Dining

Meet the Man Behind Some of the World's Best Steaks

The art of dry aging, as told by the Bronx's meat whisperer
Dry Aging 101
Photo: Courtesy of Knife

Steakhouses have long been synonymous with New York City and, on a grander scale, the United States as a whole. And to frequent America’s best is to enjoy the fruits of the country’s greatest producers’ labor, local and mass-market alike, though very rarely do we pause halfway through a tomahawk to consider its roots in the way we would a small-batch rye whiskey or organic produce.

The art of dry-aging meats is an underrated one, as New York Prime Beef cofounder Vinnie Pacifico will tell you. On a recent visit to the company’s Bronx facility, he asks me what I do for a living; we speak at length about my work as a liquor writer before he draws a comparison between the culture of spirits distillation and aging, and how it’s mirrored in the meat industry—though the deification and admiration often present in drink culture is sorely lacking when it comes to meat.

New York Prime Beef's Dry-Aging Room | Photos: Celine Bossart

But Pacifico, a real-life picture of everything I’d hoped for in a Bronx-based meat locker kingpin, makes a good case for the practice’s appeal. “Dry-aging the best steak on the planet is like making a fine cognac or a fine port. There are so many nuances that make it taste different, so what I’m doing is making sure that everything we do is the best of the best, period. It’s an art form, and it’s interesting. And we’re doing it well.”

The dry-aging process begins in a climate-controlled environment, wherein near-freezing temps extract moisture from each cut of meat over the course of a period that lasts from several days to several weeks. The end goal is the optimization of flavor and tenderness. New York Prime Beef’s standard employs a minimum aging period of 28 days; each cut is 2 percent prime beef (USDA’s superior grade) and is hand-selected by the butcher before being trimmed, packed, personally signed and shipped overnight direct to the consumer. Pacifico’s tightly run ship brings premium Kobe, American Wagyu, filet, porterhouse, T-bone, New York strip and more cuts to front doors and restaurant kitchens around the world.

The finished product

Pacifico has been around the block, both at the forefront of the industry’s evolution and behind the scenes of the final product that hits the consumer’s table, growing a business that now employs more than 800 people. He has been in the meat business since the 1970s; when he finished college, he started working for a supermarket, and then got a job working for a poultry processor selling poultry to the New York and Boston areas. Four years later, he decided to see if he could make it on his own. “Over the years, I’ve built a lot of meat distribution companies and bought quite a few of them, too, with the goal of increasing market share, making money and doing good things for the people who work for the companies,” he says. “We have generations of people now. Grandfathers, fathers, sons and grandsons—not just a few, but many.”

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When the outside facility that had handled the dry aging for his company went out of business, he brought the practice in-house.  “I said, ‘Well, I don’t really want to ask somebody else to dry-age for me now,’” he remembers, adding, “I was at a point in my life where I wanted to do it better than the last people did it, and do it myself. And that’s what we’re doing. And we’re having a lot of fun doing it.”

Vinnie Pacifico, New York Prime Meats cofounder

A self-described traditionalist, Pacifico’s tips for cooking dry-aged steak at home are simple: “You don’t have to marinate it; it’s already the best stuff there is. Maybe a little salt and pepper. And it cooks in—well, it depends on how you like it—but 10 or 15 minutes. I’ll cook a thin steak in a skillet, or I’ll cook it on a barbecue grill, or a combination of both. Sometimes, I make it for breakfast.”

Pacifico’s love for meat is second only to his obsession with art. His relief from the processing facilities comes in the form of two graffiti-adorned rooftop spaces flanking—pun intended—his company’s second-floor offices, which are located near the dry-aging locker in the Hunts Point Cooperative Market complex. For Pacifico, there’s no better place to unwind after work, while throwing a few T-bones on the grill and sipping a fine whiskey on the rocks.

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