State of the Burger
Chefs take the American classic to delectable new heights
A staple of American cuisine since the late 1800s, the hamburger has outlasted countless food trends simply by being uncomplicated, affordable and delicious. Yet, while the basic components have remained unchanged, it’s always provided a canvas for chefs to apply some culinary creativity. Here, experts from across the country share their thoughts on today’s best burgers, which provide a bite of tradition along with a taste of the future.
“Burger trends from a generation ago are actually coming back,” says David Quick, Reinhart Knoxville division chef. He cited the increasing popularity of smash burgers, which feature smaller patties that begin as balls of ground beef before being “smashed” onto a flat-top grill.
“You have a thinner patty, but you can build and stack them, and it allows you to dress your burger up more,” he says.
Other burger trends worth noting, according to Quick, include beef bacon, house-made rolls, relishes, aioli and exotic cheeses.
“It’s no longer just cheddar or swiss, you’re seeing more Drunken Goat, Camembert and stuff like that,” he continues.
At Arcana, a modern American restaurant in Boulder, Colo., owner Elliott Toan designed its signature burger to stand out through its simplicity.
“The whole idea of the Arcana burger is that it’s 100 percent from scratch,” he says. “We grind it in-house, we make a spicy, fermented mustard from mustard seed in-house and we use bacon that we make in-house. We even bake our own honey brioche burger buns.”
Clayton Rollison, the chef and owner of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina’s Lucky Rooster Kitchen + Bar, originally came up with his Blanco burger as a joke. Seeing a crispy layer of cheese that had melted onto the griddle, Rollison’s friend, TV host Jesse Blanco, mistakenly thought Rollison was putting fried chicken skins onto a burger. Intrigued by the idea, Rollison decided to give it a try. The recipe that followed—featuring a double-patty burger, smoked gouda, serrano pepper aioli and Bibb lettuce—became an instant hit.
“The Blanco burger makes guests happy,” Rollison says. “People will be so much more adventurous when it comes to how you junk up your burger.”
In Atlanta, chef Chris Edwards puts an upscale spin on the Duke burger at King + Duke. Its blend of 45-day, dry-aged chuck and brisket comes with some seriously luxe accoutrements.
“We top the burger with slowly caramelized onions—the process takes about four hours,” Edwards explains. “We then fold in a puree of fermented black garlic, giving the burger a great umami flavor.”
In New York, Gramercy Tavern’s original Tavern Burger has long had a cult following among aficionados. Last year, the restaurant launched its even more upscale GT Burger, which is available only in the main dining room. Served on a house-made roll, it’s topped with mushrooms and decadent melted Raclette cheese.
Cheese is the difference-maker in the newly formulated TSC cheeseburger at Tortoise Supper Club in Chicago as well. Chef Aaron Browning uses Cambozola, a triple-cream, brie-style blue cheese, on a fresh beef patty that he serves on a bacon-brioche bun with a sauce made from Korean chili paste and Thousand Island dressing.
"Cambozola cheese is not as intense as traditional blue cheese, but it still offers that rich flavor,” he says. “And I love pairing blue cheese with red meat."
Finally, burger fans in Boston know to arrive early at Craigie on Main, where renowned chef Tony Maws prepares just 18 Craigie Burgers a night. The limited availability is understandable. Patties are made from a blend of grass-fed beef, bone marrow and suet, seasoned with miso, cooked medium-rare and served with lettuce, tomato, onionand homemade mace ketchup atop melted cheddar on house-made milk-style buns.
Not surprisingly, it’s widely credited with kicking off the gourmet burger craze of the mid-2000s that continues today.