The burger you mostly find at drive-ins is a rubbery, thin, gray patty with little beef flavor.
We wanted to create, at home, the classic drive-in burger. Made from freshly ground beef, cooked on a flat griddle, this style of burger is ultracrisp ultrabrowned, ultrabeefy, and perfect for catching the dripping juices, melted cheese, and tangy sauce that tops it.
We learned right off the bat that the thin patty typical of this burger style required freshly ground meat. Prepackaged hamburger is ground very fine and packaged tightly, which produced dense, rubbery, and dry patties. For the meat, we settled on short ribs ground up with sirloin steak tips. Numerous grinding tests had revealed that while beefiness depended on cut, juiciness corresponded to fat. Well-marbled short ribs added the perfect amount of fat to complement the beefy flavor from the sirloin tips. And if you don't have a meat grinder? The food processor worked just fine as long as the meat was first chilled in the freezer until firm but still pliable. We still had to deal with a rubbery texture caused by meat collagen proteins shrinking and tightening when exposed to heat. To fight this, the meat needed to be as loosely packed as possible- not pressed but rather gently shaped into loose patties. To top our burgers, we went back to the tried-and-true flavors of a tangy and sweet Thousand Island-style dressing, American cheese, and thinly sliced onion.