I'm constantly looking for ways to improve burgers. It goes without saying that the first step is to buy beef and grind it yourself. But, 'round here, the ratios and cuts are constantly being tweaked, and sometimes 86'd altogether. In general, I'll end up with a blends which include hanger, and likely some chuck, but maybe some rib, skirt on occasion, and possibly some flap, hell I've ground up a porterhouse on occasion. And when I see the 'point' of the brisket (the fatty piece that sits atop the largely useless 'flat', which is what you generally see at the store) in the case at Fairway, you can bet that's going in. It has soooo much beautiful soft fat, and great beefy flavor.
Along with fat, the other element that I look for is the beautiful but elusive dry-aged flavor. That minerally, funky flavor that you can only get from dry-aged beef (for which I am a sucker).The burger at Peter Luger has notes of these flavors, and for good reason: they're using scraps of their dry-aged steak. I had very good results with my own dry-aged burger, but as much as I love very good results, I can't bring myself to spend 20 dollars on a hamburger at home (although for somre reason I'd have no problem spending that much at a restaurant, and this makes little sense). A little lamb in the mix helps, but let's face it, lamb isn't terribly funky or gamey. A bit, but not much.
With the brisket point not always available, I'm often left trying to come up with ways of getting more fat into the burger. There's the butter-in-the-middle-of-the-patty trick, which is quite easy and produces good results. There's the ground-up-bacon-in-the-meat trick. Good results, but it does add a bacony flavor which may or may not be what I'm going for at the time.
And then I got to thinking about that bacon. It's nice and fatty, but the smoky flavor isn't necessarily a good thing. If there were only some sort of funky, fatty part of an animal that I could introduce into the mix. And then it hit me: guanciale.
Guanciale is the jowel of the pig, it's cured (not smoked), and it's full of funky flavors. Off I went to Fairway in Paramus (one of the only stores that I know of which carries guanciale, and pretty much the sole purveyor of foodstuffs for the t:e organization) to pick me up some guanciale. Actually, that's a lie: I keep guanciale frozen for occasions like these (which also include pizza w/ guanciale, and carbonara).
My first mix was a rib steak, chuck steak, and and about .75 ounces of guanciale to 15.25 ounces of beef, for two burgers. The burger was good, but with only a subtle bit of funky flavor (and I was really looking for it). The burger was reasonably juicy, but not to the point that I wanted. The answer, of course, is more guanciale.
The next mix included about 7 ounces of rib and chuck, and 0.9 ounces of guanciale (for a single burger). Now we were getting somewhere. There was the funky flavor that I was hoping for, and the burger was clearly more moist.
You can see there's more fat in this burger
t:e recommends good quality infrared burners
The logical conclusion to the experiment was to make a burger with more guanciale than anyone should have. The next mix contained 6.75 ounces of rib steak, chuck steak, and about 1.25 ounces of guanciale. This was clearly too much guanciale, although it made for a very moist, fatty, and ultimately interesting burger.
You can see there's even more fat in this burger. And t:e recommends cast iron pans.
I've concluded that the beef-to-guanciale ratio should be about 7-to-1, and maybe just a wee bit less guanciale. But as with everything I conclude, this will likely change the next time I give it some thought.
The moral of the story? Go to Fairway, buy guanciale, and figure out ways to eat it.