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Just how much can a burger take?

Years ago there was, ostensibly, no such thing as a bad burger. A burger was a burger. Some were great while others were, well, just burgers. Then the bar was raised, and raised again and again. The ingredients have gone from fresh to USDA Prime to A-5 Kobe and organically grown farm-fresh and beyond. In 2010, we now examine and critically evaluate our burgers through gastronomic electron microscopes as we diligently dissect their molecules with culinary laser scalpels. Damn! Just how much can a burger take?

That, along with everything else said in recent times about the ubiquitous burger, I too am guilty of consuming my burger with a much higher level of culinary awareness and discernment. Whereas before I would simply devour my burger and be on my way, I now engage it, bite by byte (yeah), literally measuring and evaluating virtually every element of its presentation, taste and texture with my own “umami-o-meter”. Then come the comparative analyses: vs. The Counter’s, vs. Morton’s, vs. Lucky Devil’s, vs. In-N-Out's, vs. Hawkins’s, vs. Umami’s, vs. Daddy-O’s (long gone but still my favorite), vs. on and on and on. Damn! How much can my burger take?

Am I asking too much of my burger? Of that, I am unsure. I only know for sure that, perhaps more so than with any other foodstuff, I am continually asking for more from my burger. I may even be enjoying it less – it now requires too much effort and concentration. Geesh! I’m sure glad that I haven’t treated my beloved taco the same way. She probably would have made me retch out long ago. (~_^)

What about you? Are you asking too much of your burger?

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  1. I only eat fresh ground burgers-make them myself, or eat at a restaurant I trust. Supermarket or bulk purchased hamburger meat scares me.

    1. All I ask is to leave the feces & ammonia to treat said feces out of my meat. I like my burger medium-rare, and I like to keep it that way w/out falling into a coma or renal failure.

      Guess I'm gonna buy myself a meat grinder soon....

      7 Replies
      1. re: linguafood

        I learned on another thread that some hounds are using their food processor to grind meat. I'm not sure if my ancient model is up to the task, but if you have a good one, I'd give it a whirl (ha ha).

        1. re: onceadaylily

          America's test litchen did a show recently on making the best burger. They used a mix of short rib meat for the fat and sirloin flat steak. Cut in 1" cubes, lightly freeze and then in the food processor of 12, 1 second pulses. Looked way easier than my meat grinder. The biggest thing is not to over handle. The french fries blew my mind (to where I have to now make them). Using Yukon gold potatoes sliced 1/4 " think, place in a room temp dutch oven. Add 6 cups peanut oil (room temp). Then bring to a hard boil for 15 min (do not stir), after the 15 minutes turn down a little and stir for another 7-8 mins. Goes against everything I (thought) I knew about deep frying.

          1. re: nvcook

            That is wonderful advice, the freezing of the meat. My concern was that the texture would bog down my machine. I'll try that method with a cheaper cut, maybe stew meat, or a flank steak, and gage the FP's performance.

            Let me know how the fries work out. I really am curious.

            1. re: onceadaylily

              Just be sure to not completely freeze the meat - just enough to hold it together a bit more. The fries will have to wait for at least a week as heading out camping. (still can't quite get my head around that method however).

            2. re: nvcook

              The website "A Hamburger Today", which is devoted to all things burgerish (aht.seriouseats.com) did a test a few months back, and found that the best blend was 6 ounces of sirloin, 5 ounces of brisket, and believe it or not, 5 ounces of oxtail (which means you have to buy about 12 ounces of it, and trim the meat off the bones). Use their search function to find "burger lab best blend" (the url is humungous) to read the entire article, which is quite interesting.

              1. re: nvcook

                Thanks for the tip. I tried my food processor once for this after seeing a similar blend on a Good Eats episode. I didn't freeze the meat, and the result was a bunch of large-ish chunks of meat floating in a sea of meat paste. I used it anyway and produced some of the worst burgers I've ever made.

              2. re: onceadaylily

                I've used my Cuisinart to grind meat for burgers and meatloaf--works great.

