Fact: Hamburgers and America are synonymous.
And the burger that best represents our country comes from Shake Shack.
(Yes, we’re aware those are fighting words.)
This week sees the release of Shake Shack: Recipes and Stories, an ode to Danny Meyer’s game-changing burger chain.
Shake Shack — which began as a hot dog cart in New York’s Madison Square Park in 2001 as part of a Public Art Fund project — has led to a revolution in food, acclaim for chef/founder Danny Meyer and a whole new concept of dining called “fine casual.”
If you want a history lesson on the American burger as well as a treatise on community and business, please read the book. Also, if you like chicken sandwiches, crinkle-cut fries and frozen custard desserts (all of which Shake Shack has perfected), jump right in.
But this is about the burger. As quoted in the book, the late Esquire writer Josh Ozersky noted that “Shake Shack took the ultimate American trash food and approached it not as an object for postmodern reinterpretation, but as a dish to be executed.”
Which it does, to perfection.
While you’ll never be able to replicate the Shack Burger perfectly, here are five lessons from the book that’ll work to improve your summer grilling.
shake shack (2 images)
Think of your burger meat like a fine wine. Shake Shack uses a proprietary meat blend crafted by butcher extraordinaire Pat LaFrieda. While he doesn’t give up the secret to the Shack, he does point out that for a lighter blend (like a pinot noir), you’ll want to mix 25% brisket to 75% chuck. For a richer, beefier blend (think cabernet), go with 20% short rib to 80% chuck.
The most important part of the grind? Temperature. Really, cold meat’s the secret. Chill to below freezing first, cut to small pieces and do two grinds.
But every ingredient is important. Potato buns don’t take away anything from the meat, but they do absorb juices well (and remember to toast those buns with unsalted butter). Green leaf lettuce offers texture and visual appeal. Roma tomatoes hold their shape and add a sweet note.
Stainless steel spatulas are your friends. They’re sturdy and they’ll help you smash your ground meat into a proper patty … which you need to do in the first 30 seconds. Use Lodge cast iron for your griddle, and an upside-down mesh strainer to keep away grease splatter.
Shack Sauce is a secret, but ... you can fake it at home with everyday items like Hellmann’s mayo, Dijon, Heinz ketchup, kosher dill pickling brine (ok, that one might require work) and a pinch of cayenne pepper.
UPDATE 5/15 5:00 p.m.: Because you asked, we added the actual ShackBurger recipe, below:
4 hamburger potato buns
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 tablespoons Not Quite Our Shack-Sauce (see below)
4 pieces green leaf lettuce
8 ¼-inch slices ripe plum tomato
1 pound very cold ground beef, divided into 4 pucks
½ teaspoon Our Salt & Pepper Mix (see below)
4 slices American cheese
Heat a cast-iron griddle over medium-low heat until warm. Meanwhile, open the hamburger buns and brush the insides with the melted butter. A soft brush is helpful here. Place the buns buttered side down on the griddle and toast until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer buns to a plate. Spoon the sauce onto the top bun. Add a piece of the lettuce and two slices of tomato.
Increase the heat to medium and heat the griddle until hot, 2 to 3 minutes.
Evenly sprinkle a pinch of Our Salt & Pepper Mix on top of each puck of meat.
Place the pucks on the griddle, seasoned side down. Using a large, sturdy metal spatula, firmly smash each puck into a 1/3-inch-thick round patty. Pressing down on the spatula with another stiff spatula helps flatten the burger quickly. Evenly sprinkle another big pinch of Our Salt & Pepper Mix.
Cook the burgers, resisting the urge to move them, until the edges beneath are brown and crisp, and juices on the surface are bubbling hot, about 2½ minutes. Slide one of the spatulas beneath the burger to release it from the griddle and scrape up the caramelized browned crust. Use the other spatula to steady the burger and keep it from sliding. Flip the burgers. Put the cheese on top and cook the burgers 1 minute longer for medium. Cook more or less depending on your preference.
Transfer the cheeseburgers to the prepared buns and enjoy.
SALT & PEPPER MIX: We mix ½ cup kosher salt with ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper and use that mixture to season our burgers as they cook. You’ll see we call for a pinch or two of the mixture in every recipe.
NOT QUITE OUR SHACK SAUCE:
½ cup Hellman’s mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3/4 teaspoon Heinz ketchup
¼ teaspoon kosher dill pickling brine
Pinch of cayenne pepper