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  • The burger you grill at your tailgate could probably use an upgrade. Some top NYC chefs have a few suggestions.
By Allen Kim
October 26, 2017

The annual New York City Wine and Food Festival (NYCWFF) recently took place in the Big Apple. Put together by the Food Network and Cooking Channel, it is the largest food and wine festival in New York City with 100% of the net proceeds benefiting the Food Bank For New York City and the No Kid Hungry® campaign.

Heading into its 10th year, the NYCWFF invited some of New York City’s top chefs for an all-star lineup to compete in the biggest event of the festival: the Burger Bash. We went over to the Burger Bash to talk to some of the top chefs to find out what they think goes into the perfect burger.

Robert Irvine (Robert Irvine's Public House)

Robert Irvine needs no introduction. As the host of shows such as Food Network’s Restaurant: Impossible and Dinner: Impossible, he was one of the most recognizable faces in attendance.

“The burger has to be the moistest burger,” Irvine says. “We use pastrami and short rib for our beef. I believe that the more fat there is, the better the burger. I’m actually a 70/30 guy. I want lean, but I want flavor, and fat is flavor. So unless you go with an 80/20 and add bacon and grind it in, it doesn’t work because the mouthfeel is not good, so I like more fat.”

It was no surprise that Irvine goes for a cast-iron skillet instead of on a grill considering his love of fat. “I do not like grilled — I’m not a grill guy,” says Irvine. “There’s nothing like a cast-iron skillet for a burger so that it is finished nicely with a good sear on the outside yet nice and juicy on the inside.”

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“The bun has to be the perfect potato roll,” insists Irvine. “And you want the bun crisp with fresh lettuce, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms and a little cheese sauce. The condiments should also be spicy and sweet at the same time. I like caramelized onions with a little sriracha. And nothing goes better with a burger than a white vermont cheddar sauce and crispy, panko-coated smoked bacon. If you can do that at home, I’m going to come to your house to eat!”

Mark Rosati (Shake Shack)

Mark Rosati may not be a household name like restaurateur Danny Meyer, but he was easily one of the most knowledgeable chefs in attendance at the NYCWFF Burger Bash. As the Culinary Director for Shake Shack tasked with developing their menu, we had to get him to weigh in on what he thinks makes for the perfect burger.

Rosati’s first and possibly most important tip: “I really think the best thing to do is to go to your butcher and become friends with him and have him grind your meat fresh. You want the entire steak — don’t get trimming, that’s what they always have in the case ready to go.”

“I like to play around with different blends,” says Rosati. “I think chuck is a good cut to start your blend with and then you can go with, say, short rib, hanger or flank. I think brisket is another good one. All these different steaks have different flavors and textures — experiment and try to figure out your best one. There are so many wonderful different cuts, but I think chuck is a good all-purpose one to play around with and then you can add different cuts to that one. I at least think 80 to 20 is a good start, but I would like to go a little more myself if I’m cooking for friends at home. I think 22 percent is kind of a good fat content for a burger. If you’re using whole muscle and you grind it, all that fat is intramuscular, so when you cook it, it’s massaging and keeping all those meat fibers moist.”

As for the cheese and buns, Rosati doesn’t stray from Shake Shack’s addictive Shack burger. “I like to go with American myself because I think it adds creaminess and tanginess to the burger,” says Rosati. “But with that being said, I also like jack and cheddar; I think it just depends on what my mood is. And I’m a potato bun guy. It’s soft and squishy, and if you toast it before you eat it—I brush mine with butter—you get the inside crisp and the outside remains soft and squishy so you get that contrast in texture. It's little details like that, that make a burger go from good to mind blowing.”

Matt Abdoo (Pig Beach, Pig Bleeker)

Mike Coppola/Getty Images

As the executive chef for Pig Beach, one of New York City’s best new barbecue restaurants, Matt Abdoo has introduced a new player to the city’s expansive burger game: the Pig Beach burger.

They kept it simple at Pig Beach with house pickles and their in-house special sauce on a martin’s potato bun, but they allow you to add up to three patties and top it off with pulled pork. Instead of the typical yellow american cheese you find on most burgers, they go with a white american instead. “Absolutely the best cheese is the all-purpose American cheese,” says Abdoo. “It melts so easily, it’s luscious and it’s simply the best cheese ever for any burger.”

