Sunday, May 12, 2024

Juicy Secrets: Insider Tips from Greg Toon of Famous Dave’s for National Hamburger Month  

May is National Hamburger Month. It’s a time of celebration for burger enthusiasts across the United States. Every May, this culinary holiday pays homage to one of America's most beloved comfort foods: the hamburger. From backyard barbecues to gourmet burger joints, people indulge in their favorite patties throughout the month, reveling in the diverse flavors and endless variations that this iconic dish offers. 

Here at The Reader we thought it might be fun and useful to learn a few new tricks pertaining to making burgers. To do so we decided to ask a number of local chefs to share a little knowledge and trade secrets. Who doesn't want to learn a new trick or two? 


Greg Toon is the franchise owner and Operations Manager of Famous Dave’s. Toon started working at Famous Dave's in 2003 as a kitchen manager, moving up to GM the following year. In 2016 he purchased the franchise which he moved to a new location in Hermantown in late 2022.


Without further delay, here are some tasty insights from Greg Toon, who also reminded me that it is National Barbecue Month as well.


The Reader: What do you believe are the essential ingredients for a perfect hamburger patty?

Greg Toon: With any cooking, better ingredients used leads to a better outcome. Meats, seasoning, even the cooking methods (Smoked, flattop grilled, char grilled, baked) can change how the product comes out.


The Reader: Can you share any tips for selecting the best cuts of meat for hamburger patties?

GT: The general standard for BEEF meats is that "Fat equals Flavor."  It's not always the best for us to eat, but it really gives us that flavor that we like. Most of the time in stores you see 91% lean, and that is great for browning for chilis and other casserole type items. Grilling you're looking for more of an 80/20 blend. It's going to compress tighter and hold together better on the grill. It will also provide that extra moisture that you need to keep it from drying out during cooking.


The Reader: What cooking techniques do you use to ensure juicy and flavorful hamburgers?

GT: When talking grilling, a high temp to sear the meat is your best option. This will lightly crust the outside of the burger and keep the juices in the middle from running out as they cook. 


As far as flavorings go, there are many options that you can choose. Anywhere from mixing the seasonings in prior to making the patties so they are all throughout the meats, to seasoning and letting it sit to soak into the patties before they hit the grill, or sometimes waiting till they are about to get toppings, or pulled off the grill then dusting them with rubs and seasoning. That really is the great thing about Grilling season. You can make slight changes to what you cook and find that item that you really enjoy.


The Reader: Do you have any special seasoning blends or marinades that you like to use for hamburgers?

GT: Your classic seasonings for most meats start with a base of salt, black pepper, and garlic, then you can bring in whichever flavor you would like to add. Sometimes that depends on what toppings you are going to use on the burger. Things like type of cheese, how spicy you like to enjoy and other toppings that would be better with an extra seasoning node added.


The Reader: How do you achieve the ideal balance of toppings and condiments to complement the burger patty?

GT: Again, this is all a personal preference. Cooking here in the store we have guests that prefer just a plain classic burger, then others are adding toppings left and right. Again, this is what makes it enjoyable, the personal choices you have to enjoy your meal.


The Reader: Are there any unconventional ingredients or flavor combinations that you've experimented with in hamburger recipes?

GT: With the internet, there really is no end to what people have posted about their favorite toppings. Fried eggs, raw eggs. root vegetables, so on and so on.  Again, personal trial and, let's face it ERROR, have been the biggest drivers of what people will try. I think we have all seen Andrew Zimmer and what he is willing to try.


The Reader: Can you share your preferred method for cooking hamburgers (grilling, pan-frying, broiling, etc.) and why you prefer it?

GT: Well, our (Famous Dave's)/my personal preference is grilling. That fresh charred flavor that searing heat provides, to me, gives it the classic taste and texture that many of us remember about summertime, the smoky smells, and the aromas that fill the air just get you ready for a good meal and good times with friends and family. 


The Reader: How do you ensure consistency in flavor and quality when cooking hamburgers in a restaurant setting?

GT: The cooking equipment. Is it in proper working order? Is it cleaned regularly so it is keeping a consistent temperature? Buying a quality product. Have a seasoning that’s made the same every time, not just tossed together with a different flavor with each use. All of these factors lead to being able to make a consistent product that keeps people coming back. 


The Reader: Are there any additional tips or tricks that you've learned over the years for making outstanding burgers that you can share?

GT: When cooking the burger you should only flip it ONE time. Each time you flip it, you knock out juices that are in there and it dries out.  I've seen burgers that NHL teams would be happy to use at center ice. 


The Reader: What are your recommendations for achieving the perfect texture and doneness in hamburger patties?

GT: The best thing we now have access to is a quick read thermometer. Every meat has a minimum temperature that needs to reach for safe consumption. Then there are temps that need to be reached for best texture and quality. Oftentimes these numbers can be quite different, 20 to 50 degrees in some cases. Spending some time understanding how this affects quality can really make all the difference. I've heard it said that cooking is a science. The longer I have worked in this business, I can really see where this adage comes from. Sometimes the smallest details during the cooking process really affect the end-product, especially the consistency of what you're trying to duplicate.

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This story originally appeared in The Reader.


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