Bacon Burgers – The Next Level

Hello everybody,

Look at this!  Two posts within a 6 month period!  I’d better pace myself…

Actually, I’d better pick up the pace of my runs if I want to eat these burgers again.  These are absolutely delicious, but health food they ain’t.  Of course, if you’re looking for something to reward yourself for a new PR or a race finish, these might be right up your ally.

First off, I’m actually going to go off topic and brag a little bit.  Check out the results of my weekend DIY:
IMG_0001bI put in vertical dividers to give myself more storage above the fridge.  Although there was some trial and error (apparently it’s really hard to cut a straight line with a circular saw), it wasn’t too bad.  My inspiration came from here, and the author does a really good job of explaining the process.  I love it!  And it gave me the excuse to buy a few tools, although the fact that using my nail gun for the first time caused me to laugh maniacally is probably pretty strong evidence I should not be allowed to own one.

Anyway, I’m very proud of it, but really the only connection it has to the rest of the post is that it’s where I got the cutting board to chop the bacon.  As I’ve stated before, I love burgers, and this recipe is a doozy.  I made up the proportions, but the idea came from watching an episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”.  It’s essentially a burger pan fired in bacon grease, how can you lose?

Bacon Burgers
(serves 2)

  • 1/2 lb ground beef (if you’re feeling decadent, go with 80/20, but feel free to go leaner)
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 strips thick cut bacon
  • cheese (your preference, but there are some big flavors, so I like a nice sharp cheddar)
  • bun of your choosing

As you can see, it’s not too complex a list.  I think the meat should do the talking, and in this case it’s a lovely duet of beef and bacon.  To start off with, add the first four ingredients in a bowl:
IMG_0002Season with 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of salt, but don’t over do it, we’ll be adding some more later.  Break up the beef and thoroughly but gently mix the ingredients.  I like using a disposable glove at this stage, as not only does it help avoid having to constantly wash my hands as I move from one task to another, but since my hands tend to be pretty warm, it helps keep the fat in the mixture from melting and sticking to my hands.

Cut the bacon into a medium dice.  It helps if you put it in the freezer for a brief time to firm it up:
IMG_0006Now comes the one piece of semi-specialized equipment: a ring mold/biscuit cutter (about 3″).  Now, if you don’t have one, don’t fret; you can use something like a tuna can with both ends cut off.  Just watch out for the sharp edges.  Also, buy biscuit cutters.  I like these a lot.  They sat on my wish list for about 2 1/2 years.  Boy I wish I had gotten them sooner.  Anyway, put your ring down on some parchment or wax paper, and press half of the chopped bacon into the mold:
IMG_0010Now take half of the beef mixture and gently press it on top:
IMG_0011It’s a fine line how hard you need to push.  You don’t want a super dense burger puck, but you don’t want it to fall apart either.  Try pushing with your finger flat and held together rather than poking at it.  Then, gently remove the mold (it may help to slowly turn the mold as you do so).  You’ll hopefully end up with something like this:
IMG_0013Beautiful, isn’t it?  Just stand and admire it in all its carnivorous glory.  Now snap out of it and make another one.  When that’s done, cover the meat and put it back in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.  An hour or two would be better.  It’ll help the flavors develop and keep the burger together when cooking.

As for cooking, this get messy, so I’d recommend doing this outside with a cast iron skillet on the grill (you need something to hold the grease).  Don’t forget to put the skillet on when you start the grill to avoid thermal shock issues.  I did 2 out of 3 burners on high for my grill.

Take the burgers out about 15-20 minutes before you slap them on the grill.  Sprinkle some more salt and pepper on the beef.  Now, the burgers are still pretty delicate, so I like to invert them so the bacon side is up, and the beef is on the paper:
IMG_0017This way, I can slap the bacon down on the skillet.  Is your skillet nice and ripping hot?  Let’s get cooking!  As just stated, take the burgers and put them bacon side down in the skillet.
IMG_0018Close the lid and let them cook for about 4 minutes.  Then flip them.  Be careful at this stage.  There’s a LOT of spitting bacon grease, and some bacon may be sticking to the pan.  Use a metal spatula and make sure you get separation from the skillet before you flip.  If the grease has not spread evenly, aim for a nice wet spot to cook the beef side (I did say it wasn’t health food!).
IMG_0021IMG_0022Cook for another 4 minutes on high.  If you want to add cheese (and who doesn’t?) do it about 2 minutes after flipping.  This is also a good time to put your bun cut side down on the upper rack or over the unlit portion of the grill to toast.