            3. It's ridiculous.......the whole concept of a burger is that it's cheap, fast, and satisfying.
              Not that the meat can't be some high-fallutin' orchestral ordeal; in theory it can, but all the high-end manipulations just go counter to the very idea of a burger. Then again, maybe I just have dull taste buds. I recently had a $29 kobe burger (not even close to the real kobe, I know, the price is a giveaway) at a respectable steak house, and while I thought the quality of the meat was okay, days later, I'm ten times more satiated (and richer) by a simple cheeseburger I have at my local coffee shop.

              1 Reply
              1. re: nooyawka

                My burgers are cheap, I buy chuck and grind it myself. I just don't trust mass produced ground beef where it can be old dairy cows and mixed carcasses.

              2. I made burgers last week. I researched it. I *researched* how to make a better burger. I reported my findings to my boyfriend, and he listened. We debated mix-ins, cheese (what kind of cheese? On the top or stuffed? Both? Is that too much?), how to treat the onions, and what type of bun. So, I would have to say, yes, yes I have asked too much of a burger, just recently. I can't help it, I keep wanting my food to surprise me.

                Next week, I have a date to go to a place in Chicago *known* for its burgers. Ostrich, in particular. Maybe I'll give my mind a break, and eat ostrich instead of beef.

                1. Prime burgers? Kobe burgers? Give me a break.

                  A USDA Prime carcass (and to an even greater extent a Wagyu carcass) commands a premium because of the high level of intramuscular fat. But once the meat is ground, all the fat is intramuscular. Or given that there's no longer a mass of muscle, maybe none of it is. But you get the idea.

                  Trimmings are trimmings. Once they're ground, the question is the fat content of the final product, not how the ratio of fat to lean was reached. Ground tenderloin makes a delicious burger if you add a pound or so of plate to bring the fat level up. But a 7-bone chuck gets the same result for a fraction of the cost. Paying a premium for a hamburger (or worse, a hot dog) made from expensive beef is a waste of money.

                  A great burger is a simple piece of meat, carefully and freshly ground, shaped into a patty with a minimum of handling, then seasoned properly and cooked simply. And sometimes, yeah, that's asking a lot. But not too much.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: alanbarnes

                    Well said. Freshness and fat content means much more than what crazy kind of cow it came from or what that cow had for breakfast!

                    1. re: alanbarnes


                      There is a place near jfood that sells a Wagyu burger (actually a few do, but back to the point) and it is easily the single best burger jfood has ever tasted. Jfood will take that $24 burger over many other $25 entrees.

                      1. re: jfood

                        I have no doubt that it's a great burger, but the real question is **why** it's great. My hunch is that the greatness has little or nothing to do with the fact that the meat comes from a Wagyu carcass.

                        Don't get me wrong. I love a Wagyu ribeye, and am very happy that Darrell Corti keeps them in his meat case (at a non-confiscatory price, to boot). But if you compare a six-ounce patty of carefully-cooked fresh-ground Wagyu beef with a six-ounce patty of carefully-cooked fresh-ground USDA Choice beef that has the same fat content, the results are going to be very close if not indistinguishable.

                        That isn't just my opinion. The guys behind the butcher counter at Corti Bros. - who really know their meat and have access to plenty of A5 and USDA Prime trimmings - tell me that they have come to the same conclusion.

                        Of course, a restaurant that serves a $24 burger isn't going to skimp on the bun or the condiments. The cook won't crush the juices out of the patty while it's on the flat-top or the grill. In short, the burger will be treated with respect, like the fine chopped steak it is.

                        If sticking a "Wagyu" label on the burger is what it takes for the appropriate amount of care to be taken with its preparation, then so be it. But I submit that it's the proper treatment of the burger - not the fact that it came from a Wagyu carcass - that makes it superlative.

                        1. re: alanbarnes

                          Totally agree that the condiments on the burger are great and really make the burger sing. But jfood also saw the meat in the walk-in pre cooked and jfood would guess that the meat is more than 20% fat.

                          jfood had another Wagyu in a different place a couple of weeks ago and it was just an average burger, not worth the money. so it does also depend on the chef and hos s/he handles the meat.

