What makes the “perfect” burger is clearly a matter of opinion. With all the options out there now it’s harder than ever for two people to agree on which burger is best. What follows are the conclusions I have come to over the past few years of trying to assemble a memorable and crave-able slab of ground beef.

The formula for me is simple:
1 6oz Patty + 1 Garnish + 1 Cheese + 1 Spread + 1 Bun = 1 Great Burger
Anymore than 5 components is just too convoluted for my taste

Starting with the only critical component of the burger (the patty) there are many options to sort through. Pick a great one and you’ll have to try really hard to mess it up. Pick a poor patty and the greatest flavor combinations in the world won’t be able to save it from mediocrity. The vast majority of restaurants these days buy pre-ground commodity beef. Some of these even come in tubes so the cooks only have to cut them into disks, season them and throw them on the grill. This is unfortunately about all the attention most burgers get, but like I have discussed in past posts, what’s the point of doing something if you don’t give it your all?

For me, the search for the best patty meant grinding it in house. For some, the biggest advantage to grinding in house is simply marketing. For me however it has three much bigger benefits: The first of which is the ability to track and control where your beef comes from. A tube of pre-ground beef can contain meat from literally dozens of different cattle. If only one of these cattle is sick or tainted, then the entire block will be tainted as well. The second advantage is being able to choose the specific cuts that go into the patty. Each cut has not only different flavor, but just as important different fat content. Lastly, by grinding in house you control the size of the grind and therefore the mouth feel of the finished burger. Some may call me a control freak; however, if you are not controlling every aspect of what your guests eat then you have fallen short in your most important responsibility as a chef.

After trying several different cuts and house-made blends I settled on a 100% grass-fed short rib patty. Short rib has to me not only the most robust flavor, but also a favorable meat to fat ratio of about 70/30. Once I had found my beef, the size of the grind was next. After trying every size I could get my hands on I decided on the 3/16″ gage which I simply felt had the best mouth feel.

The next few variations on my patty came through much trial and error of which I will save you the boring details, but the outcome is as follows: Once the short ribs have been taken off the bone and ground I introduce transglutaminase (in a 1% ratio) to the mix. Transglutaminase (also called “meat glue”) is an enzyme made of amino acid chains that form bonds between the amino acids glutamine and lysine. In other words, it joins proteins together. At this point I knead the transglutaminase into the meat. Kneading ground meat is normally a big no-no as it begins to denature the proteins; however, because the transglutaminase binds them back together this has no adverse effects on the final quality of the patty. So why, you might be asking, grind the beef just to glue it back together? By grinding the short rib, it is not only being tenderized but also evenly distributing the fat throughout the mixture. Gluing it back together then gives it a steakier texture and more importantly allows the patty to keep much more of its moisture during the cooking process resulting in a much juicier burger.

Once the beef has been kneaded, it is spread onto a sheet tray at 2-1/2 cm thick and allowed to rest for a minimum of 4 hours under refrigeration. During this time, the amino acids bonds are forming. After 4 hours the sheets of short ribs are ready to be cut into patties. I prefer 9cm x 9cm which results in a 6oz patty.

Once the patties are shaped, they are seasoned with salt and pepper and sous vide for 2 hours at 60˚c (140˚f) and then slowly chilled to under 40˚F. The first time I had heard about sous viding a hamburger I was skeptical. I thought it was an unnecessary step. Like everything else in life, you don’t know until you try and once I tried it, it was undoubtably superior. As the patty slowly cooks to a mid-rare, it is allowing all of its fats and collagens to render and disperse evenly throughout the patty when cooled. Any rendered fat that remains in the bag can be used later to grease the pan.

When it is time to finish the burger I am a firm believer in the age-old cast-iron skillet over the grill. This is because as the burger cooks and the outside caramelizes, its fat renders into the pan. Normally this fat is lost as it drips through the grates of the grill and vanishes in flashes of flame and smoke. Some prefer this flame-broiled smokiness; however, I firmly believe it masks the natural flavor of great beef whereas the caramelization from the cast iron and the subsequent basting in its natural fat amplifies the true essence of a great patty.

For garnish I have come to be a big proponent of pairing my short rib burger with cranberry. I find the natural sweet and tart flavor of the cranberry to be more complimentary to that of the beef than the commonly used tomato (which I may point out is also used for its sweet and tart notes). For cheeses I prefer something with some tanginess. I have gone the route of an herbed goat cheese spread in the past, which worked nicely, but in the most recent incarnation of my burger I found that pecorino provided a nice counterpoint to the red onion and cranberry jam that topped the patty.

An uber-savory note is a nice touch to bring this indulgently rich burger back down to earth. I like the addition of a mayo made from rendered marrow here.

Lastly, the bun. Texas toast is a great, fun and whimsical surprise that delights diners almost as much as the square patty itself. This bun is more than just a functional vessel to support the patty and acutramone. It is an essential textural component providing a pleasant crunch to the finished product. I find it best to toast the top under a broiler until golden brown and then allow the inside to absorb all the rendered awesomeness from the pan just before encasing the patty.

Again, all this work for what could never definitively be called the best burger. Like many things in this world, with burgers the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What makes the best burger to you? Feel free to comment below as I would love to hear other’s burger trials and tribulations. What do you consider the does and don’ts of this beloved American gastronomic icon?

Special thanks and consideration to:
Chef Kyle Schutte


In Pursuit of the Perfect Burger [Reblog]

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