T Nation

Do Meatheads Dream of Iron Sheep?


Burgers. My son and I are burger aficionados. We go see movies and eat burgers, Five Guys, Smash Burger, Shake Shack, and we discuss the relative merits of each.

He’s very discerning. I’m developing his argumentative skills. He likes the burgers at Smashburger, prefers the fries at Five guys, the shakes at Shake Shack. Five Guys is the overall winner.

Anyway, here’s the key to a good burger, as I see it. Grind your own meat, don’t pack it too tight, and don’t overcook it (Five Guys).

Buy organic and grass fed.


Will definitely have to charge more!


Five guys is the best in my area (in my opinion). I’m proud to say that I’ve had most of the people I’ve served mine up to say they’re better. Maybe they’re blowing smoke, but I’d like to think they respect me enough to tell me the truth.

That’s the problem!

I’d think about grass fed/organic if I could get a reasonably priced supply locally. The problem with that is it drives the price up and my target demographic would be working class Lewiston residents, which is why I think the low price point is a better bet than going all fancy schmancy with the beef.

As it stands, I can cook a really mean burger with $2.39/lb 85/15 factory-farmed meat bought in bulk at BJ’s wholesale served on a 15 cent bun bought at the same place with an 8 cent slice of cheese, also bought in bulk.

Potatoes are cheap here too, as it is one of Maine’s primary crops. Currently available for $2 per 5lb bag of whites. I’d like to find a way to fry them in animal fat of some kind, but I’m not sure that’s viable either.


With a smaller fryer lard should be an option.


So here’s the soy boy in me, and funny to be talking about meat. Cook this burger and you’re the same as McDonald’s, selling corporate, farm raised beef, contributing to a bad carbon footprint.

You know, of course, that factory farmed beef is cows standing in their own shit injected with antibiotics so they don’t get sick from standing in their own shit, fed GMO corn that changes their omega three versus omega six profile, and are then injected with tren to fatten them up.

So, if you want to poison your customers, get it on.

And, frankly, most people want cheap beef.

But, the times they are a changing.

Shake Shack, Danny Meyer’s burger places around here (NY) are booming, and they sell a grass fed organic burger. It costs me and my son $30 to eat there, and I am willing to pay it for grass fed organic burgers.

When you compete on price, you take orders.

When you compete on quality, you drive the market.


I hear ya, but I’m not about to sink my savings into an ideologically-driven business or try to save the planet with greener cheeseburgers. The only promise I can realistically deliver on is a delicious meal at a reasonable price.

I’m in Lewiston, Maine, where fancy businesses tend to bust quickly but the taco shack with $5 taco Tuesday specials of 3 tacos, rice or beans plus chips and salsa is BOOMING.

As an aside, the lady who owns that used to be a bartender at the dive bar I bounce at!


Are you really going to do this?

If so, rock on with your bad self.

I just think you should be the best, the top of the heap, and distance yourself from the others. There is a reason grass fed organic beef costs more - it’s because it tastes better.

I just paid $9.21 for a Quarter Pounder with cheese and a medium fries.

There are bars in New York that charge $30 for a grass fed organic burger on a brioche bun.

I realize it’s New York, but, the grass fed organic shit is coming, kind of like micro breweries. How cool would it be to be the first on the block?


It’s just an idea that I’ve been giving thought to for the last five or so months, largely based off of the rave reviews I’ve had when inviting people over for cheeseburgers. (For the record, I usually do more sophisticated, healthy and “adult” dishes for dinner parties, but the burgers are a hit for sure!).

If I went grass-fed and organic beef only, I’d be fourth on the block since I first moved here. The first two places with expensive grass-fed/local/organic burgers fitting the mold you describe didn’t last too long. The locally-sourced burrito shack couldn’t stay open slinging $9 burritos. A lot of their marketing was based off of feel-good buzzwords like “local”, “sustainable”, “grass-fed”, etc. At the end of the day their burrito wasn’t all that good, and it sure wasn’t cheap.

What my town hasn’t had is a simple burger shack like what I loved growing up in Indiana. There are two Five Guys but each are 40-50 min away, one north and one south. Nobody in town does a simple burger with a well-seared crust. It cooks fast. It’s delicious. The ingredients are cheap. It’s probably the only way I could ever make money selling cheeseburgers in Lewiston.

Everyone else makes “fat” burgers. Big thick patties. Good burgers, but quite different from what I would be making. We just had a third “grass-fed/organic” burger place open in the space that my favorite restaurant used to occupy before it closed (also serving $9 burgers, but their main deal was French food). Reviews are lukewarm, generally praising the food but complaining about the price. Three different people told me they liked my burgers a lot better.

I’m getting a lot of encouragement to do this in my circle. It’s Lewiston, go figure. Simone’s Hot Dogs is our iconic restaurant. Been in business for a long long time.

The whole reason I’m giving this any consideration is because I see the chance to distance myself from others through price point and a better-tasting cheeseburger that the people in my town might actually buy.


