Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Trip To The Burger Maker Processing Plant

At the last Burger Bash I saw a lot of familiar faces in the burger world and made a few new friends. After sampling a few of Bobby Flay's Crunchburgers and boozy shakes I was introduced to the ground beef supplier who just happened to be standing right there. One thing led to another and I was invited to check out their facility in NJ. I had never been to a meat processing plant so I jumped at the opportunity.

Burger Maker is a processing facility, not a meat packer (no feedlot and whole cows here). Cuts of chuck shoulder are shipped to their plant so they can do one thing and pretty much one thing only - make ground beef for burgers. It wasn't a huge place but they manage to produce over 200,000 pounds of ground beef a day. Whoa. That may be because one of their clients requires a lot of fresh-ground beef for their burgers, a place that just happens to be one of my favorite East Coast burger chains - Five Guys.

I'm not going to go into detail about the facility (because I promised) and because some of it was a bit gnarly anyway. Let's just say that I'm glad we visited Burger Maker before lunch and not after.

That said, the most important thing I took away from our visit was that this was one clean operation. There were basically three industrial meat grinders larger than 18-wheelers pushing out fresh-ground product into stainless steel bins at a rate of about 300 pounds every 5 minutes. It was freezing in the plant so we had to wear supplied jackets (pictured below, with Expert Burger Taster Kris B). We also had to wear hairnets and probably should have had beard nets too.

In addition to sending out bags of fresh-ground beef Burger Maker also makes patties of every size for a few other large national burger chains. Although I'm not a fan of them, the patty machines were fascinating. Another amazing piece of machinery we saw in action was the Fat Analyzer - a machine that gives a readout of the exact fat-to-lean ratio in the grind. The mix is tested often to ensure exact ratios.

After a whirl through the grinding floor we met the resident lab technician. He showed us some paperwork for tests he was working on and I was glad to see column after column of the word 'negative' under the word 'e-coli'. Testing is big here.

Not surprisingly we had burgers for lunch in their company kitchen. The chef was the lab tech we had met earlier (which was a little weird). We did not question the freshness of the product however. Burger Maker is working on a new ground beef blend to sell to higher end restaurants so we tried the new blend. It was good except it was a formed patty. Next time I have to try it as a smashburger. I also noticed a few boxes of fresh-ground beef in the refrigerated shipping area heading to Fresh Direct. Now you can order Burger Maker patties to your doorstep (in NYC).

After we left Burger Maker we headed over to nearby White Manna where we were underwhelmed by the sliders for the first time ever. I said to Kris about halfway thru my first double, "The onions taste weird, right," and he said, "Yeah, they do. I thought it was just me." We rectified the situation by heading over to nearby ice cream counter Bischcoff's for chocolate malts. They never fail to satisfy.