11/08/2012 02:19:00 PM

Blended For Your Burger: How Meat Meets the Patty

When coming up with the perfect meat blend for making hamburgers, there are a lot of techniques and styles that chefs and butchers follow. Yet, even though they don’t agree on exactly how cold the meat should be, cuts of beef, or fat-to-muscle ratio, they all have the same mantra - good meat makes the best burger.

“Ultimately, there is more flavor in a single animal raised on grass,” said Back Forty chef Peter Hoffman. “You taste the land, or the terroir if you will, in our burger, not the manipulated taste of grain and fat.”

For the restaurant, Hoffman splits half of a grass-fed steer on a weekly basis. From this, he mixes lean hind leg cuts with middle and marbled frontal cuts. At The Little Owl in the West Village, chef Joey Campanaro also grinds his own blend, but he uses brisket and short rib. This combination, he said, renders the fat in those two cuts to make a burger that is juicy and flavorful, without being greasy.

These chefs’ methods aren’t too different from how major meat purveyor Marc Sarrazin, president of DeBragga, makes hamburger blends for his clients. There, they commonly use chuck roll, which is the eye of the chuck, brisket, and short rib. As a butcher shop, DeBragga has chopped up, cut, and grinded meat since the 1920s, and today is the main supplier of hamburger meat for many popular New York eateries, including all of Daniel Boulud’s restaurants. That means when you bit into the Yankee burger at DBGB, you are getting Sarrazin’s thoughtful mixture of beef.

“We have a lot of guys that buy their products straight from us because they love what we do,” said Sarrazin. 

Another popular meat purveyor is Pat LaFrieda and Sons, a third generation, family-run company that created the famous blends for Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack chain as well as Minetta Tavern and Burger & Barrel. For each of his customers, Pat LaFrieda (the third, or Pat Jr.) works on personalizing their blend. The first step to getting it right, he said, is finding out what cut of meat the chef is partial to. 

“If a chef likes hanger steak, we make a blend with hanger to give them that irony flavor, that rich flavor,” LaFrieda said. “We do so many custom cuts that a lot if chefs have told me, ‘Pat, you are now my butcher shop.’”

For example, when he worked with April Bloomfield on her burger for The Spotted Pig, he knew she wanted to cook it on the grill, keep it lean but packed with flavor, and have a little resistance in the chew. In order to do that, they tried numerous raw meat samples until they decided on a special rib mix that held up to the grill, wasn’t too fatty, and tasted delicious.

You can experience the difference too in what these butchers are doing verses, what LaFrieda so eloquently referred to as, the "pink slime" patties often found in fast food joints. Again, it goes back to quality. At Pat LaFrieda their cows come from Kansas and are all grass-fed for 85% of their lives and then finished off on natural grains, and Sarrazin uses grass-fed cows for most of his meat at DeBragga.  

At Colonie in Brooklyn Heights, chef Brad McDonald spent a couple months perfecting his own greasy-spoon-style hamburger blend out of flat iron steak and fat sourced from two farms upstate. Though, where LeFrieda shuns adding trim into a blend, McDonald embraces it.

“We chose the flat iron because it already has a nice, lean ratio, and we throw the hanger in because it’s trim we didn’t want to throw away,” said the chef. “It’s my approach to practical cooking, we try and use all our trim and put it back into another recipe if we can.” 

All of these methods go into creating burgers customers love and cherish. After all, there is a reason you pick your favorite burger joint. However chefs and butchers choose their signature blends, it’s all in the quality and flavor of the actual beef. 

“We haven’t changed anything since my grandfather was making chopped beef,” said LaFrieda. “He always said you can never hide your sins in the chopped beef machines, meaning, what you put in it is what you get out.”

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1 comment :

  1. I worked for DeBragga for 15 years and we never made ground beef. We always bought it second hand from the garbage company in the Bronx and no one at our company would eat it. Marc Sarrazin is a pot smoking liar and George is always too busy on his hunting trips, bragging about sleeping with prostitutes while his wife poorly does the PR by lying about all the restaurants that they don't sell. DBGB grinds their own meat. Do some fact checking.