J. Kenji López-Alt's Fat, Diner-Style Burgers à la the Village Vanguard’s

August 12, 2019
3 Ratings
Photo by Studio52
  • Prep time 25 minutes
  • Cook time 5 minutes
  • Makes 2 burgers, 6 ounces each
Author Notes

"This burger is the kind you’d get if you hit a twenty four hour diner early enough that the last orders from breakfast are still leaving the flat top (or if you hit it late enough at night that the early birds are already eating breakfast). The flat tops at places like this are invariably kept at a cooler temperature than those at dedicated burger joints that aim to sear and serve as fast as possible. This means that a thicker burger patty has plenty of time to pick up flavor from the clarified butter used to fry the hash browns and eggs and the bacon grease that coats the griddle as the outside slowly browns and the center reaches a perfect medium are.

A slice of gooey American cheese (or some sharp cheddar if you’re feeling fancier), some onions (sliced pole- to- pole to maximize onion flavor while minimizing pungency), some slices of dill pickle, and a smear of mayo are all this burger needs to achieve beefy nirvana, but you can top it up any way you choose.

Note: When shopping for ground beef, look for a fat content of at least 20 percent (80/ 20 beef). Plain old ground chuck will do. For a superior burger, combine 50 percent ground sirloin with 25 percent ground fatty short rib and 25 percent ground brisket. To clarify butter, place it in a small microwave safe container and microwave in 15- second increments until fully melted. Skim off the white scum from the top surface with a spoon and discard. Carefully pour off and reserve the yellow butterfat, discarding the milky white liquid at the bottom. The yellow butterfat is your clarified butter."

Adapted from Serious Eater: A Food Lover’s Perilous Quest for Pizza and Redemption by Ed Levine with permission of Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Ed Levine, 2019. —Food52

What You'll Need
  • 12 ounces ounces freshly ground beef (see headnote)
  • 1 pinch kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 6 strips thick cut bacon
  • 3 tablespoons clarified butter (see headnote)
  • 2 slices American or cheddar cheese (if desired)
  • 2 soft white hamburger buns
  • Toppings and condiments as desired
  1. Form the beef into two 6-ounce patties about 5 inches wide and 3/4 inch thick (it should be about 1 inch wider than your bun). Season heavily on all sides with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat the bacon strips in a large cast-iron skillet and cook over medium heat, turning occasionally, until crispy on all sides. Transfer to a paper towel–lined plate. Use a spoon to carefully remove any large bits of debris left in the pan from the bacon.
  3. Add the clarified butter to the skillet and increase the heat to medium high. Add the hamburger patties and cook without disturbing until a deep crust develops on the first side, about 1 1/2 minutes. Lower the heat as necessary if the fat starts to smoke excessively. We’re aiming for slow and steady browning over a hard dark char here.
  4. Flip the burgers, top with cheese, and continue to cook until the second side is browned and the center of the patty registers 125°F on an instant read thermometer for medium rare or 130°F for medium. Transfer the burgers to a plate and set aside to rest. Scrape the skillet out into the sink, removing any gunk but leaving a thin sheen of oil in the bottom.
  5. Toast the buns in the now empty skillet, turning them gently for even browning.
  6. Construct your burgers, topping as desired, and serve immediately.

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9 Reviews

I U. October 3, 2020
Does Kenji still kick Conservatives out of his restaurant? Asking for a friend.
I U. October 3, 2020
On what planet is that a diner burger?? Diner burgers don't look like that. That's more of a restaurant burger. I guess Kenji is too good to go to a diner because he has no clue.
I U. October 3, 2020
On what planet is that a diner burger?? Diner burgers don't look like that. That's more of a restaurant burger. I guess Kenji is too good to go to a diner because he has no clue.
Sue E. August 18, 2019
Probably a stupid question but I don’t see any bacon on the burger pictured.
Brinda A. August 18, 2019
Hi Sue! You’re actually just using the bacon to create fat in which you’ll cook the burgers. Topping the burgers with the bacon is not required (but very much encouraged). Hope this helps!
Winston B. August 14, 2019
What, what..., "registers 125°F on an instant read thermometer for medium are or 130°F for medium"

You get paid to do this right
Brinda A. August 14, 2019
Thanks for the feedback and for catching that, Winston. The small typo has been corrected.
Sue E. August 18, 2019
The recipe says 125 for medium rare and 130 for medium. At least the one I read above. ??
Brinda A. August 18, 2019
Those temperatures/doneness levels are exactly right!