According to three notable Manchester burger vendors
Ten best burger listicles are cool and stuff but have you ever chatted deep with someone about the structural integrity of a burger bun?
It’s like speaking to a scientist or an engineer. It makes you want to go out and eat a burger but it also makes you eat burgers differently. You start looking out for things. You start considering each component part, noticing things that might ordinarily be missed. You start contemplating the place of tomato slices in a modern burger society.
People can be quite disparaging about burgers. It’s easy to underestimate them as mere fast food but actually, when you dig deep, there's a lot that goes into them. We’ve been through the height of burger mania and, mostly, we’ve moved on from grotesque towering stacks drowned in sauces with a piece of cake bayonetted through the top. Burgers are thankfully going back to quality basics.
Manchester is full of great burger places, so we asked three of the region’s best to give us a play-by-play of the, dare we say it, perfect burger. Here are those conversations, arranged by burger component parts.
Neil Standring, What's Your Beef: “We use soft brioche buns from Thatchers in Stockport. Great indie brand. It's been tricky for us to find the right consistency, loads of bakeries do their own brioche but it's not necessarily the right type for us. It's a real balance."
Simon Barnes, Slap & Pickle: “We use a brioche because it’s buttery and moist. There’s a tiny bit of sweetness that goes well with the lettuce and the pickles. When Slap & Pickle first opened we looked at five or six different bakers and products. What we got was a bun that wasn’t too buttery, wasn’t too light, so it holds the burger sauce and doesn’t go soggy, which means a bit of stretch too.”
'Chef Ryan' McDermott, That Burger Place: “Obviously the big craze is the seeded brioche. Everyone is on that hype but after going to LA and spending some time with the burger guys out there, places like Gold Burger, there’s not a brioche bun in sight. It’s really opened my eyes. We’re doing a burger called, The All American Smash, and they call them potato rolls but most people will know them as a Warburton’s roll. A really simple back-to-basics bun. You want the beef to stand out. We’ve basically got a higher end French bun version of the Warburton’s. There’s nothing worse than taking a bite of a bun and the whole thing falls apart. This one we’re using at the moment is an absolute winner. It’s holding everything so well. People don’t realise but it’s a science.”
Neil: “We select our own cuts from a little family-run butcher in Rossendale. It’s very local, they all graze and are slaughtered locally. It's always raining up there so there's plenty of grass for the cattle to eat. The meat is our own mix, we ball them out and then smash them down on the grill. Pure meat and extra fat, that’s all you need. Salt and pepper. We’ve always been very meat-focused, it’s all about the meat shining through.”
Simon: “Our patties are smashed. It’s an American trend. It means you can cook something very hot and very quickly. For us, for a great burger, the most important part is the meat. The reason we do a smashed patty is you can get the grill nice and hot, you put the patty on as a ball, you smash it down so that pressure you’re putting down on the meat, that contact, makes a really good crust. You don’t get that with a thick burger. Two and a half minutes each side, salt and pepper, you’ve got a fantastic crust because of the heat but it’s still juicy inside. The best of all worlds.”
“Our beef comes from Swaledale butchers in Bradford. They use outdoor-reared Yorkshire and Lancashire beef. It’s full-breed cattle and we use certain cuts. A healthy fat content glues everything together. Good quality beef that’s matured on the bone for thirty days and air-dried. Fresh beef is 80% water, so as the water evaporates during the air-drying process the flavours are concentrated. Our meat is expensive but it’s worth it. The fat content comes from rib cap, and we use short rib for dark, aged meat and we use quality aged chuck to again add fat content and flavour.”
Ryan: “It’s got to be that 80 / 20 mix. That 20% of fat in there from good chuck. I won’t reveal our exact blend but you want some short rib in there, some brisket, the best cuts of beef you can get. After being out in the states and seeing what they’re doing with the crispy edges out there, it blew me away. Smashing it, pulling the beef and they’re almost getting burnt ends. Again, it’s a science because if you leave it too long it will be burnt ends but instead you’ve got these crispy, flaky bits of beef. I don’t think I could go back to a non-smashed burger now. The beef comes from W H Frost, aka Frosty the Butcher in Chorlton. He’s second to none. We’ve developed a signature blend that he makes just for us."
Neil: “We hate American cheese so we use cheddar. I’m not sure what it is, but to me, all you can taste is that American cheese and we don’t feel like it does the meat justice.”
Simon: “We want to get the best beef and keep everything else simple. So we don’t want peanut butter and jelly. We’re tomato haters as a company. Others like to put a big slice of beef tomato in, it looks better, it gives height but it’s a lot of water that’s not needed. From our point of view it should be shredded lettuce for crispness and texture and a pickle on top. For the last 30 seconds on the griddle we double-cheese the patties with American cheese. We put it under a metal cloche, squeeze a bit of water underneath to steam it through until that cheese is a liquid and it acts as a good base sauce. Enough fat and goo to compliment the beef without overpowering it.
Ryan: “Again, I’m really going back to basics at the moment. A kickass burger sauce, some dill pickles and some onion. Even smashing the onion into the patties and getting that fairground onion taste as part of the bite of the burger. So good. It has to be American cheese. I don’t think anything gives it a better kick. It’s so plastic and not good for you but if you’re doing a burger you might as well go for it.”
Neil: “Our most popular burger is the Stateside. It came top five in the country at the National Burger Awards in 2019. That’s got your typical ketchup and mustard, that bit of tang. You always need a bit of tang, be it a pickle or mustard or a bit of sweetness from the ketchup. Over the years we played with things and what we’ve realised is mayonnaise is really good. It brings a different flavour out from the beef, interestingly, and we never knew that. We tried it one day and it changed the whole profile of the patty. We tend not to smother things in sauce because we don't want to lose the other flavours.”
Simon: “On our cheeseburger we use a burger sauce which is just mayo, tomato ketchup, American mustard and pickle brine. A bit of salt, pepper and paprika. We keep it simple.”
Ryan: “I’m always in the kitchen cooking up new sauces. We’ve had a massive hit with our Grandad’s Big Bob sauce. It’s my family barbecue sauce, a tangy sauce that we’ve developed, developed and developed to give this smoky flavour on a burger.”
Neil: “Banging burgers need banging sides. We do salt and pepper potato tots, we make our own seasoning and that’s the key to having that unique Chinese chippy-style flavour. Everyone loves them, people don’t stop talking about them. We’ve started doing duck fries too since going in Sale Foodhall, we go heavy on the Chinese chippy flavours because they go really well with the burgers and they get people talking.”
Simon: “Our signature side is our notorious DFP. The deep-fried pickle. We cut our pickles lengthways, toss them in seasoned flower and then we use a traditional chip shop style batter mix and fry them fresh to order. It’s down to our founder’s love of pickles. They’re crispy, vinegary, they’re salty and crunchy. They go with the sauces and they’ve got that acidity so they’re a perfect side.”
Ryan: “Our Kevin Bacon fries just won at the Lamb Weston Chip Champions Contest. Best loaded fries. They’re so naughty. Cheese sauce, in-house bacon mayo and bacon rain. I think you need a really good loaded fry with it. On the other hand, if the burger is the star of the show you can’t beat some really simple, classic, seasoned skin on fries. It all depends how naughty you’re being.”
What's Your Beef, Calcio, 24 Dale Street, Manchester M1 1FY
Slap & Pickle, Society, Basement, 100 Barbirolli Square, Manchester M2 3BD
That Burger Place, 4 Dumbell St, Swinton, Pendlebury, Manchester M27 6FP
Cover Image: What's Your Beef
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