Photo courtesy of Arthur Bovino
“The trick is doing the burgers and keeping the BBQ going at the same time,” admitted RUB BBQ’s pit master, Scott Smith, of the Manhattan restaurant’s Monday night burger special.
The stove is tiny and ancient, the kitchen cramped, but it doesn’t stop Smith and owner, Andrew Fischel, from doing a different style burger every Monday night, a tradition that fills the bar with regulars and has become a weekly alert on Serious Eats. They plan to do 52 burgers, one every week for a year. There have been renditions of regional burgers, like the Hatch Green Chile Burger, and other iconic recreations like Goober, Butter, and Donut Burgers.
This visit goes inside RUB BBQ’s kitchen with Scott Smith as he shows how to make the Hamburger Oscar, a house-grind burger topped with butter-poached lobster tail and béarnaise.
There’s little room to maneuver and things move quickly, with Scott going from topic to topic, from catfish recipes and how to make the best hot sauce (little known fact, he makes one for RUB) to missing fast-roping in the Army Rangers.
The process for making RUB’s Hamburger Oscar is a five-parter: tarragon reduction, béarnaise, burger blend, lobster poaching, and burger cooking. The last two steps are done to-order. At RUB, they start prepping burgers a few hours before the 6pm service. “We grind at 2:30pm, and make patties at about 3pm,” said Scott. “I had been forming them per order, but I’ve had to make some concessions to efficiency.”
Because the Hamburger Oscar includes béarnaise, it’s actually two recipes in one. Using béarnaise without lobster recreates RUB’s Béarnaise Burger, one of the most popular burger specials they’ve done. “A lot of places will just make a hollandaise and throw in tarragon, that’s not the way to make a béarnaise,” Smith admonished. “That’s one of my pet peeves.”
First Scott makes a tarragon reduction, then he integrates it into his béarnaise sauce.
RUB’s house grind is a secret, but Andrew and Scott said that brisket and short rib are involved, and that as far as buns go, they’re chosen depending on the burger.
Scott made the béarnaise just before service. Keeping it from breaking while making burgers and managing the heat of a kitchen in the constant process of producing BBQ meant moving the sauce away from and to the oven. He kept three cast-iron surfaces going, one on low heat to toast the buns (with a swatch of butter on each half), and two at medium-high so he can make four burgers at once.
Patties go on, get seasoned with salt and pepper, and cooked for about a minute on each side. In those two minutes the lobster tail is poached in clarified butter, “You don’t want to overcook the lobster, “ he warned, “that’s a food crime. It’s going to cook a little more on the burger.”
The buns get toasted, the burgers cooked, the lobster poached then sliced on the bias and placed on top of the burger and drenched in béarnaise. The result? A gloriously messy and indulgent surf and turf burger, RUB style.