The last time I incubated of future generation of my family, my OB’s office — a place you cumulatively spend a spectacular amount of time over the course of 40 weeks — was diagonally across the street from the Upper West Side Shake Shack, and I only ate there once. I understand if this means we can no longer be friends; I am personally embarrassed to know this about me too. Where were my priorities? I have spent years mourning this missed opportunity to not only eat a weekly Shackburger but to have made better use of my last weeks of kid-free leisurely lunches for years to come. The reason is even less sympathetic: I didn’t like hamburgers, or so I thought. They were so thick, so dauntingly large and one-note, so soft and damp inside, I couldn’t for the life of me imagine what made them popular.
In the final week before my firstborn was given an eviction notice, my husband joined me for an appointment and afterward, gently pulled me in the direction of the Shake Shack. It was the middle of a weekday and there was barely a line, if you can imagine something so absurd. I settled in for a burger and fries and … can I pause for a moment? I’m getting verklempt, guys… I had a moment and that moment was a realization that I didn’t dislike burgers I disliked those monstrous things that were all the rage a few years ago. This burger was totally different — thin, unevenly shaped craggy-edged with crispy salty bits and it sat on a tender toasted bun with a perfect sauce, thinly sliced pickles, tomatoes, a ruffle of lettuce and yet wasn’t too tall to eat a bite of without unhinging my jaw like a snake that swallowed a goat (I’m sorry, second reference in one month, I can stop anytime). It wasn’t so massive that I had to take a nap when I was done, it was my first smash-style burger and it was everything. It’s probably for the best that this guy came along the next week, because I cannot imagine the trouble I would have gotten into if I had many more excuses to eat there.
My current OB, 300x more delightful than my old one, is far from any Shake Shacks, but now that I’ve seen the error of my earlier ways and also rather obsessively crave a weekly burger this time around, I think we can agree it’s probably for the best. As one of those city-dwellers without a grill (stupid laws keeping us 8 million safe, sigh), I’ve always assumed that we’d just never make great hamburgers at home. But then, in January, Epicurious published an obsessively detailed, drool-inducing, behind-the-scenes article about the making of a Shackburger and even in the throes of that first trimester of food loathing, I realized two things: 1. I could totally make my favorite burger at home with zero special tools or fancy ingredients. 2. I needed it to happen — I mean did you read that part about “a rotating metal drum stays perpetually lathered in melted butter?” That the burger is “smashed into juicy, sublime submission” as “the meat starts to caramelize in its own fat, forming those crispy nooks and crannies that make it the English muffin of burgers?” COME ON — right that very second.
… Give or take a few months. This is my Memorial Day gift to those of us left unsatisfied by thick slabs of grilled burgers and or bereft of outdoor grills: a perfect burger which you can pair with my favorite oven fries, a solid slaw, glorious lemonade or milkshakes and a big fat wedge of watermelon for a dream of a quick, inexpensive summer dinner at home with nary a fly to swat away. Hallelujah.
Fake Shack Burger
Perfect as written and described from Epicurious
First, I want you to read this article in its entirety and tell me what steel you’re made of if you can get through it without booking a ticket to NYC for the sole purpose of being one with a Shackburger as soon as possible. Now, let’s talk about a bunch of things I learned about the Shake Shack burger from the article:
- Shake Shack serves their burgers on a potato roll from Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe in Pennsylvania, which are pretty easy to find elsewhere. However [2022 update], if you take note of where companies donate and make purchasing decisions accordingly, their choices have recently been in the news.
- They’re only toasted on the inside. At the burger stands, they use the aforementioned “rotating drum perpetually lathered in melted butter” (swoon), but at home, we’re going to toast them in our frying pan.
- Shake Shacks use Pat LaFrieda high-quality ground beef, and while they can’t say what fat ratio or blend they use, they told the writer that “80/20” was a good place to start. I bought mine at a small butcher shop in the West Village which uses a blend of brisket, short rib and sirloin. 80/20 is fatty; it will splatter like crazy. But that’s why god invented splatter screens and paper towels, right?
- The patties used there aren’t patty-shaped but arrive in two-inch tall, four-ounce pucks. They’re cooked extra-cold from special fridges — we’re going to copy this by putting our in the freezer for 15 minutes first — not for food safety reasons, but when that cold puck hits the very hot grill, it browns extremely well but retains its juices because the fats haven’t fully melted inside.
- Smashing the pucks into patties is surprisingly hard! Of course, at Shake Shacks they have specially designed heavyweight smasher spatulas; at home, Epicurious recommends that you use two spatulas, one for pressing and the handle of the other to kind of hammer the pressing spatula flat. I did this on my first batch and it was not terribly easy, especially with the splatters of hot grease making me want to pull my hands far away from the pan. I then switched to this insane meat pounder I bought a few years ago and it was so much easier. As most people don’t buy 2-pound meat pounders just for the heck of it, find something in your kitchen with a solid weight to make this process easier.
- Nobody, of course, has the recipe for their Secret Sauce, but I rather liked Epicurious’s version, shared below
Makes 4 hamburgers
1 pound freshly ground beef (3/4 pound ground sirloin + 1/4 pound brisket is recommended, but if you can’t find, use chuck) with an 80/20 fat ratio
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoons juice from a pickle jar
1 1/2 teaspoons ketchup
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more if needed
4 potato rolls, see Note
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 slices cheese, American or whatever you like on burgers, if you’re making cheeseburgers
Four 1/4-inch-thick tomato slices
Thinly sliced pickles, if desired
4 burger-sized pieces green-leaf lettuce (I used curly green leaf lettuce)
Prepare the meat: Form the meat into four equal-sized four-ounce meat “pucks,” roughly 2 1/2 inches thick. Place them on a plate lined with plastic wrap or waxed paper and freeze for 15 minutes, but no longer. We don’t want to freeze the meat, but we’d like it to be extra-cold when it hits the pan.
Make the sauce: Combine all of the ingredients, tasting it and making any adjustments you’d prefer. A dash of hot sauce, perhaps?
Toast the buns: Heat a griddle, large cast-iron skillet (my first choice and recommendation), or large heavy stainless-steel skillet over medium heat. Melt the butter and place the buns, cut-side down, in the pan. Cook until cut sides are golden-brown, about 1 to 2 minutes. Place toasted buns on four plates; you’ll keep using your griddle or skillet.
Cook the burgers: Remove patties from freezer. Increase heat to high and add 2 tablespoons oil to the griddle or skillet — you’ll need this only for your first burger batch; after you’ve made a couple or if you’re scaling the recipe up, the fat from the earlier burgers will be sufficient — heat until oil begins to smoke, at least two minutes. Working one at a time, add a patty to griddle and immediately flatten it to a 1/2-inch thickness with a heavy spatula and something with weight and heft (the handle of a second spatula, a meat pounder, etc. see details up top) to help it along. You’ll have to “hammer” harder than you might think to flatten the patties out. A second spatula can be used to help remove the hamburger stuck to the flattening one, so not to tear the patty. Generously season with salt and pepper. Repeat with remaining patties.
Once the first side is deeply browned with crisp, craggly edges, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes for medium — mine were all quite black when they were flipped, and yet still totally pink inside when we cut into them; it will be hard to overcook them at this high heat — use a spatula to scrape underneath the patty and flip it over. Cover with a slice of cheese if making cheeseburgers, and cook 1 to 2 minutes more, until melted. Repeat process with remaining patties.
Assemble burgers: Transfer cooked patties to toasted burger buns. Spread top buns with prepared sauce. Top burgers with tomatoes, lettuce, pickles (if using) and immediately dig in.