Sunday, December 16, 2012

My First Take on Taiwanese Food

This is probably a good time to remind you that I am not a food critic or food journalist of any kind - I'm just a guy who likes food. So with that in mind, what follows is my take on Asian Legend in Ann Arbor. If you're anything like me, you've walked passed Asian Legend (on William next to Cottage Inn) a bunch of times and probably never noticed it. At first glance, the ambiguously named restaurant might look like any other mediocre Chinese takeout place where you can get your fill of General Tso's and Kung Pao chicken. In fact, you can do exactly that at Asian Legend if you want, but you'd be missing out on some delicious Taiwanese food.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Ann Arbor’s Taco Block

Ever since moving back to Ann Arbor from Chicago, I have been trying to fill a taqueria void in my life. I went as far as trekking to Detroit’s Mexicantown to track down some al pastor on the spit. This time, I thought I’d take a look at my options a little closer to home and it turns out there are some decent options in Ann Arbor, with ground zero being a one-block stretch on West Liberty that has two taquerias worth visiting.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Burgers of Ann Arbor & Ypsi

Although there are some areas where Ann Arbor/Ypsi are lacking (there is an amazing dearth of Latin food), one food where there is no shortage is burgers. I make no apologies for being an all-out burger snob – if I’m going to use a day’s worth of calorie and fat allotment on some beef and cheese, I want it to be the real deal. While I would probably argue that the best burgers in the area are coming from my kitchen, there are more than a few solid options around town.

Sidetrack Bar & Grill

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Tailgating Like the 1%

A couple weekends ago, Michigan played UMass in what no one referred to as the Mitt Romney Bowl. Nevertheless, it seemed like as good a time as any to buy some lobsters and tailgate like the 1% with some New England lobster rolls.

Monday, September 24, 2012

From the Range to Grange

(Editor's note: Apologies for the bad pictures, I try to not be That Guy taking flash photos in restaurants.)

Housemade charcuterie, poutine, Great Lakes perch. Grange had me at hello.

I have been to Grange a couple times, for brunch and for dinner. With my brother and his girlfriend in town for the weekend, it was a no brainer on where to go for dinner on Friday night.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

[Up North] Northern Exposure: Off to the UP!

Our Up North series highlights good eats to seek out on your weekend roadtrips as you head Up North – that ambiguous, nebulous region in Michigan where everyone has, or has a friend that has, a cottage on a lake somewhere.

As a follow-up to last week’s post on the Lower Peninsula portion of our roadtrip, this will focus on the Upper Peninsula portion. While the UP portion of the trip was more about taking in the scenery, we did find some solid food spots along the way. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Tailgating Recap - Alabama Smoked Chicken and Air Force Wings

It's after Labor Day, which means it's time to put away the white shoes and start getting the tailgate ideas ready. Here's a look back at what I cooked up for the first couple weekends of the football season.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

[Up North] Eating Our Way Around Little Traverse Bay

Our Up North series highlights good eats to seek out on your weekend roadtrips as you head Up North – that ambiguous, nebulous region in Michigan where everyone has, or has a friend that has, a cottage on a lake somewhere. 

My end-of-summer hiatus is over. I’ve been on vacation, roadtripping through the northern part of the Lower Peninsula and then through part of the UP. Here is a rundown of some of the places we stopped on the first portion of our trip, which took us through Bellaire, Charlevoix and Petoskey before heading through the Tunnel of Trees en route to the Mackinac Bridge.

The Tunnel of Trees

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Search for Al Pastor Ends in Detroit's Mexicantown

When people ask me what I miss most about Chicago after moving back to Michigan last year, my immediate response is all of the great taquerias around town. I’m not talking about the places open until 4am in Lincoln Park that serve up gigantic burritos, or even the upscale taco joints in places like Wicker Park. I’m talking about the taco counters in the back of the Mexican grocery stores, places that use paddles the size of canoe oars to stir a huge pot of carnitas simmering in lard, places where your order is quantified not by number of tacos, but by pounds of meat. And every once in a while, you’d stumble across the holy grail of Mexican grilled meats – al pastor cooked on the spit. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Unraveling the Mystery of Coney Sauce for a Detroit/Chicago Dog Throwdown

