11/09/2012 12:00:00 PM

Secrets From A Burger Master: Q & A with Bix Chef Bruce Hill

Could the secret to a better burger reside in this tool? 
After a week of furious burger research and consumption, we thought we'd end our Burger Week coverage with a Q & A with one of the city’s top burger masters, chef Bruce Hill, who’s famed Bix Club Burger ($17) remains one of the most sought after ones in the city. Yes, Hill does have a fancy pants Black Truffle Cheeseburger on the menu to appeal to his luxe diners, but the standard Bix Club Burger is a thing of beauty. You can’t exactly say that Hill wrote the book on burger making, but he did invent a tool to perfect it. (Read more about that below.) We caught up with Hill, who happens to also be the chef/owner of SoMa's Zero Zero and Picco and Pizzeria Picco in Larkspur, who divulged his secrets to building a better burger.

1. Choose the Right Beef: I think a big part of our success is the beef that we use, Brandt Family Beef from Southern California, a 20%, 80% blend. The combination of the cow’s pedigree and their feed really produces flavorful meat. Their cattle, Holsteins, are not a typical beef cow; they're more of dairy cow. And the proprietary feed they use combined with the warm temperature down there really enhances the meat’s flavor. 

2. Cook Your Burgers Cold. Most chefs like to let their proteins come to room temperature before cooking them, but I’ve found that you get the best results using very, very cold patties. The burger just doesn’t come out as juicy otherwise. They also tend to fall apart easily.

3. Use the Proper Tool: The key to a perfect burger is obtaining a perfect crust. That's our kitchen's directive. To achieve that, I ended up inventing the Chef’s Press. It’s a set of ventilated, adjustable stainless steel presses that you lay on top of the patty for cooking speed and consistency. The weight of the press creates a significantly better and more unified cooking surface against the pan. We sear the top and bottom of the patty in a cast iron pan with the presses, then pop the pan into a 500-degree oven to finish cooking it, for precisely 3 minutes for medium-rare. The press also compacts the meat a little bit while it's cooking and that tension ends up making the meat hold in more juices, like a sponge. A typical 8-ounce patty cooked the conventional way will give off about 3 tablespoons of juice. When you use a press, the burger doesn’t bleed out any juices, so you end up with a juicer burger. [Hill also uses the press for cooking other items such as chicken and vegetables, and he's not the only one. You’ll find Hill’s patented Chef Press in the kitchens of Boulevard, Coi, Manresa and Quince].

4Pay Attention to Your Ingredients. Like everything else, you have to focus on the flavor of each individual ingredient that you add to your burger. Some people like a dill pickle but personally I like the flavor profile of our housemade sweet-and-sour fridge pickles. We serve the burger on a brioche-poppy seed bun from Panorama Bakery and top it with lettuce, tomato and secret sauce, which is basically a housemade mayo with relish and ketchup. And it comes with our homemade fries, which we spend a lot of time perfecting as well.

Zagat: What  do you think about heavily salting your meat ahead of time? That seems to be a popular technique among many burgermeisters such as Nopa and Zuni.

Bruce Hill: I don't like the consistency you get when you do that. I find the burgers end up a little bit tough. I prefer to just season the patties with a little hit of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper just before we put it in the pan.


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