You don’t understand how much I love burgers. I love them. Give me a big fat burger on a bun with a couple slices of tomato, pickles, and cheese, and you’ll see the happiest Kalela ever. So of course, when the Culinary Literacy Center offered to host last week’s One Book, One Burger event (see what we did there?!) – a discussion about livestock expert Temple Grandin’s work (from our One Book, One Philadelphia companion book) in the cattle industry, paired with a burger making workshop taught by a master butcher – I knew it would change my life.
Bryan Mayer of Fleishers Craft Butchery opened the event by discussing Temple Grandin’s brilliant work in the cattle industry. Grandin has Autism Spectrum Disorder, and her unique ways of seeing and perceiving have contributed immeasurably to her work in the cattle industry. With her own sensitivity to sensations that might be imperceptible to most, Temple Grandin has developed a cow’s eye view of sorts. As examples, she has designed mechanisms in which corralled cows travel in a circular pattern, the way they do naturally on a pasture, rather than through straight-line pens where they are goaded by electric prods. She created a special chute that holds them snugly and keeps these easily-spooked animals calm.
Besides explaining Grandin’s work, Bryan talked about the beef industry as a whole. There’s been a lot of discussion about the cattle industry destroying the ecosystem, but Bryan believes that when implemented properly, raising cattle can be good for the planet. Cows, he explained, are "fermentation tanks on four legs." They take cellulose and create energy. Their grazing can help create soil that produces more grass. He also suggested a book for further reading, Cows Can Save the Planet by Judith D. Schwartz.
However, Bryan does believe that the beef industry should raise livestock in a more sustainable way. He’s an advocate of pasturing cows, rather than feeding them grain. He would like to see a system of mid-sized, regional livestock operations that are strategically placed throughout the United States, rather than ginormous feedlots concentrated in a small patch of the country. He believes that the livestock industry will only change when people change their buying habits. If we, as buyers, insisted on grass-fed meat for instance, the industry would have no choice but to follow.
Listening to Bryan, my brain was thanking him for all of mind-blowing food for thought. But my stomach was like, "What gives?" It didn’t have to wait long, because the burger-making began with a sizzle. Bryan shared his method of cooking burgers with his six-year-old daughter, Yvette, there to help out. Here are some takeaways:
- Use grass-fed meat. While Bryan doesn’t think the cut of meat isn’t important, he prefers a 70/30 blend. "Fat is flavor," he says. It’s not like you’ll be eating burgers every day or anything.
- Use a flattop cooking surface, not a grill. A grill "incinerates flavor," according to Bryan, because all the fat melts out. On a flattop—basically a large cookie sheet—the burger patty stews in its own fatty goodness.
- While Bryan will pre-salt steaks and chops and let them sit for an hour before cooking, he doesn’t do so for burgers. Instead, he sprinkles the patties with a little kosher salt right before they’re cooked.
- Speaking of patties: Bryan’s method is to create little round balls, then use two lids from take-out soup containers to shape thin patties.
- Bryan is a purist. While he mixed some of his burgers with bacon bits, he doesn’t believe in mixing garlic and other seasonings with ground meat. He thinks a potato bun and simple toppings are best.
Once you’ve shaped your patties, salted them, and laid them on the cookie sheet, onto the gas stovetop it goes. Cook the burgers for 2-3 minutes on each side. Expect billows of smoke and open your windows accordingly. An errant flame or two might leap up from beneath the pan, but have no fear—that’s just deliciousness happening, my friends.
The result of Bryan’s method were the most Oh-My-God-These-Are-So-Amazing-I-Can-Die-Now burgers I ever tasted! I was eating the best burgers of my life. A crust of charred yumminess encased meaty tenderness and milder, tasty flavor. And with a bevy of topping choices including cheeses, pickles, tomatoes, and roasted peppers, I was so happy I could barely keep my seat. And also, because I kept getting up to grab another...