Butcher Shelbi Nation serves up prime cuts—and some serious meat knowledge—at Wyoming Meat Market.
How did you get into your current career?
I had recently moved back from Maine and was working in kitchens around town. At the time, I was at Cilantro helping Darren [Phan] get things back up and running. I was ready for something of my own or a change, though. I went to check out Wyoming Community Coffee when I stumbled upon the Wyoming Meat Market. At the time, I was looking at butchering programs around the country and in Italy. I started talking with Jim [Gelhausen], the owner of 41 years, and he was telling me about their whole animal Wagyu program. I asked if I could start coming on my off days to help butcher. He said yes. The rest is history.
I love the art of butchering. I love taking the whole animal and finding all the different treasures hidden among the cow. It’s a very special industry. It’s front of house and back of house in one. I get to talk to people all day about what they’re cooking, help them find unique cuts for whatever they’re looking to make for their family and friends, and I get to learn every day. It’s fulfilling. I leave everyday feeling grateful.
There aren’t a lot of women in your field, right? Does that work in your favor in any way?
I’m probably one of the few girls in the country who hangs a whole cow up every week. People are always amused when I sling around 200 pounds of meat. We do everything on four butcher blocks from the 1930s with a couple of knives and a hand saw. I like the physical challenge of it.
What’s your specialty?
Our specialty at the meat market is Wagyu. I’d like to grow that program into not only a local Wagyu program, but also an international Wagyu program. I would say my specialty is in beef because of this. In terms of butchering specialties, I’m a sucker for pulling apart the round and the chuck. I’ve got a cult following for chuck flap. It’s crazy how many people I’ve turned on to chuck flap.
What’s the best part about your job?
Jim and I have a great time at the meat market with people. It is like Cheers every day in there, so I absolutely love that. In terms of the actual job, I love playing with all the different cuts and replacing the “traditional” cut with something else. You know, you read all these cookbooks, watch all of these cooking shows and they always lead you down one path, “flank steak for fajitas,” “Chuck eye for that,” “blah blah blah,” but there is so much more to the cow than what you’ve always been told. I like when people want to learn and explore and I get to talk shop and go on this meat adventure with them.
How do you determine a good cut of meat?
It is all good. I would say nothing is bad. It all has different applications. You know, I hardly ever eat traditional steaks. I mostly eat skirt steaks, cuts out of the chuck, and flap meat. The only thing that matters is quality. We carry Wagyu and a few cuts of prime. When you buy high quality meat, everything is good. There is so much more versatility with the different cuts when you use higher grades.
What’s the most popular cut of meat at your shop?
It all depends on the season. Since we are a whole animal shop, we have tons of unique cuts people can’t get at every shop so we have people travel from all over looking for those. Some of the most popular cuts are Tomahawks and porterhouses. These are show-stopping pieces of meat that you can’t get at every shop. We sell lots of secondary cuts such as skirts, tri-tips, flanks, and flat-irons also. Everything moves though. Every week we are pushing for next week’s cattle. The goal is to sell it all.
How has the pandemic changed your work?
We have been grinding away at the shop since the pandemic took hold. We’ve been busier now than ever with people cooking at home. Catering is down, obviously, but we have been busy at the shop. I’d love to do more butcher breakdowns. Hopefully, we can start those back up soon. Also, showing people how to cook Tomahawks, dry aging, etc. I had started a meat blog before COVID, but it kind of fell off with how busy things got.
Who inspires your work?
My great grandma came over from Italy and opened a steakhouse in Illinois. She was a badass chef. Probably one of the only women run kitchens in America at the time. My grandfather started out as a butcher in the stockyards in Ft. Worth, and moved up to become the VP of Swift, a meat processor. My mom, who was a stay-at-home mom, somehow walked down the dingy path of becoming a restaurant owner when I was in eighth grade. She has owned two restaurants and a brewery. I’m inspired by their grind. Also, you know, Jim is my mentor—I admire all of the hard work and dedication he has put into this craft. Don’t tell him this, though.
Wyoming Meat Market, 513 Wyoming Ave., Wyoming, (513) 821-1304