A different way to picnic

Summer holidays in a New York City apartment with no outdoor space except for a fire escape must sound like a nightmare to most burger eating, picnic going Americans. The truth is, I’ve been preparing for this my whole life. In our crazy family we almost never ate outside around the picnic table. We had one. We just didn’t eat dinner at it very often. We ate our Memorial Day burgers (hot dogs, ribs, chicken, pasta…) on real dishes, in the air conditioning, around the dining room table. We were in no way fancy or upscale. We just did things mom’s way, and she was and is about as outdoorsy as…well as her daughter. Thanks for the unwitting training, mom. You turned me out New York-ready.

One of the things that I do miss here in the city is the grill. Sure, we ate inside on Memorial Day and yes my mom cooked dinner in the kitchen, but my dad never missed an opportunity to grill. We just had both. I know I’ve said it before, but it really does bear repeating. My dad was a master griller, and he made the very best burgers I’ve ever eaten. I miss them and him very much, so I’m not about to give up on delicious at-home burgers. We honor my dad every time we fire up the skillet on the stove top in our tiny kitchen that isn’t even big enough to fit my dad’s old grill. Lucky for me, Mike is equally as skilled in the burger department. I can make a pretty mean stove top burger, but Mike seems to revel in the entire process that goes into creating a plump, juicy, perfectly charred on the outside, pink on the inside burger, so I usually relinquish this task to him. During his PA-house-and-backyard days, he grilled up burgers for me that even my dad would be proud of. Here in New York with just an old stove used by years of tenants before us, Mike still makes a killer burger.

Tips and tricks for great burgers

The two tricks to making a good burger (instead of buying premade) are the same two tricks to making good meatballs. You have to use quality ingredients and you must handle the meat as little as possible. A gentle touch is imperative. Mix lightly and quickly. It doesn’t take a long time or a heavy hand. For the perfect burger start with 80% lean beef.  This is what keeps your burger moist and flavorful. You need that fat. If you’re tempted to cut calories with 90% lean, you’re going to sacrifice taste and end up with a dry burger. We add very finely chopped onions right to the meat, but we’re a little obsessed with onions. I remember my dad did it once or twice, but usually he couldn’t be bothered. I always vote more onions and encourage you to try it. Now you’re ready to cook! The single most important trick to cooking a good burger is timing. If you overcook it, you’re done. Whether you like your burger rare or well done (say it isn’t so) or somewhere in between, the whole cooking process will not take more than ten minutes. We’re only talking about a quarter pound of beef per patty. Three minutes on each side will get you a rare to medium rare burger. It only takes half the time for us because we’ve started using a cast iron skillet which retains heat far better than our regular pans. Keep that in mind if you decide to use cast iron. We’ve been happily perfecting our burger for years (the sacrifices we make) and we’re eager to share it with you.

In New York City you simply cannot make a mediocre homemade burger. How could you justify such a thing? There are award-winning burgers (literally award-winning) in every neighborhood, at every price point, and they are incredibly easy to find. In just a few clicks, Google will turn up no less than ten “guides to the best burgers in the city” right on the first page of your search. From cheap staples like Corner Bistro to pricey old school classics at Minetta Tavern, this city is practically over flowing with all beef patties. You just have to know where to go and whatever you do, never ever assume that price wise ordering the burger is safe. Right here in our humble neighborhood Murray Hill, the hotel-restaurant Beer and Buns used to flip a $250 wagyu beef burger complete with black truffle shavings, foie gras and caviar delicately sautéed in white wine and tucked into a toasted brioche bun. Scandalous, I know! They have permanently closed, but I’m sure they’re not the first or the last three figure burger to grace this island. The competition is stiff for home cooks, but sometimes considering the price tag, the incentive is high. Don’t worry. In a pinch our local bar, the Bravest serves up a tasty cheeseburger for about $9. Sometimes when our kitchen is too clean to mess up, we go there for beers, burgers and a ball game (they even put the Phillies on for us).

Where to find the best burger

We have plenty of options this Memorial Day and a nice four-day weekend to exercise all of them. Maybe on Saturday we’ll head down to Madison Square Park for some fresh air and to support Danny Meyer in the ongoing east coast versus west coast battle between our beloved Shake Shack and LA’s In & Out Burger. Don’t tell Mr. Meyer, but I love them both. We could consult all the guides from Thrillist to Eater to TimeOut NY, but we really don’t have to. I know deep down that the best burger we’re going to find this weekend will come straight from our tiny kitchen. You can follow the recipe here. If you’re lucky enough to have outdoor space and a grill, it’s still worth checking out. You just have the privilege of swapping out kitchen burner for grill top! And if you get caught in any of the rain that is being predicted in our parts, by all means make this burger in your kitchen! We think you’re going to love it. Again, we recommend using 80% lean ground beef. It’s that 20% fat that’s going to add the flavor and keep it moist. You can make up for it on Tuesday with our healthy and very yummy Green Leaf Salad with Grilled Chicken and Avocado. Until then enjoy the long weekend. Crank up the back-yard tunes, crack open a beer or two and indulge in this perfect burger. Happy Memorial Day!

For our Philly friends or anyone heading that way, we want to tell you about our latest food discovery. We found New Road Brinery pickles and even got to meet the owner, Patrick who makes and bottles every batch himself. He’s a cool guy using fresh locally sourced ingredients and we’re so happy to support him. The pickles just happen to be really great as well. Check out his site here for locations and his story.