Food & Drink

The Perfect Burger

Make It Your Own Damn Self (with Help from Maria Hines)

The Perfect Burger

Jack Hornady

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I have Depression-era parents. That's why I grew up eating freezer-burned heels of bread and why there are spices in my mother's pantry older than I am. One useful culinary thing Mom did teach me, besides making braising liquid for pot roast with Lipton's Onion Soup mix (totally trailer, but so good), is to stretch my pennies by mixing egg and bread crumbs into ground meat when I make hamburgers. Not only does this make for a lighter, juicier burger, but they taste pretty fucking awesome when you liven up the grind with minced shallots, garlic, and chopped fresh herbs.

Out at Skagit River Ranch's annual Farm Day celebration in Sedro Woolley recently, a few Seattle chefs vied for the title of Best Burger. Skagit River Ranch is the 120 acres where George and Eiko Vojkovich humanely raise 100 percent grass-fed, certified-organic beef, pork, chicken, and eggs. Their meaty-tasting meat (good for you! High in omega-3, beta-carotene, and conjugated linoleic acid!) has developed a rather cultish following with Seattle's food- obsessed and is beloved by local chefs such as Maria Hines of Tilth. Hines and her sous chef, Jason Brzozowy, were Best Burger contenders, as was Craig Hetherington, executive chef of TASTE at SAM, and cookbook writer/radio commentator/local food hero Greg Atkinson. Judges included "Oyster Bill" Whitbeck, of Taylor Shellfish Farms, and Jill Lightner, editor of Edible Seattle.

Team Maria cracked PBRs ("To make the perfect burger, you need a lot of PBR"), sliced brioche rolls, and fired up the hibachi. (Deckless apartment dwellers, don't despair: "We don't even have a grill at the restaurant," confessed Hines.) The contestants were restricted to using beef, but otherwise left to their own devices. Atkinson took the easy out by using the Vojkoviches' burger patties (tasty, but too thin by my admittedly piggy standards) but scored major points for making his own buns—delicious, supersized kaiser roll–like things just soft enough to soak up meaty juices without residual sogginess (find the recipe here). Hetherington's secret weapon was the ultracaramelized, pureed Walla Walla onions he incorporated into his grind, making a decadent, delectable burger with a meat-loafy texture. Hines came out the winner for her plump, slider-sized burgers made with egg, cumin, red chili powder, cayenne, and duck fat, grilled to just medium rare. The garnishes—homemade ketchup (recipe here), jalapeño aioli, pickled shallots, and fresh cilantro—provided a fresh, lively, well-balanced spark that kicked ass.

Here's how your burgers can kick ass, too:

• Remove your ground meat (see sources below) from the fridge half an hour in advance. You're going to be adding stuff to it, and it'll bind better if the meat isn't too cold. Allow about one and a half pounds for four people. (Too much is always better than too little, and leftover cooked burgers are great crumbled into stir-fries, pasta sauce, or scrambled eggs.)

• Get yourself a drink (PBR not required).

• Dump the meat in a large bowl. Add one egg and one or two handfuls of panko or bread crumbs (homemade, store-bought, whatever). Kinda dry? Add another egg. Mix together with (clean) bare hands. (Egg adds moisture and acts as a binding agent, while bread crumbs make for less of a gut-bomb and get you more burger for your buck.)

• Wash your hands again. (A kick-ass burger does not come with E. coli.)

• Add one large minced shallot and at least three cloves of minced garlic. (Optional: a dash or four of soy sauce or Worcestershire.) Throw in a handful of chopped Italian parsley, chives, cilantro, or any fresh herb.

• Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and mix (using clean hands again) until all ingredients are well incorporated. Form into one-inch-thick patties by scooping the meat into your hands and patting into shape. (Resist the urge to fondle too much; this compacts the meat, making for a dry, tough burger.) Make a slight indentation in the center of each patty, because that's what my mom did to prevent "shrinkage." (I have no idea if this is true or not, but it makes you look like you know what you're doing.)

• Preheat your grill, flat top, or heavy skillet (not nonstick). Hines recommends mesquite coals if possible (Lazzari is a good, widely available brand). Have another drink while you're waiting.

• Lightly oil the hot grill using a damp rag dipped in cooking oil. Reseason burgers with a bit more salt before grilling—a step Hines says is "critical." If you're using a pan, add oil and heat to medium high, and, says Hines, "make sure you brown both sides." Try to refrain from cooking past medium rare if you've thrown down cash for good meat. Add cheese of choice at end of cooking and allow residual heat to melt (put on a lid for a minute to speed it along).

