How to Grill a Perfect Burger with Tips from The Meat Hook’s Tom Mylan
When Tom Mylan tells you how to grind your own burgers from scratch, he wants you to listen. Just maybe not too hard.
A co-owner of the Brooklyn whole-animal butcher shop The Meat Hook, Mylan is a butcher who appreciates the value of experimentation. He likes to invent burger blends made with leftover pastrami ends and salt-and-vinegar potato chips—basically, whatever tasty things are lying around. Experimentation, or a respectful disregard for the rules, is a prominent theme in his cookbook and butchery manual, The Meat Hook Meat Book.
“Everyone’s like, oh, it’s like 20% short rib and 15% brisket, or it’s like all dried steak, stupid shit like that,” Mylan said. “But recipes are kind of give a man a fish. The point of the book … is teaching a man to fish.”
A fishing trip that ends in grilled ground beef is something we could get into. Reel in a perfect patty by following these tips—and one recipe—from Mylan.
MEAT QUALITY IS IMPORTANT …
“The unspoken first step in any of the recipes [in the book] is ‘find a really good butcher.’ That’s kind of the first thing you need to do. Because you don’t want to make your own hamburger from shitty meat. Like, what’s the point?
“You can marinate a steak and make it taste like something even if it’s not great. But you can’t really do that with a hamburger. … You really have to have a properly raised, grass-fed animal—one that’s hung for two weeks to allow it to dry-age and lose a lot of its water weight, which concentrates the flavor.”
… THE CUT, NOT SO MUCH
“It’s not a waste to grind stuff up. It’s just a waste to grind good stuff up. That’s [the case with] a lot of the buzzword blends people are superhot for, especially in New York. Grinding perfectly good [cuts] like rib eye to make hamburger is stupid.
“But grinding up the trim on the outside of that stuff is OK. [A normal burger blend is] 50% trim from all over the animal and 50% just chuck. That’s the front part of the animal, from the head to basically the shoulder blades. And you need fat. You need at least 25% fat to 75% lean. (I actually like it more like 70% to 30% myself.)”
IF YOU GRIND YOUR OWN: INVEST IN EQUIPMENT
“You need a good-quality meat grinder that’s all metal—all steel, actually. A lot of people have a KitchenAid attachment that’s mostly made out of plastic, and those things just don’t work.
“You want to make sure that both your meat and the actual head of the grinder are both really well chilled. You should have your grinder head in the freezer, and the meat that you’re gonna grind. I recommend putting it in the freezer for 45 minutes before you grind it. You put it through [the grinder] once and then mix it up once so the fat is well distributed. Then run it through a second time. And for me that’s the perfect burger blend.”
SALT IS ALL YOU NEED
“Good beef loves salt. That’s really all it needs. I guess you can do pepper. But there are all these people who are like, ‘Oh, you can put onions in it, and red wine vinegar.’ And it’s like, no. If you want an actual really good burger, you have to get good meat and then just salt.
“You need to put the salt on at least half an hour to 45 minutes before you’re going to grill it. I know some people are like, ‘Oh, you don’t salt anything until after you cook it because it’s going to pull the moisture out.’ But there’s nothing wrong with pulling the moisture out of a burger, provided you have enough fat in there. Water doesn’t have any flavor. By pulling that out … what you’re doing is you’re actually concentrating the flavor of the burger.”
COOK 'EM HOWEVER YOU WANT
“Different steaks are better at different temperatures. Very lean steak like a flat-iron or something is great rare, but a rib eye is actually better medium. Because there are differences in musculature—different muscles are just different. … Whereas they’re all kind of rendered equal when you grind them into a hamburger. So then that becomes a personal preference.
“I prefer my burgers more toward medium. But every once in a while, I get a craving for a black-and-blue burger, which is charred on the outside and rare on the inside, almost like tartare. It’s really what mood I’m in.”
Although Mylan is a purist about basic burgers, he’s not against mixing it up with some add-ins. As he puts it: “Since we’re already here, already doing this, why don’t we stop lying to ourselves and throw bacon into it?” Check out this recipe for his Fat Kid Burger, which calls for just that.
Photo by Michael Harlan Turkell
Nathalie is a writer and editor on the Guide's food team. Originally from Virginia, she now lives in Chicago, where she regularly indulges her love of tortas, bibimbap, and Cheez-Its. Follow her on Twitter @maviswillsaveus.