The cast-iron skillet is blistering hot. The 50 percent chuck flat/40 percent short rib/10 percent bone marrow burgers are perfectly seasoned with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Two six-ounce patties go in the pan. The sizzle is immediate. Ecstasy isn’t far away.
Exotic toppings and special buns are fine, but the first step to a better burger is to blend cuts of meat that achieve the perfect balance of flavor and texture. It works whether you custom order from your butcher, do it yourself or tap an expert.
Pat LaFrieda, the CEO of Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors, which sells burger blends to more than 4,000 restaurants, explains that “using an individual cut of beef for a burger can be very limiting.” So he makes them eight different ways. The LaFrieda Original Burger Blend is made of chopped (not ground) chuck, short rib and brisket. “It’s more comparable to a cocktail than a straight whiskey,” he says. “Each component adds an important& characteristic.”
In a side-by-side test of the usual chuck-only burger versus LaFrieda’s Original Blend, cooked to medium-rare, the blend had a firmer, “steaky” bite, was slightly sweet, nutty and more complex in flavor. (If this is sounding like a cigar review, it may be because cigars are also a blend.) The fat content in both was 20 percent (80/20), because making great burgers is not the time for trimming the fat.
Nor should you use expensive cuts like filet mignon or rib eye for a burger. Chuck (high in fat), short rib (high in fat; sweet and nutty) and brisket (grassy, heavy iron) are popular, but consider other cuts as well. Bone marrow has an elevated fat content and hanger steak and oxtail add flavor.
When chopping burger meat, a sharp knife and patience will do (search the Internet). With a meat grinder, grind three or four cuts at a medium setting. Then grind them together at medium.
Don’t salt too far in advance as it draws out moisture. Then cook to taste. Go light on the condiments and you’ll really taste the meat.