Up Your Burger Game
The hamburger is a cultural constant in this country, the most iconic of American foods that defines us in many ways. It’s proletariat, it’s a kids meal, it’s high-end luxury food. And it’s one of my favorite things to eat. Now that summer is in full swing, it’s time to perfect those burger-making skills. Here are a few tips for building a better burger.
The Perfect Patty
For the ultimate patty, grind the meat yourself. I like to do a little chuck, a little short rib, maybe some brisket, and a decent amount of fat. With the grinding attachment for a standing mixer, it’s easy. Plus, it gives you the ability to add as much, or as little, fat as you want. I personally go for a 75/25 meat-to-fat ratio, ’cause I like ‘em a little fatty. After the burger is cooked, the surface fat melts away, leaving you with a moist patty and the perfect amount of crust.
If you’re not going to grind your own, just be sure to buy the best quality ground beef you can find. No need to buy fancy sirloin, but that grass-fed option will have better flavor than its commodity-beef counterpart. Handle the meat as little as possible, you never want to over-work the beef. And while you can skip the egg, breadcrumbs and the pile of garlic powder, be sure to use plenty of salt and pepper. And please make the burger to fit the bun, no one likes to bite into a ring of bread without the meat. Once you’ve formed the patty, put a little divot or thumb print in the middle to keep the burger flat while cooking.
Griddled & Grilled
It might sound like heresy, but more often than not, I prefer a burger seared on a cast-iron pan or griddle over a grilled one. I learned a trick from Michael Symon that it makes a killer patty every time. Take a griddle or big saute pan, throw a bit of fat in there, maybe a teaspoon of butter, bacon or pork fat. Toss some chopped onions onto the pan and let them caramelize. Next, put the burger patty directly on top of the caramelized onions and press it down. Cook for a few minutes, flip it over and cook for a few more minutes. It’s a fabulous technique, you’re basically searing the onions into the burger to create a caramelized onion crust.
I prefer to bring my meat up to room temperature before grilling because it allows it to cook more evenly. Some like to refrigerate their meat prior to throwing it over the fire so that they can achieve ultimate rareness. To each their own. Build a fire with natural hardwood charcoal on one side of the grill. Place the patties on the edge of the fire to get a nice sear on it without carbonizing it. If the burger has 20 or 25 percent fat it in it, it’s going to drip like crazy, creating sooty flare ups when it hits the hot coals, which you want to avoid. Once it starts to cook a little, you can move it over the hot fire for 30 seconds a side to put a little more crust it on. Grill to rare and let rest to medium rare.
No, a burger isn’t all about the meat… you gotta have the right bun. I love a nice soft bun, smeared with butter and crisped grilled cheese-style in a skillet, so it has a crusty, buttery, crunchy texture where the bun meets the burger.
I am a sucker for a good butter burger, a Wisconsin specialty invented at Solley’s in Milwaukee. Finish a cooked burger with a dollop of room temperature butter that’s seasoned with shallots, herbs and a little lemon. Once it melts on the burger, it leaves you with fantastic raw dairy flavor.
I’m not a big cheese-on-my-burger guy, if anything I’ll put slice of ripe tomato on top. These days it seems everyone’s adding a dozen toppings, but for me, it’s all about the meat and bun. Therefore both need to be perfect.
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