Cooking Tip: Chef Robin Song's secret to a better burger

Some might argue that a good burger is a great burger and a bad burger is…well, still a burger. But for former Hog & Rocks’ Chef Robin Song (now at JunJu), a burger should be excellent every single time. 

The H&R burger — made  with two cheese-topped patties stuffed between a sesame challah bun — has been praised by customers and local critics alike, including the Chronicle’s Michael Bauer, who in 2014 declared Song’s burger “one of the best in the Bay Area.”

It’s no surprise, considering the care and thought that Song has put into creating the simple, yet flavor-packed menu staple, which came about from a need to use the restaurant’s growing pile of leftover ham scraps. The chef says that he reinvented the old burger to make it “100 percent delicious, 100 percent of the time.” And he achieved this with a few little secrets and tricks.

For starters, Song uses California wagyu beef chuck that has been aged for about a week for extra umami. Each burger also has a little ham, a lot of fat and as few condiments as possible. He says that if you ask nicely, your butcher might have some pork scraps to sell for cheap. If not, prosciutto or bacon work, as well. The lean meat to fat ratio he lives by is 30 percent fat to lean meat. Of that 30 percent, 20 percent is from beef fat and 10 percent is pork fat. (Anything more than 10 percent pork fat gets too salty.)

While what goes into the burger is important, Song argues that the way in which the burger is ground is what really matters. In his burger world view, the meat has to be worked cold, ground both fine and coarse and be handled as little as possible when forming.

“In ground meat, the right texture is what you’re looking for in the final product,” Song says. “A burger that's too dense will explode juices when you bite into it, and that's probably because it was ground too fine. Or it crumbles and totally falls apart, and that means it wasn’t handled properly.” 

After getting the right meat-to-fat ratio and proper grinding done by your butcher, the burger has to be cooked on a hot grill to render the fat and give the meat a savory crust, Song says. Lastly, keep the toppings simple — lettuce, pickles, onions and maybe a slice of cheese will do. A secret sauce of garlic mayo, ketchup and a touch of hot sauce will bring it all home.