Beef, Pork Products, Quick Meals, Sandwich

Burgermeister meisterburger.

I have standards, sometimes set by long-ago dining experiences. The patty melt, for example. When I was in high school, I waited tables at the Woolworth’s Coffee Shop in the Brookfield Square Mall, your basic diner with sandwiches, pie, soups and burgers. The best of these was the patty melt. Served in a brown skillet plate, atop a pile of crisp, salty fries, the Woolworth’s patty melt boasted melted American cheese, a tangle of sweet, golden onion, and, most importantly, buttery griddled rye. For me, it was a perfect sandwich, and today, if I order a patty melt, I expect it to taste like that.

The problem with maintaining standards is that, inevitably, someone will disappoint you. Last weekend, in the Los Angeles area, I had a terrible patty melt. Let me count the ways in which the Kobe burger failed to meet my expectations. First of all, no way was that Kobe beef. Second, even if it was Kobe, they killed it, cooking the burger to a charred, dried out puck. Third, I think they cooked it on the flattop right after cooking my mom’s swordfish, because it came with an odd, fishy aroma. Fourth (yes – I have a lot of complaints about this burger), I couldn’t taste the few strings of caramelized onion through the burnt, fishy lump of meat. And finally, the bread. Marble rye could’ve been a cute twist, but patty melts need to be buttered and then griddled on the flattop. What you’re looking for, see, is a grilled cheese on rye, essentially, but with a burger and some caramelized onions in between. What I got was rye bread, too dry to be fresh, not dry enough to have been toasted. And no butter. Expectations not met.

I couldn’t eat it. Once we returned from LA, all I could think about was that total failure burger.

Having read too many gross stories about commercially-available ground beef, I always grind my own meat. As an added bonus, I get to choose the cuts and season them before grinding for perfect salt integration. For the burgers we eat at home, I use a blend of short rib, brisket, and tri-tip (if I can get it – otherwise, I just use any sirloin I can get). It’s kind of a fat bomb, but we only eat burgers at home maybe two or three times a year. If you don’t grind the meat yourself, substitute 1 1/2 lbs of any high quality fresh-ground beef – meaning that the butcher or market grinds the meat from whole cuts in-house. You will notice from the pictures that the burgers are not medium-rare. This is because my husband dislikes the thick medium-rare burger, preferring instead a fully cooked but very thin patty, such as you might get at In ‘N’ Out Burger. You can suit yourself, but if you want to cook the thin patties, each one should be 2 oz, and you can double them up on your burger.

Patty melt

Now and then I encounter attempts to fancy up a perfectly good burger with artisanal cheese. For purposes of the patty melt, that’s wrong. The cheese you want is American, which melts evenly and provides a mildly tangy, salty quality that doesn’t compete with the meat. Blue cheeses take you into Spotted Pig territory, which is great and all, but this is a patty melt. Cheddar just isn’t salty enough and melts into a greasy, sweaty-looking blob. Swiss, even though traditional, poses the same problem. And with the holes in the cheese, you don’t get perfect burger coverage.

1/2 lb beef short rib (boneless)
1/2 lb beef brisket
1/2 lb bottom sirloin (or other sirloin)
kosher salt
12 slices American cheese
2 large red onions, sliced into 1/4″ rings
12 slices rye bread
unsalted butter, softened

Cut the beef into 1″ cubes and spread evenly on a sheet pan. Season with 1/2 tsp kosher salt per pound of meat. If you have to use a table salt, cut this quantity in half. Freeze the meat until firm (about 30 minutes) and pass through a grinder with a medium die.

Butter each slice of bread on one side.

Place a skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, add a knob of butter. Add the onion and cook until translucent and soft with deep golden brown edges. Season with a little salt and set aside.

Form the meat into six patties, 4 oz each. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and, when hot, film with oil. Fry the burgers on one side until browned, and flip with a spatula. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook to the desired doneness, topping with a slice of cheese. Alternatively, you can grill the burger, but you usually wouldn’t grill a patty melt.

In a second skillet, place the bread, butter side down, topped with a slice of cheese. Place the cooked burgers on top of the cheese, top with a generous quantity of onion, and top with the second slice of buttered rye, butter side-up. Press down with the spatula. When the bread is golden brown on the skillet side, flip the sandwich over and cook until the other slice of bread is golden brown. Slice in half and serve.

Patty melt.

