This simple sauce is summer's best burger hack, and other tips

By Kate Krader
Updated 8/1/2018 9:58 AM
  • The author made her own version of the Kronnerburger, starring the cheese mayo.

    The author made her own version of the Kronnerburger, starring the cheese mayo. Kate Krader/Bloomberg

The beginning of the summer isn't the only time to get creative with your burgers. I appreciate the home cooks who hold back a trick or two to keep the rest of grilling season interesting.

If you're like me, here's a secret weapon to upgrade midsummer burgers, courtesy of chef Chris Kronner: a cheese mayonnaise, which combines the rich creaminess of the condiment with the sharp kick of aged cheddar.

The former Bar Tartine chef, who now runs the kitchen at Henry's in Berkeley, California, introduced the Kronnerburger to the world six years ago and won dedicated fans in the process. His over-the-top version includes an extra meaty, dry-aged beef patty; specially grilled onions; a housemade bun that's the same diameter as the patty; and the crowning touch: warm, salt-roasted bone marrow.

But for me, the genius part is the cheese mayo. Kronner isn't anti-cheese, but if you're cooking high-quality beef, a slice of cheddar can obscure the meat's funky flavor and texture. "For all the care that goes into a dry-aged patty, it is better highlighted by a sauce as opposed to melting cheese over it," he says.

His sauce has the texture of a very thick mayo that melts slightly onto the warm bun and meat; its flavor is the platonic ideal of a sharp cheddar, turned into a creamy, melt-in-your-mouth sauce.

In May, Kronner published "A Burger to Believe In" with Paolo Lucchesi, food editor at the San Francisco Chronicle. The cookbook highlights every element that goes into building the Kronnerburger at home, plus hacks for less ambitious cooks. Following is a recipe for the exceptional sauce, plus Kronner's tips for making an exceptional burger.

And if you want to taste Kronner's version in person, keep your eyes open for a series of pop-ups across the country. Or wait for the as-yet unnamed restaurant he's opening in the fall near Union Square in Manhattan. The chef says a Kronnerburger will be on the menu.

Burger tips

If you want to replicate the Kronnerburger in full, be prepared. "A Burger to Believe In" has recipes for everything from the buns (pain de mie style, moist and light) to the dill pickles (there are 17 ingredients), as well as pages on dry-aging meat at home. But he also recognizes the different levels of burger connoisseurship from the "Extremely Lazy" (have burgers delivered) through the "Really, Really Dedicated" -- "build a small dry-aging chamber, dry-age your beef, and scream at family or roommates about how they don't appreciate anything."

For those who fall somewhere in between, Kronner has the following tips.

Use beef that's ground fresh

This will help control the amount of fat -- ideally around 30 percent -- and the texture, which should be coarse. Find a butcher who will grind a blend for you, or buy a grinding attachment.

If you don't have a grinder, you can hand-cut your beef. (Kronner sees his burger as, essentially, a seared steak tartare.) To do that, chill the beef in the freezer until firm but not frozen, then cut it into 1/4-inch slices, then into 1/4-inch strips, and then into small cubes. This version works well in a cast-iron skillet, but not so well on a grill.

Cooking over wood matters

At least, as opposed to gas grills. "It makes a bigger difference than you realize," says Kronner, who's also OK with charcoal. Seared in a cast-iron skillet works, too, but to accentuate the crust, rub one side of the patty with a little softened butter before cooking over high heat.

Compromise over onions

Because people are divided about how they want their onions on a burger, find a half-measure and grill red onion slices on one side only, which gives you the benefit of crunchy texture but also caramelized sweetness.

Save your buns

You can resuscitate even the saddest burger bun by buttering the cut sides and then griddling until crispy. If the buns are stale, cover them with a lid so they steam a little bit. (But really, you shouldn't be using stale buns in the first place.)

Go mayo crazy

The cheese spread goes way beyond burgers. You can mix it into potato salad, use it as a dip for french fries, or spread it on a club sandwich or BLT.

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