Then simply remove from the skillet and place on a bun with your favorite condiments (this would go really nicely with some caramelized onions and garlic).IMG_0026And a quick note on cleaning the skillet: while the grease is still hot (but not spitting), thrown some kosher salt (maybe around 1/4 cup) in the pan and sweep it around.  It will help soak up the grease and help clean the skillet as well.



The Quest for the Perfect Burger: Part I

I love a good hamburger.

I don’t know exactly what it is, but in some ways, I think I prefer a great burger to a great steak.  It might be the more casual air surrounding the burger: you just sort of sit back, relax, and take nice, big bite.  There’s the crunch as you sink your teeth in, and then the juicy combination of beef, cheese (because cheese makes darn near everything better) and toppings flood your senses, and your eyes roll back in your head as you forget about everything for a little bit.  Or maybe it’s just because you get to eat with your hands.  In any event, I can exactly pinpoint the three best burgers I have ever had, and they are:

  • Shake Shack – The original location in Madison Square Park.  Waited 45 minutes in line on a gray, drizzly, cold day.  Totally worth it.
  • The Four Seasons Lana’i Manele Bay – It might have been the fact that I was sitting on a beach in Hawaii, but this was one awesome burger.
  • The Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant – I smelled this one cooking as we walked in the restaurant, and ordered it before the server could ask us if we wanted to drink.  It was the right call.

Now I think that I make a pretty good burger, but I’ll be honest: nothing I’ve made would break into the top three.  So now I am on a quest to make the perfect burger at home.  More specifically, I am looking to make the perfect “basic” burger.  I enjoy the crazy burgers with toppings ranging from guacamole to chili to onion rings, but I am looking for something more classic.  And I thought I’d share it with all of you.

For now, I’m sort of on the healthy wagon, so I’ll be eating these burgers without a bun and without cheese.  So it’s not really a burger.  But as I’m sure it will need to evolve, this will let me focus on the burger itself, so that when I do bring it all together, I’ll have it perfect.

The Perfect Classic Burger: Attempt 1

  • 1 1/4 lbs 90/10 ground beef (yes, I know I should grind it myself, but that’s probably not going to happen too often)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbl worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp mustard powder
  1. Mix all the ingredients together gently until well combined.
  2. Shape into 4 equal pucks approximately 2 inches thick and refrigerate for at least one hour (you’ll want to take them out about 30 minutes before you plan on cooking them).
  3. Place a cast iron skillet on the grill (you can also do this on the range top if you have a setup where a little smoke doesn’t cause problems).  Start the grill and pre-heat to medium-high.
  4. When the skillet is hot, use a paper towel to lightly wipe the skillet with vegetable oil (watch your hands!  It’ll be pretty hot, but you should be OK if you move quickly).
  5. Sprinkle the pucks lightly with salt and pepper, and place as many as will fit on approximately 1/4 of the surface area.
  6. Place a sturdy, flat spatula on top of each puck.  Use another utensil (I’m using a dough knife) to push down decisively until the pucks are approximately 3/4″ thick.  Now is not the time to waffle (that’ll be another post).
    Here’s where I’m sure to get some arguments.  This is the “smash” method.  I know that there are those that say this makes for a dry burger, but I think that if done correctly (as it is done thousands of times a day at Shake Shack locations), it can result in s very juicy burger with the added deliciousness of more crust.
  7. Close the lid of the grill and stand back for 1:40.  Don’t touch the burger.  Don’t even look at it.
  8. Open the lid, and using your spatula, scrape along the skillet under the patty, making sure to get every last bit of crust.  When flipping, try to put it on a portion of the skillet that a patty did not just previously occupy.  If you followed step 5, you should have some unused real-estate.  Now is the time to add cheese.
  9. Close the lid, and handcuff yourself out of reach for another 1:40.
  10. Repeat the scrape method from before, and move to a pre-heated plate of platter (if you have something that won’t fracture from thermal shock, you can put it on top of the lid, but make sure you don’t forget and tip it off or let it get too hot).
  11. Top as you please, and enjoy!

This first attempt turned out well.  The burgers were nice and juicy, and had a good crust.  I think I might need a different spatula though.  The slots in my current one allow meat to push through during the smash.  The crust could be a little, well, crustier.  I might make the pucks a little smaller for faster heat transfer.  And I think I might push the seasonings up a bit.  I didn’t really taste them, although in a burger, the meat should really be the star, so maybe it’s fine the way it is.  It will take a few iterations, but I think I’m off to a good start.

I’d love to hear whatever thoughts you have on this, so please leave your advice in the comments.  Thanks!