Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Burger Research

As some of you may already have read, I'm actively working on a project for which I'm researching burgers. Everything about them; the best way to cook a burger, whether it should be made thick or thin, which cuts of beef to use in the grind, the ratio of fat to lean, the perfect bun, etc, etc....

I've been running around town trying lots of different burger spots, and have been doing tons of reading on the web as well.

This post is going to serve as sort of a compendium for the information I've amassed thus far.

On the local front, The Chicago Burger Project is a promising blog that began as a quest to eat through Time Out Chicago's 55 Best Burgers article. Two years later, the guys who started this blog have managed to choke down 41 of them, and written some decent reviews, but their pace has slowed down considerably--lately they put up a new post only every other month or so.

As usual, LTH forum is a wealth of information. One can, if time allows, do a search and wade through the literally dozens of topics about various types, styles, toppings, and specific restaurants. And then there are topics like this one, from which one man's nostalgic meanderings about the burger of his childhood (Mike Gebert of Sky Full of Bacon again) a near-scholarly discussion emerges and touches on the burger's provenance, the etymology of the term, and it's history in various regions. Deep.

Expanding my scope outside Chicago is fruitful. People take burgers a lot more seriously in places like New York, New Jersey, and L.A., I'm afraid. Chicago has it share of food specialties and does a lot of things well, but it's not a burger town.

George Motz may be the foremost expert on burgers in the country (and, therefore, the world). His Hamburger America empire includes a Beard Award-nominated film, a book, and a blog, all bearing his HA brand. He's taught a course on burgers at NYU, has consulted for Wendy's and has had a burger named after him by esteemed burgermeister Harry Hawk.

A Hamburger Today, the burger blog maintained by Serious Eats is a logical command center for such an endeavor. It's one of those blogs that's maintained by multiple editors and bloggers, takes itself pretty seriously, and does a really excellent job of reporting just about every burger-related story on the web, along with generating some of its own original material.

I found this piece, which reviews 12 of NYC's best burgers using a numerical ratings system similar to the one I employ for my Bacon List to be really informative and helpful. Sometimes simply identifying and figuring out the right words to use to describe the concepts being discussed can be really difficult, and this piece goes a long way towards establishing a workable lexicon with which to discuss, evaluate, and reverse-engineer burgers.

In this piece, Chef Tony Maws of Craigie on Main in Cambridge, MA uses three different cuts of beef, two types of fat, and dehydrated miso powder in his fancy-schmancy burger mix, before cooking it up in a hi-tech C-Vap oven and browning it on a 900° plancha. That's a bit outside the scope of my project, but there's still some useful insight there.

Along those same lines, here's a rundown of how to make the Blumenburger, Heston Blumenthal's 32-ingredient, 30 hour prep-time burger that he worked up for the BBC's series In Search of Perfection, which seeks to re-work classic dishes so as to arrive at the benchmark version.

And then there's this hilarious nugget that someone dug up and put on YouTube. It's a Wendy's training video from the 80's, which, yes, does contain some interesting info about the technique the fast food chain employs to cook their patties (they keep the griddle at a very low 250°) But the appeal is more in the dated look and feel, along with the bust-a-gut-funny rap-song dream sequence. This one is not to be missed. Make sure to watch both parts.

There's much more, of course. Burger blogs are freakin' everywhere. There's The Burger Beast, HoosierBurger Boy, Portland Hamburgers, and Texas Burger Guy. And then there's Cincinnatti Burger Guys, Burgatory, a guy who just reviews fast food burgers, LA-based BurgerTour, Waunaburger out of Wisconsin, and, of course, twelve bazillion blogs and articles about people eating sixteen-pound manhole-cover sized burgers, and burgers that are so over-the-top decadent that they render themselves completely disgusting.

And then there's this:

God, the internet is just so weird.

Oh, and out of what I've tried so far, I liked the burger at Five Guys on Clybourn the best. Very juicy. Enjoy!


Paul F said...

I was taking you seriously until I got to the part where you said you liked Five Guys the best. Let's be serious! They cook their burgers WELL DONE!

My preference is for a burger made from chuck (I get 4/10's of a pound because that's the size that works best for me). I make it the size of a hamburger bun which sort of limits the thickness. I cook it on my gas Weber. I put cheese (often blue), and tomato, and yes, ketchup on it. And sometimes sauted onions. Lots of them.

Happy cooking.

E L said...

Maybe I should explain;

I like Five Guys because the beef is FRESH and you can taste it. They do cook their meat through, but only just, and it stays very very juicy.

Personally, I'm fine with a fully-cooked burger as long as it's juicy and has a nice good beefy taste.

The Burger Beast said...

Great post!

Jollibee Philippine said...

Well, thanks for sharing this burger research. I enjoyed reading it. I am sure many will get interested with this. Keep posting!


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francis said...

a Hamburger is the fastest way to suffice a hungry stomach.

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Anonymous said...

If you think you have the best burger in the Chicago area...The Ballydoyle Irish Pubs are having a burger cook-off...
The first one is this weekend:
Ballydoyle Irish Pub Stratford Square Mall, Bloomingdale, IL
The 2nd is at Ballydoyle Downers Grove, IL 5157 Main Street.
The Third is at Ballydoyle Aurora, IL 28 West New York St.
If you don't think you have the best burger then come try the competitors burgers and enjoy the atmosphere at any of the three Ballydoyle Pubs