• Toast your buns. Artisan or Wonder Bread, they'll taste better and it'll help prevent condiment-sog.

• Have another drink. Eat. Enjoy. Make friends clean up.

If you're too fucking lazy to make your own, TASTE at SAM has a banging happy-hour special, with Skagit River Ranch beef sliders and frites for $6 (daily 3–6 pm, 1300 First Ave, 903-5291). Tilth's (awesome) house burger is duck sliders, $15 for three (1411 N 45th St, 633-0801). recommended

SOURCES: Hamburgers are not the place to skimp on fat, whether you use ground chuck, sirloin, or round. Chuck is the most popular and economical, and it provides a good fat and flavor balance. Look for bright pinky-red color; avoid anything gray, leaky, smelly, or otherwise biohazardous. Do not buy preformed patties. (Saving a few bucks isn’t worth eating gussied-up pet food.) Skagit River Ranch’s beef can be found at farmers markets and Madison Market ( Vashon Island’s Sea Breeze Farm raises happy, healthy burgers on the hoof in its “beyond organic” rotational pasture system; if beef isn’t your thing, they’ll bring preordered ground lamb to any farmers market they sell at ( PCC sells pasture-raised, antibiotic-free lamb for $6.79 a pound and ground beef ranging from $3.99 to $5.99 a pound. And even if you buy the $2.99 a pound ghetto grind at QFC, it will be vastly improved by the addition of a truly excellent egg. Pasture-raised chickens snack on foraged bugs and vegetation, and the results are exceptionally rich, orangey-yellow-yolked eggs (also packed full of that healthy antioxidant crap).

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Comments (19) RSS

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afin que nous puissions parler dessayer de gagner quatre dans une rangée? Les Sounders aurez maintenant quelques jours pour profiter de leur victoire? ??Il additionne tout à un coup d Estrada? Estrada couru devant deux défenseurs de Toronto. Le milieu de terrain Mauro Rosales a fait son retour dans lalignement contre les Sounders de lincendie. Settle Sounders de match nul contre Sporting KC maillot equipe de france rouge, Heureux avec le fait que nous étions en mesure de revenir de descendre un objectif . ce moule et apporte beaucoup dexpérience de la ligue en Allemagne. Les Sounders 3-1-1 nont pas joué depuis Avril 14 , Ils ont apprécié de près de deux semaines de congé! Il a dit ?Cest ce que les grands matches sont tout!<br />
<a href="… de foot pas cher</a>
Posted by on January 21, 2013 at 6:09 PM · Report this
Suck it, Word Police.
Posted by KJKitchen on July 18, 2011 at 6:17 PM · Report this
Hmmmmmmmmmmmm, Nice language, does your A$$ ever get jealous of the $#!T that comes out of your mouth?
Posted by Word Police on July 16, 2011 at 5:50 PM · Report this
Fnarf 16
Smitty @4 is right: you're making meatloaf, not burgers. And handling, squeezing, pressing -- all are disastrous for a good burger. Adding bread crumbs to lighten it back up again is just gross. "Cat food texture" -- exactly right. Ugh.

Just press it slightly in the middle -- I use the heel of a drinking glass. That makes the center section thin enough to not be raw when the crumbly, flaky outside ring is perfectly underdone.

Worcestershire, onions, smoked salt -- whatever floats your boat. Worcestershire and black pepper are enough for me. Garnish with slice of (working up from the meat) onion, slice of tomato, slab of lettuce (iceberg for crunch), ketchup. Toast your bun, duh. If you need cheese, try a little crumbled blue.

