Building a Better Burger

Thchefs at Casino Rama Resort obsess over their burgers even more than winemakers obsess over their wine. Who else would take a glistening slab of prime rib steak and grind it into a burger or contract custom crafted burger patties from a downtown Toronto artisan butcher shop? At Casino Rama Resort they do this, and more, making each burger as different from each other as Chardonnay is to Pinot Noir.

The best burgers are always about love and that’s why eating a burger always seems to make the eater happy. They’re a quintessential entertainment food that you can dress up for a formal occasion or dress down for a backyard barbecue. Burgers are so powerful that entire restaurants have been built around this one singular food and so engrained are burgers into our psyche that everyone, regardless of age, has an opinion about what makes the best.

But the chefs at Casino Rama Resort have more than opinions about their burgers; they have a strategy, a burger building strategy. They start with a good foundation upon which textural support and flavour finishes all come together for a guaranteed burst of palate extravaganza. Here’s how it works.

The Foundation

If there’s one fact that needs to be hammered home more than any other, it’s that a great burger starts with good quality beef – and not all beef is alike. At Casino Rama Resort, “we primarily use 28-day dry-aged, Alberta beef,” says gourmet burger chef Todd Marshall of St.Germain’s Steakhouse. Marshall uses a whole prime rib steak and personally grinds each burger patty. “I don’t mess with the fat ratio, whatever the fat content is in the prime rib is what it is.” He knows the fat content is high and estimates it to be around 25%. “That just means flavour,” smiles the chef.

Dry aged beef has less water content and when cooked, gets its juiciness from the flavourful fat. You don’t have to buy an entire steak, you can find dry aged, ground beef at a good butcher shop. If you instantly assume you’ll pay more buying from a butcher, you’d be wrong. No matter where you go, ground beef is all approximately the same price. So it makes sense to go the extra mile to get better quality meat, you’ll taste the difference.

Both Alberta and Ontario beef are excellent quality but they’re fed and raised differently so the flavours are different. Personally, I find Alberta beef sweeter while Ontario is generally beefier. Try them both for yourself, side by side, taste the difference and begin your burger building with a good foundation.

There are no fillers or flavour enhancers like eggs, spices or breadcrumbs in Chef Todd’s burgers, he just seasons the outside of the burger heavily with fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. “Nothing is added – it’s just prime rib.”

Beyond the flavour profile, good beef is also a matter of how well it cooks up. Hamburger meat that is super fresh can be served slightly pink for even more flavour and that’s exactly how they’re cooked at St.Germain’s Steakhouse. Then they’re grilled over an open flame for beautiful charring. “As the edges crisp up I can almost taste the flavours coming alive,” says Chef. The burgers are first grilled over extremely hot flames, then slid into a slow oven for finishing before it’s layered onto the bun and dressed.

Textural Support

Like being hit over the head with a 2 x 4, most people are astonished to hear that the bun is as important an element as the beef. Think about it, with every bite of a burger there is actually more bun in your mouth than beef, so it makes sense that you want to strive for what burger aficionados call the ‘beef-to-bun ratio’.

The burger at Simcoe Yard House has a completely different personality than St.Germain’s. Crafted by burger-mad chef, Jonathan Lawrence, each burger is super-seasoned with garlic, chives and black pepper for bold flavour, then sandwiched in a gutsy Kaiser bun. Baked special for the restaurant, the buns are crispy on the outside and soft and yeasty on the inside. “The bun takes the burger from awesome to outstanding!” says Chef Lawrence who recommends you enjoy it with a Beau’s Lug Tread Lagered Ale. Lawrence is insanely passionate about building lip-smacking, melt-in-your-mouth burgers and has a huge cult following to support his self-proclaimed title as the maker of the, “best burgers around”.

While Lawrence’s burger may need the heft of a Kaiser bun, Lawrence himself admits his favourite beef-to-bun ratio includes a softer, sweeter brioche bun. While you may think the brioche is a rather delicate bun to pair with a big bite of beef, the whole burger experience comes off tasting way beyond one’s greatest burger imaginations. “I like my burgers greasy and brioche soaks up the juices better than any other bun,” says Lawrence. Loaded with melted cheddar and smoky bacon, the bun begins to fall apart halfway through eating it and it becomes one big, juicy, delicious mess. “That’s my kind of burger!”

Buns come in a wide range of styles, textures and flavours from soft brioche or egg bun to thin sandwich buns in multi-grain or vegetable flavour. In between there is an entire range of buns from crisp crust and dense innards to soft on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Take the leap from boring burger buns and try them all!

Flavour Finishes

While I’ve always said that commercial ketchup and relish goes well with frozen burger patties, when you’re building an amazing burger, throw out the commercial condiments and look for good quality, artisan made instead.

Chef Gordon White of the Simcoe Yard House Restaurant is so insane about his burgers that he makes all of his condiments from scratch! Trusting no one, he makes a killer cider laced tomato jam that goes on anything you want (really!), a rich 40-Creek Whisky Barbecue Sauce and a zesty Guinness Maple Mustard. He runs a Burger of the Month program so he can play with different condiments that he makes, inspired always from seasonally harvested produce. But when asked what his favourite condiment was for his burger, he replies, “when you design a burger you don’t want to commit just one thing”.

Ok, obviously the man is not giving any opinions away so I thought I’d take a look at what he has done in the past. White has been known to use thick, maple smoked bacon and other times he’ll crisp up juicy slices of peameal; he loves to talk about smoked, aged cheddar melting over a thick cut burger and other times he quotes names like Swiss, Edam, chèvre and Stilton. Sometimes he puts thick slices of avocado on the burgers, other times it’s a whack of sauerkraut and then there’s everyone’s favourite, a sizzling fried egg that he reserves for special occasions.

Balancing flavours is an art that balances the burger. “I’m not one to load my burgers with everything,” says Chef White. “I’m more of a thick, juicy burger kind of guy with soft Boston Bib lettuce on a soft brioche bun, a thick layer of smoked cheddar and sautéed mushrooms.” It doesn’t get simpler than that!

The best way to know what works for you is to catch some of the burger passion from these obsessed chefs and remember, when you’re building a better burger you want to aim to eat a burger that is juicy, rich and gooey with a bit of crunch and a blast of taste over your tongue. From the first bite, it should unleash a geyser of flavour onto the palate and a wave of feel-good endorphins into the bloodstream. If you can accomplish that, you’re an insanely talented burger maker with most likely, a disturbingly large crowd of friends!

Written By: Lynn Ogryzlo

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