“Meat” the Butcher

My Rouses Everyday, July/August 2017

Sally Girdauskas has been working for Rouses Markets for seven-plus years, starting as a cashier and then moving to the Butcher Shop, where she apprenticed under skilled butchers and was trained to cut, trim and grind meat. Sally has been a butcher at our Rouses Markets in Downtown New Orleans for three years.

You were born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Tell us a little bit about how you arrived in New Orleans.

I helped a friend move to New Orleans around seven years ago and kaboom, it was love at first sight. John Goodman, the actor, has this great quote about finding your home in New Orleans. “Someone once suggested that there’s an incomplete part of our chromosomes that gets repaired or found when we hit New Orleans. Some of just belong here.” Well, the moment I arrived in New Orleans I just knew I belonged here. So my boyfriend and I packed up and moved. We live in the Irish Channel. He’s a photographer. We both have an insatiable curiosity about the city, so we are always going to new places and trying new things.

Why did you want to become a butcher? Are people surprised to see a woman behind the meat counter?

I was always interested in food and cooking — Chicago is a great food town. And it’s a “meat town.” The South Side is home to these historic stockyards. And of course you have Chicago steaks, dogs, barbecue, Italian beef …

The meat industry has been overwhelmingly male, but Rouses is trailblazing. I’m one of several female butchers. There’s been a lot of customer interest in what I do. Hopefully I can inspire other women to become butchers, to learn the techniques and how to handle a knife.

Everyone has an opinion on what makes a perfect burger. What do you recommend to customers who want to make a great backyard burger?

The secret to a great burger is the type of meat you’re using. We use only high-quality beef, 100 percent American. This stuff is so good, all you need is salt and pepper. We grind all of our beef — and pork and poultry — right in our stores. We do it in small batches, several times a day, to ensure freshness, quality and flavor. Most places don’t do that. We take the time and we do it right so it’s fresh and flavorful. Do side-by-side tastings of our fresh ground meat and our competitor’s prepackaged, and I promise you’ll taste the difference.

Do you have a favorite grind?

The lean-to-fat ratio is very important. Fat equals juiciness and flavor. You can use a leaner grind like sirloin for rare burgers, because the fat doesn’t have as much time to melt. Chuck is 80/20 and great for medium well or well done. Chuck is what most customers usually get. It’s full of flavor and, even better, it’s inexpensive. Of course, if you’re going for well done, you can also use an even fattier grind. We do a 73-27.

Anything new in the meat case?

We’ve introduced some really rich, new grinds that you can get by the pound or in a ready-made patty. There’s a ground ribeye — I call it our steakhouse burger, a prime rib burger that has a super beefy flavor. I also really love our new ground brisket. Keep in mind these burgers are fattier, so they’re going to shrink a little more when you cook them, but the flavor is just outrageous.

How do you cook your burger?

I like it medium rare, so I use sirloin, which is 90 to 92 percent lean. Salt and pepper just before cooking — no earlier, and never after cooking. That keeps the meat loose and tender. And don’t touch the meat too much. When you fool with it too much you lose the flavor. That’s my biggest complaint. Or you add too many toppings. What’s the point of the burger at that point? You’re stealing the flavor.

I usually gravitate toward the grill — high heat gives you that crispy sear. Grill patties for two minutes on each side, then move them to a lower-heat area of the grill and cook another two to three minutes, which will get you to a nice medium-rare.

Food has taken over Snapchat and Instagram. There are so many over-the-top burgers on social media.

Don’t get me wrong — I like to gawk at food as much as the next person. But with all of these crazy toppings, how can you possibly taste the meat? And does a macaroni and cheese bun really hold up once you add the patty?

If you want something different — and I’m all about new flavor combinations — we make house-blended burgers and sliders. We’re always busting out new blends. Right now we have a Mexican burger patty, Pepper Jack, Doritos® and green chiles, which sounds weird but is awesome.

Finally, do you have a favorite burger spot? Where does the butcher order a burger?

I like a dive bar grilled burger. I’ll hit up The Bulldog on Magazine Street — it’s in my neighborhood — or get a Swamp Burger at the Swamp Room in Metairie. Now that’s an iconic bar burger.