When my brother and his friends, evenly split between Detroit and Chicago residents, decided to come to cottage for the weekend, the stage was set for a hot dog throwdown pitting the Chicago Dog against the Detroit Coney. There was only one problem: while the components of the Chicago Dog are fairly straightforward, getting our hands on some real Detroit Coney sauce turned problematic – picking up some generic grocery store chili would not be acceptable and you aren’t going to find coney sauce in grocery stores outside of the metro Detroit area.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Crayfish Wars: The Neighbors Strike Back

My previous attempt at catching crayfish at the lake at our cottage earlier this summer did not go well. Apparently unimpressed with my trapping efforts, the neighbor kids – and “meat candy” fans – decided to take matters literally into their own hands. I arrived late on a Friday night and saw a couple flashlights down near the docks – the kids were in the water pulling crayfish out of the rocks by hand. I guess it’s like the kids say – YOLO. By the following morning, they had captured 13 of the mud bugs. I was surprised at how big some of them were.

As I started boiling up a pot of water with a heavy dose of Tony Chachere’s creole seasoning, I had several skeptical relatives and neighbors waiting nearby, snickering at the thought of eating these guys.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Snapshots from Mark's Carts in Ann Arbor

I am a fan of the food truck movement and am glad we have some semblance of a food truck scene in Ann Arbor with Mark’s Carts. Somewhat controversial, food trucks give aspiring chefs - who otherwise could not afford to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant - the chance to show off their craft. It increases food diversity in the area and more often than not, will lead to new businesses from the successful trucks opening up permanent locations.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

An Extended Look at All Square: A History of Detroit-Style Pizza

Buddy's "Detroiter" Pizza
As an addendum to my post on Detroit-style pizza featured on the Pure Michigan blog, this post will provide an all-encompassing source for everything you need to know about Detroit-style pizza. Free from word-count restrictions, I can now lay out some additional critical information for both Michiganders in search of pizza in the D and help Michigan transplants find some square pie.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

[Up North]: Gone Fishin' (and Drinkin') in Ludington

Our Up North series highlights good eats to seek out on your weekend roadtrips as you head Up North – that ambiguous, nebulous region in Michigan where everyone has, or has a friend that has, a cottage on a lake somewhere.

After the success of the fish boil we did earlier this year, I decided that I needed to go fishing on the big lake and cross another thing off the bucket list. My cousin, a former camp counselor at Mystic Lake YMCA Camp, had chartered boats for groups of campers in years past and arranged a charter for six members of our family. Being the novice angler that I am, I did not realize I'd be facing a 3am wake-up call to make it to Ludington in time for our pre-sunrise departure. All was not lost as I managed to snap the pic above, not too often do you get to see the sun come up over Lake Michigan.

Friday, August 3, 2012

[Friday Night Bites] The Other Side of the Tracks: Wurst Bar & Sidetrack in Ypsi

Looking for something to do this weekend? Friday Night Bites has you covered.

It doesn't feel like that long ago that I was heading to Ypsi to go to BW3 for quarter wings, $2 tall boys and karaoke before heading back to Ann Arbor to close out the night at Rick's. I got a hangover just from typing that sentence. In the 8 or 9 years since I've done that, B-dubs is long gone (replaced by Korey's Krispy Krunchy Chicken) and a solid Friday night now consists of a good meal and a couple craft brews. With that in mind, we headed to Wurst Bar for some elevated sausages and then to Sidetrack for one of the best MI beer lists around.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Great Lakes, Better Food is Pure Michigan!

A couple weeks ago, the good people behind the Pure Michigan campaign asked me if I'd like to write a guest blogger entry for the Pure Michigan blog. After thinking about it for about two seconds, I decided I would do it. I just submitted my write-up and it should be posted to their blog sometime this week. If you've been monitoring my Twitter feed, you should have a good idea of what it's going to be about!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

On the Barbecue Trail: Mid-Michigan

If there is one food group that I can be justly chastised for being snobby about, it is barbecue. I grew up thinking good barbecue was rubbery babyback ribs drowned in a thick, sweet sauce. I was never a fan. It was years before I was exposed to low and slow barbecue smoked over real hunks of hardwood. I was a huge fan.

