people's reactions to tell them stories of these ranchers and these animals and of a life that they're not used to hearing a lot about. And on the other end as well, to tell our ranchers and our farmers about our customers and their reactions to their meat.
In your opinion, what would you consider the most overrated and underrated cuts of meat to be?
Man, I think fat is underrated. Grass-fed fat is so packed full of omega-3s and CLAs and all this great stuff. And of course it's packed full of flavor, so I like the fattier cuts. I love a true flatiron; I think that's underrated though it's definitely gaining popularity. That's probably one of my favorites. I think tenderloins are overrated. I like a little bit of tooth in my meat and I like a little bit of fat, and it doesn't have either.
How do you try to educate customers about meat and butchery?
We try to take the approach that you can learn as much or as little as you want in here. We are always talking about what we do and we're always trying to find ways for what we do to be apparent in our shop without even having to discuss it. And then we engage our customers; we want to talk to them and we want to learn about them and to have a relationship. We think that that makes buying your meat more interesting. So we do it by gaining a relationship with our customers and having open dialogues.
What's your personal favorite meat dish to prepare? Do you do a lot of cooking at home?
We do. We used to do more. I love to barbecue at home, so I love to smoke briskets. That's my first, my go-to is smoking. Or, ah, beef ribs. Beef ribs are massively underrated.
If someone came in and they're throwing a dinner party and they want advice, what suggestions would you make?
I would recommend a couple of things. I think one of the first things I'd recommend is doing a roast because they're so much fun and such a crowdpleaser. The other thing I'd recommend is we really enjoy doing a medley and letting people really compare different cuts within a party, and that makes a dinner party conversation right there on the table.
What's your favorite item in the shop right now?
I love our deli meats. They're such a great, quick snack. And we really dialed in our roast beef and it's perfect. As far as a non-meat item? I love our mustards, they're great. They're really, really delicious with raw horseradish flavor. But meat-wise our deli meats, and our pork chops.
Can you tell me something about meat that is little-known or surprising?
For the most part there's only two muscles, two of each thing in a whole animal. So there's two tenderloins, two briskets, but there's only one hangar steak. So it connects the diaphragm muscles, the skirt steaks in the back. But there's only one, so it makes it rare. To have 20 briskets in stock, that's 10 animals. Muscles don't just grow on trees.