Read it online in Connect Savannah here
GENERATIONS ago, purveyors of their craft dominated the food scene. Fish mongers, bakers, greengrocers, and butchers alike, supplying their city with the freshest, most local goods around.
Over the past several decades, most of these shops have vanished, making way for mega-grocery stores that cater more to convenience than quality. Shoppers carelessly toss prepackaged boneless skinless chicken breasts pumped with synthetic additives into their carts simply because it’s easy and cheap.
For artisans like butchers, this phenomenon is agonizing. People have become so desensitized to discounted meats that they forgot what it was supposed to taste like.
Fortunately for them, and us, a wave of new-school butcher shops have been popping up around the country. These shops specialize in nose-to-tail butchery, buying whole animals locally and utilizing every part.
A family of old-school butchers bringing new-breed butchery to Savannah is the McClune family of Ogeechee Meat Market. This family-run meat market off of Highway 17 can only be described as a throwback mom and pop operation for people who want the best that meat has to offer.
The Ogeechee Meat Market has a band of crystal clear glass cases lining its rectangular shop just chock-full of quality local meats at family-friendly prices. The McClunes fill their cases daily with freshly cut USDA Choice Black Angus Beef, premium all-natural pork, all-natural chicken, lamb, rabbit, seafood, Georgia buffalo—you name it, they have it!
Along with providing whole, halves and quarters of pig, lamb, and cow, this shop specializes in homemade products like sausage, bacon, jerky, and lunchmeat.
“We are going back to what a butcher shop used to be. We offer old-fashioned service in a fast-paced world,” boasts Matthew McClune, son of Gary and Robin McClune.
The patriarch of the family, Gary McClune, began this trade nearly 50 years ago, becoming a certified butcher, as was customary in his generation. The process was demanding, involving an apprenticeship followed by a grueling exam.
Gary became a meat artisan, working at a small family shop in Pennsylvania for two years before moving into the BI-LO butchery department. Back then, grocery stores hired butchers to wield their steel blades, producing high-quality cuts for their customers.
About 30 years ago, when BI-LO opened a store on Hilton Head, Gary moved to set up their butchery department. Shortly after, grocery stores across the country realized they could pay half price for untrained employees, rather than educated craftsmen like Gary.
For this reason, he left the corporate butchery world and sought his own business—a butchery shop that did not compromise his values or the product.
With this ambition, Gary bought a three-cased space in the back of a gas station in Hinesville. He and wife Robin, along with their four children, ran the Discount Meat Shop as a family business.
Just about 14 years ago the McClunes moved one last time to their current location on Ogeechee Road. The Ogeechee Meat Market has expanded over the years from the crammed front of the building to the full length of the rectangular space.
After many years of success, the meat market not only gained repeat customers but also new patrons curious about their offerings. As business picked up, the McClune’s hired more staff members.
Gary continued to butcher meats, teaching his two sons Matthew and Andrew, as well as daughter Ashley, the ins and outs of his craft.
“Butchery is an art. We know the best way to cut and cook meat. Grocery stores are pulling meat out of a box and hiring people who have no idea about it. These meats have additives and preservatives, taking away from freshness and flavor,” Matthew McClune expounds.
“America has lost the knowledge of cooking meats properly within a couple generations. It is our passion to educate the consumer. Our goal is to help them be the heroes of family dinner once again.”
Matthew explains that everything at The Ogeechee Meat Market is cut fresh every day. Because of this the shop is immaculate and odorless.
With the mentality of, “If they can do it, then I can do it and I can do it better, ” Matthew and his family spend countless hours perfecting recipes to house-made goods.
Matthew and brother Andrew arrive early to the shop every morning to prepare. One of their duties is to hand-make sausage by grinding and seasoning the meat and filling the casings.
They coarsely grind premium pork Boston butts, creating a hearty chew. The lean sausages are flavored with fresh local spices from Spices Etc. in Savannah.
Gary taught his boys how to make Country Hot and Mild sausages, and from there they developed over 30 different flavors, including Ghost Pepper, Beirwurst, Boudin, and Chili Cheese. While their award-winning Vidalia Onion sausage is bangin’, patrons can find at least 16 varieties in the case every day. As a breakfast lover, my favorite was the Blueberry Maple links. Each bite yielded pops of whole fresh blueberries with a syrupy sweetness.
The McClunes also make their own bacon without nitrates or chemicals. They use both Boston butt pork and pork belly to create the best texture and flavor. With an assortment like Maple, Slab, English, Peppered, Rindless, Double Smoked, and Sugar-Free (yes, it exists), there is something for everyone. If you want something slightly gamey, go for the Lamb Bacon.
As if that were not enough, The Ogeechee Meat Market provides house-made uncured all-beef hotdogs with a natural casing that lends a satisfying snap with each bite.
Beef jerky is also made daily, cut from the whole muscle of a cow. Each piece is dried at a low temperature for 6-8 hours and then marinated in seasoning for an additional 6-8 hours. There is a range of flavors including, but not limited to, original pepper, sage, Korean BBQ, sweet teriyaki and ranch chipotle.
The family has their own Smokery on the premises, where a trained Smokeologist smokes everything from beef brisket and salmon to sausages and turkey. All the meat is smoked with hickory because it pairs with all cuts and complexities.
The Ogeechee Meat Market partners with local farms to provide the best meat at the right price. Ambos Seafoods in Savannah supplies all their seafood. The USDA Choice Black Angus beef, grass- and grain- fed, is from different farms and co-ops in Florida. Claxton Poultry ships chickens to the McClunes daily and D.L. Lee & Sons located in Alma, GA, supplies the pork.
As customers enter the meat market, McClune family members greet them from behind a counter brimming with meats. If they’re lucky, one of the McClunes will be dressed like a cow or chicken, embracing their light-hearted nature.
Each customer is given the undivided attention of an educated member of the staff, as it is their goal to not only help people get out of a dinner rut, but to teach them how to prepare each cut to their liking.
The Ogeechee Meat Market represents all that a classic butcher shop used to be. The McClunes teach us a lesson on valuing the product that we put into our carts and our mouths, causing us to appreciate the people who know it best.