Barbecue seems to be like healthcare - everyone has an opinion on how it should be done. Enjoy a layer of thick, sweet tomato and molasses Kansas City-style sauce with your pulled pork? Then you probably won't be a fan of South Carolina's mustard sauce. I try to stay away from declaring an allegiance to any particular barbecue region, but I'd be lying if I said I don't prefer the vinegar sauce of Eastern Carolina on my pulled pork and the dry-rubbed ribs of Memphis.

Although barbecue tends to be a Southern affair, there is a barbecue revolution happening and there is now plenty of good barbecue north of the Mason-Dixon Line. I'm determined to try them all, so let's get it started in my hometown of Lansing, MI.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Jerk Store Called... for more Jamaican Chicken & Pork

When our good friends P&B returned from their trip to Jamaica a few weeks ago, Mrs. T and I were tortured with stories of real deal Jamaican jerk chicken and pork at the Pork Pit in Montego Bay. I can't say I've ever really had authentic Jamaican jerk, at least not anything like the spicy, smoky, barky goodness that P&B were describing. We had no choice, we had to figure out how to recreate the magic of the Pork Pit. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Hut-K Chaats Tastes too Good to be Healthy

the Rock & Rye was my choice, not Dr. Bhojani's. Don't judge me, it's delicious.
Swaroop Bhojani is a molecular cancer researcher in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Michigan Medical School. He has authored articles with titles like Nuclear localized phosphorylated FADD induces cell proliferation and is associated with aggressive lung cancer and Phosphorylated FADD induces NF-kappaB, perturbs cell cycle, and is associated with poor outcome in lung adenocarcinomas. But that's not the impressive part of his resume. Bhojani, along with his wife Sumi, run Hut-K Chaats, which serves up casual Indian streetfood with a healthy twist.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

[Up North] Barbecue, Blue Moon, and Blueberries in South Haven

Our Up North series highlights good eats to seek out on your weekend roadtrips as you head Up North – that ambiguous, nebulous region in Michigan where everyone has, or has a friend that has, a cottage on a lake somewhere.

(Editor's Note: If you're wondering why a place called South Haven located in west Michigan is considered Up North, I can't help you there, that's just the way it is.)

Another weekend of summer fun at Lake Michigan in the books. This time, we headed west to South Haven for an alliterative weekend of beach, barbecue, blueberries, and of course, Blue Moon.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

[Up North] US-31: Elk Rapids to Charlevoix

Our Up North series highlights good eats to seek out on your weekend roadtrips as you head Up North – that ambiguous, nebulous region in Michigan where everyone has, or has a friend that has, a cottage on a lake somewhere. 

To escape the heatwave last week, we headed to the cooler waters of northern Michigan. Our route took us along US-31 between Elk Rapids and Charlevoix, with a few detours along the way.  We managed to find some amazing Cajun & Creole food in Elk Rapids, freshly fried cherry donuts and apple pie at an orchard, classic grilled burgers in Charlevoix, and learned exactly what broasted chicken is in East Jordan.

Our first stop was Pearl’s in Elk Rapids. My buddy DG tipped me off to Pearl’s a couple years ago and I’ve been meaning it check it out ever since. It had come highly recommended to him by his boss – a New Orleans native who claimed it was some of the best Cajun food he’d had outside of New Orleans. With high expectations firmly established, we went in with empty stomachs.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

4th of July Roadtrip Photo Quiz

As you might have guessed, we are on the road this week eating our way through the mitten and making as many beach stops as possible. Your regular scheduled programming will resume next week with a few Up North finds and a decidedly un-American 4th of July cook-out. In the meantime, here are a couple of pics from the trip to see if you can guess where we've been.

1) Where is this lighthouse?

2) That impossibly clear water might be a giveaway.

