The Greatest Hamburger

July 23 – July 29, 2018

Fruit Salad

Monday:                              Summer Salad with Fruit, Vegetables, Burrata and Black Forest Ham with Cracklin’ Cornbread

Tuesday:                              Philly on business

Hilda's Steak

Grilled Steak and Vegetables from Hilda and Tim’s Saturday night dinner

Wednesday:                      Leftover Chicken Sandwich, Salad, one Amstel Light

Hamburger platter

Thursday:                            Blue Cheese Burgers with Grilled Vegetables


Friday:                                  Poached Salmon with Paprika and Dill

Hilda's Salad

Saturday:                             Dinner at Hilda and Tim’s

Sunday:                                Melon with Bayonne Ham, Smoked Trout on Toasted Pumpernickel and Crème Fraiche /  Blue Cheese Burgers with Onion-Zin Relish / Grilled Vegetables / Salad

At 865 Lenape Road, just outside Westchester, Pennsylvania, bordered by Oak Trees, stands a handsome barn housing 4 stories of high-quality used books.  Baldwin’s Book Barn is a place I have visited many times over the last 30 years and, leaving a meeting in Chester County on my way to Philadelphia for another visit with a potential client, I figured I had time for a quick, 15 or 20-minute browse.  And that is how we came, in a roundabout way, to have the spectacular hamburgers we had on Thursday, and then again on Sunday night last week.

Serendipity has seldom been so delicious.

This story, about my new favorite way to cook hamburgers, starts with the fact that it is already August and I have grilled hamburgers only once this summer.  So, I penciled in hamburgers on our dinner menus for the week and really didn’t think about it again until that Wednesday browsing for used books.  On the third floor of Barnes’s, I found a copy of Edward Abbott’s Flatland, annotated by a physicist, that I wanted so badly I could taste it. Alas, the price was daunting, so I settled for a cookbook written by Michael Chiarello, Live Fire:  125 Recipes for Cooking Outdoors.    I bought the book because I had enjoyed Chiarello’s cooking at Bottega in Yountville where Beez and I are returning this November, and because it featured cooking over different types of fire – charcoal, fire pit, hearth, fire box, bonfire, and because there was a picture of a damn good-looking burger on the cover.

Now, I’m a pretty mean burger cook, but Chiarello’s approach is an improvement over anything I’ve done and I find that I must insist that you change your approach as well.  I’m not making a suggestion here – this is not the subjunctive mood – we’re writing in the imperative, with capital letters and exclamation points.   CHANGE YOUR WAYS, NOW!

The key to Chiarello’s magic lies in forming the burgers.  I thought that I was pretty good at not overworking the ground chuck, which will rob your burgers of the juicy unctuousness that pleases millennial nerds as it runs down their soul-patched chins in the same way that it pleases the bearded Neanderthals among us.  But I was wrong.  Chiarello is right.  [Yes – that’s right, you read “ground chuck,” not ground sirloin or any of the leaner grinds on offer at your local butcher.  Ground chuck is generally 20% fat and, while you can improve your burger by adding short-rib meat or other cuts, the 20% fat is vital.  If you’re eating burgers as a diet food, there is no hope for your cuisine, and very little for your soul.]

The other great dinner of the week was on Saturday at Hilda and Tim’s.  No one is more gracious in hosting a dinner party than those two and this was a really special night of food and friendship, with John and Janice, and Michael and Slo at the party.  You can see a picture of Hilda and Tim’s beautiful food above.  Between the food, the beauty of their patio dining, Tim’s wine and cigar collection, easy access to their family room to check on the score of the Pirates game, the domestic comfort of Lily the dog and Chuck the cat, and the conversation, I can’t single out the highpoint of the evening.  What a package!



(adapted from Michael Chiarello’s Live Fire)


50 minutes:                        20 minutes to make the marmalade (do this ahead)

30 minutes to start a fire, form and cook the burgers


For the zin-Onion Marmalade

2 medium red onions
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon coarse sea-salt (we found the marmalade needed more)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons, finely chopped fresh thyme
2 cups Zinfandel (any good red will work, though it won’t taste just like the Zin)

For the hamburgers
3 pounds of ground chuck
¾ cup crumbled blue cheese (about 6 ounces – we just used the amount that seemed to fit)
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon (we used more), freshly-ground black pepper
6 sourdough or small levain rolls (we have no idea what a levain roll is – we used Giant Eagle’s
semi-hard rolls – a soft Kaiser Roll would have worked)

Cook the Marmalade:

Slice the ends off the onions and then halve lengthwise and slice each into thin half-moons (if your onions are on steroids, like the onions at the Giant Eagle – slice each half in half and cut them into quarter-moons)

Heat a dry sauce pan over high heat, then add the olive oil and when it gets hot, add the onions, the salt and the pepper.

Decrease the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring fairly often, until the onions caramelize – about 9 minutes (keep an eye on them).

Stir in the thyme and cook for about a minute, and then add the Zinfandel and cook until reduced by two thirds – maybe 5 minutes.  Let the onions cool while you cook the burgers.  (You can heat them up a bit before serving.)

Form and cook the burgers:

Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for a medium-high fire.

Shape the ground chuck into 12 thin patties, as follows:  The keep is to not overhandle the meet – that will make it tough.  Line a 4 ½ inch diameter ramekin with plastic wrap and press the meat gently into shape, using the ramekin as a mold.*  Do not press hard!

Mound blue cheese onto 6 of the patties, leaving a margin at the edge of the patty.

Cover each cheese covered patty with one of the remaining 6 patties.  Very lightly, press the edges of each burger together and season both sides of each burger with salt and pepper.

After you’ve cleaned and oil the grates, place the burgers on your grill, close the cover and cook for 5-6 minutes.  Now flip the burgers, close the lid again, and cook for 4 (medium-rare) to 6 (medium) minutes.


Toast the buns, if you wish, and serve the burgers topped with the onion marmalade.

3 thoughts on “The Greatest Hamburger

  1. Dear Bill,
    You are too kind! You reminded me that I forgot the burratta last Saturday! 😮
    Next time you serve up those blue cheese burgers , we will be over. 🐇🤓

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