Burgers beyond beef? New takes on the classic American hamburger
Is the humble, American hamburger destined to stay forever the same - a simple beef patty on a bun with pickle, lettuce and tomato on top?
We think not. After all, we are a country of freedom-loving innovators and entreprenuers, ready to reinvent ourselves and dream up everything from the self-cooking pan to the self-driving car,
With Independence Day on the horizon, we have come up with a few revolutionary twists for the home-grilled hamburger that will anoint you the new king of the backyard cookout. Drum roll, please.
This year, the bacon cheeseburger was deemed the most popular burger in America by Schweid & Sons for the second year in a row. No surprise there. But did you know that you can now get your bacon fully integrated into your grass-fed beef patty?
At both the Sonoma County Meat Co. in Santa Rosa and Thistle Meats in Petaluma, the butchers are feeding a demand for integrated bacon-beef patties that provide the best of both worlds: the flavor and health of grass-fed beef and the smoke and fat of ground bacon. Together, they create a moist, easy-to-eat burger that will drip down your chin, if not your arm.
“We have the ability to do different kinds of grinds, so we can grind a bacon burger ... and do 25 percent bacon,” said Travis Day, the new chef/owner of Thistle Meats, which carries only grass-fed meat. “It gives it more flavor and salt and that little smoky background, and it seasons it all the way through.”
For his bacon-burger patties, Day often blends the bacon with 65 percent beef brisket and 10 percent beef suet fat (located around the cow’s kidneys.)
“It has a good, beef flavor and it’s a soft fat, with a little bit more moisture and flavor,” Day said. “So it makes a nice, juicy burger.”
He also likes to serve it with an aioli made out of bacon fat, with the caveat: “Yes this is a fatty burger. People with a heart condition, please consult a physician before consuming.”
At Sonoma County Meat Co., butcher Rian Rinn uses his own bacon - the classic maple-chile flavor - to make a “smokehouse burger” that is one-third ground bacon and two-thirds ground beef.
“The beef is from Oak Ridge Angus from Knight’s Valley,” Rinn said. “It’s grass-fed and finished on non-GMO barley from (the Bear Republic’s) Racer 5.”
Using a grinder from Germany with a refrigerated head, Rinn breaks the beef down into smaller pieces through a three-step grinding process that is gentler on the meat. (The worst thing you can do to a burger is to work it too much.) Then he puts the meat in a press to make a flat, even patty.
The majority of the smokehouse burgers he sells are made in the 5.3-ounce size patty, which in his opinion, provides a better burger-to-bread ratio.
“I don’t want to have a giant meat wad,” he said. “You don’t want too much bread or too much meat. You want a good amount of meat, and a good tomato with lettuce and a bun, so the meat shines.”
At Thistle Meats, Day said he’s a big eater so he likes to make a burger patty that weighs 8 ounces, or about half a pound.
“I make it a half inch wider than the bun,” he said. “I don’t put the thumb imprint on top. ... when you don’t, the burger tends to plump and pull in, and it keeps the burger flatter.”
To cook the burger, Day heats up the grill to 400 or 425, then marks it on both sides for the char. Then he slides it over to the cooler part of the grill and lets it slowly come up to temperature for a couple of minutes, until the inside is warm but not overdone.
“That gives it a nice color on the outside,” he said. “Personally I like a medium-rare burger.”
Rinn cooks his burgers over Lazzari hardwood lump charcoal on a grill but doesn’t slide the burger over the fire until it has already reached its hottest point.
“The heat should be decreasing once you put it on,” he said. “Burgers cook quickly. Put two marks on one side, flip it, two marks on the other side ... and out the door.”
Both butchers tend to be purists when it comes to the burger “extras,” preferring brioche buns, some garlicky aioli and just a few condiments.
“As far as toppings, I don’t like a ton of stuff, but I do love a really nice, thick-cut tomato ... and I do like pickles, “ Day said. “The whole point of a perfect burger is that you are tasting this amazing beef.”
For the smokehouse burger, Rinn likes to top it with fresh mozzarella and add some lettuce for texture.
“The burger and cheese are soft, and the lettuce and bun are crunchy,” he said. “It should be wet but not too wet. You want to be able to get it into your mouth.”
When he and his partner, Jenine Alexander, serve burgers to friends, they always serve a big, green salad on the side and put out an array of condiments, including aioli, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, horseradish, dill pickles, in-season tomatoes, red onions, little Gem lettuces, and some mozzarella or sharp cheddar cheese.