The Classic

No #RecipeUpTop for this one because, well, it’s a cheeseburger. It’s not that complicated, and it’s not really a recipe. It’s more akin to our discussion about steak; some tips and tricks, some things to avoid, and some personal pet peeves.

As I’ve mentioned before, we generally only buy two cuts of beef: whole ribeye primals that we butcher ourselves into steaks; and pre-cut chuck roasts. We’ve found that, between these two items, we can fabricate pretty much any beef application we want, from a classic steak or pot roast, to chili, meatballs, meatloaf, stew, and the list goes on.

For our burgers, we’re going to be using one of the chuck roasts that we buy in bulk, then vacuum seal and freeze:

You can see the deep marbling of the meat, which is going to provide a lot of moisture and flavor to our burgers, and will let us cook them to whatever doneness we want without getting a dry, crumbly end product.

There are a lot of boutique grind recipes out there for burgers that include sirloin, or brisket, or even rib meat, which is all fine and dandy. But we’re operating on economy of scale and versatility in this house, and for the smash-burger concept (more on that later), I find 100% chuck roast works just fine.

We’ve talked a little about grinding before in the context of chicken, and this is no different. The basics are: keep the meat and grinder cold to prevent the fat from shearing or mushing; cut into strips, not chunks, so the machinery can get a good grip on the food; and let the grinder do the work. So, let’s cut:

One roast, sliced into strips, and set for the freezer for half an hour to firm up for the grinder. Speaking of:

And just like that, about three pounds of ground chuck is yours. And, you know where it came from, you know the machinery and production was clean, and you know it really is ground chuck and not some franken-meat re-labeled by an unscrupulous grocer that may have been sitting in the cabinet for days. What’s more, this whole roast cost about $10.00 total, so the unit cost here is pretty close to $3.00/lb.

So let’s talk a little bit about burger theory. There was a time in my youth where a super thick, medium-rare patty was the gold standard. But then, in June of 2011, a revelation.

I was in Fargo, North Dakota, traveling on business. I’d not been there before, and after a weary day of wrangling an expert witness for one of my cases, I wanted a quick dinner and bed. I stumbled, jet-lagged and brain-fried, into a local burger place, sat at the bar, and ordered one of their options. It only occurred to me later that the bartender never asked how I wanted my burger cooked, and for good reason. What I was presented became the best burger I’d ever had to that point in my life. The patties (there were two) were intentionally thin, but crusted with char and well-seasoned. They were layered with cheese and stacked together, and my world view changed.

See, the one-massive-patty burger isn’t trying to be a burger at all; it’s trying to be a steak. It’s striving to mimic that experience, which is fine, but the result is a lot of unseasoned ground beef and excessive grease. No, this burger leaned in on its own burger-ness, taking that same amount of beef and splitting in half. Maximizing surface area to increase char and seasoning four-fold. Lastly, the doneness was cooked-through, but the composition of the beef meant it was still just at juicy and delicious, without the worry of food-borne illness from a grimy kitchen.

In short, it amplified the best things about a burger, and discarded the worst. And now that’s how I make mine:

I like to press the beef into a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, which helps get a nice, thin, consistent shape:

My one break with that restaurant in Fargo: these days, I tend to only go with a single patty instead of a double-stack. But, really, it’s hard to go wrong.

For seasoning, we’re going with regular old kosher salt, and right before they hit the grill. With steak, I like to season well in advance to let the salt work its way into the center of the cut, but we don’t need that here; and in fact, salting ahead of time may pull out moisture that we’d rather stay in the burger. So, why only salt and no other spices? Well, this is a burger and it should taste like meat. Secondly, we’re cooking over high heat, and additional spices may burn or blacken, which is a different thing entirely. So, salt it is.

Next up, heat. I almost never grill burgers anymore; the flare-ups from the rendered fat produce soot, which doesn’t taste great, not to mention all those juices should be used to help cook the burger, not lost to the coals. Plus, for a good part of the year in Maine, grilling isn’t an option. So, for me, that means cast iron griddle:

Ripping hot, and lots of smoke. Open some windows and grab those smoke detectors. Get a good char, and flip.

For buns, that’s a personal choice, but you really want the optimal ratio of “crunch” to “squish.” Brioche is fairly common, but it’s a fatty bread and we’re already dealing with plenty of that in the meat. Personally, I go with my french bread recipe, shaped into buns and scored with an “x”:

Whatever you do, make sure they get a quick toast in some of those rendered beef drippings we saved by using a griddle:

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned cheese yet. That’s maybe the most personal choice of all, and my only cardinal rule is: melt the cheese all the way. Nobody wants half-melted cheese.

Be not ashamed of your toppings and condiments preference, though I’m partial to onions and lettuce with a little ketchup and mayo:

Yes, he had some.

We don’t do burgers often, but when we do, we think the extra attention is worth it. Thanks, Fargo.

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