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RBR Tailgate: Burger Update

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I’m still working things out, but damn, there’s progress

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Kenji Lopez-Alt is ticking me the hell off.

It seems that my burger perfecting road is, if not pretty well trodden, at least pretty well trodden by one James Beard winning cookbook author with an obsessive desire to make the most amazing burger ever.

This always happens to me.

You can follow Lopez-Alt’s journey here at the properly named burger lab, a sub directory of the perfectly named serious eats. He has a budget. A big budget, relatively speaking. His book is pretty spectacular too.

If you are a food geek, try to not get wrapped into an afternoon of reading seriouseats.com. Or go ahead and do it. It’s chock full of great stuff and well worth your time.

For the purposes of this exercise, I’ve stopped reading the guy. What you will get from here on out is my first hand missteps, victories, and head scratchers.

What I’ve learned so far:

For the budget blender, 75% chuck and 25% short ribs is a pretty damn good blend. We thought it miles ahead of anything store bought, but then neighborliness reared its ugly head.

A friend gave us a patty made from filet and fat trimmings from various cut. I’m no fan of a filet. I like what P.J. O’Rourke said about the cut in the Bachelor Home Companion, paraphrased as best I can remember as “A filet is like dating a model. It’s cute and attractive, but ultimately dull, expensive, and boring.”

Though that filet carried with it an amazing beefy flavor, I’m shooting for the best tailgatable blend, and filet as an ingredient is prohibitively expensive. Sirloin isn’t, and it can be pretty heady.

I figured that an equal blend of short rib, chuck, and sirloin would give me the flavor, juiciness, and texture I wanted. I was dead on. Damn near perfect.

Mr. Perfect, Kenji Lopez Alt (and I’m not just kidding when I say he’s the best food writer in current service) was way ahead of me. He throws in a bit of oxtail to even things out. I’ll be trying that soon, but for now, short rib, chuck, and sirloin make a damn fine patty.

This is a bye week update, so expect nothing as gospel, but I’ve learned a few things.

Should I pass the meat through the grinder once or twice?

Once if you are cooking inside. The large gauge grind leaves a loose and wonderful patty to catch melted fat. What escapes the burger stays in the pan and bastes it as it cooks.

If you are grilling, grind the meat through a large and then a second smaller gauge. You will lose fat to the flame so a tighter and more compact blend is preferred.

This is going to be heresy to some, but flip often.

I know that many cherish the ideal of the once flipped burger, but the ideal of medium rare runs contrary to that method. If you think about it, it makes very simple sense.

A patty left alone absorbs heat to the middle, is turned over, and does the same.

A patty constantly flipped, absorbs heat to a quarter or so and then gets flipped, only to do the same. Over and over this goes and you end up with a much smaller depth of brown and more pink to red in the final product.

I am nowhere near done and any claim is assailable, but my aim is to have the perfect burger by the Iron Bowl.

My dad asked me if I was going to evaluate rolls, so while I wasn’t planning on it, I have to do that too.

Hit me with your worst if you disagree. Better yet, hit me with suggestions.