12 Questions: Master Butcher Pat LaFrieda on the Perfect Burger
Pat LaFrieda is a man who knows his burgers. The third-generation butcher, who provides meat to many of the finest restaurants in New York City through his family’s business, also worked with some of the city’s best chefs to devise their restaurants’ signature burger blends, leading to Minetta Tavern’s signature Black Label Burger (named the No. 1 burger on The Daily Meal’s list of The 101 Best Burgers in America) and the burgers served at restaurants including Union Square Café, the Spotted Pig, and — oh, yeah — Shake Shack. But LaFrieda, a former stockbroker who’s run the insanely successful operation since 1993, doesn’t just blend it and forget it. The guy knows how to eat a burger the right way, and he’s pretty exacting in his specifications. We asked LaFrieda 13 questions about his perfect burger, and you’d be smart to follow his advice.
The Daily Meal: What’s your secret to a perfect burger blend?
Pat LaFrieda: Whole muscle from Black Angus, 24 months old or less.
What type of bacon goes best on a burger?
I’m looking for thin bacon. I want it crispy, to add texture and flavor. Thick bacon is too chewy, and just not right for a burger.
What’s your opinion of egg on a burger?
Any time I can amplify my protein with protein, I do. You can’t go wrong with a soft-boiled or poached egg.[related]
What about condiments and sauces?
I always love sauces, even on steak. It’s great to say you’re a purist, but if something else can add a little extra flavor, then why not? Of all the condiments to top my burger, I would choose a dollop of Hellmann’s mayonnaise. It holds it all together.
What’s the best type of bun?
I can say with confidence that I was eating my burgers on Martin’s potato buns long before Shake Shack. There’s something about the doughiness. My other go-to is a toasted English muffin — toasted whole so it’s soft inside.
What’s the ideal patty size?
An inch-thick, eight-ounce burger is perfect for grilling. You can get a good sear on it without overcooking it.
What’s your favorite fast food burger?
I haven’t eaten a fast food burger in a very long time, unless you consider Shake Shack fast food, of course.
What’s the best type of cheese for a burger?
American. I sometimes deviate with pepper Jack or smoked Gouda, but American cheese just puts the comfort into a burger. It puts it all together.
What are your ideal toppings?
I’m not a pickle guy, because I don’t like the vinegar, and lettuce is flavorless. I like to top my burger with baby arugula for some punch, and small grape tomatoes sliced thin.
What are your thoughts on mixing other ingredients into the patty, like mushrooms or ranch mix?
I don’t like mixing anything in, because then it starts to taste like meatloaf. It no longer tastes like a burger.
When is it OK to cook a burger past medium rare?
Well, never. Medium rare or rare.
What’s the best lean-to-fat ratio?
Eighty to 20 is the best. Anything else is a marketing ploy, because it’ll cook down to 90/10 or even 92/8 during the cooking process.