Philadelphia Burger Week: A Meat Expert Weighs In On All Things Burger

Eric Hall sure knows a good burger. The current Corporate Chef of Di Bruno Brothers Italian Market in Philadelphia has years of experience dishing out patties to the city's masses, having spent years as the Executive Chef of catering at the University of Pennsylvania and at Citizens Bank Park, home of the Phillies. Today, he runs the kitchen at the storied Di Bruno's, which first opened its doors in 1939 and has since added a location in Rittenhouse Square, serving up the city's finest selection of meats and cheeses. We caught up with Eric to talk all things Philly burgers.

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

I suggest that we freshly grind some chuck flap, which is fantastic because of its high fat content.

Is it an 80-20 blend?

It has a little more fat than that, probably around 75-25. We'll take the chuck flap and blend it with just a little bit of ground chuck, which is lean.

Why do you think that blend is ideal?

That's where all the flavor is coming from! The last thing you want is a lean hamburger. Typically, people are going to get it cooked at least medium, so you want to have all that juiciness and fat content in there to keep it moist and delicious. The chuck flap, which is basically short rib, has a ton of flavor and not a lot of sinew. It melts very well.

Do you have any general tips for buying burger meats?

If you can, buy the meat in whole form and grind it yourself. You can do that easily if you have a food processor – cut it into one-inch cubes and then pulse it. You're not making pâté, just pulse it! It won't be a stringy grind like in a meat grinder, but you can do it and it will hold its form like a burger. Don't over process it! And don't over-manipulate the meat, because that toughens it.

Do you think that grass-fed beef is better beef?

Cows are meant to eat grass, so a grass-fed cow is a happier cow, and a happier cow is a tastier cow! They're made to eat grasses and not grains. We feed grain to fatten them because it's a concentrated carbohydrate source, but cows' stomachs are not built to digest corn and all that. Therefore, they end up tasting better when they're eating grass, and they will also pick up the different nuances of the grass. It will add an earthiness that's definitely detectable.

What about tips for grilling burgers at home?

Typically, I will actually do a burger in a hot cast-iron skillet. I find that you get a better sear that way. A nice caramelization develops, as opposed to the open flame, where the fat drips off and flairs up and can smoke the burger out. I'll put a tiny bit of salt and pepper as seasoning.

Any cooking tips?

I like to flatten them out so that they are a little wider than the bun and so that they're not mounded in the middle. That way, they can cook evenly.

Are you topping your burgers with anything?

I'm a bacon cheddar burger fanatic. We have fantastic cheeses in store and I'll use some three-year aged cheddar with smoky, thick-slabbed bacon cooked until it's really crispy.

What are your favorite burger spots in Philadelphia?

2312 Garrett in Drexel Hill is off the beaten path but has amazing burgers. And, of course, I love a good Shake Shack burger.

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