Living in San Francisco, one encounters many smells. Some good, some not so good. But one that always excites is the smell of charring ground beef getting ready to be made into a hamburger. Unfortunately, this pleasant smell isn’t always followed by delicious food. As a matter of fact, it can be quite hard to come across an exceptional burger. This is obviously a problem for us, so we took things into our own hands. Before I explain how we achieved burger satisfaction, I must thank our friend and neighbor Robin for getting this whole burger movement started. She purchased a small grill and has provided us with some fantastic cheeseburgers in the past few weeks. It had been a while since I had made a proper cheeseburger, but with the right ingredients and tools, making an excellent cheese burger is fairly simple.
1/3 pound ground beef (per burger)
good quality buns
Before I explain the technique, a quick note about ingredients. Obviously, we care a great deal about quality and sustainability when it comes our food, and a cheeseburger is one of the few places where very high quality meat, cheese, and produce can really shine (and only for a little more cash). For these burgers, I used 16 % fat, grass-fed ground beef and seasoned them with salt about an hour before cooking. The onions came from our csa and cooked up delicious and sweet with butter, olive oil, and plenty of time. The aioli is homemade and leftovers get turned into a terrific buttermilk dressing perfect for coleslaw. And the buns, while not homemade, are from Acme Bread; they have a great texture and a nice, yet mild taste.
So, how does it all go together? We’ll start with cooking surfaces. As far as I’m concerned, you can either grill your burgers or cook them on a flat surface (preferably cast iron). Since I don’t have a grill, I use a flat cast iron surface that covers two burners. There are a couple advantages with this method: you can cook more food on the large surface (either more burgers, or onions, like I did), and by cooking the burgers on this flat surface, the juices kind of self baste the meat as it cooks.
As I said earlier, I formed and seasoned the burgers about an hour before cooking so the salt gets a chance to season the center of the burger. Around this time, I also started caramelizing the onions over medium-low heat with butter and olive oil. Once those are at the desired consistency, you can turn the heat off and just warm them as the burgers are cooking. To cook these magnificent burgers, turn your burner up high and get that pan smoking. Carefully place the burgers over the heat and leave them for 2-3 minutes, until they are dark brown and you can see the it’s half way cooked. Turn down the heat to medium-high (cast iron has will just keep getting hotter and hotter, so you really have to keep an eye on your temperature). Flip and leave for a couple more minutes and add your sliced cheese. Cover for thirty seconds to one minute, until the cheese is melted and the meat is finished cooking (medium-rare, please). Set burgers aside and toast those buns. Slather on some aioli, then the burger, caramelized onions, some sliced pickle, and a little ketchup. Serve with some coleslaw or a salad and a nice beer. Heaven.