What to look for, what to ask.
- 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.