Korean BBQ burger

There’s nothing like the savory, mildly sweet, smoky taste of galbi, the Korean dish of beef short ribs, marinated and grilled. It’s often served as ssam – a wrapped food – with a lettuce leaf and a smear of gochujang, the spicy red pepper bean paste, and assorted side dishes like kimchi. I thought it might be delicious to incorporate these flavors into a burger, especially one using ground short rib.

Instead of a big dab of gochujang, this burger features a spicy mayonnaise. I make my own, but you can substitute a good quality jarred mayonnaise, such as Hellman’s or Duke’s.

1/2 lb beef short rib (boneless)
1/2 lb beef brisket
1/2 lb bottom sirloin (or other sirloin)
kosher salt
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp soy sauce
clove garlic
1/8 tsp ground white pepper
large pinch sugar
butter lettuce or crisphead lettuce (like iceberg)
1 c baechu kimchi (cabbage kimchi), chopped coarsely
1/2 c mayonnaise
1 tbsp gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste)
6 burger buns

Combine the mayonnaise and gochujang in a small bowl. Cover and keep refrigerated. Rub a separate small bowl with the garlic clove and, in the bowl, combine the soy, sesame oil, white pepper, and sugar.

Cut the beef into 1″ cubes and spread evenly on a sheet pan. Season with 1/2 tsp kosher salt per pound of meat. If you have to use a table salt, cut this quantity in half. Freeze the meat until firm (about 30 minutes) and pass through a grinder with a medium die.

Split the buns and place, cut side up, on a baking sheet. Place under a hot broiler until lightly toasted on the cut side. Remove and set aside.

Form the meat into six patties, 4 oz each. Brush each very lightly with the sesame-soy mixture. Sesame oil has a strong taste, so more is not better in this situation. When I say lightly, I mean lightly. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and, when hot, film with oil. Fry the burgers on one side until browned, and flip with a spatula. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook to the desired doneness. Alternatively, you can grill the burger.

Spread gochujang mayonnaise on the cut side of each bun. Top the bottom halves with lettuce. Place the burger on top and top with kimchi. Serve immediately.

Korean BBQ burger

Sausage burger

While I’ve got you here, let me share another burger favorite. This one features pork, the king of meats, and Italian flavors. The bitterness of the radicchio cuts right through the fattiness of the sausage, and the mushrooms and Parmigiano cheese turn this sandwich into an umami festival. Combine caramelized onion for sweetness and pickled onion for acidity and you’ve got a perfect bite.

1 1/2 lbs sausage, from this recipe
10 oz white button mushrooms, sliced thinly (1/8″ or so)
unsalted butter
salt (truffle salt is especially good) and pepper
1/4 c dry white wine
radicchio leaves, washed and dried
12 paper-thin slices Parmigiano-Reggiano
4 oz Fontina Val d’Aosta, in 12 slices
Pickled onion, from this recipe
Dijon mustard
6 burger buns

Split the buns and place, cut side up, on a baking sheet. Place under a hot broiler until lightly toasted on the cut side. Remove and set aside.

Place skillet on high heat and, when hot, add about 2 tbsp butter. Add mushrooms and saute until they have given up their liquid and reabsorbed it; add wine. Cook, stirring from time to time, until all liquid is absorbed. Once liquid is absorbed, cook, stirring infrequently, until mushrooms are golden brown. Season with salt and pepper.

Form the meat into six patties. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and, when hot, film with oil. Fry the burgers on one side until browned, and flip with a spatula. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook through completely, topping with a slice of cheese. Don’t overcook them, though – they need to be moist.

Spread the bottom halves of each bun with mustard and top with radicchio. Place the burger on top and top with sauteed mushrooms and pickled onion. Serve immediately.

Sausage burger

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10 thoughts on “Burgermeister meisterburger.

  1. Wendi says:

    Oh my, that Patty Melt is making me quite hungry. I think I need to come to your house for dinner.

  2. Your post brings back memories of growing up in WI, and the adjustments my palate had to make when I moved to CA for college. Pining for tastes of home (eh hem, excuse me, this is *not* an onion ring), while simultaneously finding the ethnic diversity of Southern California food to be a revelation. Mmm… kimchi on a burger… awesome… Thanks for sharing.

  3. You have waxed eloquent on the benefits of personally selecting and grinding the beef, and I applaud you. I fully agree with you about the bread. You’d think that the basic architecture of Patty Melt would be accessible to even the most technically challenged grill person, and the bread — proper crispy grilled bread — is a crucial element of this guilty pleasure.

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  5. Jack says:

    Thanks for codifying something I love. I have been preaching to people about the joys of kimchi on grilled burgers for a long time and few have listened. It’s sooo good!

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