There’s an old saying that you can judge a cook’s skills by the quality of his or her roast chicken. I think a better measuring stick is the humble hamburger. Deceptively simple, a delicious burger is actually a fairly complex amalgam of beef, bun, and toppings. Done right, all the ingredients work together in perfect harmony. Done badly, you’re left with a hockey puck floating in a sea of bread that no amount of cheese, ketchup, or sauce can save.
Given all that, it’s no wonder that Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack chain has built a legion of loyal fans around the world who can’t get enough of its signature ShackBurger. Meyer has been able to build a brand that combines the ease and efficiency of a fast food burger chain with the fancy beef cuts and panache of a gourmet restaurant.
To help home chefs raise their burger game, Shake Shack recently released a book that is part cooking manual, part memoir, and part coffee table book. Amazingly, it includes the recipe for the ShackBurger and a version of the company’s special sauce. (Both recipes are also below.)
While the directions and ingredients are fairly straightforward, I still had some questions for Mark Rosati, Shake Shack’s culinary director and the co-author of the book. Rosati, as you can imagine, is a self-described burger maniac and has the bonhomie of somebody who truly loves what they do. When he’s not visiting one of the company’s far-flung outposts or creating new dishes, he’s eating burgers in restaurants around the world. So, suffice it say, if he can’t help save you from serving an overcooked hockey puck, nobody can.
While the patty usually gets the most attention and consideration, the bun is, sadly, often an afterthought. That’s one of the biggest mistakes home chefs make, says Rosati. Shake Shack uses a potato roll made by legendary Pennsylvania company Martin’s. But even if you can’t get those exact rolls, Rosati advises that you to try to find one that won’t overwhelm the patty. “As long as there’s a good harmony between the amount of meat and the bun, you’re OK,” he says. No matter the size, “we want the bun to be nice and soft and tender,” and it shouldn’t flake apart in your hands.
A BUTTERED ROLL
Regardless of the kind of bread you choose (Rosati is even a fan of an English muffin) you should toast it. (Shake Shack actually butters its rolls and toasts them on a griddle.) “That way you soften the outside of the bun, while at the same time you create that nice crispy interior,” he says. “We’re trying to get a contrast in textures in the bun.”
This might sound like sacrilege, but Rosati assures me it’s better to skip the grill and instead use a cast iron pan for cooking your burger. “I’m pro pan because I like to get a nice even sear across the entire surface of the patty,” he says. That way “you’re sealing in all the juices.” If the pan is well seasoned, you don’t even need to add any oil or butter. Just do a good job smashing down the patty, since you want as much surface contact as possible to develop a crust. “The crust you’re developing is where all the flavor is,” he advises.
Over the last few years, much has been written about the type of meat you should use in a burger. Shake Shack uses a proprietary blend that it gets from star butcher Pat LaFrieda. But you can develop your own blend at home fairly easily. Start by buying different cuts of steak, like a sirloin or a chuck, and having your butcher grind them separately. Make burgers with those different pieces of beef to get a sense of what you like and what you don’t like in a patty. Based on the results of your taste test, the next time combine the different kinds of ground beef together in your own unique proportions. “All of these different cuts have different flavors,” says Rosati. “So let your imagination run wild.”
4 Hamburger potato buns
4 tbsp Unsalted butter, melted
4 tbsp Not Quite Our Shack Sauce*
4 Green leaf lettuce pieces
8 quarter-inch slices Ripe plum tomato
1 pound very cold Ground beef, divided into 4 pucks
.5 tsp Our Salt & Pepper Mix (half a cup kosher salt with half a tsp freshly ground pepper)
4 slices American cheese
1. Heat a cast-iron griddle over medium-low heat until warm. Meanwhile, open the hamburger buns and brush the insides with the melted butter. A soft brush is helpful here. Place the buns buttered side down on the griddle and toast until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer buns to a plate. Spoon the sauce onto the top bun. Add a piece of the lettuce and two slices of tomato.
2. Increase the heat to medium and heat the griddle until hot, 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Evenly sprinkle a pinch of Our Salt & Pepper Mix on top of each puck of meat.
4. Place the pucks on the griddle, seasoned side down. Using a large, sturdy metal spatula, firmly smash each puck into a 1/3-inch-thick round patty. Pressing down on the spatula with another stiff spatula helps flatten the burger quickly. Evenly sprinkle another big pinch of Our Salt & Pepper Mix.
5. Cook the burgers, resisting the urge to move them, until the edges beneath are brown and crisp, and juices on the surface are bubbling hot, about 2-1/2 minutes. Slide one of the spatulas beneath the burger to release it from the griddle and scrape up the caramelized, browned crust. Use the other spatula to steady the burger and keep it from sliding. Flip the burgers. Put the cheese on top and cook the burgers 1 minute longer for medium. Cook more or less depending on your preference.
6. Transfer the cheeseburgers to the prepared buns and enjoy.
*Not Quite Our Shake Sauce
.5 cup Hellman’s Mayonnaise
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
.75 tsp Heinz Ketchup
.25 tsp Kosher dill pickling brine
pinch Cayenne pepper
Put all the ingredients in a small mixing bowl and stir until well combined. Sauce will keep, covered in the refrigerator, for up to one week. The recipe makes a half a cup.
Reprinted from Shake Shack. Copyright © 2017 by Shake Shack Enterprises, LLC. Principal photographs copyright © 2017 by Christopher Hirsheimer. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.