PBR is shit. If you like that, why not take any other cheap beer and dump sugar in it? Drink the cheapest Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley you can find, and you're all set. Seriously, PBR tastes like bum pee.
Posted by Fnarf on September 15, 2009 at 3:07 PM · Report this
Actually, Alton Brown just mixes sirloin and chuck. I got the idea of short ribs and brisket from Heston Blumenthal. But as I said, really just grinding brisket gives you a really great burger. I find the waygu brisket at Uwajimaya very well priced ($5.99/lb normally) a good price and it makes a great burger. It's tender enough that one grind on a coarse setting is all you need. That and a little salt.
Posted by arbeck on September 15, 2009 at 2:00 PM · Report this
@13: Hell, sorry, they're there now under RELATED ARTICLES—I guess no one's champing at the bit to make their own buns and ketchup! If you do, please do tell.
Posted by Bethany Jean Clement on September 14, 2009 at 6:29 PM · Report this
Am I blind or is the homemade ketchup recipe not with the online article as stated?
Posted by Nick P. on September 14, 2009 at 4:28 PM · Report this
salt, pepper and cayenne mixed in the beef. And a good bun. That's it. It's a fucking burger.
Posted by worldcitizen on September 14, 2009 at 3:23 PM · Report this
I'm with you. I thought I was the last person in Americam to add crumbs, eggs, and minced onion to ground beef for burgers because it makes them lighter and tastier. My Mom made them that way and we loved them. I don't know that it's really a moneysaver, but who cares when they are sooooooo good.

Besides, I make it a point to NOT cook like a Food TV robot.
Posted by PurrlGurrl on September 14, 2009 at 2:15 PM · Report this
i like to add fresh oregano, diced onions (not very many), salt, and pepper to 10% lean ground beef. makes for a damn tasty burger if i say so myself.
Posted by Dorks on September 14, 2009 at 12:58 PM · Report this
Worcestershire is the secret, you tools! Use as much as you can before the meat gets too soggy to stay formed in a patty. Eggs don't belong in a burger. I don't like mingling my farm animals in one bite. If you want a little extra, add in the Lipton Onion Soup mix.
Posted by nonya beesnest on September 11, 2009 at 2:20 PM · Report this
Arbeck is a tool because he knows how to make an awesome burger? Really?

I just made burgers last weekend with ground chuck, brisket, and short ribs and they were ridiculously good. If you're too lazy or think that "overthinking" equates to buying a different kind of beef than just chuck, then you might be the tool. Just a thought.
Posted by dweb on September 11, 2009 at 9:36 AM · Report this
Number one took those words right out of the mouth of Alton Brown. Sounds like another pretencious bastard i know.
Posted by BakersDozen on September 10, 2009 at 7:24 PM · Report this
all you need is shredded iceburg lettuce and thousand island
Posted by 50backflips on September 10, 2009 at 3:52 PM · Report this
@2(&3): agreed. Overthinking a fucking hamburger is completely beside the point. The simpler the better.
Posted by Doesn't put cilantro in everything either on September 10, 2009 at 1:25 PM · Report this
Mixing all that junk in is great for meatloaf--not so much for burgers.

Handling the ground meat so much with all that mixing gives it a cat food texture. Just scoop the meat and make the patty with as little handling as possible. Salt and pepper only. This will make your burgers have a more meaty texture and flavor.

Of course the burger with added duck fat won. It had duck fat--drool.
Posted by smitty on September 10, 2009 at 6:09 AM · Report this
In theory you don't need any seasoning or even a butcher- The perfect burger is one ground out of the tastiest cows you have on hand. Make sure your cow is tender, and then throw it in a grinder and you're good to go.

Oh wait- I'm sorry... you don't have a complete cow? And you don't have four cuts of beef like the douchebag at 1 either?

In that case, use the Stranger's recipe for your burgers and you can sleep well knowing you aren't a complete tool.

(Although, the more PBR you use, the more of a tool you become.)
Posted by pretencious bastard! on September 10, 2009 at 3:02 AM · Report this
In theory you don't need any seasoning or even a butcher- The perfect burger is one ground out of the tastiest cows you have on hand. Make sure your cow is tender, and then throw it in a grinder and you're good to go.

Oh wait- I'm sorry... you don't have a complete cow? And you don't have four cuts of beef like the douchebag at 1 either?

In that case, use the Stranger's recipe for your burgers and you can sleep well knowing you aren't a complete tool.

(Although, the more PBR you use, the more of a tool you become.)
Posted by pretentious bastard! on September 10, 2009 at 2:57 AM · Report this
Good beef doesn't need anything but salt. The perfect burger is definitely one you grind yourself. If you have the time, a combination of chuck, sirloin, brisket, and short rib is heavenly. Usually though I just grind up brisket. Two passes through the coarse plate of the kitchen aid meat grinder works best for me. I actually prefer them griddled to grilled. The nice crust you get is something I prefer. If you truly need the smokey flavor, a little smoked salt will suffice.
Posted by arbeck on September 9, 2009 at 3:51 PM · Report this

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