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food detective

Categories: Meat, Dinner for Two, Supper, Lunch, Well Equipped, Posted on February 27, 2023 by Sandy Bergsten

On a recent visit to my daughter’s, my son-in-law treated me to one of the best burgers I have ever had. Some call it an Oklahoma burger.  Others a Depression burger, as small amounts of ground beef are cooked with heaping piles of thinly sliced onions to stretch out the meager portion of protein.

After that trip I began reading about these burgers everywhere. Kenji López-Alt wrote an article about them in the New York Times. Michael Ruhlman featured them in one of his recent newsletters. All heightening my craving. I needed to figure out how to make these at home. Thankfully I had given my husband that awesome gas grill, complete with its own caste-iron griddle attachment.

With most novel recipes, it takes me a few tries to get it right. I really appreciate the way Kenji López-Alt dives deep into his recipes, giving the scientific reasoning of why it works. One thing he pointed out is how thinly sliced the onions need to be and why using a mandolin is a necessary tool. The other is how to form the patty, then smash the patty to properly cook this burger.

I must admit on my first try I had smashing issues. It didn’t help that I used too much beef. Sometimes I think “more” will make it better. Not here. Don’t go over a quarter pound of beef for each burger and be sure to use at least two ounces of sliced onions per patty. I also wasn’t very adept at wilding a spatula as my smash-tool.

I knew I needed assistance. I went to my favorite local culinary store for their advice. They suggested a cast iron press. I’m not the best at cast iron. If you don’t follow the rules you’ll end up with a heavy, rusty, ineffective cooking tool. But I was determined, so I dutifully followed the seasoning directions for this cast iron implement. They told me to wipe it lightly with neutral oil, place it on a cold griddle, and heat it up for 30 minutes. My griddle was on my gas grill. So I lit it up, put down the lid and walked away. Truth be told I kind of forgot about it. Fifty minutes later when I realized what I had done I sprinted to the backyard and lifted the lid. A word of caution- do not season something cast iron with a wooden handle on a grill. And.. for that matter who puts a wooden handle on something that is going to be subjected to high and lasting heat. Needless to say, the handle burnt to a crisp and when I picked it up with a hot mitt it broke to charred bits.

I went on Amazon (I did try to buy local) and searched for metal burger presses. Up came a stainless-steel model that was what I was looking for all along. Added bonus- it’s easy to clean and dishwasher safe.

For the Oklahoma burgers divide a half-pound of beef into two equal balls. One at a time, massage the meat with your hands for 15 seconds until the ball remains intact, is slightly tacky and smooth. Place on a parchment paper lined rimmed baking sheet or plate. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

With a mandolin, thinly slice a sweet onion. Set aside.

Loosely wrap two hamburger buns in foil. Preheat the oven or toaster oven to 350-degrees.

Shape the patties by gently pressing each ball into a 3-inch disc.

Season the tops with salt and pepper.

Flip the patties over and top each with a large pile of thinly sliced onions. They should resemble large haystacks. Do not salt the onions at this point. The salt will draw the water out of the onions, and they won’t caramelize properly when cooked (thanks Kenji!).

Heat a skillet or griddle over an indoor burner set to high heat or on the grates of a hot outdoor grill for a few minutes until very hot. Place the foil wrapped buns in the oven to steam.

Spaced apart and with the onions of top, place the beef patties on the pan or griddle (do not add any oil).

With a stiff spatula or metal burger press, press on the onions and beef to form a 5-inch-wide burger. The outer edge of each patty should be slightly thicker than its center. Place any stray onions on top of the patties. Now season the onion side with salt and pepper.

Cook the burgers for two minutes without moving them until the edges are dark brown and crusty. Loosen each burger with a spatula and carefully flip the patties so they are onion side down. Tuck any stray onions under the patties.

Place a slice of American cheese on top of each and cover the pan with a large lid or baking, if using a grill close the grill’s lid. Continue cooking until the onions are browned along the edges, for two minutes longer.

While the burgers are cooking with the cheese on top, take the buns out of the oven. Spread both sides with mayonnaise. Place pickles slices on the bottom bun. Drizzle yellow mustard on the top bun.

When the burgers are done, lift each with a spatula and place on the bottom bun with the pickles. Top with the remaining bun and serve immediately.

I bet you too will find these are all the rage on the range.

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