Friday, June 29, 2012

[Up North] 4th of July Weekend: Elephant Ears and Everything Else

Our Up North series will highlight good eats to seek out on your weekend roadtrips as you head Up North – that ambiguous, nebulous region in Michigan where everyone has, or has a friend that has, a cottage on a lake somewhere.  

tough choice
I went the first 25 years or so of my life thinking that all of my friends that I'd met along the way had grown up with summers full of elephant ears and blue moon ice cream. I had one west coast friend ask me "are you getting an actual elephant ear or is that a term for something else?" after I had informed her I was munching on an elephant ear. Blue moon was an equally foreign concept to my non-Midwest friends.

Land of the free, home of the blue moon
Elephant ears are pretty wildly available so unless you lived a deprived childhood void of any carnies or fairs, chances are you have some iteration of an elephant ear.

On the other hand, Blue Moon ice cream, and its multi-colored cousin Superman, do trace their origins to the upper Midwest region. Who knew? All these years I thought I was eating Blue Moon because it was delicious, not because I was preordained to like it due to geography.

The flavors of Blue Moon and Superman (Blue Moon is one of the three flavors of Superman - it's the Inception of ice cream flavors) are a subject of much debate. Wikipedia lists a wide range of potential flavors for Blue Moon from Fruit Loops or cardamom to cake frosting or bubble gum. Gun to my head, I'm going with almond as my best guess.

Superman 'dat cone!
So whether you're heading up to the Dells in Wisconsin, cruising along the Blue Star Highway along Lake Michigan, or headed to Sleeping Bear Dunes this weekend, keep an eye out for these summertime treats. Suggested pairings include demolition derbies, fireworks, and s'mores.

Got a favorite spot where you get your Blue Moon on? or your favorite local ice cream spot? Tell us about it in the comments.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Keepin' it Real: Peruvian Pollo a la Brasa

If cuisines could have IPOs, Peruvian food would be the bizarro-Facebook. It's only a matter of time before Peruvian food is the new it cuisine and lomo saltado and aji de gallina are as ubiquitous as pad thai and bulgogi.

The real deal - pollo a la brasa from Norky's in Lima's Centro Historico
Peruvian pollo a la brasa is Peru's take on rotisserie chicken. They may not have been the first people to grill chicken rotisserie-style, but they have perfected it. Simple in its preparation - a whole bird rub down with a mildly spicy, herby paste and grilled on a rotisserie over live hardwood coals - yet so intoxicating after you've had your first bite of the flame-kissed skin.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Friday Night Bites: Soul Food at the Elks Lodge

Looking for something to do this weekend? Friday Night Bites has you covered.

A couple Sundays ago while munching on a sweet cream biscuit from Zingerman's Bakehouse, I was going through the never-ending pile of mail at our house and decided to flip through the Ann Arbor Observer. I came across an article about a night of soul food and jazz at the James L. Crawford Elk Lodge on the northside of town. Fried chicken, catfish, smoked ribs, po' boys, awesome patio, live jazz - how had I not heard of this place? There were a few moments where I was convinced that I was reading a travel article about some place in Nashville to put on my bucket list or an Ann Arbor institution that is no longer around. I needed to investigate further.

a picture I took or one I dug up from the Bentley Historical Library?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

[Up North] Great Lakes Seafood Boil & Fish Fry

Our Up North series will highlight good eats to seek out on your weekend roadtrips as you head Up North – that ambiguous, nebulous region in Michigan where everyone has, or has a friend that has, a cottage on a lake somewhere.

As Gordon Lightfoot would tell you, the waters of Lake Michigan are for sportsmen. Not being much of a fisherman myself, I was oblivious to fact that Lake Michigan was stocked with salmon that has been shipped in from the Pacific Ocean for the past 40 years. This has led to disastrous results in Lake Huron and the stocking of Lake Michigan is now being reassessed due to concerns surrounding the population of native species like trout and walleye.

Now that we have our history and environmental lesson of the day out of the way, let’s get on to the good eats.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Meat Candy

True story: At a big get together at my family's cottage with our neighbors, the youngest of the neighbor crew - a 4 year-old with wisdom beyond his years - was seen walking around with a slab of bacon about half the size of his arm. His uncle stopped and ask him what he was eating. His response: "Meat candy."

