Top 5 butcher shops in the Twin Cities

As the three-day weekend looms, it's time to scrape off those grates and get ready for grilling. The key to a carnivorous cookout is a high-quality cut of meat. While it's not hard to pick up a chub of hamburger from any old grocery mart, buying meat from a butcher shop not only ensures quality but affords the opportunity to pick up more interesting cuts.

We've done our homework, and these are Top 5 favorite butcher shops, plus one irresistible honorable mention.

Honorable Mention: Bar 5 Farms
While not a butcher shop, it is one of our favorite purveyors of fine meats. Easily found at the Minneapolis Farmers Market on Thursdays and Saturdays as well as the St. Paul Farmers Market, this family-run farm has the height of customer service. Just let them know what you're looking for, or how you'd like that meat cut, and they can help you out. From brats to chicken sausages, they've got your sausage needs covered. The bacon is incredible (try the Hungarian spiced).

5. Widmer's Meat Market
The secret to really great beef is aging. That's why sides of cow hang on the hooks in Widmer's cavernous refrigerator for at least two weeks before they're sliced into the ruby-red, fork-tender sirloins, ribs, and rounds that tempt you from under the 20-foot-glass counter -- at prices, mind you, that easily beat some of the larger stores. The hamburger is made from top-quality cuts, without the "filler" other butchers like to grind up. On request, Widmer's will even sell you a whole hindquarter, aged, sliced, and neatly packaged in old-fashioned freezer paper.

4.  Hackenmueller's
Located on a picturesque little stretch of Robbinsdale, time has barely touched Hackenmueller's. The folks behind the counter know the names of all their customers, and they also know all there is about each cut of meat. They will happily take a new customer through each item in the case or in the freezer and explain what it is and the best way to prepare it. A great neighborhood gem, even if you live nowhere near this neighborhood.

3.  Everett's Meats
This is a seriously old-school butcher counter inside of a small grocery store. The case is packed with everything from headcheese to braunschweiger to smoked turkey legs to a myriad of smoked sausages. The skin-on wieners are a German-style delicacy. Even the bologna is enough to remind you why you loved the stuff as a kid. The entire room smells of history and smoked pork chops. The gentlemen behind the counter sport the clean white coats and have all the knowledge you could ever hope to acquire about a well-cut piece of meat.

2.  Heartland Farm Direct Market
When James Beard Award-nominated chef Lenny Russo moved his restaurant from a small space in the Mac/Groveland neighborhood to St. Paul's Lowertown, some speculated what he would do with all that space. They needn't have worried. The king of locavore cuisine shares his tastiest secrets with the masses. Along with jars of house-made kimchi, pickles, fish stock, duck fat and lard, he also has a gorgeous meat case packed with heritage breeds--and all of it is local. The bacon, often made from Duroc pork, a leaner breed, is a little more expensive than a grocery store variety, but that's because there is precious little to work with. The sausages include varieties made from goat and lamb. The headcheese is like no other. Or pick up a couple of the so-fresh-they-look-like-they're-still-swimming whole fish.

1.  Clancey's Meat & Fish
This small Linden Hills shop is the often-repeated answer to "Where can I get...?" A full pork belly? They can get it. Suckling pig? Give them a couple of days. Sausage, steak, chicken, duck -- whatever carnivorous need you have, Clancey's is here to help.  Best of all, everything comes from a farm where the animals were well cared for and sustainably raised. This is also a great spot for picking up the freshest of eggs -- chicken, duck, sometimes quail. The hardest part is walking out without one of their award-winning sandwiches.

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