I recently lucked into some free beef, and I didn’t even have to buy any tires. My old friend, mentor and high school geology teacher Dick Pugh (yeah, yeah, “what a name,” but he’s like 80 so shut the fuck up) was coming over to my house for dinner a few weeks ago, and “do you want some beef,” he asked. Knowing that he raises Scottish Highland cattle, possibly the cutest of all meats, I vehemently accepted his offer. It’s not every day you get free meat, especially not grass-fed (and finished) beef that was raised as a pet. All of his cattle get the sweetheart treatment and are only put down at the end of their natural lives.
He brought us some steak of various cuts and some ground round, and into the freezer it went. I pulled a pound of ground out of the freezer, but by the time it was thawed I hadn’t come up with any clever ideas for dinner. I wanted to do the creature justice, but ground beef only has a few applications, and I was sick of eating Spag Bol. I had some pretty nice grainy hamburger buns, but nothing to put on a burger but cheese and iceberg. So even though we don’t live in California, I decided we were having In-N-Out for dinner.
In-N-Out is famous for having secret ways to order your food. My favorite way of a burger there is Animal Style – that’s with grilled onions, melted cheese and chunky thousand island-type dressing called “spread” (which is what happens to your ass when you eat too much of this shit). Lettuce is also a must, and iceberg is canon for fast food-style burgers. [Editor’s Note: It was just brought to my attention that this is incorrect. Animal Style means the patty was cooked with mustard and comes with pickles and extra spread. I was thinking of the toppings on Animal Style Fries, but on the burger. Serious Eats made this same mistake and they won a fucking James Beard Award for best blog, so save your fist-shaking.]
Divide the pound of beef into two – yes two – patties. What are you gonna do with a half pound of ground beef in your fridge? Make a tiny amount of meat sauce? Just stop kidding yourself and use it all up now. I add only salt and pepper to the meat (the only integrity I can muster), and smush a handful of finely minced onions into the top of each patty.
Let the patties sit for a few minutes and come up to room temperature. Aw, jeez, stop worrying about germs, just keep your kitchen clean and you won’t have to worry about meat sitting out for a few minutes. Get your grill pan rippin’ hot and delight in the high-pitched squeal your patties emit when they sear on that hot pan. You’d better not fuck with those patties until it’s time to flip them. Don’t you dare smash them with the spatula or make any other fool move. Just…don’t. Okay, after 6 or 7 minutes or so, flip the burgers.
Meanwhile, chop up some pickles (I use Krüegermann Mixed Pickle Salad because I have a giant jar of it) and mix this with a spoonful each mayo and ketchup. This is your “spread.” Finely slice some iceberg lettuce into shreds. This is your “serving of vegetables.”
After the burger cooked on the other side for 6 or 7 minutes, flip it again, turn off the heat, and top your patty with sliced cheese. Normally, I would vote for American for a burger like this, but we only had Havarti (besides, my hippie whole-grain buns ruined everything so I may as well run with it). Put your buns (cut-side down) on the still-hot pan to get toasty and to soak up some of that onion-y fond and grease. Apply a thick shmear of spread to each side of the toasty bun, then add the burger and a handful of iceberg shreds.