I have had a few foods ruined for me so far in my life. I'll never find carne asada tacos as good as the grilled-over-open flame goodness at Taqueria el Asadero in Chicago or roasted chicken quite like hardwood rotisserie chicken at the pollerias in Lima and Cusco. But by far the most devastating of these moments was a trip to Mario Batali's parents' salami shop in Seattle - Salumi. It has effectively ruined an entire food group for me as every slice of cured meat I've had since has paled in comparison to the expertly cured meats at Salumi.

But like the saying goes, when life deals you lemons, toss the lemons with a bunch of salt and make some preserved lemons. And so began my foray into charcuterie - the craft of preserved and cured meats.

Broadly speaking, charcuterie can be thought of as any meat that has been cured or preserved in some way, typically through the use of salt and drying the meat in a cool, dry place for anywhere from a week to a year or more. Initially invented as a way of preserving protein sources prior to the invention of refrigeration, it is now mainly found in artisinal meat shops or your local hipster-infested farmer's market. Unfortunately, most of our exposure to charcuterie is limited to hot dogs and bacon, or maybe some salami or capicola from the local deli. But the world of cured meats extends far beyond these grocery store classics to things like duck confit (preserved duck leg cooked in its rendered fat) and smoked sausages.

* * * * * 
Salumi had been on my radar for a while but I wasn't sure when I'd ever make it to Seattle. On one visit out to Portland to visit Mrs. T's family, I had the idea of flying into Seattle and then driving to Portland, for the sole purpose of grabbing at sandwich at Salumi. Mrs T., being the good sport that she is, only gave a slight roll of the eyes before going along with the plan. 

After my first bite of my finocchiona sandwich at Salumi, I knew I had crossed a Rubicon of sorts, I would never be satisfied by a generic Italian deli sub again. The thin slices of finocchiona - a salami spiced with whole fennel seeds - bursted with porky, salty goodness, topped with a fresh baked airy ciabatta. I was in pork nirvana and didn't want to leave. 

Later that week, while in Portland's famed Powell's bookstore, I came across Charcturie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, written by Mark Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, the Godfathers of charcuterie in America.

A few weeks later, I had hunks of raw meat hanging in our spare closet.

* * * * * 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Get Your (Kati) Roll on at Eastern Flame

While enroute to Mark's Carts for a quick pre-trivia bite to eat, Mrs. T & I called and audible and dove into Eastern Flame on Ashley, right next to Fleetwood Diner. I had always been curious about this place, I had no idea what cuisine it was other than something that was probably vaguely middle-eastern, but was always thrown off by the giant Coke poster with a burger and fries on it. Nevertheless, we thought we'd give it a shot. We were glad we did.

The menu at Eastern Flame is ambitious - everything from bacon & cheese burgers, middle eastern classics like falafel and grape leaves, and finally popular Indian things like chicken tikka and a variety of curries. I was confused, so I did what I always do when I don't know what to get at these hole in the wall spots - ask the guy at the counter. He told me that the proprietor of the place is actually Pakistani and steered me towards the kati roll with lamb seekh.

The kati roll is a wrap made with a paratha, which I can only describe as a mashup of naan and a fresh made flour tortilla, slightly crispy on the outside and just a little bit doughy. The lamb seekh was a kebab made with ground lamb, lots of herbs (cilantro & parsley?), and just a little hit of spice. Some grilled onions and a little sauce round on the kati roll. After talking to the guy at the counter, it turns out that the parathas are made onsite, I'm a sucker for anywhere that does it's own baking work. That's streetfood I can get down with. Open 'til 4am Thurs-Sunday, it's also a great night option when you're too far from Mr. Spots and the line at the Fleetwood (located next door) is too long. 

I do have to mention that it doesn't look like Eastern Flame has a strong following yet, I've walked past many times and never seen it very crowded. I think this could be a bit of a lack of identity issue. It's hard to figure out what Eastern Flame is - they have three distinct cuisines on the menu and they have street food type of stuff along with full entrees. Although I haven't had much of the menu, I can guess that your best bet is to stick to the Indian food and leave the middle eastern food to Zamaan Cafe. Mrs. T scoffed at my suggestion that they should go full on Indian/Pakistani and dump the middle eastern and burgers from the menu - she said that did not work out so well Jerry recommended the same to Babu Bhatt. Whether or not they heed my advice, I will be back for another kati roll.

