Best of 2008: Hamburgers of the Year

3rd Feb 2009

Since the beginning of the site, Blake and I have had an unabashed love affair with the burger.  Though often neglected for more highfalutin fare, we've found inspiration in the ground meat patty.  Perhaps we loved it so much because ground beef was cheapest kind of meat in the grocery store when we were poor and living in Manhattan.  There was hardly a week that went by that we didn't have a burger.  But there is something more to it.  Burgers can be so much more than a cheap meal.

Unfortunately we've only found this perfection in restaurants.  We're devoted fans of the Shake Shack , Corner Bistro , and the now defunct tinny-burger purveyor Schnack .  They, and many more, elevated the burger to realms of gastronomic pleasure we just couldn't match at home no matter how hard we tried.  And we tried everything.  No matter what technique we used, we could never transform that shrink-wrapped pile of meat into the same burger that we could get at our favorite establishments.  We had left the burger making to the masters.

That all changed this year.  It could be that we're both not currently in New York, and needed to find some way to recreate the ideal burger for our starved bellies.  But the real reason has to be that we both finally secured Kitchen Aids this year.  We immediately equipped them with the meat grinder attachment and got to work.  From that moment on we've been on a burger making frenzy.  We immediately realized that burgers taste better when they are made from good, freshly ground meat.

But what meat, exactly, should one use in a burger?  We've been exploring that question, and what technique to cook them, for the past year to wild results.  While we've occasionally come close to perfection, a different technique or a different combination of meat would call us out and lead us in another direction.  Here are some of the trials and tribulations, all with happy endings, and all gloriously greasy.

They Came, I Ground, We Ate: Which Cuts Make the Best Burger
Blake exploited his new toy first with a hamburger blowout where he tried various types of beef combinations to see which one was the tastiest.  Complete with cute charts of cartoon cows and the kind of basic graphics rarely seen on this blog, he showed the differences between the a "Classic burger" (1 part chuck, 1 part sirloin), the "Shake Shack burger" (1 part sirloin, 1 part brisket), and "the Steingarten burger" (2 parts chuck, 2 parts short rib, 1 part brisket).

The Quick-Flipped Fat Burger
With a little help from Harold McGee and Heston Blumethal, Nick came across the idea of the "Quick-Flip" burger.  Instead of letting the burger cook undisturbed like we'd always been told, these titans of gastronomy recommended flipping it every 30 seconds.  The resulting burger had an insanely caramelized crust and a perfectly medium-rare center.  It was near burger perfection that was marred slightly by the incredibly fatty cuts we used.

The Smash Burger Technique
Taking cues from an old Popeye cartoon, a post on Hamburger Today, and his own first hand experience at a Steak n Shake, Nick attempted to recreate the flattened burger of his Midwestern youth. The Smash Burger destroyed another one of the long-standing rules of burger making, that you should never press down on the patty.  It is currently his favorite burger.

Why Wylie Dufresne Made Me Eat American Cheese
Nick makes peace with American cheese, thanks to Wylie Duyfresne and his bun-less burger.  This screaming rare burger is topped only with a slice of American cheese and a runny fried egg.  It's an indulgence and best eaten with a fork.


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