Food — Meat’s meat and a man’s gotta eat
Meat’s meat and a man’s gotta eat

By Seth Hoy

Mr. Steer marks 30 years of red, white and marinade

It’s kind of hard to stick birthday candles into a raw piece of meat — but if you could, there would be 30 of them waiting for Chris George.

Third-generation butcher and meat enthusiast, Chris George is celebrating Mr. Steer Meat Company’s 30th year of business at 103 Nashua Road in Londonderry.

Founded in the 1900s, Mr. Steer Meat Company has been around for more than a century. The secret to George’s meat success is simple.

“Like my father always said,” George said, “‘If you sell quality meat, you’ll always stay in business.’ The secret is selling the best quality meat at the fairest price.”

Unlike Sam Franklin, the commitment-phobe butcher on The Brady Bunch who wouldn’t marry Alice, George has dedicated his life to the meat business. George is every bit as friendly as Sam but a lot less manic — which I hear is helpful when handling sharp cutlery.

Long before the days of prepackaged boxed meat, George learned the meat business from his father the old-fashioned way — with a slab of cow and a knife.

“When I was 8 years old,” George said, “I used to go down to my father’s store on Saturdays. He put me in the corner on a cutting block and said, ‘Trim these bones.’ He gave me a knife, which I wouldn’t give my 15-year-old kid a knife, and said ‘Start with that, take the meat off this one.’ I thought that I was a big hero with a knife at 8 years old.”

George’s father, Ted, learned the business from his father, Efrom George, when he set up the butcher business back in the 1900s after a stint in the Nashua Millyard. Chris George opened Mr. Steer Meat Company in 1975 after leaving his father’s meat shop in Lawrence, Mass. Now even Chris’s brother, Steve George, has his own meat business, Prime Butcher, in Windham.

Chris George buys his meat through a distributor out of Boston and Taunton, Mass. It’s mostly Iowa IBP beef and it’s all Prime and Choice grade western grain-fed meat. He carries lamb, beef, pork, poultry and Boar’s Head cold-cuts. One of the more impressive facets of Mr. Steer Meat Company is the marinade machine that produces George’s 22 different marinades.

“These machines are all high-tech state of the art,” George said like a proud father. “I have two of them. The meat goes into the machine and expands under pressure infusing the marinade into the meat as it’s rotated. The pressure level all depends on the kind of  meat you’re marinating. It only takes 15 minutes. The marinade is in the meat — not just on top of it or on the side — It’s sucked right up in 20 minutes. This machine does more than what you could do in two days.”

And when he’s not power-marinating meats, he’s serving up a flank or skirt steak. According to George, meat trends change as quickly as people like Martha Stewart can think of a new recipe. Flank and skirt steak used to be one of the cheapest pieces of meat, but now the prices have increased with a higher demand.

“Flank and skirt steak used to be a very inexpensive piece of meat in the old days,” George said. “Now it’s gone through the roof. It’s supply and demand. Sharp ribs used to be cheap. I remember opening this place and selling those for 99 cents a pound — now it’s $3.99 a pound. People come out with these recipes involving a seemingly inexpensive cut of meat and then everybody wants to try it. As the demand goes up, so does the price.”

So what’s a hot piece of meat right now? George reports that steak tips and filet mignon are the hottest things since chicken wings. 

“Right now people really like the marinaded sirloin tips,” George said. “Steaks are a really hot item, too. On Valentine’s Day, we sold tons of filet mignon. I sold more filet mignon on Valentine’s Day than I did all week.” 

During the winter, roasts like boneless prime rib and chuck roast are more popular. In the summer, George sells as much marinated chicken and beef as Sears does Hawaiian print shirts.

George also serves prime advice at Mr. Steer Meat Company — what I like to call “steak tips.” (Don’t worry, I already hate myself.)

“Ask the butcher what grade of meat it is,” George said. “If it’s below Choice or Prime, it will be leaner but it won’t eat as well. Look for the marbling in the meat, too. People see little white flakes in the meat and they think it’s fatty. That’s the quality. The more the better. The fatty flakes dissolve when you cook it and they add so much flavor. And remember that redder don’t make it better.”

Butchers like Chris George are a dying breed. Bloodied aprons and huge meat cleavers have given way to supermarket zip-lock bags and twist ties. And although the prepackaged boxed meat is a safer, more efficient way to process meat, it’s good to know there’s a butcher in town who knows how to hack a cow down into slabs of meat.

“Becoming a butcher is not a hard thing anymore,” George said. “Meats are broken down for us. It’s not like the old days — we’re more like the finish carpenter now. They used to roll in the whole carcass and we’d have to seam it all out and trim it down. Butchers are a dying breed. I know how to break beef down — I can break anything down since I’ve been doing it all my life. But to be honest with you, if they were still doing it that way today, I wouldn’t be in this business. It’s a lot of work.”

—Seth Hoy

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