There are telltale signs of quality: The meat should be pinkish to red with a pleasant smell and "a fine marbling," and the butcher's apron should be tidy, says Evan Lobel of Lobel's of New York, a city fixture for 50 years.
Look for a stamp on the outer layer of fat indicating that the meat is USDA- or state-inspected, says Diane Van of the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline's Food Safety Education Staff.
The true measure of success will be in the eating, but it's good to arrive prepared with questions (and your recipe). To gauge a butcher's knowledge, ask about the ages, grades, and sources of his meats, and about cooking times and temperatures for specific cuts.
And check the ground beef. "A sign of a good shop is one that grinds its own every day," says Theo Weening, meat coordinator for the Whole Foods Market chain.
You can also ask your pro what he thinks of using an eye round for a pot roast, Lobel suggests: "A good butcher will tell you that it's too dry and will suggest something else," like a chuck roast.