My girlfriend is a vegetarian, and we usually cook delicious veggie-friendly meals together. Even though I’m not vegetarian, this works great for me since the food is good, it’s healthy and we get to cook together. It’s also probably the most significant barrier between me and a crushed bathroom scale. But since my girlfriend is away visiting a friend this weekend (I’m writing this on a Saturday), I seized on the opportunity for culinary selfishness and gratification; I decided that it was burger time.
In fact I rather like being mostly-vegetarian, partly because it has made me appreciate my meat dishes. I still typically manage to have meat a couple times a week (usually when eating out) but now it’s more of a treat. But since I no longer have the metabolism of a 17-year-old, a cheeseburger is a special treat.
Indeed, I will be scanning the meat dishes of a restaurant menu while we’re out, inevitably come across a cheeseburger, and decide that ordering it would be irresponsible (mostly to me and my cardiovascular health). So even when it’s “meat time” at a restaurant I will usually try not to get a burger.
Honestly, there is no real reason why anyone should eat a cheeseburger, other than hedonism. It’s like the savory version of a birthday cake; you know it’s not really doing anything for you nutritionally, but you are definitely going to eat it. But every once in awhile I throw all that reasoning away, because the only real reason to eat a cheeseburger is because it is delicious.
Eating a cheeseburger is about embracing hedonism.
So when I make one of these things at home, you can be damn sure I’m keeping that in mind.
Here’s what I started with:
- 1/3 pound 85%/15% grass-fed, pasture-raised ground beef
- hamburger pretzel bun
- 1 jalapeno pepper
- smoked cheddar cheese
- salt and pepper
One cast iron for the peppers (left), the other for the burger (right). Not strictly necessary but I wanted to more closely control the heat for each one. Tip for cooking the burger: you don’t want the skillet/griddle so hot that a drop of water instantly evaporates of of its surface. It’s better if it bubbles for a few seconds and then evaporates.
Heat up the skillets on about medium. You can check heat by dripping some water onto the cooking surface. You should also pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees now, since we’ll be toasting that delicious pretzel bun later.
Since the skillets are cast-iron, they retain heat very well but take a few minutes to heat up to cooking temps. This is a good opportunity to prepare your burger patty.
The easiest way to do this is to roll the ground beef into a ball (i.e. a meatball) and then gently flatten between the palms of your hands. Don’t overdo it with this! You want your patty to be firm enough to keep its shape, but if it’s too dense it will ruin the texture and won’t cook well. Then salt and pepper both sides. I like to be generous with the pepper, since this will help sear on a nice crust later:
Now you can just pop that in the fridge while preparing everything else.
Put a little cooking oil (I use peanut) in your skillet, and give it a minute to warm up. While that’s happening, you can slice your jalapeno into rings. Then toss it in the skillet for a few minutes:
With the jalapenos, it’s more of a sweat than a saute, but a little bit of browning is acceptable. In other words, cook them over medium heat until they soften up a bit, but don’t make them crispy.
Next, slice a piece of cheese from that block of smoked cheddar, cut the pretzel bun in half and put the cheese on the top half of the bun, like this:
Put that on a baking tray and slide it into the oven. Wait for bun to toast and cheese to melt. Check periodically to make sure the bun does not burn.
While that happens, cook the burger! Again, make sure that a few drops of water will bubble for a few seconds, then evaporate off your skillet (rather than evaporating immediately) before you start.
I will sometimes lightly rub both sides of the burger with a drop or two of regular olive oil before putting it on the skillet. This helps it sear nicely.
You should really only be flipping once. Give it about 3 or so minutes a side to get to about medium. Remember that even after it’s taken off the heat, the burger will continue to cook for a bit in its own juices. Keep this in mind when trying to get to your favorite doneness. If you press on the center of the cooked side of the patty, the firmer the resistance the more done the burger is.
While the burger is cooking is a good time to remember the bun! When the cheese has melted to your liking, take it out of the oven and get it onto a plate. We’ve got a little bit of preparin’ to do:
Spread a healthy spoonful of mayonnaise onto the non-cheese side of the bun. This will provide a layer of fat that will keep the burger’s juices from sogging up your bun. It will also mix with the juices, and be delicious. If you like pepper, sprinkle some pepper on there too!
Your kitchen should smell amazing right about now.
When the burger looks just next to done, shut off the heat. The skillet will still be hot. Scoop it up and out of the pan with a spatula and onto the mayo-ed part of the bun. Scatter the jalapenos around on the cheese side:
Now you have a burger. Combine with beer for best results.