Bringing Back the Butcher of Yore

Bringing Back the Butcher of Yore

An interview with Casey McKissick of Foothills Farm & Butchery


Meat lovers, meet your new playground: Foothills Farm & Butchery, the six-month-old full-service, whole-animal butcher shop and deli from the family farmers of Foothills Pasture Raised Meats. A bevy of delights await through the door under the giant, inviting neon MEATS sign—the latest Black Mountain landmark that, fittingly, glows blue on a Blue Ridge night.
Raw meats ready for your culinary magic? They’ve got ‘em. Lunch sandwiches and complete to-go dinners from their chefs, aka ready to eats heavy on meats? Check. Specialty sausages? Naturally. Housemade hot dogs? Duh! All local and pasture-raised, of course. Foothills’ own meats are stocked and on the menu, along with offerings from other area farms with the same pasture-raised commitment.

So fasten your seat belts, carnivores. Here, I get the scoop on everything from their hot dog recipe to their smoking process from co-owner Casey McKissick (Meredith McKissick is also co-owner and general manager).


M: I know you’ve grown everything, including produce, in your past 10 years farming. Why did meat stick as your main farming focus?

C: The work schedule from February to December on a produce farm is pretty brutal—long, long days that are even long for farming with very little flexibility. Animal production has a bit more flexibility built in, and it always seemed gentler on family life. Market demand, profit margins, personal interest, and an aching back had something to do with it, too.

M: What inspired the butcher shop?

C: I’ve always loved the idea of the old school, full-service butcher shop. The butcher of yore took responsibility for the whole animal and had to have the skills to turn each pound of lean, fat, bone, skin, and offal into a marketable product that could make money—and find or create a buyer for each item. The renaissance of the local butcher is playing out across the country, riding the wave of the local food movement. There are still only a couple handfuls of shops like ours, but I think we’ll see more and more of them. We’re one of the very few owned and operated by the farmers themselves. We bring in top-notch food professionals, chefs, and butchers to turn our animals into delicious and nutritious foods. A big part of the inspiration was also to be able to make a hot dog we wanted for our kids: the perfect dog made out of good, clean meat. Turns out, lots of other parents also want this for their kids.

M: You had me at hot dog. Tell me a bit more about your version of the classic.

C: Hot dogs are incredibly nostalgic for me. They were a pretty big part of my life as a kid, specifically chili dogs purchased from ball parks, auctions, fairs, and other like venues. As adults, and then as parents, we get turned off by them when we learn more about how they’re made and exactly what’s in the industrial version. We wanted to make a dog that kids and adults both love, and that even the pickiest parents can get behind. Our dogs are 50/50 beef and pork and always, always, always only meat that comes from our regular suppliers—truly local and pasture-raised animals. Our dogs are made with only hand-cut lean and fat, the same parts that stay on our whole muscle cuts like pork chops or bacon, or are ground to make sausages and burgers. No mystery meats here. This fact and that we do it all by hand makes them a little more expensive, but we think they’re way worth it!

M: The hot dogs are smoked, right? What’s your smoking process like?

C: We smoke meats for flavor and cooking, not preservation, so items like hot dogs need only about 20 minutes to cook thoroughly and pick up a subtle smoky flavor. We do pulled pork barbeque at least once a week. We only cook bone-in pork shoulders with the skin on them—this is more traditional than the skinless, boneless cuts you’ll find at the grocery. These big pork shoulders cook for 16+ hours sometimes. We use a lot of fruit woods like apple and cherry, but we certainly like oak and hickory depending on the meat and the dish. If you thought you’d never want to eat smoked meat at 7 am, imagine walking in to open the shop and smelling 16-hour pork just finishing up!

M: I’m listening, and drooling. What are some more favorites from the shop—smoked or otherwise?

C: Bacon is hugely popular. We do both pork and beef bacon, and both are outstanding. Our Sweet Tea Ham also always moves quickly. And, we keep five or six different kinds of sausages at a time; they change from week to week. In the deli, the lunchtime regulars order sandwiches like our Philly cheesesteak, pork belly gyro, and meatball sub. Of course, everything is made in-house. It’s very hard to make money raising animals and selling only raw meat like pork chops. You’ve got to make bacon, deli ham, charcuterie, head cheese, hot dogs, etc.—things that people get really excited about.

M: Has there been a learning curve going from farmer to butcher shop owner? Can you share your challenges and high points?

C: We’ve been farming for close to 10 years, and the physical and emotional demands of farming are still the hardest part of the job. We’ve also been in a retail business for all that time—we just had limited hours and availability at a tailgate market. That part is not too different; now we just have a store and don’t have to pack and unpack for three hours each workday. Providing outstanding customer service is critically important. We’ve built a base of regular customers in this area that are so valuable to us—not only for the financial support but the sense of belonging to a greater community. Our staff is incredibly knowledgeable: they’ve been to the farms, they know meat, they know how to cook it, and they can help you! You have to treat customers with respect and offer them outstanding products with the utmost attention to quality and transparency. We don’t “greenwash” when it comes to local. We’re now retailers, but we’re also producers, so we know what it means to really purchase from local farmers and food businesses day in and day out, week after week. The shop has purchased over $33,000 in local products from area farms and businesses since opening. We put our money where our mouth is, since that’s what we’re asking our customers to do everyday. That’s why the sign on the front of our building says “Honest Meat.”

To learn more about Foothills Farm & Butchery, visit them online at www.foothillslocalmeats.com, and follow them via Facebook and Twitter for weekly menu updates.

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