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.