Burger 100. It seemed like a big deal. Even weeks ahead my burger compatriots were demanding to know my plans. Where would it be?! I’d debated making one of the Bend classics my target: Dandy’s, maybe. Or Pilot Butte. But I had been (rightly) told not to put so much weight on those places. I also knew I was going to keep going. It wouldn’t stop until Bend was complete, 120 burgers at least, so burger 100 was just a small milestone, a nod to that original goal set three months ago.
I reviewed the Burger Inventory over and over again. And then it hit me. I had one major category missing: I hadn’t cooked my own burger yet. Burger 100 would not be about any one place, it would be about my accrued experience over the previous 99 back-to-back burgers. My realization of my perfect burger.
So what follows is mostly a recipe. Sure, there are stories around it. I might even touch on them, like how it took me two days to clean the apartment of all the grease and spilt booze. The keg grill that was turned into a blast furnace. The days bouncing from bakery to bakery, testing buns and toasting methods. Sourcing the hottest jalapenos. Pages of scrawled and abandoned sketches of layers and ingredients and styles.
But first, the recipe. I’ll start with the fundamental structure, then dive into the specifics of each. This could spark outrage. Or applause. People will have opinions. They will yell in horror. Please do so, and then recommend your own version of The Burger 100.
From top down, the burger looks like this:
- Top bun
- Cream cheese spread
- Cheddar cheese
- Beef patty
- Diced raw veggies
- Whole lettuce leaf
- Condiment layer
- Bottom bun
Relatively simple, but the magic is in the details.
It had to be brioche. The brioche bun is a relative newcomer to the burger scene but has justifiably taken it by storm. Simple flavor that doesn’t overpower. Light, yet sturdy enough to withstand whatever lays between. A basic recipe with ratios that can be quickly dialed to range in texture from biscuit to cake.
A runner up is the potato bun, a long time favorite of mine. I even contacted an old pastry chef friend to get her thoughts on a potato brioche bun. She thought it was brilliant and even constructed me a recipe. I hesitated, ultimately abandoning it for several reasons: I’m a terrible baker, I didn’t want to risk the rest of the burger on a prototype bun, and I wanted this to burger to be easily reproduced by fellow burger enthusiasts in Bend.
I collected buns from every bakery in town that made them. After intense sampling, I settled on Sparrow Bakery and their unpretentious and consistent bun.
As for toasting, I’m a big proponent of throwing them alongside the patty on a flatiron griddle. But I couldn’t reproduce it consistently on my stove top, so ended up toasting right in the oven, cut side up, under the broiler. And then the kicker: a light layer of mayonaise to facilitate a crunchy finish.
Cream Cheese Spread
Only three ingredients in this spread: cream cheese, fresh diced jalapenos, and oven roasted bone marrow. Ratio, by volume, was about 2:1:1 cheese:jalapeno:marrow.
I’m not picky on the cream cheese, just don’t get low fat.
The jalapenos should come from Food 4 Less, which has the spiciest and crunchiest in town.
The marrow bones should be from a butcher that will cut them long ways. Soak them in salt water for at least 6 hours to draw out the blood. Rinse, then roast in the oven at 450 degrees, marrow side up, for 20 minutes. Scoop out the goo and mix everything together.
This layer is dedicated to Drake and The Row, who introduced me to the wonders of marrow and soft cheese atop a burger.
Thick cut, apple wood smoked. 1.5 strips per patty (basically three strips, each at one patty width).
I like them deep fried and extra crispy.
This layer dedicated to McKay Cottage Restaurant, whose bacon I still dream of.
A layer of sharp cheddar cheese adds a tart cap to the patty and a gooey foundation for the bacon. All other cheeses are worthless on a burger (except blue cheese, but that’s the nuclear option).
I ran with Tillamook Extra Sharp Cheddar. Because it’s amazing and I ate half the brick before even prepping the burgers.
This layer dedicated to the hardworking cows of the Pacific Northwest.
The hands down best beef on this journey was from Pono Farm. It’s $11 a pound but worth it. It’s so good that you need zero seasoning. No salt, no pepper, no Montreal Steak, no Worcestershire sauce, no egg, no gimmicks. Pure beef.
Now, my preferred size patty is 1/3 of a pound. The working man’s patty, enough to fill you up but not put you to sleep. My preferred doneness is medium. The problem is it’s difficult to cook a 1/3 pound patty to anything less than well done. Consistently cooking a patty that thin to a medium requires levels of burger kung fu mastery that most mortals can’t be expected to master even after decades of flipping burgers. I had been resolved to cooking hefty 1/2 pound burgers all my life because it was my only route to medium. That is, until I was introduced to a bit of technology and a cooking method the French call “sous vide” (note: we also call it sous vide).
Here’s the run down. Form a 1/3 pound patty. As thin as you want, at whatever diameter you want (I made my meat the same girth as the buns, plus 10% to account for shrinkage. Giggity.) Vacuum seal that patty in plastic (I put mine in freezer Ziploc bags and submerged to push out the air). Place that bag in a tub of water held precisely at 130 degrees. They make machines for this. I borrowed Vic’s, made famous by her use at Vic’s Desert Diner.
After two hours at 130F, the patties are a perfect medium pink. Completely. It’s weird. That’s when you throw them on a super hot surface (after removing the Ziploc) to sear and char the outside. Only 30 seconds or so or until your desired charriness.
On the first flip, add the cheddar. Ben had some good advice to pour water on the griddle (or pan) and cover it. The cheese melts perfectly.
Boom. Patty complete.
This patty dedicated to Vic and Dave for their technical and mobile cooking prowess, and to Pono Farm for their stellar beef.
I kept it simple here. Raw white onion and iceberg lettuce. White onion because they’re the most offensive of the onions. Iceberg because it’s more texture that flavor. If I wanted to taste ruffage I’d go with something like romaine or arugula or “spring mix” and just order a damn salad. But this is a burger
Diced fairly small. The point of this layer is to soak and absorb and marinade in the greasy outflow from the beef. It’s like a beef fat coleslaw.
This layer dedicated to Jody’s, where I first experienced the magic of lettuce-bottom.
Whole Lettuce Leaf
Again iceberg. This is your protective barrier between bun and patty. It’s a defense to maintain bun integrity as you eat the burger.
Here’s where you put your sandwich lubricants. Tastes vary, and I feel there are no wrongs here. But there was a common thread I’ve seen up here in the Pacific Northwest that I hadn’t seen anywhere else in the country: Thousand Island Dressing. And I liked it.
I made my own for this burger, simply mixing ketchup, mayonaise, and relish. You’ll notice I skipped pickles up above, which I find a little overpowering in their texture and taste. Relish, mingled in this poor man’s fry sauce, is the perfect replacement.
See top bun.
And that’s it. My perfect burger. I tried to score it a 100 but that broke all my spreadsheets. So I stuck with a 5.0.
Score: 5.0 of 5
Beer: Olympia, Coors Lights, Old German, Shiner Bock, Pub Beer, Flaming Dr Peppers, etc
Bonus: As for the rest of the night, I’ll let the pictures do the talking: