Celebrity butcher Pat LaFrieda has long been among the biggest names in beef. The third-generation owner of Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors supplies custom burger patties and dry-aged steaks to top New York City eateries like Minetta Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, and Union Square Cafe, as well as creating Shake Shack's signature burger blend. And "Pat LaFrieda" branding is a familiar sight on countless other meat-centric Manhattan menus, from the cheeseburger at Tompkins Square Bar to the bone-in ribeye and steak frites at Boucherie.
So when LaFrieda serves up burger grilling tips, it's best to listen up. He favors three specific butcher blends for burger patties, and holds equally strong opinions about the best bread to go with it. But before you even think about firing up the grill, LaFrieda has a simple tip to make sure it's ready for action.
"Never place meat on a dirty grill which has caked on residual product that can be removed with a brush," LaFrieda says. "Once you're done scraping, take a wet towel in the grasp of long tongs to remove residual grime. 'The flavor comes from a seasoned grill' equals 'I’m too lazy to clean it.'"
Beyond maintaining an immaculate grill, LaFrieda has some longstanding rules about making burgers at home, starting with the meat (naturally), then selecting a proper bun, and finally ending with how the burger is shaped and cooked. If you're buying pre-packaged ground beef from a market, he advises at least making certain that it has a USDA circle on it. But ideally you'll elevate your burger game by procuring one of his recommended butcher blends below. Here's an extra helping of LaFrieda's burger-making wisdom from his 2014 beef bible, Meat: Everything You Need To Know, just in time for Fourth of July cookouts.
"To make a good burger, you must use good meat. Plain and simple. We do fifty burger blends, all of which combine different whole muscles in order to create distinct flavor profiles. These are the three that I reach for when I am cooking burgers at home."
Equal parts: clod + chuck + trimmed brisket + short rib
"This is my grandfather’s blend, and it’s still my favorite. It incorporates the most flavorful cuts on the animal, and it’s juicy without having any lingering fat that coats your mouth."
SHORT RIB BLEND
Two-thirds short rib + one-third trimmed brisket
"In this blend, you can really taste the clean, sweet flavor of the short rib meat. Both short rib and brisket are braising meats, meaning they’re tough but flavorful. Ground, they stay firm, so there is some resistance when you bite into the cooked burger."
Two-thirds hanger + one-third clod
"This blend combines the very rich flavor of hanger steak, with clod, which has a classic steak flavor, similar to the New York strip. Biting into a burger made with this blend is like biting into a chopped steak."
"As much as I’m a meat guy, I am also a bread guy. The bun is just as important, or at least almost as important, to a great burger. Here are my favorites. No matter what kind of buns I use, I like to toast them before I split them, so the outside is brown and crunchy and the inside is soft."
"A great, crispy burger bun. One thing I love about English muffins is how accessible they are. You are probably never more than a mile away from an English muffin."
"Many burger enthusiasts prefer this type of bun to artisanal buns because they see the bun as nothing but a vessel to hold the meat...A bun like this is so light and insubstantial that your mouth goes right through it, as if you were biting into cotton candy, and straight to the meat. With or without seeds of some sort? That’s your call."
Big Marty’s Sesame
"The classic old-school burger bun with sesame seeds. It gives you the perfect meat-to-bun ratio for an 8-ounce burger. My only issue with Big Marty’s is that the seeds aren’t toasted. I fix that by toasting the buns (and seeds) under a broiler or on the grill until they’re deep golden."
Martin’s Potato Rolls
"The ultimate soft burger bun. I love these for regular-size burgers—and I like their smaller counterpart for sliders. They’re bright yellow, doughy, and sweet, almost like challah bread. You could toast them, but I also like them straight from the bag."
"The ideal buns. They’re packed with butter, and so delicious. This is what Minetta Tavern serves its Black Label burger on. If you can get your hands on homemade brioche rolls, you don’t need to look any further."
THE SIZE OF THE PATTY
"The right size patty ensures that you will be able to cook the patty to the proper internal temperature without killing the outside, and there is only one way to make sure you have the right size: Weigh it. If you do not weigh the meat for burger patties, you will end up with patties that are slightly (and sometimes not so slightly) different in size, which means they are all going to cook differently. For lamb and beef burgers, I like an 8-ounce patty, formed 1 inch high, which will give you a 4-inch diameter."
"For turkey burgers, I make a 6-ounce patty. When forming burger patties, weigh the meat for each burger, roll the portions into balls, and gently pat them into patties. You want the meat to be loose so that as the fats liquefy, they run through the patty. Overworking the meat will also cause the integrity of the chopped pieces to break down; maintaining that integrity is what makes a great hamburger patty taste like chopped steak."
THE WAY IT’S COOKED
"People have strong opinions when it comes to cooking burgers: I prefer cooking them on an open grill. I grew up grilling burgers and eating burgers that someone else had grilled. I like the flavor of any food that comes off a grill. People who like panfried burgers argue that it cooks in its own juices. But I don’t want my meat to cook in its juices. Whatever juices are going to fall out of my burger, I want them to fall out."
Cooking Temperatures for Beef and Lamb
"The following are the temperatures to which I recommend you take beef and lamb burgers, steaks, and chops. Take the meat off the grill when you hit the first number, then let the meat rest for 5 or 10 minutes, during which time the temperatures will rise 5°F, to get them to the desired doneness."
Rare: 120° to 125°F
Medium-rare: 125° to 130°F
Medium: 130° to 135°F
Medium-well: 135° to 140°F
Well: 140° to 145°F