I went out with some friends recently and had the most awful cheeseburger: dry, bland, unseasoned – pretty much most boring food I could imagine. It makes me sad. At least I was in good company so the food was secondary. Also my “please no pickle on the burger or on the plate” was only sneakily honored when I saw the waitress stop before our table to throw the pickle in the garbage before she set down my plate. I know requesting no pickle anywhere near my food might seem on the really picky side of things when it’s something I could just give to someone who does actually eat pickles, which there is no shortage of, but pickle juice gets everywhere and on everything. It makes the fries soggy and makes the bun saturated with its distasteful pickle acid and it just grosses me out — of course I could have made a big deal, but I’d never be THAT much of a jerk to say “Okay, there’s technically no pickle on the plate right NOW, but I saw what you did…” However, one thing I couldn’t ignore was that my cheeseburger had no cheese on it. Cheese on a hamburger isn’t just some random topping — it makes a dumb old hamburger into something amazing and delicious. Not this one though — even cheese couldn’t save it.
I had never made cheeseburgers before, or even thought about it. I guess since it’s one of those things that’s so easy and cheap to get pretty much everywhere I never saw the point, but with the thought of the disgusting burger still lingering in my mind I thought I’d see if I could do a better job.
I toyed around a lot with the idea of making homemade buns, decided not to, but then at the last minute I found myself facing an evening alone with crummy weather surrounded by all the ingredients I happen to need to make buns. I’m glad it worked out that way because they were amazing and EASY. I thought it was going to be way more of an ordeal than it was but I threw on some music and it came down to mix stuff, let stuff sit, see if you can poke it without your fingers being covered in dough, let it sit. roll, shape and bake. It all sounds so simple and it actually was. There’s a lot of recipes and variations on buns, but everything in this recipe from Epicurious I had on hand so it’s what I went with. I do hold the belief that the bun can make or break the burger. What good is an amazing patty if it the bun is a soggy falling apart mess? It was one of those really satisfying things and I thought to myself that if there was a zombie apocalypse a la The Walking Dead that my skills of being able to make buns from scratch would ensure that the future world at least has cheeseburger buns.
For the beef blend… I wish I had the fancy KitchenAid food grinder but I don’t need any more kitchen stuff at the moment (…is what I tell myself when I can’t justify spending money on more crap for the kitchen). I wound up going to the butcher and they ground me up a mix that was 85% sirloin and 15% chuck. I read a lot about fat content and keeping the beef cold so that fat didn’t smear all over the place and mess up the patty, so when I formed the burger I handled them as little as possible. Apparently I had in my head that the beef would shrink to like half the size, because I made them humungous. I really have no idea was I was thinking — I know meat doesn’t shrink that much but here we are. I guess I was really hungry? The phrase ‘eyes bigger than your stomach’ applies to me always. Perhaps I need to start making things like 50% less than I think they should originally be as I did the same thing with the fish for the fish tacos I made… Anyway, I did remember to press my thumb into the middle so that it wouldn’t cook up into a giant meatball, so at least that’s something.
Cast iron pan, got it super hot, salt, pepper, throw on meat. I fought back my natural urge to mindlessly mash it down to make that satisfying crackling hissing sound that cooking meat tends to do, and I turned my attention to the fries, since the burger was going to obviously take a long while. I used Ree Drummond’s recipe so the potatoes were already neatly chopped up and soaking in water, which was then subsequently drained, and I started patting the potatoes as dry as possible as the pot oil heated up.
I like my burgers simple – onion, ketchup, mustard, cooked to a nice medium. Normally I’d want a better meat-to-bun ratio and if I got this burger at a restaurant I would think that it was a joke, but once I bit into it I didn’t care about that at all – it was a pretty incredible flavor with the meat blend being mostly sirloin. Or have I finally learned to season things? (Spoiler: I haven’t) Or was it the fresh homemade bun? Which I think I’ve been spoiled by and will have to make every time I want a cheeseburger at home. I wish I had the foresight to freeze the ones that I didn’t use, but nope. I don’t know what it was but I was really happy with how things turned out, even though I only about half of it and hardly any of the fries. The fries were good, but just forgettable. Honestly, if they weren’t in the photo I may have totally forgotten that I even made them.