From America's Test Kitchen Season 10: Best Burgers and Fries
The burger you find at most drive-ins is a rubbery, thin, gray patty with little beef flavor. We wanted to create, at home, the classic drive-in burger. Made from freshly ground beef, cooked on a flat griddle, this style of burger is ultracrisp, ultrabrowned, and ultrabeefy. Topped with melted cheese and tangy sauce, it’s the burger fast food restaurants wish they could produce.
We learned right off the bat that the thin patty typical of this burger style requires freshly ground meat. Prepackaged hamburger is ground very fine and packaged tightly, which produces dense, rubbery, and dry patties. For the meat, we settled on short ribs ground up with sirloin steak tips. Numerous grinding tests revealed that while beefiness depends on cut, juiciness corresponds to fat. Well-marbled short ribs added the perfect amount of fat to complement the beefy flavor from the sirloin tips. And if you don’t have a meat grinder? The food processor works just fine as long as the meat is first chilled in the freezer until firm but still pliable. We still had to deal with a rubbery texture caused by meat collagen proteins shrinking and tightening when exposed to heat. To fight this, the meat needed to be as loosely packed as possible— not pressed but rather gently shaped into loose patties. To top our burgers, we went back to the tried-and-true flavors of a tangy and sweet Thousand Island–style dressing, American cheese, and thinly sliced onion.
Makes 4 burgers
Sirloin steak tips are also labeled “flap meat” by some butchers. Flank steak can be used in its place. This recipe yields juicy medium to medium-well burgers. It’s important to use very soft buns. If doubling the recipe, process the meat in three batches in step 2. Because the cooked burgers do not hold well, fry four burgers and serve them immediately before frying more. Or, cook them in two pans. Extra patties can be frozen for up to 2 weeks. Stack the patties, separated by parchment, and wrap them in three layers of plastic wrap. Thaw burgers in a single layer on a baking sheet at room temperature for 30 minutes before cooking.