I am a rabid—as in foaming at the mouth—fan of Cook's Illustrated. While it can be pedantic at times, the magazine's quest for perfection reliably yields delicious, easy-to-reproduce recipes.
In a fit of curiosity, I signed up to test out recipes that may or may not appear in the magazine. You're given a recipe and asked to submit your thoughts on the results by a particular date. Typically, the time frame passes before I have a chance to try it out, so I toss the recipe. But when a recipe for the Ultimate Beef Burger came along—a West Coaststyle burger no less—I held onto it after the window had closed and thought I'd share the results with you all instead. If you're like me, your quest for the perfect burger continues into your kitchen.
The recipe calls for a mixture of sirloin steak tips or flap meat and boneless beef short ribs. Well, I couldn't find either, so I got short ribs on the bone and a thin, flat sirloin steak. (To be honest, the sirloin I used may not have been exactly what was called for, but I don't think it hindered the results much.) Removing the meat from the bone wasn't a big deal, but I would recommend getting rid of some of the fat from the top layer. Too much of the fat resulted in chunks of gristle in the final product.
Grinding the meat in a food processor was new for me and frustrating at first—mostly because I put in too much at once. I'd recommend only filling it up halfway, otherwise the meat won't grind uniformly. In the end, I may prefer this method to the grinder as you do get a much coarser, more loosely packed patty. I also thought quickly freezing the one-inch cubes of meat prior to processing was a great idea, as it keeps the meat from going to mush.
So how did it all turn out? The toasted bun and the burger spread was right on, and the burger was tasty. But I made a couple mistakes that I'll correct next time I prepare this. First, my patties were just a touch too thick, and I didn't have the pan hot enough. After browning the buns on medium-high heat, I forgot to crank it up to high so I could get a nice char on the meat. And if I'm going to make it hotter, I'd need it to be a bit thinner so I can get it to medium-rare without overdoing the crust.
In the end, the mix and quality of the meat is what separates this from the great burgers. I did get Prime short ribs, but I chinzed on the sirloin, getting only Choice. Also, I don't think the short ribs give enough beefy flavor. I'm not sure what else I'd want to add, but I might add brisket next time.
Making burgers at home can be as simple as buying ground chuck and throwing it on your skillet, but if that's all you wanted, you wouldn't be reading AHT. Despite my complaints and faults, this is a fantastic recipe to use as a base. There's room for improvement and personalization, but you'll be happy and full if you stick to the script.
Ultimate Beef Burgers
- makes 4 burgers - Sirloin steak tips are also sold as flap meat. If you can’t find flap meat or sirloin tip, flank steak can be used in its place. We prefer to serve our burgers with American cheese, thinly sliced onions, and burger spread, but other toppings can be added or substituted at your option. It’s important to use very soft buns. It makes 4 burgers.
10 ounces sirloin steak tips, cut into 1-inch chunks 6 ounces boneless beef short ribs, cut into 1-inch chunks Table salt and ground black pepper 1 tablespoon unsalted butter 4 soft hamburger buns 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil 4 slices American cheese Thinly sliced onion 1 recipe Classic Burger Spread (recipe follows)
1. Place beef chunks on baking sheet in single layer, leaving ½ inch of space between each chunk. Freeze meat until very firm and starting to harden around edges, but is still pliable, 15 to 25 minutes.
2. Place half of meat in food processor and pulse until meat is coarsely ground, 10 to 12 one-second pulses, stopping and redistributing meat around bowl as necessary to ensure beef is evenly ground. Transfer meat to clean baking sheet and repeat with remaining meat. Visually inspect meat and discard any long strands of gristle or large chunks of hard meat or fat.
3. Divide ground meat into 4 equal mounds. Without picking meat up, gently shape each mound into loose patty 1/2-inch thick and 4-inches in diameter, leaving edges and surface ragged. Season top of each patty liberally with salt and pepper. Using spatula, flip patties and season second side; refrigerate while toasting buns.
4. Melt half of butter in heavy-bottomed 12-inch skillet over medium heat until foaming. Add bun tops, cut-side down and toast until light golden brown, about 2 minutes. Repeat with remaining butter and bun bottoms. Set buns aside and wipe out skillet with paper towels.
5. Return skillet to high heat; add vegetable oil and heat until just smoking. Using spatula, transfer burgers to skillet and cook without moving for 3 minutes. Using spatula, flip burgers over and cook for one minute. Top each patty with slice of cheese and continue to cook until cheese is melted, about 1 minute longer.
6. Transfer patties to bun bottoms and top with onion. Spread 2 teaspoons of burger spread on each bun top; cover burger and serve immediately.
Classic Burger Spread
- makes about 1/4 cup -
2 tablespoons mayonnaise 1 tablespoon ketchup 1/2 teaspoon sweet pickle relish 1/2 teaspoon sugar ½ teaspoon white vinegar ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Whisk all ingredients together in small bowl. -->