The Midwest meets the Southwest at Dickman’s Meat & Deli, now celebrating its 32nd year in Tucson.
Packers t-shirts, caps, and other Cheesehead-a-bilia let you know that this family-run business originated in Wisconsin, while stacks of 40-pound bags of mesquite charcoal remind you that barbecuing is not just a seasonal pleasure in this warm-weather town.
The jalapeños in the most popular of the house-made bratwursts – not to mention the fact that some two-dozen types of brats are created in house – are another sign that the Dickman family combines the best of both regions.
The personal favorite brat of Dan Dickman, who is the General Manager of both the Oracle Road and the Broadway Boulevard store, is the Cheesehead, which folds aged cheddar, sauerkraut, Miller Lite, and fresh chopped onions into its savory pork mix.
Dickman first learned the trade as a child working alongside his grandfather, who had a butcher shop in Madison, Wisconsin. He continued his hands-on education in Mt. Horeb, where his mother and father opened Model Meat Market. When his parents split up and Janice (Jan) Dickman moved the family to Tucson, she bought a meat market on the east side called Carl’s — the site of the original Dickman’s.
At one time or another, all of the siblings – two brothers and three sisters – have helped out in the business — the girls learning to butcher along with the boys. Jan and son Jeff Dickman once operated the Broadway Boulevard store; Neda, the middle sister, used to work there three days a week (she's now a pharmacist and although Dan jokes that he's better off without her, they miss her greatly).
In addition to its Midwestern roots and close-knit family history, another thing that distinguishes Dickman’s is its large selection of game, including venison, rabbit, duck, pheasants, and more. The decision to sell these rare meats was not for the sake of novelty, however. It was customer demand.
“A lot of guys would get their tags and go out and hunt but not bag anything," Dan said. "Some would come in and say, ‘I didn’t get my deer this year. Do you carry the meat?’”
After locating businesses that offered farm-raised, USDA-inspected animals, the Dickmans started stocking different varieties and even began doing wild game processing at the east side store.
Camel, rattlesnake, alligator, and shark are among the exotic meats also available in the stores, but Dan hastens to note that they don’t sell rare species like tiger or giraffe.
“There’s so much other meat to consume on this planet,” Dan said. “Why go for the endangered kind?”
Still, most people flock to Dickman’s for the standards: Chicken, pork, and beef. Especially beef. All USDA Choice or Prime, the meat is brought in from farms in South Dakota where the animals are free range and get no hormones or steroids.
“Antibiotics are only given if an animal gets sick and even then there’s a wait of six months before slaughter so any drugs will be out of the animal’s system,” Dan said.
All the beef is aged for at least 30 days and some cuts are dry aged for another 30 or 40 days to condense the flavor.
Of all the meat sold, the most popular item by far is the Ugly Steak.
“On Tuesday, Wednesdays, or Thursdays – our slower days – we sell two hundred to three hundred of them,” Dan said. “When you get to Friday, Saturday, Sunday, we sell thousands.”
In Wisconsin, Jan Dickman called this cut – the specifics are trademarked and a well-guarded family secret – “sandwich steak” and sold it to taverns and bars as pub grub. When the family moved to Tucson, customers browsing the display cases would ask, “What is that ugly-looking meat?” The name stuck.
“It looks grainy and tough, like something we might have run through the tenderizer and stuck together," Dan said. "But it’s one muscle and it looks the way it does because it’s very marbled.”
And therein lies one aspect of the Ugly Steak’s success: The marbling makes it hard to mess up the preparation.
“Some people who like their steaks well done have a hard time enjoying them because they’re usually tough and or dry when they come off the grill. The fat threaded throughout this steak prevents that from happening,” Dan said.
Low cost is the other key to the Ugly Steak’s appeal. Whereas USDA Prime rib-eye steak goes for around $25/per pound in the store, an Ugly Steak costs $10.99/a pound. At that price, you can use it for a sandwich or chop it up and put in a stew without feeling like you’re wasting your money. It's interesting to note that over the years the price of beef has gone up but the Ugly Steak remains the same.
Those who don’t cook or want to grab a quick meal can still sample the Ugly Steak at the Oracle Road store on Mondays and Saturdays when it’s the daily sandwich special; the Cuban sandwich is another weekly crowd-pleaser.
Although the deli component of Dickman’s is secondary to the meat market, it’s an important part of the business.
Most of the deli meat sold is Boar’s Head (“a quality brand,” Dan said), but the roast beef, corned beef, and roasted pork are made in house, as are sides like macaroni salad, coleslaw, and three bean salad.
Dickman’s also offer jars of their own brand black-eyed pea relish, candied green tomatoes, quail eggs, country fruit, pickles, and other rarities. In addition, the stores carry a variety of Tucson products.
A focus on the local also means bespoke customer service and, at the Oracle store, that includes patrons’ pooches. Dogs are welcome and, if it’s okay with the owner, sent home with cut-to-size bones.
“I love dogs,” Dan said. “And I love when they come in. It’s not like they go behind the counter and poop or pee on the food.”
That’s not only a heart-warming attitude but it’s also smart business. No doubt there are dogs all over town who carry their leashes to the door as soon as they hear the word “Dickman’s.”
Dickman's Meat & Deli at 7955 E. Broadway Blvd. and 6472 N Oracle Rd. The Broadway location can be reached at (520) 885-8020 and the Oracle deli at (520) 229-9777. Keep up with Dickman's Meat & Deli on Facebook.
[This article was originally written on February 8, 2017, and most recently updated on February 28, 2019]
Edie Jarolim has worn many hats, including a sombrero on a one-too-many-margaritas night. She earned a Ph.D. in American literature from New York University and was a guidebook editor at Fodor’s (Random House) and Frommer’s (Simon & Schuster) in New...