From a classic build to a mind-blowing mashup, the summer season is the burger’s time to shine. We found onsite chefs perfecting the beef patty with blend and cooking technique, then diverging into well-traveled burger routes and off-the-beaten path burger adventures in terms of toppings and accompaniments.
Classic and fantastic
Chef James Pijewski of Youville Place Assisted Living in Massachusetts counts burgers as one of his all-time favorites when it comes to comfort and cravings. “Grilled on a charcoal grill or even done in a pan; you can’t go wrong,” Pijewski says.
He can appreciate over-the-top burgers, but at the end of the day, perfection to him is the classic no-frills cheeseburger. “I know the ‘hip’ thing is to do unique and crazy toppings…I’ve seen peanut butter and bananas on a burger before…however, I think the best burger is just a classic one executed perfectly. I’m old school that way.
Pijewski describes has overall cooking style as “nailing down the classic version of something and then I go from there.” While he’s experimented with wild toppings and really likes meat substitute burgers, to him, “old school is sometimes exactly what’s needed.”
For buns, Pijewski goes for the classic sesame seed bun. He things brioche is good, too, “but I always stay away from ciabatta,” he cautions. Too easy for everything to slide right out. Being from New England and influenced by lobster rolls, Pijewski sometimes adds butter and toasts the buns.
For patties, he uses a chuck and short rib blend with an 80/20 fat ratio. He stays away from any mix-ins to the raw beef: “One of my favorite chefs, Bobby Flay, said it best when it comes to adding different herbs and stuff to burgers. ‘That is meatloaf; we are making burgers.’”
And like any burger fan, Pijewski has his pet peeves. “Melt the cheese! Half-melted or cold cheese drives me nuts. I add my cheese during the last minute or so of cooking and either close the grill or toss a cover on the pan with a little water if I’m cooking on the stove.”
“Add some mayo and ketchup, and you’ve got what I think is the absolute perfect burger that will knock anyone’s socks off every single time.”
Photo: American Dining Creation’s bacon-cheddar-jalapeno burger starts with a beef patty that’s been smashed into the griddle for maximum Maillard reaction.
Fresh, smashed burgers are the standard for ADC
Replacing frozen beef with freshly made patties took American Dining Creations (ADC) about a month, a move to tie in with the management company’s “Fresh Difference” standards. Along the way, a pleasant surprise occurred.
“We thought we were going to end up with a cost increase, but the exact opposite happened,” says Nick Salvagni, VP of marketing with ADC.
ADC chefs across the country trained in small regional groups for the fresh burger project. In addition to never-frozen beef, the chefs learned of a decree from high up at ADC that smash burgers are the standard operating procedure (SOP). But you’ve gotta smash it right.
“If you smash your burger once—decisively—as soon as it hits the hot skillet while the meat and fat are still cold, there won’t be any juices (yet) to lose,” the SOP reads. “You’ll maximize the points of contact with the hot grill, which will effectively singe a layer of caramelization onto the burger. The Maillard Reaction [when amino acids and reducing sugars react to each other for that golden-brown crust of flavor] will create the salty, beefy crust onto every last bit of surface area.”
The list of procedures given to chefs for smashing fresh burgers also outlined the whole process from purchasing and receiving guidelines to storage, preparation, food safety and food temperatures.
With a beautifully seared smash burger that’s cracklin’ with juicy beefy flavor, it’s then up to the chef to go with the tried and true, go buck wild or somewhere completely different. It’s all there with ADC’s line of cool burgers, which are part of the retro Malt & Main burger-and-shake concept: A bacon mac ‘n cheese burger, a cheddar-and-chutney pub burger, a state fair-inspired burger with onion rings and a breakfast burger with a fried egg.
From there, the ADC culinary team turned their attentions to the perfect sides: hand cut fries and housemade Ninja pickles.
Photo: ADC took a page out of Taco Bell’s playbook and incorporated the famous flavor of Doritos into this cute slider.
Going to extremes
Burger creativity is also in bloom at Stony Brook University, where CulinArt Executive Chef Jerry Suppa has crafted a summer menu with lots of offbeat burgers for the Urban Eats concept. Customers are able to choose beef or swap in any protein (grilled chicken, turkey burger, veggie burger, falafel) and all burgers are served with a choice of side salad, fries, sweet potato fries or beer-battered onion rings.
The burgers are big and bold, maybe even a knife-and-fork burger in some cases: The Big Double Double with twice the burgers, cheddar cheese and smoky bacon plus lettuce and tomato on brioche; the Spicy Avocado Jack with bacon, Jack cheese, pico, house pickled jalapenos and fresh sliced avocado and the Glazed Donut Bacon Burger for those ready to go all in on the concept of “treat yourself with a burger!”
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