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Building a Better Burger
Episode 1017th June 2021 • Chemistry Connections • Hopewell Valley Student Publication Network
00:00:00 00:10:58

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Chemistry Connections

Episode #10  

Welcome to Chemistry Connections, my name is Finnian Mayer and I am your host for episode #10 called Building a better burger. today I will be discussing how chemistry can be used to create the best possible burger. 

Segment 1: Introduction to Burgers

  • One of the quintessential fast food items, the burger has transcended its humble origins to become an absolute staple in the food scene, being served everywhere from McDonalds to Michelin starred restaurants. And while almost every burger shares a similar base of characteristics, having a top and bottom bun with a beef, chicken, or vegetable based patty in the middle, burgers are the ultimate customizable food, with choices that can be made on every inch of the burger, creating a unique experience tailored to an individual's tastes and preferences. While I will certainly not claim to make the best burger in the world, nor even the best burger I have ever had, I have come up with a recipe which I believe that I, and hopefully others, will thoroughly enjoy. I have always been a fan of spicy food, so my burger will have homemade mayonnaise flavored with calabrian chillies ( a pickled italian chili) and black pepper. To balance the spiciness and richness of the mayo, I will also add a tangy slaw to the top of the burger. The burger itself will be made of dry-aged ground brisket, while the bun will be a toasted brioche roll. 

Segment 2: The Chemistry Behind Burgers

  • Mayo: 
  • In order to get the best and most flavorful Mayonnaise, it is best to make your own. And, although it might initially seem like a difficult food to create, it is really only two ingredients which come together in a simple emulsion. 
  • An emulsion occurs when two normally immiscible substances, such as oil and egg yolk, see a reduction in their surface tension allowing the substances to mix. 
  • In cooking, emulsions require agitation, such as why oil and vinegar dressing must be shaken to mix it into a homogeneous substance. 
  • For mayonnaise, the oil must be added drop by drop to the egg yolk so as to slowly decrease the egg yolk’s surface tension and gradually begin the emulsion. After every drop, vigorous whisking is needed. Once the emulsion begins, the oil can be added much more quickly. 
  • Slaw: 
  • Another key aspect of a burger is the slaw which tops the burger itself, made up predominantly of acid (rice wine vinegar and lemon juice) and vegetales (cabbage and radishes) and fruit (pineapple). 
  • Even though it wouldn’t really be possible in the first place, a burger topped with only acid would be too strong and ruin the taste of the burger. 
  • Topping a burger with raw cabbage would also not achieve a desirable effect, as it would be too plain and alkaline, having no taste to enhance the burger. 
  • Cabbage has the added property of serving as an acid-base indicator when it is juiced, turning red when an H3O+ is attached and yellow when an OH- is attached. This is due to red and purple cabbage having an Anthocyanin molecule.
  • Beef: 
  • Dry Aging 
  • One of the ways to enhance the burger itself is by dry-aging the meat before grinding it. 
  • For our burgers, we will use brisket as it is natural around an 80% protein 20% fat ratio, which is perfect for a rich, smash style burger that we are going for. 
  • Brisket is normally around 75% water when it is first butchered, and while water is an important part of beef, too much water results in a weaker Maillard reaction and less flavor. 
  • To combat this hurdle, we will dry age the brisket before grinding it. Dry aging is the slow process of hanging beef or leaving it on a rack for weeks in order to reduce the water content of it through slow evaporation. As the beef’s temperature slowly rises in the temperature controlled dry aging room, water evaporates off of the surface of the beef. 
  • Cooking: Maillard reaction
  • The Maillard reaction is the browning on the surface of the meat that gives beef its appealing flavor. 
  • This reaction only occurs at high heat, indicating a high activation energy needed (boiled beef is gray as no maillard reaction occurs) 
  • In order to get the best maillard reaction with the most caramelization of the beef, I will use a cast iron pan as those hold heat extremely well and can be used on the top of a charcoal grill, which is able to get much hotter than a conventional gas burning or electric stove. 
  • Cast iron is made from iron, which is an amazing electrical conductor due to the metallic bonding that occurs with the metal cation and a sea of electrons. The electrons in the sea move, thus creating the moving charged particles required for electrical conductivity. 
  • Bun: 
  • Toasted brioche bun is my choice for this burger. 
  • By toasting the bun, the outer layer of the bread undergoes a combustion reaction which is a chemical change. The combustion reaction is indicated by the smoke that arises from the toaster or pan in which the bread is toasted. 
  • This is also an endothermic reaction as the bread takes heat from the pan (its surroundings) and thus feels warm. 

Segment 3: Personal Connections

I have always been interested in cooking and love to try and replicate meals that I have eaten out at home. Burgers are one of my favorite foods and I have been fortunate enough to try burgers from around the country and even in a few foreign countries. Along this burger journey, I have had some incredible burgers with delicious elements, such as an amazing topping or especially flavorful beef. That said, almost none of the burgers I’ve had have gotten everything right, from the bun all the way to the toppings and patty. My goal was to use chemistry and some of my personal taste to create a burger which hit on all of the flavors I wanted it to while being prepared in the optimal way to get the most out of each and every ingredient. 

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Music Credits

Warm Nights by @LakeyInspired