But I had two inspirations since I last made hamburgers, so I ended up trying two innovations at once when I went back to the grill this month. First up: kimchi. On the menu at Mr. Rain's Fun House, we had seen a burger topped by kimchi and thought that sounded interesting. Second innovation: bacon.
You wouldn't think bacon was a burger innovation. But this wasn't bacon on top. This was raw bacon ground into the chuck. Laurel Meat Market ground me a special blend after Matt emailed me about how how the butchers there would make personal grinds. Matt explained how he had figured that out:
My two go-to burger books are are "The Gourmet Burger" and "The Cook's Illustrated Guide To Grilling and Barbecue." I can't remember which one mentions it, but one of the books talks about using a chuck/sirloin/boneless short ribs blend. The Laurel Meat Market doesn't have short ribs, so I just go with bacon. I think it's three parts chuck, two parts sirloin, and one part bacon. Then I'll take it home and add onions or whatever else I feel like putting in.
"The Gourmet Burger" talks about grinding your meat fresh and how to do it. It claims that supermarket ground beef (or any ground beef that's been sitting around for a while) is pretty bland in flavor compared to grinding it fresh. You can find articles about different grinding ratios like this one. You can also find threads on Chowhound, although I'm more of a DonRockwell guy myself.
So when I go into Laurel Meat Market, I'll select the meat using that ratio of chuck, sirloin and bacon. I'm not sure what made me ask them at Laurel Meat Market if they'd grind it for me, but I am glad I did!! They'll cut it up into little pieces, mix the pieces together, and then feed it through grinder right in front of you.
Don't be shy. I once asked them if people regularly request meet ground to order, and the person said yes. So I assume it's quite common. I used to just buy the meat whole, and then take it home and spend a while putting it through the grinder attachment on my Kitchen Aid. They'll do it for any quantity that you want and for anything they sell. I'll usually just buy enough for what I'm cooking for that day (burgers, meatloaf, etc.).
I still can't get my burgers to come out as good as the ones I've had at Palena (in DC), but I've noticed that I get invited to a lot more cookouts since I started doing it this way :)I can see why Matt gets those invitations. Last week, I had a really basic mix of already-ground extra lean chuck and bacon. It made delicious burgers. Juicy even though we cooked them a touch past medium. A hint of bacon flavor through and through. I thought it was particularly great with a layer on kimchi on top. Just jarred cabbage that I had bought at Super Grand in Laurel. The spicy, pickled flavor cut nicely against the fat in the meat.
I will definitely try both of these variables again. More kimchi and more special grinds. I'll ask next time to grind all three meats like Matt suggested and maybe buy enough that I'll feel right asking to grind it all from full cuts. (Last week, I didn't ask. I'm still shy about asking for special treatment, mostly because I know so little about meat that I worry about looking foolish.)