Memorial Day is the opening pitch of the summer grilling season, time for me to step outside, heft the spatula and connect with an orb of ground beef.
If I’m doing it right, there will be smoke. Like playing baseball and spray painting wicker porch furniture, cooking hamburgers is an activity best done outdoors.
Of course, you can also pay someone else to grill you a hamburger. Isola in the Heights has a burger on the menu every night, and Chef Seth Nathan says the pan as well as the meat are important factors in achieving a great burger.
“My patties are cast-iron-pan cooked with a blend of Kobe brisket, domestic short rib and ribeye trim for fat content,” he said.
The Islander’s crowd-pleasing burgers (and powerful kitchen ventilation system) have made them an Island favorite. How do they do it? Owner Ashley Knight said, “Good quality meat and the right balance of spice.” Their best sellers are “The Stinky” — gorgonzola and bacon stuffed inside and on top, and the “West Coast” — guacamole, bacon, pepper jack and chipotle mayo.
Another reliable source for excellent hamburgers is the flat-top grill behind the stands at Fiske Field when the Bucks are playing a Hamptons Collegiate League game. The Bucks’ first home game vs. the Southampton Breakers is on Friday, June 1 at 5 p.m. — just in time for dinner. A team of volunteer grillers, including chef and food educator Tom Hashagen will take their turns with the spatula.
Anyone who has stood around a smoky grill with a few colleagues knows that the relative merits of hamburger cooking techniques are contentious. People who continue to live in peace with relatives who voted the wrong way in the last election will shun them over the question of whether to flip frequently or just once.
Equally fraught is the debate between using a skillet for better heat control or cooking on the grate for more charcoal flavor. Tom declared the he was once a charcoal-broiled burger guy, but in the last couple of years has switched to pan grilling.
Since I’ve enjoyed a few of the Fiske Field burgers immoderately, I asked Tom to tell me what makes a great burger. This is sort of like asking Aaron Boone what makes a great lineup. His explanation was so convincing that now I’m doing it his way. Here is a tamed version of Tom’s take on the perfect burger.
Tom Hashagen’s Smash Burgers
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon mustard
2 teaspoons pickle juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
4 soft hamburger buns
Iceberg lettuce, four slices of tomato and dill pickles
1 pound of hamburger meat, about 20% fat, 80% lean
Kosher salt and ground pepper
4 slices of American cheese
1. Mix the ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, pickle juice and Worcestershire together to make a sauce.
2. Split and toast the buns, then spread both halves with the sauce.
3. Put some iceberg lettuce, a slice of tomato and a few dill pickle slices on the bottom half.
4. Loosely pack the meat into eight balls of about 2 ounces each.
5. Heat an iron skillet, put the meat in the pan, and within 30 seconds use a spatula to smash the balls down to about the diameter of the bun.
6. Cook a minute or two until the edges of the patties turn a little gray and start to bubble.
7. Season with salt and ground pepper, and flip them, making absolutely sure to get every bit of the crispy caramelized crust off the pan.
8. On half the patties put a slice of American cheese, and within 30 seconds put a patty without cheese on top of one with cheese.
9. Whamo! Incredible burgers in about four minutes of cooking time.