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The Family Behind the Country’s Best Steaks and Burgers

Tory Johnson

Related link: Best Burgers in the US

Think you know the best way to cook a burger or a steak? Here's how the owners of Pat LaFrieda & Son Meat Purveyors, who've been in business for 90 years as one of the country's premier butchers, say you should do it:

Keep your burger or steak at 36 degrees until just before cooking, so that the insides won't overcook (you can use a meat thermometer to check the temperature). Salt the meat before cooking, pepper it after, and get that grill to 500 degrees for the perfect sear. Finally, when it comes to cooking steak, don't flip the meat repeatedly. Let it cook just long enough on each side so it doesn't burn, and flip a total of just four times.

Pat LaFrieda Jr, who's the CEO of the company, knows from meat. The 30-degree LaFrieda meat vault contains 6,000 pieces of prime that's being aged from 14 to 120 days. "This is the most expensive room in the entire building," LaFrieda Jr. says. You're talking about $1.3 to $1.4 million of meat just aging at any given time."

It's a carnivore's dream.

As our tour continues, Pat Jr. tells me his facility churns out 100,000 burgers nightly, along with more than a quarter million pounds of various meats, all of which is delivered the next morning to top restaurants throughout New York City. Their custom blend "black label" burger made for Minetta Tavern has topped many best burger lists in recent years.

"Manhattan is an animal and needs to be fed," he says. "Yet it's an island, so logistics of getting meat there is tough. Every restaurant wants its delivery by 8am."

Along with his father Pat Sr. and cousin Mark Pastore, the LaFrieda family has made meat their business. From the exterior of their brick building to the fitted baseball caps inside, their slogan is seen everywhere: "Eat My Meat."

"It's a family tradition. It's our pride. We get out there and do the best we can," says proud papa Pat Sr. "It goes way back to Naples. My grandfather learned how to cut meat, decided to come to America, and he brought his trade with him."

Even though Pat Jr. devoted every school vacation to working in the business, it wasn't a given that he'd one day join the family trade full-time.

Related Link: Brother's Dying Wish Turns Into a Family Business

"I was that generation that was supposed to go off and do something bigger and better with my life," he says. "My father spent all of his money on our education. I became a broker and was trading stocks on Wall Street. I absolutely hated it."

In 1995, he convinced his father to give him a shot at working at LaFrieda Meats—and today dad credits his business-savvy son with making the company soar.

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Pat Jr. works the night shift, overseeing production of the meat for the next day. Pat Sr. arrives at 3:30am to process invoices and get the trucks out. Then Pastore starts by 8am to run the business side. The guys even star in their own reality show, "Meat Men," on the Food Network.

Pointing to high-end machinery that preps the meat and creates perfect vacuum packaging—each piece of technology requiring investments of up to $250,000, Pat Jr smiles. "I normally don't tell my dad when a new machine is coming until it gets here because I know he'll be angry about it."

Yet the LaFrieda's say their investment in technology and innovation has helped grow the business by 10 to 20 percent per year over the last decade.

"It's something my father always instilled in me: reinvest in your own company."