Stunt Burger Saturday: The Homemade Shake Shack Burger

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Ever since I saw it on America's Test Kitchen, I've been dying to try food engineer Kenji Lopez-Alt's Shake Shack-inspired burger recipe.

I'm a West Coaster who's never been to Shake Shack. (Can it really be better than In-N-Out? Heresy!) But I figured Lopez-Alt, who's affiliated with test-it-and-test-it-again Cook's Illustrated magazine and who famously mocked chef Heston Blumenthal's burger recipe as "the most labor-intensive burger in the word," wouldn't steer me wrong.

And since June is BlogHer's Month of Burgers -- and since it's been long enough since my Month of Pies that I need a food project -- I'll be attempting an over-the-top burger each Saturday this month.

But I'd been stymied in my Shake Shack quest for a while. The recipe on ATK calls for a combo of flap meat and boneless short ribs, and my (half-assed) searches for flap meat in the San Francisco butcher shops have come up short every time. So when I walked into Costco the other day and spied flap meat and short ribs side by side -- practically spooning -- I figured it was a sign. And I bought it.

Of course, the recipe asks for a total of 16 ounces of meat total: 10 ounces of flap meat and six ounces of short rib. I currently have before me about FOUR POUNDS of cow.

meat mountain
Meat mountain.


The Mystery of the Meat

Then I got home and actually Googled "Kenji Shake Shack," and found that Lopez-Alt has a second recipe on Serious Eats, which he actually titled "Fake Shack" and which calls for brisket, chuck and sirloin -- all easily gettable at any butcher. Though the America's Test Kitchen episode, dated 2010 is filmed at Shake Shack, it is called "Old Fashioned Burger."

I don't know what kind of copycat copyright shenanigans are going on here, but I had already invested big-time in the "Old Fashioned" ingredients, so I stuck with the ATK recipe (behind a paywall here or watch it online here).

The Beef Whisperer

The whole point of this patty is the surface -- the nooks and crannies get brown and crispy and create pockets for the cheese (American, of course) to melt into. Short ribs, Lopez-Alt says, give a beefy flavor and great fat marbling, while the loose grain of flap meat gives the burger tenderness and that prized surface area.

To get the texture right, you have to chop the meat into 1-inch chunks, then freeze for about 10 minutes to get them firm but not rock hard (the recipe says 20 and my chunks had to defrost for half an hour when I took them out). Pulse about 10 times in a food processor, then tilt the beef onto a cookie sheet or tray, and gently, gently mold it into four very loose patties -- basically whispering the patties into being with minimal touching, to keep them juicy. Then tuck the barely-burgers into the fridge; the cold helps them retain their shape.

Salt and pepper the cold burgers last -- don't season until they're ready to cook, or the salt can toughen the meat. There's no salt inside, so you need to put about a quarter teaspoon of salt on each side. Finally, carefully place them on the skillet into half a teaspoon of smoking-hot oil and cook for three minutes on the first side; two minutes (throw the cheese on one minute in) after flipping.

Do Fries Go With That Shake Shack?

I planned to go all the way and make homemade fries while the meat was chilling, but a few things happened. One: The night I made this, my coworker's husband was in the ER with a fry-slicing injury, which gave me pause. Two: All that meat and salt and mayo and cheese had me craving a vegetable; any vegetable. Three: I got lazy. Fries take work.

So I sautéed some rapini instead.

rapini
I needed these greens.


Bun and Toppings

I wasn't able to find the "classic" white potato bun (the brand Lopez-Alt recommends is an East Coast product), and I think pickle relish is of the devil, so I modified with whole-wheat buns and a pickle-free sauce. But the burger accessories are simple: Toast your buns in butter in a hot skillet; make a Thousand-Islandy sauce of about two parts mayo to one part ketchup, with a splash of vinegar for acidity and a dash of pepper for spice, adding a teaspoon of relish if you want it. The sauce should be solid enough to spread on the bun but liquid enough to ooze over the burger when you assemble.

The only other topping is thinly sliced onion -- lettuce and tomato aren't mentioned, so I didn't bother and I didn't miss it.

The Verdict

So: Is this burger all it's Shacked up to be?

Lopez-Alt describes it as "Bad for you in a very delicious way." I agree. It was salty, juicy, tender, and really comforting. Better than, but a lot like, an In-N-Out burger.

Shake Shack Burger
Oozy, meaty, salty goodness.


The unexpected side effect was a weird feeling of shame. I'm not much for guilt about food, but I did feel an unexpected pang about taking this much trouble to make a fast food burger at home -- and there's an In-N-Out about to open around the corner from my office, so I could have saved myself a lot of time and trouble for a slightly lesser burger. With fries.

And for that reason, I won't be attempting Lopez-Alt's homemade Big Mac next Stunt Burger Saturday. In fact, I think next time I need to make a veggie burger -- and I know just which recipe I'll try. Come back next week to see!

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