Jake Dickson, owner of Dickson’s Farmstand Meats, is innovating the meat world, ironically, by going back to the way things used to be done.
By using old school butchering techniques, his shop is reviving the lost art of butchery, and offering discerning New York cooks unusual, distinctive meat cuts.
It starts out back. Today, most meat you buy from a grocery store is brought in through the back door in a big ole’ box. Most retailers get their meat from large processing companies that slaughter and break down animal carcasses into large sections called primals.
The stores receive the vacuum-sealed parts, which are then sectioned into retail cuts like t-bones, tenderloins, and skirt steaks. Others don’t butcher at all; they simply order the parts of the animal in the quantities they think will sell, and the packager does the rest. The meat arrives in individual portions on a Styrofoam plate, ready to go straight from the box, to the case.
Go to Dickson’s Farmstand on a Wednesday morning, and your meat will come through the back door not in a box, but rather looking a whole lot like the animal from which it came. Each week, the shop brings in four steer, eight pig, and six lamb or goat carcasses.
Animals are raised specifically for Dickson’s on small farms in a humane, sustainable way. According to Jake, “the farmer’s just responsible for getting the live animal to the slaughterhouse, and we take over from there.”
Dickson’s buys whole carcasses and butchers them on site. It’s the way it used to be done, but almost never is any more.
In order to be profitable, and for Jake “to sleep at night,” the shop is committed to using each carcass in its entirety for food product. Says Jake,“this animal was raised on our behalf, from birth to slaughter, we want to make sure we’re getting the most out of it.”
This presents the shop with a unique set of challenges. Customers are used to certain familiar meat cuts, but for every tenderloin or rib eye that a steer carcass offers, there’s a whole lot of other parts for which the shop must find a home.
For example, a 1,050 pound steer which yields 550 lbs. of meat only offers 1.5 lbs of hanger steak. So with every animal butchered, after the steaks and chops are cut, there’s still many, many pounds of things to deal with, like organs and bones, or less familiar muscle cuts that make excellent steaks but are not normally sold.
Here’s why: the major meat processors deal in bulk, so they’re butchering the most popular meat cuts or the ones that are easiest to process. Everything else winds up in ground meat, sausages, or in non-food products.
Dickson’s does it differently. Relying on a team of highly skilled butchers—a rarity these days—and a kitchen team lead by David Schuttenberg, the store finds a home for every part.
The bones are used for marrow, the fat for lard. The liver becomes pâté, other offal, the most extravagant dog food you’re even seen.
And then there’s the meat. Taking center stage in plain view in the store, the Adam Tiberio-led butchery team break down the hanging carcasses into meaty parts with a skill and artistry rarely seen today.
It’s quite a spectacle, and that’s the way the store wants it. They want people to ask questions, to see the beauty and skill involved in this lost art of butchery.
Borrowing from meat–cutting traditions around the world, the shop’s butchers break the animal down to a level of granularity you won’t find in most places in this country, not now, not even back in the day when there was a butcher on every corner.
As meat processing industrialized, some labor-intensive meat cuts disappeared from the case. The Dickson’s butchers are bringing back these cuts, and inventing some of their own.
Take the sirloin. It’s a hell of a large piece of meat made up of different parts with varying textures best suited for different cooking methods. But it’s sold as a big hunk of meat because it’s easier to process it that way. At Dickson’s, the sirloin is divided into three distinct cuts, including the culotte, which grills beautifully.
It’s inefficient to extract the teres major, a very small shoulder muscle that is only ¾ of a pound, so it usually winds up in ground meat. It’s available as a steak at Dickson’s, and the staff will eagerly explain why it’s such a fine hanger steak substitute.
With challenge comes innovation: by striving for 100% utilization, Dickson’s Farmstand Meats offers artisanal meat products not widely available elsewhere. Nose-to-tailers can source their kidneys, brains, snouts and trotters here; food snobs and one-uppers can brag that they’ve cooked the elusive culotte steak or the platanillo . Everyone can feel good knowing they’re getting quality meat that’s raised, slaughtered, and handled the right way.