Build a Better Burger: Butter BurgersBy Todd • Aug 14th, 2011 • Category: How To Cook Burgers
That, my friends, is a buttload of butter. Sixteen tablespoons, to be exact. Two. Full. Sticks. It’s the suggested amount required for eight “butter burgers,” the naughty new burger style I’ve been having a little fling with since my summer vacation in the Midwest, where they’re not just an interesting subspecies of America’s favorite food, they’re a dietary staple.
Most give the credit (or blame, if you’re a cardiologist) for inventing butter burgers to Solly’s Grille in Milwaukee, WI, where they do know a thing or two hundred about dairy products. Theirs is the recipe I’d be trying to duplicate for my maiden voyage.
Scouring my sources, I found two key guides. One was a recipe “adapted from” Solly’s for Food Network Magazine. The other was the book Hamburger America by George Motz and the accompanying DVD, which featured a six-minute segment on Solly’s, with footage and interviews shot in the restaurant itself.
According to the documentary, Solly’s uses a quarter-pound patty (although their menu also offers a few third-pound burgs) of sirloin. That’s 90/10 ground beef, if you’re making out a shopping list. It’s a thin diner-style burger, so I started with meatballs.
But the Food Network Magazine recipe had me cooking onions as a first step. They’d be a topping for the burger, and in true Solly’s fashion, they’re sauteed in butter.
After a 6-8 minute bath in the foaming butter, add 1/3 cup of water, cover, and cook for another 15 minutes. This supposedly “stews” the onions very closely to the way they do it at Solly’s (at least in flavor- the video clearly shows whole onion slices sitting intact on the patties as they cook). Set these aside and wipe out your cast-iron skillet for Round Two.
The ripping-hot skillet will retain enough butter fat and onion flavor to cook the burgs quickly. Once the meatballs hit the pan, smash them flat with a spatula and give them a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Flip them three minutes later and you should see some damn sexy charring taking place.
After another three minutes, they’re done. (And I mean well done. No use trying to get a slim-jim patty like this to medium-rare. Believe me, it’ll be more than juicy enough when we’re through.) Now here’s where some crucial timing comes into play. You should be toasting your buns so they’re ready about the time the burgers come out of the skillet. Then slather 2 full tablespoons of softened room-temperature on the inside of the bun top. Don’t skimp. Neatness does not count; it’s all gonna melt as soon as you smash that buttered bun onto the smoking-hot burger. And, oh yeah, have a stack of napkins standing by.
I used the sauteed onions on one burger like a true Solly Burger. The onions take on a sweet flavor, but I ended up losing half of them in the creamy mudslide of melting butter. I tried another with American cheese, but decided at the last second to use an under-patty placement, for fear of the cheese interfering with the all-important melting-butter thing. It worked, and I was rewarded with the telltale golden puddle on my plate, perfect for dipping the burger into as you eat.
I also tried one with cheese and onions, which may have been my favorite of the bunch. The taste is exactly what it sounds like it would be- a cheeseburger bathed in melted butter. For some, it’s drip-down-your-arm love at first bite. Others don’t seem to care for it as anything more than a novelty. I’m not sure how often I’ll make these at home; it’s a lot of work, and the house smelled like a greasy spoon for days. But I know if I lived in Milwaukee, I’d be a regular, although I can’t figure out how you’d eat these with any regularity and not end up grotesquely obese… like, extract-you-from-your-bedroom-with-a-construction-crane-on-the-Montel-Williams-Show fat. Must be all that heavy-duty snow shoveling they do in Wisconsin.
One note on the bun. I made a tactical error and bought French-style bakery buns. They proved to be a little too substantial for butter burgers. Solly’s seems to use very ordinary-looking soft and squishy buns. While many butter burger dissenters knock this as the sandwich’s weak point- saying the bun disintegrates amidst the yellow flood of butter- I now think it’s essential to the whole package. I’ll go with the cheapest buns I can find next time.