New York Burger Week: Talking With Butcher Mark Lobel Of Lobel's

No one knows more about meat in New York City than Mark Lobel. A fifth generation butcher whose family started out in the meat business in 1840, Mark is at the helm of Lobel's, one of the city's most renowned butcher shops, located on the Upper East Side. "There was really no choice," about his choice of profession, Mark says, adding that he began working for his father at the butchery at the ripe age of six. We caught up with him to talk all things burger.

When someone comes in asking for burger meat, what do you suggest?

I would suggest our famous blend, which is a mixture of chuck and porterhouse tail.

Is your chuck an 80-20 blend?

It is, which is ideal. You need a bit of fat in there to give it some good flavor, and it cooks very well.

Can you give us any tips for buying burger meat?

A lot of people have things to say when it comes to burger blends: you'll hear someone swearing by brisket mixed with short rib or putting aged meat in their burgers. But a lot of it is a play on words to keep it fresh. You don't want aged meat in your ground beef. The best burgers are [made] with prime meat, which has nice streaks of natural marble and you don't have to add as much fat. It is also important to use the whole muscle from a lot of different areas of the animal.

Do you think grass-fed beef is better beef?

I don't think so at all. I think that for the most part it lacks the quality that people are looking for in the flavor experience. Our beef is started on grass when it is very young and then finished on corn.

What about tips for grilling burgers at home?

It is important to know that while you can bring steaks to room temperature, you should not do the same with burgers. You want it to come out of the refrigerator and go right on the grill.

What are some mistakes that people make at home?

One of the biggest mistakes that people make is pressing down on the meat with a spatula. It's almost like tears coming out of the burger because it's the juice that comes out. Also, it's important to not mold the patty too much – touch the meat as little as possible because the more it is molded, the more it becomes like clay.

Do you use toppings or stuff your burgers?

I don't like to put a lot on the burger. Generally, I'll do coarse Kosher salt with some black pepper and a little garlic. Less is more for a good burger. But if I'm getting creative for the kids in the summertime, I'll do a burger bar with scallions, cheese, bacon and avocado. When you set all that out there and it's colorful, it adds excitement. Sometimes, I'll take some cheddar cheese and put it on the inside of the burger – as it cooks and you take a bite, it'll melt out.

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