Thursday, April 14, 2011

Proper cooking of a burger (National Mechanics)

All put together

I wrote about the National Mechanics burger a couple of weeks ago on AHT, so if you're actually curious about that burger in particular, hop on over to Serious Eats and read it there. Nope, this post is mostly going to be where I write/complain about what constitutes a properly cooked burger. In my opinion. Because this is my blog.

Anyway, when I was a kid/dumbass, I used to ask for my burgers to be cooked medium-well. I absolutely hated the idea of consuming blood... undoubtedly because "Twilight" hadn't come out yet. As I entered my teenage/angst-filled years, I began to push the culinary boundaries and started getting my meat cooked medium - ever so slightly pink, but still devoid of red liquid content. As I progressed through college, I grew ever more brazen... demanding rare to medium-rare on every single burger I shoved in my mouth. Mad cow? Fuck that. I lived life on the edge.

I had found my sweet spot of burger well-doneness. Medium-rare. The way it should be.

National Burger w/cheddar

As you can see, the National Mechanics burger isn't anything special. The bun isn't brushed with an ostrich egg yolk prior to baking and the cheese isn't made from the milk of some goat only found on a remote island off the coast of Spain, but it is what it is... a well thought out and assembled bar burger. Nothing more, nothing less.

Insides... overcooked

One of the few things I hate about AHT is the fact that they make me cut open burgers before eating. People want to know how coarse the meat is, how well cooked it is, crap like that, but at the same time... they don't want to see bite marks and imagine your saliva impregnating all the nooks and crannies of the bread (yet some of the other writers do this... *whistles*). I get it. That shit is disgusting. Still, a lot of times it ruins the experience for me. Do you know how much it sucks when I have to destroy an engineering marvel that is a perfectly constructed burger? DO YOU?

But that's not my point. My point is... when I look at that burger, it makes me sad. It makes me sad that medium-rare apparently means medium-well. It makes me sad that there isn't a hint of meat in the center that went unspoiled by heat. And yet, despite my virtual tears, it tasted awesome. In the end, that burger was certainly above average, and I didn't even care how the patty was cooked. The meat was smoky and juicy, the bun was phenomenal (good enough to eat alone), and the other stuff was... er, fine. I'm not entirely sure where I'm trying to go with this, but based on my experience at National Mechanics, I feel like I have to reassess what "properly cooked" really means to me. Does everything have to come out fluorescent pink to taste good? Definitely not. Does that mean everything I thought before was wrong? Maybe.


James said...

I think you're discovering different sweet spots in different places... "proper" execution is no substitute for *good* execution as long as it's a good fit for the end product. Put another way: The variable of rarity alone is not going to weigh heavily enough to save a burger that fails in things like seasoning, moisture, condiments, proportion, and bun. I tend to order medium rare if I'm having a thick patty burger, but it's rarely (heyooo) a deciding factor for me when it comes to taste.

Nicholas said...

James - definitely agree on all points. If a burger is constructed in a shitty fashion, then yeah... even if you cook it exactly as I like, it's still going to be rubbish. The thing about National Mechanics is that it was good in almost every aspect. Not great, but good. I have to wonder if it would've been better medium-rare... or if the sweet spot is what I got? I wish I could test this more thoroughly, but AHT only pays me so much.

Johnny said...

The cheese clings to the patty so scandalously.

Nicholas said...

Johnny - you could even say it's draped over the beef super sluttily, but I don't think these are things that belong on a food blog.

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