Well, I think it’s clear you are no dummie.

I worked in management, sales and marketing, and consult with my brother on several successful businesses, one of which is a dive bar in Post Falls Idaho, so I have to respect your opinion of your market.

If you do decide to take the plunge, do a business plan, incorporate, at least as a LLC, and write a pro forma statement.

Any questions, hit me up, but I expect you are two steps ahead of me.


Next time you venture into Portland check out Black Cow Burgers and Fries. I think they’re about $1 over priced for what you get, but you can blame that on being located in the Old Port haha. It’s basically what you’re describing with a little bit of a “hip” twist. Again, Old Port. It stands out among the rest of the area though with it being pretty cheap.


Haven’t been there yet but I’ve heard of it. Looks good but $11 for burger and fries plus a $3 soda won’t fly in the Dirty Lew. A rare bargain for the Old Port though!

The six dollar price point is really what I’d like to hit for a basic cheeseburger that looks like the pictures above, fries and fountain soda. Right on par with the price point at the authentic Mexican taco shack that’s slaying it right now.

Small menu, do a few things really well and keep the overhead low!


I forgot they do that additional charge for fries nonsense. They have a special that’s like $14 or so for a burger, fries, beer (domestic bottle), and shot (well cap). Not too attractive to me as I’m not a big drinker, so I tend to go for nicer liquor when I do, but solid overall package nonetheless.


I buy my ground beef online from a family run farm in Idaho. Organic, grass fed, $11/pound so I always wait for the 15% off sale to buy; every batch has a # which identifies the cow it came from.

If I eat out to get a burger, I just gets what’s on the menu, I don’t ask for organic or grass fed or anything specific. I’m eating out, and it’s a burger. When I eat Burger King or McD’s, I go cheap, I don’t get the overpriced “specialty” burgers because I assume they’re probably lying anyway…


IMO, #1 thing to longevity/success is taste. It’s like real estate and location -what are the 3 most important things? location, location, location! So, taste, taste, taste!

JFC, there’s got to be a reason White Castle still exists right?


My mom loves White Castle. When I was a teenager it always seemed like she’d forgo any lectures when I’d come home late smelling a little funny with bloodshot eyes so long as I had a sack of White Castles for her. Maybe the burger smell was giving me cover!

Simplicity is the only way I’d take the plunge in my town. If I can turn less than $1 worth of ingredients into a burger people are saying they like better than Five Guys, I don’t see any need to get fancy. (For the record, I like my burger just about the same as Five Guys, but I wouldn’t put it head’s and tails above). Loaded with lettuce, mayo, pickle, onion, ketchup, mustard and mayo might drive it up a little over a dollar for material cost, but it’s still in that ballpark.

Maybe bacon, carmelized onions, and extra cheese as an add-on.

The sear and overhanging crust on the burger is unlike anything else I’ve had in Maine. The beef is what stands out, and I don’t think it would be the same burger with a really fancy bun or artisan cheese. It’s really all about the beef. All kinds of places in Indiana sold them that way, so maybe I’d need to call it Hoosier Burger or something. Who knows?

If my napkin math shakes out is $3 in material cost for a $6 price point viable before overhead? I have no freaking clue!

My inner fat boy is liking the cheeseburger:workout post ratio going on right now.


You’re going to call it Who’s Your Burger?

…ba da bum…


Yep that’s the pun!


One thing I didn’t share is that my son eats his cheeseburger dry - bun, burger, cheese - and I think that makes him a purist.

We went to Smashburger the other day after a long hiatus. The do what you do, put a ball of meat on the grill, smash it, and sear it.

After a few weeks of Five Guys, he took one bite and said, “I forgot how good Smashburger was.”

I think doing things right, with a limited menu, is the way to go. If your clientele isn’t into the grass fed organic shit, and price point is key, well, do it well.

However, you might consider a limited edition grass fed organic burger - ten per day for example. Same set up, same ingredients, it’s just different beef. Buy two pounds, make eight burgers, if they don’t sell, discontinue.

Simplicity is key - do one or two things well. I would double fry your fries, or just offer a good bag of chips.

This was my childhood burger place. Beware success.

I realize the domestic issues contributed but . . .


God damn, do I love a cast iron pan. It’s not just that they get so hot, it’s that many non-stick skillets, regardless of their quality, lose a significant amount of heat upon having a room-temperature piece of meat slapped on them, thus ruining the sear. A cast iron pan gets hot and stays hot, and is incredibly versatile. Also, if you tend to get lots of crud on it and are tired of the soak-and-scrub technique, you can put it under cold water immediately after finishing cooking, and pour salt on the pan before scouring it with detergent and a sponge - the salt scrapes off residue like it’s nothing. Sorry for the random pop-in, I’ve been checking your log periodically for a while and it’s given me the itch to get back into BJJ. Not always fun when you have a giraffe neck and everybody just tries to crank on it, but whatcha gonna do?


Well, and they are toxic, so there is that.