GEORGE’S 1 AM BURGER BAR

One goal for my blog is to offer a glimpse of some of the food that chefs, restaurant workers and their foodie friends gather around when they get together. These reunions typically happen at weird times; with the busy, high-stress schedules of those of us in the restaurant industry, it can be hard to get together with friends and let your hair down.

Yes! A burger cooked in beef fat is one of my favorites. It tastes so good that it does not need condiments.

Mom always said, “Nothing good happens after midnight,” and that IS partially true. However, that’s prime hangout time in the restaurant world. We’re usually awake, and maybe even up to no good (sorry ma, I didn’t heed your advice). We get together in the early morning hours at a late-night taco truck or in someone’s kitchen, throwing together batches of anything from pizza to hot dogs.

Good food is something good that can happen after midnight when chefs and their friends get together.

Now, I love burgers. No question. And there’s a lot of really easy ways to make some very tasty burgers. Often, I experiment with these in my kitchen (what I call my own “1 a.m. burger bar”) surrounded by friends and family. I enjoy different styles of burgers and will walk you through a few of the iconic regional styles (or just really great, simple burgers) with some tricks I have learned along the way.

I won’t waste your time with burgers that are just good enough and mindless enough for the home cook. These are truly great burger ideas that would make any burger junkie happy. And you will blow the minds of your friends, even if they haven’t been drinking!

What follows is the first of my favorites:

DEEP FRIED BURGERS

Here are details about an amazing 1 a.m. burger that would taste good anytime. Inspired by Dyers in Memphis, this specialty burger is fried in beef fat! Deep frying things isn’t just a hillbilly or state fair method of cooking; what goes on with meat that is browned in high heat (aka, the Maillard Reaction) is somewhat of a magical transformation. Yes, do not take for granted the value of browning meat (except for the onion cooked burgers that are steamed and boiled in sliced onions and beef stock!). Sometimes a fancy and very expensive grill, like the custom built one at Zombie Burger, is required to get a certain level of browning, or what we call crust. Other times a cast iron skillet or griddle will do the trick just fine.

Anyone who remembers the 1980’s might remember the war that was waged on fat and the creation of “fat-free this” and “low-cal that.” Frying is enjoying somewhat of a renaissance, and in some circles (“the Modernest Cuisine,” for example) frying is actually celebrated. Beef-fat fried burgers get the correct amount of browning. Because we are using a flavorful fat, these burgers are simple and satisfying and don’t require much in the way of condiments.

Here’s what you’ll need :

  • 2 pounds of ground suet or 2 to 3 pounds brisket or ribeye fat. (If you have a good relationship with a butcher, you might ask for this fat to be saved for you. Sometimes, it is just thrown away, so you might be able to get it for next to nothing.)
  • 8 hamburger buns
  • 2 pounds of George’s Gateway Grind
  • Salt
  • 1 yellow onion cut in quarters
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 8 slices of American cheese
  • Enough fat to deep fat fry your burgers

GATHERING THE FAT

First, you need to make your fat. This can be done waaaay in advance when you’ve got a little extra time and extra fat. I start with the fat trimmings from a brisket or ribeye, and supplement that with an additional amount of ground suet (about 2 pounds).

Place all the fat in a large Dutch oven and put over low heat until all the fat is melted and all that’s left are the cracklings. This will take some time but trust me it’s worth it! Let it cool slightly, and strain it through paper towels or a couple of coffee filters.

When the grease is filtered, cool and separate any beef juices that might be left. This will appear on the bottom of your container. Once hardened, tip out the fat onto a large bowl or plate and discard these juices. Use a paper towel to dab the bottom of the fat where the juices collect. Place the fat back in the fridge in a covered container until you’re ready to use it.

USING THE FAT

You can use either a 12 inch cast iron skillet/Dutch oven, or an electric skillet. Make sure that the fat is below the halfway line on whatever pan you are using. For the skillet or Dutch oven, use a deep fat thermometer to gauge the temperature. The electric skillet has built in temperature control which makes things easy… especially if you have been partaking in any of the fermented arts.

Carefully dipping a cheese-covered patty in the hot beef fat produces results in a decadent taste.

It only takes a half inch of rendered fat to get started. You’ll want to make sure the fat is right around 320 degrees. You can go to 350, but I feel the splatter gets to be a bit too much for my floor. The beauty of this is that the burgers cook fine even if the temp drops to 275! Throw in the quartered yellow onion for flavor; remove it when its browned, but not burned.

Divide your beef equally into eight balls. Season each with salt and flatten it with your hands to a little less than 1/4 of inch thick. Make a hole about the size of a dime in the center of each burger (you’re not making a donut… this will close up when it cooks).

When the fat is hot, slide the burgers into the hot grease using a spatula. Be very careful – do not splatter yourself! No need to crowd the pan, because these things cook fast. When edges are visibly brown, flip the burgers. When they’re done to your liking (here is the sinister part!) use a slotted metal spatula or pancake turner and gently lift the burgers, keeping them on the slotted spat. Place cheese directly on the burger and dip the edges of the stack back into the fat. This will warm the cheese and impart a little more of what Dyers calls “Vitamin G.” Place the patty/cheese combos on toasted buns and serve. These burgers do not need much in the way of condiments, but I find some pickles and raw onions compliment the flavors nicely.

While the grease is still warm (I usually wait ’til the next day) strain the remaining grease with the same method you used to get it in the first place. Freeze or refrigerate it until your next midnight excursion. If you strain and replenish it and don’t contaminate it with starch from breadcrumbs, flour or potatoes (I use a separate one for fries), this grease will last a long time. The grease at Dyers is reportedly 100 years old now… and the burgers are fantastic!

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