304 S Ashley
Ann Arbor, MI

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Under the Radar: Monahan's Seafood

Maybe it's because it sits in the shadow of Zingerman's, but Monahan's Seafood in the Kerrytown Market does not seem to get the hype it deserves. Monahan's is a throwback fish counter stuffed everything from whole trout to lake perch to all the accoutrements for a cajun seafood boil. If you're looking to load up on seafood before the oceans run empty, you won't find a better stocked or more knowledgeable staff than Monahan's.

In addition to the fresh seafood counter, they also have a fairly expansive menu for one of the best lunch options in town. Mrs. T and I headed down there this weekend as we were both craving some solid seafood. Deciding what to get at Monahan's is never easy. On our previous we split the cajun shrimp salad sandwich and the bulgogi hoagie from Kosmo Korean deli located nextdoor - a good candidate for another Under the Radar profile.

Mrs. T ordered up the fried oyster po' boy with spicy remoulade served on a baguette baked by nearby Cafe Japon. Monahan's always has a few specials not listed on their menu online, they usually post them to their twitter feed so you can keep an eye out for seasonal specials like this po' boy or soft-shell crab. Back to the po' boy - the battered oysters were fried to a perfectly crisp crunch. The baguette, while not the same doughy French bread you'll find an a NOLA po' boy, got the job done - I enjoyed the moderately chewy crust and interior (it almost reminded me of a fairly mild sourdough moreso than a soft, doughy baguette).

 I went with the Great Lakes walleye with remoulade on the Cafe Japon baguette. The walleye was lightly panfried to a perfect flaky texture. It was delicious in its simplicity - a well cooked piece of good fish on a tasty baguette with a little spicy kick from the remoulade to finish it off.

And don't sleep on the fresh-cut fries, we went with the cajun variety this time.

It really is criminal that I've only been here a couple times. My only complaint is that the grill is only open during lunch, this would make a perfect quick dinner stop where I could eat dinner one night and pick up dinner out of the counter for the next night.

Monahan's Seafood

407 North 5th Avenue
Ann Arbor, MI

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Hamburger a Day

A hamburger a day keeps the doctor away. Or something like that.

Somewhere along the way, the hamburger got a bad rap. I suspect this was somewhere around the time those McDonald's burger counters got to 99 billion and stopped counting. But before we became accustomed to overcooked patties and preformed bricks of ground beef, fast food joints were serving up burgers made of fresh ground greasy goodness. If you've been to Redamak's in New Buffalo or Blimpy Burger in Ann Arbor, you've seen a great example of these old-fashioned style burgers.

The universe of burgers can be separated into two styles, what I loosely refer to as pub/steakhouse-style burgers and old-fashioned griddled burgers. Pub-style burgers are what typically pops into one's mind when they are asked about their ideal burger style - a 1/2-inch, 1/2 pound grilled over an open flame to a juicy pink medium rare. Old-fashioned griddled burgers are thin, loosely packed patties cooked over high heat on a griddle to get that delicious crust on the patty. I'm not here to convince you that one is better than the other. I've waited for over an hour to get a seat at Kuma's in Chicago and it's phenomenal (pro-tip: scope out the seats at the end of the bar and snag one when they open up), one day I'll make a trip to NYC specifically for the Black Label Burger at Minetta Tavern. I love a well-prepared pub-style burger as much as anyone - and we'll cover these later - but for my money, it doesn't get better than an old-fashioned cheeseburger on a squishy white bun that'll leave cheesy, greasy dribbles running down your arm.

