Kenji Lopez-Alt and the folks at the Harlem Shake restaurant have invented a burger that's all delicious brown crust.
See, by placing a ball of meat on a hot, un-oiled griddle and smashing it down firmly into a flat, thin disk, you greatly increase the contact points between the meat and the griddle, which in turn increases the Maillard reaction. That's the series of chemical reactions that creates the rich brown crust that makes our steaks and burgers taste so freaking good. Maximum crust = maximum flavor = maximum craving.
I've already discussed the basic ins and outs of smashed burgers in the past, but after writing that article, I found myself wondering, what if I were to take this to the extreme? Is there a way I can pack even more flavor into a burger?
Spoiler alert: the answer is a big fat (or should I say short smashed?) yes.
In thinking about making meals completely from scratch, Waldo Jaquith realizes that making a simple cheeseburger would have been nearly impossible before the twentieth century.
Tomatoes are in season in the late summer. Lettuce is in season in in the fall. Mammals are slaughtered in early winter. The process of making such a burger would take nearly a year, and would inherently involve omitting some core cheeseburger ingredients. It would be wildly expensive-requiring a trio of cows-and demand many acres of land. There's just no sense in it.
A cheeseburger cannot exist outside of a highly developed, post-agrarian society. It requires a complex interaction between a handful of vendors-in all likelihood, a couple of dozen-and the ability to ship ingredients vast distances while keeping them fresh.
From The Celebrity Cookbook (1967), Dean Martin's recipe for hamburgers:
No ice. TV tray. Classy. (via @lettersofnote)
Four-star chef Eric Ripert checked out the burgers at McDonald's and Burger King to use as a pattern for a burger at his new D.C. restaurant. Part of what he learned is proportion is everything.
Just looking at the basic burgers at each of these chains -- particularly the Big Mac -- showed me a couple of very key things: First of all, the burgers are a perfect size. You can grab them in both hands, and they're never too tall or too wide to hold on to. And the toppings are the perfect size, too -- all to scale, including the thickness of the tomatoes, the amount of lettuce, etc. In terms of the actual flavors, they taste okay, but you can count on them to be consistent; you always know what you're going to get.
Ripert's findings dovetail quite nicely with my theory of sandwichcraft.
Here it is, the awful truth. After sampling In-N-Out Burger twice this past weekend (a cheeseburger with raw onion and, 4 days later, a Double Double w/ no onions) and having had several Shack Burgers this year (my most recent one was a couple of weeks ago), an adequate comparison between the two can be made. The verdict?
The Shake Shack burger wins in a landslide. It's more flavorful, features a better balance of ingredients, and a yummier bun. On the french fries front, In-N-Out's fresh-cut fries get the nod.
Courtesy of Mena, something to keep in mind: a cheeseburger at In-N-Out is $1.85 while a similarly appointed Shack Burger is $4.38, almost 2.5 times as much. SS french fries are nearly twice the price of In-N-Out fries. The burger comparison is an unfair one because, despite its location and style, Shake Shack is a restaurant and In-N-Out is a fast food joint. That the burgers are even close enough to compare -- and make no mistake, I still love the In-N-Out burger -- says a great deal about In-N-Out.