Butchers seeing a rise in business since pink slime controversy, and their prices are often cheaper

CLEVELAND - Most grocery stores said they no longer sell the cheap filler known as pink slime. At one time, it was found in up to 70 percent of all ground meat sold at the grocery store. While stores say it's gone, we found consumers are still looking for other options. Those alternative sources of meat may be closer than you think, and they won't break the bank.

"It has negative connotations all over it," butcher Tony Pinzone said.

"You get something ground you don't know what's going in there," shopper Phillip Jones said.

"I think they ought to leave that part of the cow for the dog food," shopper Edward Fryger said.

You can't tell much about meat based on its label. What about how it looks or the price? To find out, we bought meat from three different sources. We bought three pounds from a grocery store, a butcher, and the West Side Market. Two-thirds of survey takers incorrectly guessed where we bought each one.

To get accurate answers about your meat, you really need to ask questions. We asked Tony Pinzone, the owner of Pinzone's at the West Side Market, where he gets his meat. Pinzone said he grinds his own meat, and most of his steaks come from local sources.

"A lot of the beef we carry comes from packing houses in a 100-mile radius," Pinzone said.

There are options even closer.

"It's not a secret anymore," Fryger joked to the butcher the day we visited.

Forty minutes from downtown Cleveland, Fryger makes a pit stop at the Amish butcher rather his local grocer.

"To me there's a perception that this is farm fresh. That the cow just came out of the pasture a couple days ago," Fyger explained.  

The butcher at Geauga Farms Country describes his meat as natural and local. While you'll pay a little in gas money, you'll pay less for most meats.

"They're competitive," Fryger said.

Meat comparison shopping
We checked meat prices at the butcher, the West Side Market, and popular northeast Ohio grocers. On the days we checked, ground beef was 67-cents cheaper at the butcher compared to the grocery store.

Not a big difference, but a higher quality cut like a Porterhouse will save you more. Depending on where you shop, you could save several dollars a pound. The butcher's price was $8.99 a pound. One of the grocers we checked was charging $10.79 a pound, and another charged $12.59 a pound for a Porterhouse.

In our test, the butcher would save us at least a dollar or more on sirloin Steaks, too.

On your more common steaks like strip or rib eye, the grocer is sometimes cheaper if there's a sale.

"I'll pay the same price or even a little bit more to get something a little bit healthier or something that's not processed," Fryger said.

At the West Side Market, the prices fell in the middle of the pack on most cuts of meat. They typically weren't the highest, and not the lowest. On the day we checked, the market prices were 20 to 50 cents more per pound than the butcher for most cuts.

"Two stands down there is a guy selling steaks, too," Pinzone said.

At the market, competition is around every corner helping drive down prices.

The prices vary day by day. The ground beef prices went down the day we bought them for our experiment . We paid $3.31 for the meat (picture A) that we bought from the West SIde Market. We paid $4.29 for the meat (picture B) that we bought from the grocery store. We paid $3.21 for the meat (picture C) that we bought from the butcher. So, a dollar difference from the cheapest to most expensive and only 10 cents difference between the butcher and West Side Market.

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