One of the few chefs in attendance to swear by a grill, Abdoo says, “Totally grilled. It makes for such a better flavor, it gets a lot hotter and it gives a better char on the outside. We use a brisket and short rib blend with an 80 to 20 lean to fat ratio, and grilling on charcoal allows the burger to keep more moisture as it's cooking.”

Josh Capon (B&B Winepub, Bowery Meat Company)

Josh Capon, six-time winner of the People’s Choice Award of the Wine and Food Festival’s Burger Bash, certainly knows a thing or two about burgers. After a brief hiatus, Capon decided to come out of retirement to try and add another title to his trophy case.

The Bash Burger that made him famous is served at his restaurant B&B Winepub. There’s a reason the Bash Burger is such a crowd favorite, and it was easily one of the best burgers available. “Caramelized onions, bacon jam and shaved pickles on a toasted big marty’s bun,” Capon says of the perfect burger. “And American cheese—you gotta put American cheese on a burger!”

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“Chuck, short rib and brisket,” Capon says of what cuts of meat he likes to grind into his burgers. “You can’t go wrong with that combination. And it has to be cooked in a cast-iron pan — a burger has to cook in its own fat.”

Angie Mar (Beatrice Inn)

Angie Mar, one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs for 2017, is the owner and executive chef of the Beatrice Inn. Her restaurant is a temple devoted to beef, and they serve one of the most decadent burgers in NYC. The 45-day dry aged burger on the menu at the Beatrice Inn will cost you a whopping $38, and she let us behind the curtain to give us a look into her ideal burger.

“So, for me, I think ribeye should always be a part of the burger — always,” Mar says. “We use 90 percent ribeye and the other 10 percent is a secret. I also like 30% fat content.”

As for the cheese, Mar goes with something unexpected. “I’ve got a very bougie restaurant in the West Village, so we have a very bougie burger,” Mar explains. “For me, it’s d’affinois cheese, which is an aged cow’s milk cheese. We top that off with red-wine caramelized onions.”

Joining Abdoo on the list of chefs who prefer to grill their burgers, Mar says, “Grilled, always grilled. I like the char that you get off the grill and you need the smoke — it’s so important and it adds so much flavor.”

Matthew Hyland (Emily, Emmy Squared)

Matthew Hyland is the owner and chef of Emily and Emmy Squared, two of the most popular pizza places here in New York City. While both are pizza places first and foremost, their burger (in my humble opinion) is the best thing they serve at both restaurants.

“Brisket, short rib and round with an 80 to 20 split is how I like to do it,” explains Hyland. “And that has to be cooked on a cast-iron pan.”

Depending on where and for whom he’s making the burger, Hyland goes with a different type of cheese. “At home, I always use American cheese,” Hyland says. “But for my burger here [at Emily], I use grafton cheddar.”

What makes the burgers served at Emily and Emmy Squared so distinct from anything else in NYC is their choice of bun. “I love pretzel buns,” Hyland says, plain and simple. The pretzel bun adds a unique taste to the burger, and it certainly lives up to its reputation as one of the best burgers in NYC.

PJ Calapa (The Spaniard)

The Spaniard may be new on the block, but thanks to chef PJ Calapa — his resume includes stops at acclaimed restaurants such as Bouley, Eleven Madison Park and Ai Fiori—their burger is already drawing rave reviews.

As evidenced by the burger served at The Spaniard, Calapa eschews the fancy chef burger in favor of something more basic. “Simple is the way,” Calapa says. “Double-double smash with pickles, shredded iceburg lettuce and American cheese on a sesame seed brioche bun.”

Calapa was not a fan of the added smoky flavor you get from a grill, and he was adamant that the best way to cook a burger was on a pan. “Gotta go with a cast iron,” Calapa insisted. “Griddled, griddled, griddled — no open flame.”

As for the cuts of meat, Calapa says, “I think that the tougher choices like brisket and chuck work best because they have a good ratio for fat — 70 to 30 is right where we want it to be.”

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