Boston-based burger blogger, chef, recipe developer and newly minted cookbook author Richard Chudy is one of our culinary heroes. His impressive mastery of all things fried, cheesy and dippable has expanded to his brand-new book, American Burger Revival: Brazen Recipes to Electrify a Timeless Classic. Co-written with chef-author Samuel Monsour, winner of Boston Magazine’s “Best Burger” award, American Burger Revival is a collection of recipes, stories, techniques and crucial information for inspiring and building the greatest burger you could ever dream up.
Here, in an excerpt, Chudy and Monsour describe the best way to grind fresh meat at home for the best possible burger, plus four custom beef blends that would make their star athlete counterparts proud.
The meat of the matter
To us, the perfect burger is loaded with toppings, sauces and cheese, but if the patty isn’t impeccable, your burger will never live up to its juicy, beefy, satisfying potential. But just like the endless array of toppings available to you, there are wonderful variations worth exploring when it comes to selecting which cuts of beef to use when forming your patties. There’s nothing wrong with chuck, but adding other cuts can change the flavor profile of your burger in ways you never imagined.
If you’ve got the burger basics down and are looking to step up your game, home-ground beef is the way to go. Grinding your own beef has many merits. Besides giving you bragging rights, home-ground beef has an indescribable freshness that will enhance your burger’s succulence. The flavor profiles of beef vary greatly from cut to cut; once you get into the world of grinding and mixing different cuts, you’ll experience a new level of burger making that will blow you and your friends away.
Creating your own blend
No matter what cuts you mix and match, the key to successful beef-grinding alchemy is to concoct a grind with an overall protein-to-fat ratio of 80/20. As long as you maintain this ratio, you can stick with a simple one-cut grind or get real complicated and craft a grind of two, three, four, or even five cuts — it’s totally your call.
Chuck (80/20): When old-school butchers refer to “hamburg,” they’re speaking of chuck, and even more specifically, chuck roll. It’s as classic as you can get, yielding a high-fat burger that comes across as juicy rather than greasy. Most ground beef — and burgers — come from the chuck, so this cut is an obvious choice. Hands down, it’s our favorite cut to grind. At the grocery store, look for the slab labeled “chuck pot roast.” Grind it up and you’ll instantly think burger.
Brisket (70/30): This blue-collar cut is popular for boiled dinners, delicatessens, and barbecue joints. Its distinct flavor profile and high-fat content will yield a rich burger with a humble meat-and-potatoes attitude.
Rib (70/30): Another high-fat cut, this primal slab produces some real burger beauties. Our favorite rib cuts for grinding are short rib, flanken, and ribeye cap.
Plate (90/10): The plate is just below the ribs. This cut yields both skirt and hanger steaks. These are slightly tougher cuts with buttery yet tangy flavor profiles, similar to the strong malolactic notes of a tart, velvety red wine. The sophisticated flavors of the plate lend themselves nicely to a fancier burger night.
Short Loin (85/15): If you win the lottery (and suddenly feel like a ridiculous asshole), we recommend sourcing our favorite cut from the short loin: a dry-aged New York strip steak. Dry aging produces an umami-packed profile that comes from an enzymatic breakdown of muscle. You just can’t find that flavor anywhere else. Most importantly, dry aging yields the amino acid glutamate. (It’s the same glutamate found in monosodium glutamate — the dreaded MSG! — and gives that buzz that Chinese takeout provides without the cancer scare.) So if you’ve got money to burn and you’re looking for a burger to give you some zip, this cut is for you.
Flank (93/7): Remember when London broil was cheap? We do. Back then, chefs were doing tasty things with flank, like marinating, charring, and shaving it so thin the meat just melted in your mouth. Even though the price of this cut has skyrocketed in the last ten years, it’s still a worthwhile component in your burger blend. That’s right, bring back the London broil, baby!
Sirloin (85/15): The sirloin can be complicated. There’s sirloin, tenderloin, top sirloin, and bottom sirloin. Flavors and marbling vary greatly throughout the sirloin region, so for burger-grinding purposes, we suggest sticking to the bottom. Bottom sirloin is well marbled and packed with two of our favorite cuts, both for grilling and grinding: flap meat, also known as steak tips (and typically only available on the East Coast) and tri-tip (usually only available on the West Coast).
Round (93/7): Cuts from the round are lean and cheap. They’re a great go-to when you need to adjust your protein-to-fat ratio. Typical cuts include top round, bottom round, and eye round.
Shank (96/4): The shank is cut from either the hind shank or fore shank (or the calves and forearms). These muscles are constantly used, which gives them a beefy flavor but a tough consistency. Such tough cuts tend to be best for braising, but remember, a few grinds of even the toughest meats will yield a tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture. We love the shank because it adds a rich and gelatinous beefiness to our burgers. Be sure to pair this lean cut with fattier cuts.
Oxtail (85/15): Sometimes we just love getting funky with our burger grinds. That’s where oxtail comes in. Similar to the shank, this cut is very tough and gelatinous. It’s also high in fat and low in cost. Pick up some tail next time you want to try something a little different.
Head: Leave it for braising or barbacoa.
You’ve just taken a crash course on almost everything there is to know about cuts of beef. The important thing is to use this information as a guideline and have some fun. Here are a few examples of some of our all-star burger blends.
Charles Barkley, a.k.a Sir Charles
50% Sirloin and 50% Chuck
If you aren’t going with just sirloin or just chuck, combining the two is the next logical step. Flap meat (from the bottom sirloin) is well marbled and breaks down nicely in a grinder, while chuck will give you that classic burger flavor profile that’s hard to beat.
70% Short Rib and 30% Shank
Don’t let the little guy fool you. Much like the shortest man to ever play in the NBA, this combo is a force to be reckoned with. Short rib might be short, but it’s about as marbled a cut as you can get. The muscle’s constant action makes this cut packed with flavor. This robust blend has a ton of personality with grassy, sweet undertones.
33% Oxtail, 33% Skirt Steak, and 33% Brisket
An odd combo, maybe, but the zany, skirt-wearing legend inspired this trio, and we think you’ll dig it. It’s got depth, funk, and a unique beefiness that Rodman himself would endorse. Probably.
25% Hanger Steak, 25% Flank Steak, and 50% Ribeye Cap
The jack-of-all-trades burger, much like Pippen himself (born in Hamburg, Arkansas, by the way), does a little bit of everything and does it well. The fat from the ribeye cap is rounded out by the lean nature of the flank, and the hanger gives this blend a meaty depth.