We are big burger fans at Putney Farm, but we rarely make them at home. The reason is simple, we tend to go out for things we can’t make better at home. We have a good local burger joint that grinds and seasons their own meat, cooks it right and has beer and milkshakes. We really like (and the kids love) the burgers, and we enjoy supporting the business.
But the Super Bowl is coming and the boys want burgers with the game, so we have been working on our own burgers. And it has been an adventure. We have tried all sorts of stuff; grinding our own meat, mixing different cuts and fats, different temps, different buns, sauces, etc. So far, we have a few (perhaps heretical) takes on a good burger:
- If you have a good butcher, grinding your own meat is a waste of time
- Ground chuck is still the best choice at home
- The bun matters as much as the beef
- The sauce from the Shake Shack in NYC (or a home version) would make a tennis shoe taste good
As for grinding you own meat, it is great fun until you need to clean up. But a good butcher will do it for you- just buy the cut and ask for it to be ground. Or simply ask if they grind their meat daily- if they do, you are all set. If your butcher can’t give you what you want, find another butcher. A butcher is a lifelong relationship, make it a good one.
Unless you are tight with Pat LaFreida (or live in NYC where you can get his burgers at the market), just use ground chuck. Many foodies will tell you it is easy, but home blending and grinding of different cuts is something you need to work at. The variables include quality / grade, fat %, what cut the fat comes from, temperature, part of the cut (brisket? point or flap or both?), coarse or find grind, etc. Not simple, not fun and not necessarily “better”.
The bun? A lot of the sweetness comes from the bun. So we base our burger on a commercial bun we really like, King Hawaiian Rolls, they are soft, yeasty and sweet- a perfect fit for a burger. The rolls are small, so we started making sliders. The kids love the size and it is nice to have the option to serve the slider as a snack or appetizer.
As for the Shake Shack sauce, it is simply awesome. Many have waxed poetic on the sauce- so no need to do so here. Just use it. Serious Eats reverse-engineered the sauce (here), and we added smoked paprika and salt to fit our tastes. It is incredibly easy to make.
Our kids like our sliders with the sauce more than burgers from our local joint. Success!
Super Bowl Sliders:
(sauce adapted from Serious Eats)
What you get: Tasty, juicy sliders that can be served as snack, appetizer or main course. The presentation is also good.
What you need: No special equipment required. Good sharp pickles will help in the sauce.
How long? 30 minutes, max. This is an easy dish you can make any time.
(makes 8 sliders, you will have extra sauce)
- 16 oz. ground chuck, formed into 8, 2 oz. patties that are less than ¼ inch thick.
- 4 slices of American cheese, tear into 8 pieces
- 1 tablespoon bacon fat or vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 8 dinner rolls (King Hawaiian if you can get them)
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon ketchup
- 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
- 4 slices kosher dill pickle, chopped
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- Place all sauce ingredients into a food processor, blend until smooth (immersion blender will also work). Set aside.
- Split rolls and put a small amount of butter on each roll. (Optional: grill each roll, butter-side down, while you make the sliders for extra crunch)
- Heat a heavy skillet (cast iron is good here) over medium-high heat. Make sure it is hot.
- Place 4 burgers in the skillet. Add pinch of salt to each burger. Cook for 2 minutes. Flip burger and add cheese. Cook another 2 minutes. Set aside, under foil, to rest. Repeat with second batch of burgers.
- Place burgers on buns and add sauce, to taste. Serve.