Tonight will mark the launch of the second artisanal beef jerky company to officially plant its flag in New York’s terra firma since the beginning of January. At or around 8 p.m., the folks behind SlantShack Jerky will offer the curious and hungry a chance to descend upon Bushwick to “meet our meat” — and listen to music and consume copious amounts of alcohol.
Though it bills itself as “a neighborhood jerky company,” SlantShack was not dreamed up in the kitchen of somebody’s Brooklyn walk-up. It’s the brainchild of Josh Kace, a resident of Jersey City who’s been making the jerky in his kitchen for the past four or so years. Kace, whose day job is as an energy engineer for a start-up energy consultancy, has enjoyed a lifelong love affair with strips of dried beef. But it wasn’t until he was in college that he saw there was a world beyond prepackaged, highly processed meat.
“One year for Christmas, my mom decided to make homemade beef jerky for Christmas dinner,” he says. “It was a revolution for me.” That revolutionary fervor inspired him to forsake prepackaged jerky in favor of making his own, and he subsequently spent a year and a half perfecting his recipes. Two years ago, SlantShack was born.
Kace’s jerky won a following among his friends, and soon enough, word of mouth begot publicity. Some more recent exposure, including an article in an issue of Maxim, forced Kace and the company’s seven other members (who are mainly college friends) to rethink their production materials and methods. Originally, Kace made his jerky with supermarket beef and turkey, the latter of which he used for turkey jerky. But “with our more recent publicity, we had to become more serious, and think about sourcing our meat,” he says.
This has translated into a partnership with a Vermont cattle company that both supplies SlantShack with 100 percent grass-fed, pasture-rasied beef and processes the beef into jerky on-site. Now, Kace says, “our plan is on the website to offer two different types of meat: standard USDA-approved beef and 100 percent grass-fed. We don’t want to offer just grass-fed because it’s so much more expensive, but at the same time, we want to accommodate people who want to express their social consciousness with their purchases.” Because the Vermont facility isn’t approved for processing poultry, the turkey jerky is currently off the table, though Kace hopes to be able to offer it again within the next few months.
A big part of the struggle to get the company off the ground, Kace says, was finding a meat processing facility to generate “a product that has the quality we’re looking for, something that separates us from the Slim Jims of the world.”
And also, perhaps not so incidentally, that separates them from Kings County Jerky Co., that other artisanal jerky start-up. Although SlantShack and Kings County were both fixtures at the late and lamented Greenpoint Food Market, Kace says they never overlapped, and he’s sanguine about the competition: “I think there’s space for both of us.” Plus, he points out, SlantShack will offer “fully customizable” beef jerky: For $30 per pound (or $40 for a mix of eight varieties), customers can choose their type of meat, marinade, spice rubs, and glazes.
And despite the current lull in production — which is expected to start up in a couple of weeks, after Kace and company figure out how to fix their capacity so that they maintain the quality of their product — Kace is thinking far beyond the local level. Thanks to the Maxim article, he expects to start making some 3,000 pounds of jerky, up from the 10 to 20 pounds that SlantShack previously produced on a monthly basis. In addition to selling the jerky online, he expects to make it available at local markets and bars within the next few months, and he is considering the possibility of trying to sell it through a high-end supermarket like Whole Foods.
But tonight, SlantShack only has eyes for Bushwick, and the seemingly insatiable collective appetite for free booze, live music, and, of course, fresh, artfully branded meat.
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