I reached this burger epiphany a couple years ago after watching an episode of America's Test Kitchen on PBS on how to make old fashioned burgers and giving them a shot at home. Simply put, they were the best burgers I've ever had and still are to this day. Like all good things that come from the kitchen, there are no shortcuts and there is a little bit of work. Specifically, you have to grind your own meat - this is not negotiable, it is the key to the entire operation. If you have a Kitchenaid mixer, you can pick up the meat grinder attachment for about $50. Grinding your own meat can seem like a cumbersome undertaking initially, but keep in mind a few things:

1. Pink slime - By grinding your own meat, you'll know exactly what's in your ground beef (actual beef, for starters).
2. Cost - Contrary to what you  might be thinking, grinding your own meat is not cost prohibitive. You can usually get away with grinding fairly cheap cuts and you don't have to buy the pre-packaged packs of ground beef, which are often much more than you'll need if you're only making a couple burgers.
3. Texture - Ever notice how pre-packaged ground beef doesn't really crumble apart and tends to stick together in a big mushy blob? You will never get a juicy tender burger with that stuff. By coarsely grinding your own beef and making the burgers soon after, your final product will have a significantly better texture regardless of what type of burger you're making. There is some food science at play here - think of ground beef as a ton of small little balls of beef. Over time, the proteins in these balls will begin to stick together, become a more cohesive pile of meat - that is bad. By grinding meat fresh, you don't give these proteins enough time to bind to one another. Ergo, tender juicy burgers.

Now that I've got you on the hook, here's how you can make the best burgers you've ever had:

1. Get your beef on - what cut to get? The options are endless and the internets are full of varying opinions. I try to keep it simple. You want something with a fair amount of fat; specifically, marbled fat, not the hard chunks of fat - you can't grind that stuff. A good fatty hunk of chuck usually works pretty well. If you want to get a little more advanced, look for some sirloin (usually leaner than chuck) and mix it with short rib (very fatty).

2. Make sure everything is cold. Fat melts and Fat is Flavor, so we need to keep as much of it in a solid state so that it stays in our burger and not in the meat grinder tube. Before I start cutting the meat, I place the entire meat grinder contraption into the freezer. Then, cut up the meat into about 1 inch chunks, trimming off any big hunks of fat as you come across them. Throw the chunks of meat into the freezer for about 15-20 minutes, you want the meat to just be firming up a bit. This will ensure that it stays cold throughout the grinding process.

3. Grind the meat by dropping the cubes into the hopper and pushing them down with the plunger. Use the coarser (wider holes) grinder plate for burgers - I'd reserve the finer grinder plate for certain kinds of sausage. If you notice that the meat isn't coming out very well, take the cover off and clean out the blade a bit - sometimes fat can gum up the blade if the meat isn't cold enough.

4. Once you've ground the meat, loosely form the meat into patties. Do not pick up the patty. In fact, the patty should be formed loose enough such that it would literally be impossible to pick up with your hands. You just want to loosely form it into a small-ish patty so you can scoop it up with a big spatula. After you've formed your patties (I use a cookie sheet to hold them all), slide them into the fridge for about 20 minutes.

The mini patty is for our black lab, Lucy
5. Cooking surface - the key to the old fashioned burger is that delicious brown crust. This is no place for your non-stick stuff. If you don't have a cast iron skillet, go snake one from your grandma's kitchen or go pick one up for $25. A stainless steel saute pan would also work well. Put a little bit of peanut/canola/vegetable/safflower oil (not olive oil - it will burn) in the pan and crank it up all the way. Sprinkle the burgers with a good pinch of kosher salt. Once the pan is ripping hot - just before the oil starts to smoke - flip your burgers salt side down onto the pan. I say salt side down b/c salt facilitates the Maillard reaction - the scientific term to describing the browning effect on meat. Now sprinkle the side that is facing up with salt and press down with the flat side of the spatula on the burgers - you want to make sure the burgers are making good contact with the pan. After about a minute, flip the burgers - but DON'T push down on them now, you don't want to squeeze all those fatty juices out (we can squeeze down initially b/c the fat hasn't had a chance to render yet). Hit them with cheese if you so desire, I'm a fan of plain ol' American cheese, there is not a better choice of cheese for a griddled burger. After another minute or so, take them off and slide them onto your bun of choice.

The best bun for these burgers is the Martin's Potato Roll, but unfortunately, they aren't very widely distributed. A cheap grocery store bun is okay as a substitute. I like to throw on a sunnyside up egg just for good measure. Serve with fresh cut fries & garlic aioli.