Local ingredients and hands-on crafting make chefs’ burgers top in Utah eateries and backyards alike.

In the life of an American food writer, burger-story assignments come up fairly often.

Here’s why: At regular intervals, the foodist public and the American food writer both reach their limits of tolerance with trendy, multi-ingredient, cutting-edge, unpronounceable food (foie gras ice cream, whiskey foam, antique carrots.) Then it’s time for an article about the everlasting American favorite food, the hamburger.

Burgers never decline in popularity—witness the recent opening of Proper Burger, a sister restaurant of Proper Brewing—but they do change in style.

Half a decade has passed since I compiled a list of the 75 best burgers in Utah. I reviewed  the list recently and remembered I had divided burger-dom into different kingdoms: classic burgers, stunt burgers, kid burgers, garlic burgers, etc. All those categories still stand, but a new one—the chef’s burger—is making news.

Nearly every chef-run restaurant now has a burger. And reviewing them, I realize that the big news about burgers these days is not where’s the beef, but what’s the beef? Burgers today in Utah are the same—meat and a bun—only different. They’re way better.

Must-Try Meat Markets

Beltex

Philip Grubisa breaks down—as in, cuts up—a couple of local steers a month. He sells hand-cut steaks, ribs, cheeks and briskets. And lots of ground beef. “Most of what we grind is chuck, because that’s what is left after we cut the steaks. But we custom grind all the time,” says Grubisa, owner of tiny Beltex Meats, an artisanal butcher shop in Salt Lake.

“Lots of people want their own blend of brisket, short rib, whatever.” Personally, Grubisa likes to make burgers from beef shank meat—he says it has a stronger beef flavor. “I grind it twice because it tends to be fibrous, and I add ground beef fat in a 70/30 proportion. You especially need fat in your blend if you’re cooking your burgers on a griddle or frying pan.” 511 E. 900 South, SLC, 801-532-2641, beltexmeats.com

Snider Brothers Meats

Family-run Snider Brothers is a Utah institution, butchers since 1938. They will custom grind anything, but they also have several suggested blends of ground beef in your choice of percentages:  Five-percent, 15-percent and 22-percent.

Besides that, you can buy pre-made patties—including garlic-flavored ones—in any of those percentages, making a burger party a piece of cake. 6245 S. Highland Dr., SLC, 801-272-6469, sniderbrosmeats.com

Frody’s Salt & Smoke

Frody Volgger is best known as a pigmaster—he makes wurst for Beer Bar, meatballs for Zao and the case of his shop is filled with cuts from Christianson’s swine. But he also sells beef. Organic, grass-fed beef from Lonetree Ranch in Wyoming.

Like all grass-fed beef, it has a taste and texture slightly different from grain-fed beef, and it makes an excellent grind for burgers. 155 W. Malvern St., SLC, 801-680-8529, saltandsmokemeats.com 

What’s the Beef?

Obviously, the heart of a burger is the meat. And hamburger meat has changed—drastically. Instead of grocery store- packaged ground beef, discerning burger-making chefs are seeking out local/grass-fed/naturally raised beef, then specifying how much of which cut they want in their blend. Backyard burger cooks can do the same thing. You can even experiment a little by mixing ground bacon or pastrami into your beef blend.

Tips on buying burger meat:

  • For a medium-rare to medium-well cooked burger, a 70/30 ration of meat to fat is best.
  • If you like your burgers really rare, use a lower proportion of fat and a better cut.
  • If you like your burgers well-done, you will want a higher proportion of fat to keep it juicy.
  • High-priced cuts can be a waste of money for burger meat. Lesser cuts—chuck and round—are muscles that get used more and therefore have more flavor.

Tips on shaping the patty:

  • Use a light hand—don’t slap the meat around. You want to leave tiny spaces between the meat.
  • One-third of a pound is the ideal amount. Those one-pound burgers are gross, and if you make them smaller than a third of a pound, they are hard to cook accurately.
  • Be sure the patty is uniformly thick, so it will cook through evenly.
  • Lightly salt the patties and let them rest at room temperature before cooking.

Click here to see a roundup of our favorite local burger kings.