As fall sets in, so does the urge to forgo summer’s lighter dishes and dig into something more substantial—like meat. We caught up with Pat LaFrieda to discuss the city’s best burgers, meat misconceptions, and his new book.
When it comes to meat, there’s no better-known man than Pat LaFrieda: A fourth-generation butcher that, along with his business partner and cousin, Mark Pastore, created the legendary $28 “Black Label” burger for Minetta Tavern.
The family has come a long way from the small Brooklyn butcher shop they opened in 1922. These days, the LaFriedas are starring on Food Network’s reality show Meat Men and Pat has penned his first book, which is appropriately titled Meat: Everything You Need to Know. In this glossy, beautiful picture book of meat, LaFrieda effortlessly breaks down meats by animal type, and guides the reader though often-tricky techniques and cuts.
Below, the world’s most famous butcher tells Gotham where to get the finest steak, the city’s best (and most overrated) burgers, and what you’re doing wrong on the grill.
You sell LaFrieda meat all over America. In your opinion, where can one find the best steak in the U.S.? PAT LAFRIEDA: In my opinion, they’re in New York City. The côte de boeuf at Minetta Tavern is amazing, the porterhouse at Porter House New York, and the skirt steak at The Spotted Pig are the very best.
New Yorkers love their burgers. What’s your favorite in NYC for both high and low price points? PL: For a lower price point, it’s Schnipper's. And for high-end, it’s the Black Label Burger. It’s really hard to beat Minetta Tavern. More people order it as an app to share, and—to me—that says a lot about dining and that burger. Four people often split it four ways, so that they can try that and have a steak, too.
How did the Black Label burger come about? PL: Initially, I wanted to see if I could get the dry-aged steak experience in a burger. I love dry-aged beef, and I started to take some of the steaks, debone them, and put them in the grinder. I had a tasting at Astor Center with this blend, and some people loved it and some didn’t. One of the chefs who did like it, privately asked us if we could create that blend only for them. Little did I know, they were in the developing stages of Minetta Tavern, and this would soon become their legendary Black Label Burger. This was done on only a handshake, and it’s their custom blend today.
On that note, what’s the most overrated burger in NYC? PL: I think the JG Melon burger is an overrated burger. There’s a lot of talk about it and I just wonder if it’s after a couple of beers or before. More than likely it’s after.
Pat LaFrieda's new book, Meat.
What are the biggest mistakes that people make in the kitchen or on the grill? PL: The biggest mistake is the most obvious: When people put the meat on the grill and it’s not hot enough yet. It sounds so simple, but it happens time and time again, and it’s the biggest mistake. Five hundred degrees for surface area or higher is the optimal [temperature], but people often make the mistake of putting it on at 300 or so. You need to make sure you get that sizzle when the meat is put on, and the way to do that is to have a perfectly hot grill.
In your new book, Meat, you cover many different animals and tons of different parts. What’s the most underutilized cut or part of the animal that Americans should embrace? PL: When it comes to beef, the chuck steak is definitely the most underutilized cut. And, I’ve never stopped eating tripe.
Let’s say I’m a New Yorker with an unlimited budget, but can’t cook. What do I buy at the butcher shop? PL: I’d get a great steak. Here are four things you need to look for: Black Angus beef, less than 24 months of age, USDA prime, and dry aged.