Fabulous steaks are everywhere, but a truly excellent burger is exceedingly rare. There’s a reason for this. The finest steaks are dry-aged to give them that elusive scent of truffles and earth, that deep, clean mineral tang. Sadly, dry aging is an arcane art that is slowly being lost.
Well-aged beef has become increasingly hard to find.
In the hands of butchers who know what they’re doing, something almost magical happens when great hunks of beef are left to hang in
But aging any product—wine, cheese, cigars—is a costly and profligate process, and in the end, you have something that is both more (delicious) and less (heavy). (Beef loses up to 15 percent of its weight as it ages, and it becomes crusty, so the outside must be cut off. The result is meat that is about 40 percent lighter than it was when it went into the aging room.)
Because dry aging is such a time-consuming and expensive affair, fewer and fewer butchers bother; most settle for wet aging in vacuum-sealed plastic, an entirely different procedure that sets off only a small range of the changes that occur with dry aging.
The very fact that well-aged beef is increasingly hard to find has created a new rage for aging. Young butchers are relearning this ancient art, and they are pushing the limits. Traditionally, beef was aged for three to four weeks, but the new breed of chefs and butchers are experimenting, aging their meat for longer stretches of time. The pinnacle of this might be New York’s blazing hot Cote restaurant, where you can (for a price) taste meat that has been aged for as long as four and a half months. It is fantastic stuff.
If dry aging makes a good steak spectacular, it does even more for a burger. It is the difference between ground beef on a bun and a majestic meal. But, predictably, while few butchers continue to dry-age steak, even fewer grind dry-aged beef into burgers. Which is why I have spent years buying dry-aged sirloin and chopping it by hand.
Then I discovered DeBragga. The family-owned business, which calls itself “New York’s Butcher,” has been around for almost a century. Long one of the largest surviving butchers in the Meatpacking District, DeBragga bowed to gentrification in 2011 and decamped to New Jersey. But little else changed. It is still doing things the old-fashioned way, slowly aging its finest beef. Its main business is supplying restaurants; all the big guys buy from the company.
This is, for home cooks, a very good thing, because DeBragga grinds the trimmings from wholesale steaks and roasts into burger meat, adding a judicious amount of dry-aged brisket. The first time I opened a package of DeBragga’s dry-aged hamburger meat, the aroma almost made me swoon. I knew, in that instant, that I had found burger nirvana.
I like the taste of char as much as anyone, but I consider this meat too good to grill; I don’t want anything to come between me and the clean, almost nutty flavor. I also eschew lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese, but that, of course, is up to you. I do insist that you cook this meat very carefully. Form your burgers with wet hands, about an inch and a half thick, and be very gentle in your touch. Shower them with good sea salt.
Get a cast iron or
Now comes the important part: Allow your burgers to rest for at least five minutes before you take a bite. They appreciate having a little time to breathe. You’ll appreciate it too.
This story appears in the June/July 2018 issue of Town & Country. SUBSCRIBE TODAY
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.