Top Shelf Burger: The Latest in Burger Tech from Seattle

By Sean Kenniff | Antoinette Bruno

By

Sean Kenniff
Antoinette Bruno
Wood-fired Burger: House Cherry Bomb Pepper Aioli, Top Wood-roasted Shallot Aioli, and Fish Sauce
Wood-fired Burger: House Cherry Bomb Pepper Aioli, Top Wood-roasted Shallot Aioli, and Fish Sauce

Like a meat cloud from heaven, a burger emerges from the wood fire oven at  Seattle’s Delancey. “Crispy outside, buttery inside, a little smoke, the crunch of iceberg lettuce, and messy. It has to be messy,” says Chef Brandon Pettit of his ideal burger. It may be messy, but the process by which Pettit achieves burger perfection is precise, scientific, and a clever feat of engineering—if your heart beats for burgers. 

With his Mugnaini oven (which also cooks the other superstar of his menu: pizza), Pettit found he wasn’t getting the desired result for his burger. “Even at 700°F, the burger was just roasting and not searing,” he says. “It would be raw on the inside and then well done on the outer two-thirds. What I wanted was searing and broiling at the same time to reach a perfect medium rare. I also wanted to get the best of both worlds: the smoke flavor from grilling, and the crispy crust from a flattop.”  

Inspired by Argentinian chef and master of the flame Francis Mallmann, Pettit decided to build his own cooking system. By sliding a pre-heated cast-iron pan onto a shelf constructed from bricks and an iron grate, Pettit thought he would be able to get the desired affect, plus more smoke flavor (most of the smoke rises to the dome of the oven.) It worked. Pettit then made a cardboard prototype of his contraption and brought it to a local sheet metal shop. “I needed it to not obstruct the natural convection of the oven and to not take up too much precious space,” he says. “The perforated steel shelf is raised up on a riser that’s ‘C’ shaped, so I can still put pans underneath. I keep the small cast iron pans on the shelf at all times, so that they’re as hot as the oven. And I have a stack of pans next to the applewood coals to replace the ones on the shelf as they’re used.”

The oven holds a median temperature of 700°F, but it’s hotter on the shelf. Monitoring with an infrared thermometer (and timers for consistency), Pettit keeps the temperature of the pans between 700°F and 775°F—any lower and the burger roasts, any higher and it burns. He can comfortably cook five burgers at once, and an 8-ounce patty cooks two minutes on the shelf, gets flipped, and cooks two more minutes right outside the oven door for medium rare. For medium, those last two minutes of cook time are on the oven floor. 

The beef—a combination of wagyu and angus—is from Skagit River Ranch, and Pettit uses two different grinds and at least four different cuts of meat including chuck, brisket, and cross rib (other cuts vary depending on availability).      

“We found that we can get a juicier burger by pre-freezing. We grind a large batch and freeze it in small bags, defrost as needed, and form the meat into 8-ounce balls, working it a bit to relax the fat [clocking in at about 20 percent] and give it a denser texture. If it’s too loose, it overcooks. We press it down into a patty and push a dimple in the middle to prevent it from puffing up to much,” he says. 

Pettit hasn’t patented his system, and would love to see other chefs using similar devices. “The shelf works really well, even if you’re not cooking burgers,” Pettit says. “It also has the added benefit of making the oven perform like a much larger one, because you’re able to have more variations in temperature and fit more pans in at once.”

Pettit finishes his burger with cherry bomb aioli (which contains a splash of fish sauce) and sandwiches it with a classic sesame seed bun. 

At Delancey, the burger is the mother of invention. 

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