Brooklyn’s The Meat Hook Modernize Butchery and Have Fun Doing It
Located under the BQE overpass in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, The Meat Hook partnered with Brooklyn Kitchen in 2009 to take over a massive furniture and mattress warehouse and turned it into one of the country's premier butcher shops and teaching kitchens. After working together at Marlow & Daughters, Tom, Ben and Brent left to literally build their new business from the ground up, helping with basic construction and according to Brent Young, "Doing about a year's worth of work in 3 months to get ready to open." The space is now a destination for both professional and amateur chefs, rooftop grill masters and anyone interested in learning how to butcher a pig.
Handwritten foodie personals adorn the entry wall and the space is home to antiques and novelties of all sorts like a fully functional Toledo "No Springs, Honest Weight" scale. Aside from their famous meat cases the shop is stocked with amazing local food products from pasta to pickles to Bloody Mary mix and all the restaurant-quality utensils and equipment you might need to cook them.
Ben Turley, one of the shop's three founding butchers, described the forward-thinking vision that makes The Meat Hook different from your typical butcher counter. "What we had originally imagined was a classic Americana style butcher shop from the 1940's or 50's but we didn't want to get into pates and tourines and high end hams. We wanted to get away from that bullshit and embrace our neighborhood, which is mostly middle class Polish and Italian, but we also wanted to do things that were traditionally American. I mean we all like hamburgers and hot dogs way more than head cheese so we were stoked on the idea of creating that workspace for ourselves especially after being at Daughters where it was definitely a more upper-class clientele. But once we got really moving and the wheels started turning in the space we saw a lot of opportunities in other areas and took advantage of the intern community, we built ourselves a smoker and have started to age our own hams. Basically any space that we find in our walk-in we find a new project to fill it."
The Meat Hook share their extensive space with Brooklyn Kitchen and together they fill out a monthly curriculum of classes on everything from knife skills to pickling to homebrewing your own beer. Ben described the social nature of the courses.
"I always teach sausage making because I get to make it really competitive and get everyone to shit talk each other which makes it more fun for me. I just did my first non-hands on class which was a tasting and discussion of different types of salamis, the history and science behind salami and just curing in general. That was a lot of fun."
"Give people a couple of free beers and everybody becomes friends a lot easier, more open and willing to ask questions, it's less formal... Especially when people are just getting off work and running straight here I try to cook up some food and give them a drink to make it more fun and also like in the sausage-making class so they can compare what they're making to what they tasted earlier."
The guys are also involved with a pair of ambitious summer side projects. They were approached by the Parks & Recreation department to help with the revitalization of Rockaway Beach in Queens and teamed up with fellow New Brooklyn foodie favorite Roberta's to create Rippers, a 70's inspired beach bar serving the most delicious hot dogs and hamburgers you're likely to have ever tasted straight out of the ocean. Manager Michelle Cortez is dedicated to delivering, "good vibes and good times" so the surf shack also features a juice bar and several vegetarian options.
The Meat Hook will also join 100+ vendors every Saturday this summer at Smorgasburg!, Brooklyn Flea's all-food market on the Williamsburg Waterfront. Ben Turley gave us a description of their booth that should be recorded and used as a radio ad on rock stations around the world, "We have by far the biggest installation there and we're grilling and doing hot items but really just trying to throw a party every weekend. We are working on creating take home packs for people that want to grill that night but also doing chili cheese dogs where the chili and cheese are already inside the hot dog. Like 7-11 — trashy. We just try to have as much fun as possible. We blast classic rock and whenever friends come by we'll just throw beers at you and feed you..."
If you follow The Meat Hook on Twitter you might start to believe they're involved in nothing more than a 24/7 fiesta but please don't let all the fun these guys have at work fool you into thinking they aren't dead serious about their mission to use only the highest quality whole animals from local, sustainable farms and get them to your barbecue at an affordable price.
Ben Turley quickly becomes focused when I ask him about the shop's commitment to their mission statement, "Brent and I came from a background where it was pretty much pre-packed meat. God-only-knows-where-it-came-from meat. So getting up here and being able to really learn what good meat is all about, to the point of being somewhat ashamed of where we started out, was a big shift for us. We now know farmers that are so incredibly respectful and just complete badasses in the way they do things. They know how to raise an animal, what kind of animal on what kind of grass... There's so much math and science and knowledge that goes into it it's astounding and also very, very inspiring. We inspire them, they inspire us and when you're doing something that's local and sustainable you'll very quickly find people that are into the same ideas and gravitate towards them and it ends up creating a really nice, insulated community."
Brent Young echoed some of Ben's thoughts, "The reason we all started butchering in general was to be a part of a movement that works directly with farmers because we're all incredibly interested and invested in exactly where these animals come from. Tom is obsessed with the genetics and breeding programs... We have way too many serious conversations about bull semen. That's something we actually talk about and I think that's incredibly unique. We care that much that we're willing to have those conversations and because of that we're able to give our farmers a lot of really good, informed feedback which just continues the cycle of getting the highest quality product."
Tom Mylan's recurring pieces for The Atlantic, which range from the instructional ("How To Wield A Knife") to the more thoughtful, bigger picture view ("A Butcher's Case for Small Cattle and a Small World") are further evidence of The Meat Hook's commitment to changing people's perception of the meat process as well as their eating and shopping habits. Each column is written from a very level-headed point of view mixed with Tom's unique sense of humor making even the more difficult topics fun, easy reads.
As you might expect from one of New York's finest supplier of grilled meats the guys at The Meat Hook have a few BBQ basics they swear by like Martin's potato rolls and Gulden's mustard. Ben Turley broke it down for us, "Potato rolls win two-fold. First, way tastier than a regular roll. Second, will live well past its sell-by date. You can keep those things in your house for a month past sell-by date and they still taste fresh. Just flavor-wise it's a way better vehicle for anything that you're making. Gulden's mustard, a lot of our inspiration for anything here is going back to our childhood and the things we loved as kids and stand by still. That's why we love making really good hamburgers and hot dogs. Gulden's mustard is just something we all grew up with and cherish. Even the barbecue sauce we make here is because Matt who makes it is from Virginia and I'm from Virginia and we both love North Carolina style barbecue so that's what you're going to find here. So a lot of it is just our own personal preference but I think it also ties into the mission statement of the space which is to tap into universals that we all love, keep it simple and just do it really well."
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