Enjoy: JH Pantry

Sweet Cheeks Meats

//By Sofia McGulick
// photography By KATHRYN ZIESIG

Once it hits 11 a.m. at Sweet Cheeks Meats, lunch is served. A post on the company’s Instagram story, (@sweetcheeksmeats) shows the day’s menu options. These could include the Brisket Burg, a pulled-pork sandwich, a Cubano, a grinder, or the Bliss (house-made ham, European butter, Dijon, and Swiss cheese on a 460 Bread baguette). Soon enough, a line of locals stretches out the door. “I’m looking at their lunch menu every day,” says Jason Bruni, who has been eating Sweet Cheeks sandwiches since the husband-and-wife team of Nick and Nora Phillips founded the business at the Jackson Hole Farmer’s Market in 2015. “Although I’ll still go in even when they aren’t doing any of my favorites. Then I let them choose for me. I’ve never had anything that I wasn’t stoked about.”

The menu is constantly changing because Sweet Cheeks is a whole-animal butcher. “The driving force behind our menus are what odds and ends of meat we have in the walk-in,” says Nick Phillips. “If we’ve got 50 pounds of beef shank, we’ll do some sort of braise. If we’ve got pork legs, we’ll make some ham.”

While Sweet Cheeks Meats made its public debut in 2015, it really started in the Phillips’ backyard in 2013. The couple had purchased a whole hog from Cosmic Apple Gardens, in Victor, Idaho, where Nora had done a workshare. “We took it home, and I butchered it in our shed with a headlamp, following instructions in a book,” Phillips says. A couple of years later, Phillips quit his job as an engineer—his work on a hydroelectric power project at Palisades Dam is what had initially brought the couple to this area—and headed to Reno, Nevada, for an apprenticeship at a vertically integrated whole-animal butcher. 

“Nora and I saw a hole in the Jackson Hole market—a whole-animal butcher that provided high-quality meats—and we decided to fill that gap,” Phillips says. “We both grew up in families that had strong connections to food. Nora and I fell in love in the kitchen. Food has always been important to us.”

The Phillipses started selling meaty sandwiches at the Farmer’s Market with the goal of getting the Sweet Cheeks name out in advance of opening a brick-and-mortar butcher shop, which they did in 2016. Today, Sweet Cheeks Meats still sells breakfast and lunch sandwiches, but locals also line up for its fresh sausages and hot dogs, high-quality beef and pork, and heat-at-home dinners. 

When Sweet Cheeks started at the JH Farmer’s Market, it tried selling fresh sausage in addition to sandwiches. But the sausage was too popular. “The lines got too long and chaotic for us to be weighing meat,” Phillips says. Today, Sweet Cheeks makes and sells more than a dozen types of fresh lamb, pork, and beef sausages including Italian, andouille, green curry, chard scallion, kielbasa, Calabrese, fresh fennel, Toulouse, lamb merguez, and beer brats.

Sweet Cheeks Meat sells more beef than anything else. “What we look for in beef we sell is how old the animal is and if it has been 100 percent pasture raised,” Nick Phillips says. “Movement creates flavor in an animal, and so does a longer life. We look for animals around 30 months old, which is about a year longer of life than beef in the commodity market.” Bruni, who had Sweet Cheeks cater his wedding and has a tattoo of Sweet Cheeks’ cow logo just above his right knee, says it’s not just the quality of Sweet Cheeks’ beef that he and his wife appreciate, but also that they butcher cuts that “aren’t the popular ones you can find in grocery stores” and have staff that knows how to cook these. “You can get sound advice on how to prep and serve the meat you buy, which is especially helpful when it’s a cut you don’t come across normally,” he says.

“There is a burger option every day because there is always a demand for them,” Phillips says. “They are just so good, which I give credit for to the beef we use.” Sweet Cheeks switches up its burger offerings, but Phillips says the McDowell—double patties, cheese, shredded lettuce, pickles, onion, and sauce—is the flagship burger. “It is everything a Big Mac wishes it could be,” he says. Bruni says the McDowell is the best burger in town. “I’ve hit every high-end burger in town, and I have yet to find one as good as the McDowell. It’s the only one with a good crust on it.” 

It takes Sweet Cheeks three days to make a single batch of 500 Hot Diggity Dogs. The first day, it emulsifies protein, animal fat, and liquid; seasons the resulting mix; and then blends it with coarse-ground meat, which has also been seasoned. “Mixing coarse ground meat into the emulsification gives our hot dogs a little more texture than most,” Phillips says. The meat then sits overnight to give the flavors time to come together. Day two, Sweet Cheeks stuffs the meat by hand into natural sheep casings. The hot dogs are then smoked and chilled into day three.

Sweet Cheeks’ mac and cheese—macaroni smothered with a béchamel sauce that has Velveeta and cheddar cheese in it—is one of the few things it sells that isn’t meat-based. “It has just become so popular that we just keep making it,” Phillips says. “By weight, we probably sell more mac and cheese than anything other than beef.” JH