The idea of Dickson’s Farmstand Meats, Jake Dickson's butcher business in the Chelsea Market, formed four years ago when Dickson was looking for quality places to buy his meat outside of farmers markets and saw the opportunity for a business. In 2007 he left his corporate job to apprentice at multiple farms, a butcher shop, and at a slaughterhouse to learn the business and earn his chops. In 2008 he started working with a few farms, sold their meat at the farmers markets, and then opened up his shop a year later. Unlike some of the bigger purveyors featured, burgers are just a fraction of Dickson's business, where he sells cuts of whole meat retail. But he sure does know his way around one.
Where do you buy your meat? Jake Dickson: I buy mostly from four farms and I only buy whole animals. And which restaurants do you supply? I'm not a wholesaler really, I do 99 percent retail. The ultimate goal is to be all retail, but with whole animals you end up with meat that you just can’t sell while it’s fresh. With ground beef I don’t exactly lose money, but I don’t make money either. There’s no real economy of scale with what we do. If I could, I would be 100 percent retail and I wouldn’t provide meat to my friends over at Bark Hot Dogs. If you look at a larger purveyor like LaFrieda, he can actually make money at what he’s doing. It’s his main business. We’ll use the whole cow and then with the rest we’ll make sausages, we’ll make sloppy joes, but there’s always extra ground meat. There are only so many customers that can buy ground beef. So we sell to Fatty Crew, Bark, Brookvyn, Friedmans, Brooklyn Larder.
What's in your regular blend? We use chuck, round, and trim from the rib. But we'll make 100 percent brisket burger if someone wants. Our burgers have huge flavor because we dry age the whole animal. There’s high moisture content, and we’re using the whole animal so there are no surprises. Also the age of the animal is older—our cows are raised for 26 - 30 months as opposed to the usual 18 months—meaning there’s more time for flavor to develop. Naturally raised beef takes longer. We sell both 100 percent grass fed and grass fed/grain finished meat.
What special blends have your restaurant customers asked for? Bark Hot Dogs likes our standard blend, which is an 80/20 blend that goes once through the cork grinder and once through the medium blade. But the guys at Fatty Johnsons liked a fattier blend. They wanted a fatter meat content and a course blend so it just went three times through the medium grind. You can change things to a certain degree. You can alter the fat content, you can alter the grind. Some people want other fat like suet but it will render differently.
What's the best blend when you're making burgers for yourself: 80/20 fat ratio. I like different burgers for different occasions. Sometimes I’ll like a finer grind with a lower fat content. Sometimes I like a burger made on the flattop, which can have a higher fat content because you can do a large disk of meat...I generally prefer a classic char-grilled burger.
Best burger size? Again it depends. I like a large and flat burger sometimes because you get a lot of carmelization, but you lose the rare juiciness of it. Or I like a big meatball shaped burger, like my parents used to make, becuase it’s crispy on the outside and raw in the middle. It depends on the occasion. At an outdoor cookout, i’ll do a quarter pounder. Or sometimes I’ll freeze quarter pound disks, so when you put it on the grill you can actually get a pink middle.
What's your favorite New York burger? The Spotted Pig. My first beloved burger. They did my wedding too, the first event in the Breslin. And the bun? Sometimes I like a soft, insipid potato roll if the burger is really the magic. Amy’s seeded roll I also love. Depending on the toppings—if they aren’t too sweet—a brioche roll works. Toppings? I only like bacon and cheese (and ketchup of course). Too much other stuff will mask the flavor of the meat. Unless I’m in a place with questionable meat. Then I’ll get all the weird toppings.
Since you're so into sustainable meat and the use of whole animals, can you eat fast food anymore? Perhaps sometimes as a guilty pleasure? I really don’t any more. I find the experience too unpleasant. One time my truck broke down and I was at a rest stop, totally pissed off and I thought having a fast food burger would be a kind of guilty pleasure. But it just made me so ill. I’m fine with other people eating fast food. But there’s no longer any appeal to me, and I hope now that I provide a better option, it will no longer hold an appeal to a lot of people. You train your palate to change too. Since I’ve been doing this I’ve started to lose my taste for griddled burgers because they remind me of fast food burgers. So burgers like Shake Shack's will make me think of those fast food burgers.
Where do you stand on grass fed versus grain fed mear? Grassfed meat can make a great burger, you just might want to mix it more or add more fat. With grass fed a blend will be more like 85/15 or 90/10. I love grass fed. I buy it, I sell it. And I like that it does have an intense beefiness, you just need to grind it properly. It’s actually better to think in terms of fat vs. lean instead of grass vs. grain.
Pro tip: Burgers are almost the perfect expression of beef. It’s not fancy, it’s not expensive, and it’s an indicator of the quality of the beef itself. You should have a clean flavor. With my burgers I don’t mess around, just salt and pepper. Sometimes I find burgers almost healthy, especially if you’re using a charcoal grill and some of the fat renders out. A good burger doesn’t taste fatty.
People think they can’t cook a good steak or a good burger in their apartment and that’s bullshit. You may have an even better experience working with a saute pan and an oven than will an outdoor grill. Another big mistake: people don’t let their burgers rest. Like all meat hot off a charcoal grill, it needs to rest.
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