The secret to the perfect burger, according to chef Christopher Schaefer of Austin’s massively popular Geraldine’s? Two words: cast iron.
“Cooking in a cast iron ensures even heat distribution, and differs from a grill in that the fat released from the burger has nowhere to go,” he says. “Essentially you are cooking the burger in its own fat at that point.”
And that’s not all. The brunch burger at Geraldine’s nods to the breakfast portion of the world’s most delicious portemanteau with a jammy, perfectly cooked egg on top — fried in that still-same beef fat. Toast the bun in beef fat, too, and you’ll be in burger heaven.
“If you don’t want your house to smell like a burger joint, a grill is fine, too,” the chef says. (We say: bring on the burger fumes.)
And that’s not the only smoke finding its way into your burger. Indeed, the chef says, at Geraldine’s: “We smoke anything and everything we can.”
This love of woodfire surfaces in his choice of bacon for this burger — Benton’s, which hails from Tennessee and is known for its intense hickory perfume. But if you can’t get your hands on this particular brand, seek out a quality bacon from your butcher shop, bearing in mind Schaefer’s cardinal rule: “The more smoke the better.”
Given Geraldine’s location in the downtown boutique Hotel Van Zandt, it plays host to locals and visitors alike. Schaefer, then, seeks to deviate from the Tex and Mex stereotypes some visitors associate with Austin, crafting and curating the selection based not just on local bounty but on the staff’s experiences and travels. One important element for the Jersey-born Schaefer is his time spent in the Marines.
“What a wild time!” he recalls. “Certainly eating off a hibachi grill in Seoul or street food in a small town in Japan or sushi in Tokyo opened my eyes to the worldly aspect of culinary arts.”
For this burger, though, Schaefer stays resolutely true to tradition: lettuce, tomato, and American cheese.
“I’m a purist and really just enjoy the non-cheese of American cheese,” he says. “It was designed for a burger. At least in my eyes.”
The patty itself, he says, is made with a blend of brisket and short rib.
“This lends a good amount of fat, similar to a basic burger patty, but the custom cuts lend a deeper beefy flavor.”
Ask your butcher to grind a bit of both so you can make your own blend at home, where you’ll also be mixing up another stalwart burger staple inspired by a nostalgic fave.
“I was always a huge fan of McDonald’s sauces as a child,” says Schaefer, noting that the version he makes at Geraldine’s boasts a hint of spice, thanks to the addition of sriracha, lending “equal parts acidity and heat.”
It definitely results in a brunch-worthy burger — the perfect thing to fry up after a particularly raucous Saturday night.
- 1 burger patty, preferably made with a blend of brisket and short rib
- 2 tablespoons blended oil
- 1 brioche bun
- 3 slices smoked bacon, cooked
- 3 tablespoons burger sauce (recipe below)
- 2 slices American cheese
- 1 farm egg
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Lettuce, tomato, pickles
Season both sides of the burger patty liberally with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Preheat the cast iron skillet over medium heat, and add two tablespoons of oil. Once it begins to shimmer, add the patty and sear well on both sides, about four minutes per side for medium if your patty is about 1 inch thick at the outset.
Remove the patty from the skillet and drain on a paper towel. Meanwhile, add the egg to one side of the skillet and the bun to the other side to toast. Cook the egg over-easy by waiting until the white is just barely set to flip it (carefully!) and cooking it for just 30 seconds on the other side.
Assemble the burger by smearing burger sauce on the bottom bun followed by pickles and the burger patty. Top with cheese, bacon, egg, lettuce, and tomato, and finish with the top bun smeared with more burger sauce. Dig in!
Geraldine’s Burger Sauce
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- ½ cup ketchup
- ¼ cup yellow mustard
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sriracha
Combine the ingredients in a bowl. Reserve until ready to use.
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