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The Perfect Hamburger
(1/3 to 1/2 pound each)
Alternative Ingredients are listed in Red
|1||lbs||Chuck Eye Roast|
|Under Blade Roast|
|½||lbs||Boneless Beef Short Rib*|
|½||lbs||Flat Iron Steak**|
|1||tsp||Ancho Chili Powder|
|½||tsp||Fresh Ground Pepper|
|Slurry (per pound of meat)|
The "hamburger" that you get at the grocery store could be anything. There are various different laws and FDA regulations that govern what can and cannot go into "ground beef", "ground meat", "ground chuck", and the ubiquitous "hamburger". (see: WikiPedia - Beef, Minced for all the uneasy details on hamburger) Since it is often made from "scraps" (as the story goes), it can have a different fat content, moisture content, texture and of course flavor, every time you buy it. So. The only way to get truly good hamburgers, with any consistency, is to grind your own. This recipe is à la The Shake Shack, New York (they actually use five cuts of beef). Enjoy!
Trim: First of all you need to use high quality meat. Secondly, trim the meat. Use a sharp knife to trim away any and all silver skin, veins, tendons and such. These bits of connective tissue are excellent in slow cooked fair, but don't do well in hamburgers because they are cooked quickly, so we want to get rid of this stuff. However, the same is not true of fat. Fat is good! So don't trim ANY fat from the meat. The chuck contains a lot of fat, and the ribs should have a little marbling, but the brisket will be lean, and together they will end up at about 15-20%. (if you like your hamburgers well done you will be better served to end up with about 30% fat****) So keep all the fat.
Cut: Once the meat has been trimmed, cut all of it into 1½" cubes. If you keep the meat in separate piles until it's all cut up, it will make it easier to mix evenly before grinding.
Why cut up the meat when we're going to chop it into little tiny pieces anyway? Grinding (mincing actually) is a heat inducing process. Virtually every molecule of meat is heated ever-so-slightly as you grind it, and that makes the meat tougher. To avoid the effects of compression, cut your meat into smaller pieces before grinding. If you are using a food processor rather than a meat grinder, you will want to cut it up even smaller, like a ½". The blades of a food processor tends to pummel the meat a little bit, and of course it won't produce an even texture. Make sure you have sharp blades.
Chill: Once cut, mix all the meat thoroughly in a bowl. The less you handle ground meat the better. Then place it in the freezer for about a half hour, until the edges of the meat are firm/crusty. You want the meat as cold as possible without being actually frozen. Wait until you are all ready to actually grind the meat before you take it out of the freezer.
Grind: You will want to start out with your grinder's larger die. 3/8" or 1/4" is best for a "first grind" or if you want a loose burger and a textured mouth feel. Then return the meat to the freezer while you switch to the smaller die. The second grind is then made with the next smaller die, either 5/16" or 5/32 die, which will give you a more uniform burger with a smooth mouth feel (similar to sausage).
At this point you would mix in the Baking Soda slurry. Let sit and soak for 15-30 minutes to give the slurry time to work. Then add your seasoning ***.
If you are using a food processor, you will want to pulse the blades briefly and quickly. Remember, heat is our enemy. And watch the results very carefully. You don't want to end up with tartar pureé! And check your "grind" for the occasional chunk before moving on.
Patties: The best route is a patty press. (See Patty Press for an example.) The hamburger needs to be compressed in order to stay together. If you don't, it will fall apart on the grill/griddle. If you do it by hand, use a very light touch. The other way you can make your burgers tough, besides heat, is to manhandle them. Kneading fresh ground hamburger, whether its making burger patties or mixing ingredients for meat loaf, is a sacrilege! ...resulting in a tough hamburger and chewy meat loaf. And finally, lightly press a "dimple" in the center of the patty to counter act the burger bulge that happens as the moisture in the burger heats up and expands... resulting in more of a football than a pattie.
Cooking: (finally!) If you like Crispy Style burgers (à la Freddies or Five Guys), you'll want to cook them on (in order of preference) a stainless steel griddle, chrome griddle, cast iron griddle or cast iron frying pan, in the 350º to 375º range. Pressing them once or twice per side to extract some of the fat onto the griddle to "fry" the edges of the patty.
If you like the Greasy Style of burger (à la Fudruckers or Shake Shack), you'll want a grill them over an open flame with a "surface temp" of 400-500º. DO NOT press, and turn only once.
And if you want to go epicurely crazy you can sear it with 600º+ and then put it in the oven at 325º for 3 minutes. Then brush lightly with melted butter before serving open faced.
(see also: Chipotle Zinfandel Burgers and Sliders and Brioche Burger Buns)
* From the 7-12 ribs. & Normally tough, but when the fibers are ground up with the fat, voila! Also labeled as 'Country Ribs', 'Butter Steak' or 'Denver Steak'.
** Flat Iron steak takes 'well done' well. Nothing else does. It doesn't get tough and keeps it's flavor. "...except no substitutes!" (Samuel L. Jackson, 'Pulp Fiction', 1994)
*** DO NOT add salt until you are ready to cook. Salt or brines (of any kind) should ALWAYS be added less than 30 minutes before cooking, or, more than 3 hours before cooking. During the first 3 hours salt reacts with the proteins in meat in several ways and takes a while. Cooking the meat too soon will cause it to be firm and chewy.
**** If you need to add more fat to your mix, try bacon ground or chopped up fine. A little pork fat never hurt a hamburger.