5 min read

Beast & Cleaver Butcher Stage

Joe gets to hang out with Seattle cool kids

If you follow butcher shops and charcuterie makers, you probably have already heard about Beast & Cleaver.  Owner Kevin Smith has impressed the whole meat world with his Porchetta and Pate en Croute demonstrations, and I knew all along that I absolutely had to make the trip to Seattle to go see his version of British butchery with my own eyes.  Thankfully, not only does Kevin have a full arsenal of cool techniques to learn from, he also has a big heart and generous spirit, and he offered me a chance to stage (fancy French term for “intern”) with him and his team behind the meat case.  I could think of no better opportunity to exercise my whole animal butchery and charcuterie experience in the lead-up to our opening.

Snugly operating in the NW Seattle neighborhood of Ballard, a charming, historically Scandinavian seafaring community, Beast & Cleaver provides local, pasture-raised, grassfed and finished meat to its loyal customers 6 days a week.  In addition, Kevin and Chef Felipe Prieto run multiple regular pop-ups out of the shop to fully utilize every part of their animals, increase revenue, and most importantly, to have fun.  Spend one minute in their walk-in, and you can easily see just how much effort they spend on reducing waste.  Sausage making, fat rendering, pastry baking, stocks, reductions, curing, dry-aging, koji, all possible techniques are necessary to make this shop work properly.  Of course, this was not totally a surprise; all whole animal shops have to contend with similar issues, Radius included, but what I could not know until then was exactly how deliciously and gorgeously Kevin and his staff are able to make each and every one of these products.

My first day in the shop I walked in on Kevin resetting the case from the night before, changing plates, rewrapping patés, and writing the day’s prep list.  “Thanks for coming in, nice to meet you!  Please make yourself at home, and I’ll show you a few things when we are all sorted.”  Luckily, since he had just received a whole pig delivery, Kevin could show me his preferred method for breaking pork.  “People tend to overthink this.  I don’t even count vertebrae.  The shoulder is about here, and the belly and loin are about here, so that’s where I cut it” (I assumed the British were all a bit more tightly wound than this…)  Of particular interest to me was how he likes to separate the sirloins, done specifically to cut steaks for the case, and not to mix into sausage trim, like most places.

It also just so happened that this week was Beast & Cleaver’s monthly dry age burger pop-up, which meant that hundreds of foodies were about to lose their minds over a special blend of 200-day dry aged beef leg, ground with grassfed brisket fat, and shallow fried in rendered beef tallow, probably all served within 90 minutes of each other. 

Not only did this mean that these folks could plan on probably eating the best burger of their lives, it also meant that some special stagier (your friendly Radius butcher) needed to grind, weigh, and patty every single one of those burgers!  Kevin paired us up with Johnny Mitford, a brand new butcher, formerly of the British Special Forces, and most recently retired from the Seattle emergency medical services, to knock out all the burger prep, and move on to sausage grinding and mixing for the week.  Though brand new to the field, Johnny knew enough to be thankful for the opportunity to start at such a well-regarded shop.  Bringing a high level of excitement and attention to detail, Johnny made the day and the tasks fly by with few hiccups or problems.  Not coincidentally, we were all extremely well-nourished and motivated by the family meal Kevin cooked to promote the pop-up, each one of us getting to eat for free a burger that could have cost $50 in any other major city. 

Besides a dedication to beautiful meats and animal welfare, the shop is also uncommonly, and fiercely committed to seasonality.  Usually when a place claims a seasonal business ethic, they are talking about tomatoes, but when Kevin Smith says it, he means something totally mind-blowing and unheard-of in today’s food system.  

“Hey Chef, I noticed there’s no chicken in your case right now.  Is that to avoid contamination, or did you not receive your order this week?”  

“It’s not chicken season,” he stated plainly. 

This is an issue we have tried to wrap our Radius heads around for a while, that even very well-intentioned chicken farmers cannot deny.  For a farmer to build a reliable business, they have to modify their birds’ lives to fit into very short and fast growing periods.  Most commodity chickens go from hatch to slaughter in less than 6 weeks, and the best case scenario for conscientious chicken producers is about 10.  The longer and slower the growth, the more time on pasture, which results in more flavor, and that is what all the cool butcher shops want.  Beast & Cleaver, however, only supports one chicken farm that raises them for once a year slaughter at the age of 28-30 weeks!  I can only imagine how healthy and flavorful these birds must be, and next time we go to Seattle, we absolutely have to time it out for chicken season!

Needless to say, Beast & Cleaver made me feel at home and welcomed from the very beginning.  The rest of the week flew by.  I got to taste all the special terrines, smoked meats, glazes, extractions, pine syrups (OMG so good), steaks, and sausages I wanted.  There were plenty of projects to work on, including beef demos from Vee and Payton, and lots of practice cleaning steaks and sausage trim.  I ended up leaving Seattle with way more experience than I arrived with, but the thing I will remember the most is the respect and openness the shop showed me at every turn.  Sincerely, we at Radius cannot wait until the day we can return the favor, and pay it forward.

Aaaaaand if there was one other thing we could remember most from our trip, it might be this AirBnb burger me and my love, Peggy, made from the dry age patty Kevin gave us, and the trip through the Ballard Farmer’s Market we took on my day off.  Yes, it should be considered cheating to throw handfuls of morels onto things, but no, we definitely did not care.