The foolish may assume that one cut of meat is just like any other. The truth of the matter is that there is most definitely an art behind the preparation of those savory morsels that grace so many dinner tables every single day.
You not only need the experience and education to make the most out of an animal, but you also need to be clever with a cleaver. This is what separates the men from the boys, and what also helps to define a true butcher.
You can find Oscar Enciso behind the counter at Wood-Dale Market, fully engaged in his passion for delivering the best choices of meats to the Bakersfield community. If you would have told a younger version of him that he would be butchering for over almost 40 years, he wouldn’t have believed you. “I’ve been a butcher since 1978,” he began. “I got into it when I was attending East High School and joined the ROC Program my junior year. Only, I had actually enlisted for body and fender, since every guy wants to know how to work on cars.” Unfortunately (or, rather, blessedly), the course was full, but the man in charge told him there was an opening for meat cutting. Enciso decided to give it a shot, and he has been thusly engaged ever since.
Years later, a break was made when he began working for Helm’s Old Fashion Meat Market, where he and the owner, Don Helm, created some 18 unique sausage combinations together. Since then, he has actually expanded his variety of sausages to over 30, and you can’t find them anywhere else. “Don and I created a jalapeño cheddar sausage, German sausage, Cajun, beer bratwurst,” he listed amongst many others. “When he retired, he gave me the rights to the recipes, and since I have created more, like my Kickin’ Chicken and chile verde sausages.”
Making the sausage is more than just throwing some spices into meat and calling it a day. Enciso grinds the meat, blends the spices in by hand, stuffs it into the casings, and then twists it. There is no part of this process that involves a conveyor belt or a factory. Enciso is so in tune with what he does that he can even literally smell when a sausage recipe has been prepared incorrectly. Some recipes are older, like the German one, which is an Amish recipe. Others, like the chile verde, are more personal, as he created that based on his grandma’s recipe.
The education that he received in high school also served him well, and has set him above and beyond other butchers. “We had to learn the bone structure and went through every detail of the animals,” he stated. “We were tested on everything.” It is very much thanks to that and to his dedication to his craft that he is able to prepare everything from bacon to t-bones. And it isn’t just beef that he can slice and dice: from whole hogs to deer, when hunting season is in full swing, he is the man to go see when you suddenly have a large animal on your hands.
Well-versed in what he called “breaking down” these different animals, he relayed that he had also learned “hand to hand cutting, processing, and knowing one cut from the other. For instance, a short loin can be cut into several things: it can be filleted, or if you take off the bone and it becomes a New York steak,” Enciso elaborated. “But if you leave the bone on and just cut it, it becomes the t-bone. Even with the ribs, it can be a prime rib or rib steaks or cut into ribeye steaks. One piece can be cut three or four different ways.”
Just as important as the knowledge is the sharpness of your equipment. Enciso emphasized that sharp knives are crucial in what he does, especially since you want to make a clean cut not just for quality, but also for safety. “Most butchers cut themselves if they’re using dull knives because they will have to use more force to get through the meat, and the knife can come out the other end more suddenly and stab them.” This might be one of the most critical elements of his crafty cutting ways.
In a world where some butchers have never even heard of a tri-tip (yes, they do exist), there really isn’t enough that can be said about someone as skilled and talented as Enciso. Butchers of his caliber are simply a cut above the rest.