                          1. re: jfood

                            Places that are "known" for their burgers are serving burgers that are higher than 20% fat. More in the 25-30%. Regardless of what type of meat it is, you get that fat content and cook it medium rare/rare, you're going to have a delicious burger.

                          2. re: alanbarnes

                            I agree completely about the Wagyu. There is a restaurant about 20some miles north of me where the chef makes a Wagyu burger with fois, truffle cheese, homemade ketchup, etc. that is well worth the $23 price tag. In fact, it's probably the best burger in the Garden State. Given the price of such beef, however: http://www.farm-2-market.com/order.ht... - I'll stick to grinding the choice cuts when I find them on sale, adding fat as necessary (oh, so, so, necessary . . .) when making a burger at home.

                      2. Had a 1/4 pound burger this am w/ chopped olives. Love at first bite. It had a crunchy butter lettuce leaf and a great, juicy succulent tomato on it too, but it really needed a dill pickle to set the tone. I've had the Kobe and the other stuff including In-And-Out. I RARELY finish a burger on my own, but I refused to share this one.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: JerryMe

                          That reminds me of a burger I used to adore at a bar and grill in my hometown. They called it 'the downtowner'. They layered the olives on top of the patty, under the cheese. That salty note was the perfect bridge between the bloody fat of the beef and the creaminess of the cheese.

                          My family keeps asking when I'm coming to visit . . . .

                          1. re: onceadaylily

                            I make that same burger - except instead of olives I cover the top of the burger with slices of pickled jalapeños. Gotta be in between the meat and the cheese (good extra-sharp cheddar). Yummo! And the cheese holds the peppers in place.

                        2. I do find it funny that when I go out I'll order burgers with blue cheese & bacon, sauteed onions and cheddar, or just recently a decadent portabello, sundried tomato, avocado and swiss. They are all good, but when I'm home and I can put any crazy items I like, I tend to keep it as simple as possible and the results are always delicious.

                          1. The green chile cheeseburger is in a class of its own!


                            1. Saw this quote on another thread and thought it was apropos for this one. And it's Tony Bourdain so you know it's on the money!

                              To quote Bourdain on the subject:

                              "The Kobe experience is principally about the marbling, the even distribution of fat through lean. A hamburger is a bunch of lean beef thrown into a grinder with varying degrees of fat. If you are foolish enough to order a Kobe burger, you are entirely missing the point. Firstly, the fat will melt right out of the thing while cooking. Secondly, you are asking the chef to destroy the very textural notes for which Kobe is valued by smarter people. Thirdly, for an eight-ounce Kobe burger, you are paying for the chef to feed you all the outer fat and scrap bits he trimmed off the outside of his “real” Kobe so he can afford to serve properly trimmed steaks to wiser patrons who know what the hell they’re doing."

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: jhopp217

                                "And fourthly, you’re paying a hundred bucks for a freakin’ hamburger! Get over yourself! You’ve already established you’re too drunk and stupid to enjoy it in the first place."

                                Gotta love it. Oh, and don't forget "if there’s a better way to prove one’s total ignorance of all three words – Kobe, beef, and burger – this, my friends, is it. It’s the trifecta of dumb-ass. "

                                In all fairness, though, something's got to happen to the trimmings off the Kobe carcass and the cuts that aren't suitable for serving as steaks; grinding's as good an application as any. There's nothing inherently wrong with a Kobe burger. But somebody who cluelessly drops a hundred bucks for one (and presumably brags about it to his friends) just because of a name on a menu? That's another matter entirely.

                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                  I definitely put this up there with the guys and girls who pat to go to a nightclub and buy a $150 bottle of Grey Goose for the table. Uh - it's $35 in the store. Then the place gives them all the ice and cranberry juice they can drink for free. Then you have to tip!

                                  I've had a kobe burger, didn't cost me $100, but I've had one. The funniest thing was someone was saying how great it was and then poured about 4oz of ketchup on it. Gotta love the $20 taste of Heinz