The Perfect Hamburger? Is it Rare Breed, Grass Fed, Full Fat, Field to Fork?

Belted Galloway Burger (1 of 8)

The use (or misuse) of the English language to promote food provenance makes it hard to choose. Is that chicken ‘barn raised’ or ‘free range’? Why is my pork not ‘Dry Aged’? Where is the Local of ‘Locally Produced’? What does ‘Natural’ mean? Do you really want my beef to be ‘Grain Finished’?… What do all these terms mean? Do they mean anything?

So, when my butcher friend James Lawlor told me that I had to try some Belted Galloway, I was intrigued. What is a Galloway and who belted it?  Is it locally produced? What makes it special? Is it barn raised, pure, natural, grass-fed? What is it for crying out loud?

“Beef” he tells me, produced on a farm in Kilkenny. It’s a rare breed, smaller than the Angus or the other popular breeds. It also tends to be fatter. This is a good thing. Because, as anybody who knows anything about beef knows, fat equals flavour. Particularly if the cattle have enjoyed a lifetime grazing the rich grasslands in the heart of Ireland. So, I collected two kilos (4 lbs) of Belted Galloway mince (from the neck of the animal) and decided to prepare something delicious. 

A burger (or twelve) was an obvious decision. If he was right about the quality and flavour of the beef, I shouldn’t need to adulterate it with anything I might have used previously when making burgers. Before the Belted Galloway, I would have suggested adding some breadcrumbs, some egg, possibly a bit of mustard, a teaspoon of tomato paste, maybe some freshly crushed cumin seeds or possibly any of a range of other ingredients. But, now I know, if you want a premium quality beef burger, you only need three ingredients. Beef, salt and pepper.

I won't mine my words. Delicious beef, salt and pepper.

I won’t mince my words. Delicious beef, salt and pepper.

There is very little more to say about the burger making. I mixed it by hand and used a pastry ring to get a decent shape and a 200 gramme burger.

The pastry ring is a good trick, I think.

The pastry ring is a good trick, I think.

I let the burgers rest for about ten minutes before shaping them. After that, it was onto the barbecue. They will do almost as well on the frying pan or griddle pan.

Side note on cooking burgers: If you buy a ready-made burgers, unless you know the butcher who made them, and can be sure of its age, you need to cook them to medium at a bare minimum. Don’t be fooled by the meat looking a bright red colour. It could be kept that way with sulphites. I cooked these medium rare. But, I saw this meat being minced.

They held their shape perfectly.

They held their shape perfectly.

The burgers held their shape incredibly well. No binder, no egg, no breadcrumbs, just beef.

Glorious beef burgers served simply, eaten quickly.

Glorious beef burgers served simply, eaten quickly.

I served them very simply with a bit of salad and some sea-salt. This was all about the beef. The flavour of the Belted Galloway was amazing. I have never eaten a burger as nice as this. If you get a chance, give these a go. This is language you can trust – Rare Breed, Full Fat, Full Flavour, Belted Galloway.

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  • Perfect, Conor! This is how I like my burger (but with a good glass of red wine). No fillers or flavor masking ingredients and cooked medium rare. You could ask James for mince of different cuts. Prepared like this, you will notice the difference in flavor.

  • The Belted Galloway is a popular heritage breed here, along with Dutch Belted cattle, which are popular with smallholders because they are also good milkers so make excellent house cows. Both thrive on pasture only.
    That minced beef does look wonderful, no silly nonsense about getting rid of the fat which adds so much juiciness and favour, I’m glad to see.

  • Where can I find this breed around Houston? 😉 Looks great, man.

      • Belted Galloway are still somewhat rare in the United States, but if you look around, you can find a farm that may have some. I own a herd of 80 in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It is the best beef ever! Mine are all grass fed and delicious.

  • These days I make my burgers mostly with pork rather than beef as good quality pork is much more readily available here than good quality beef (or any beef, for that matter). I completely agree on the ingredients, though – just meat (with plenty of fat!) and a pinch of seasoning. Yum, yum, yum!

  • I got a distant view of a few belted Galloways right outside the Old Bushmills distillery. They were too far to get a good photo, but they’re just beautiful animals! My husband swears by an 80-20 meat to fat ratio for his burgers. I’ve also ground brisket for burgers – couldn’t really tell a difference. You’d look wonderful!

  • Couldn’t agree more – when the meat is good, no additions other than salt and pepper are needed. Delicious! 🙂

  • Bravo Conor! It doesn’t get any better than that. (Well, when it comes to a burger.)

  • Great Post Conor … I like the trick with the pastry ring. I just use a little garlic salt in my burgers. I generally make them for putting on buns, or else topped with onion gravy alongside mash… I must try using top notch beef and eating it like a little steak as you did here 🙂

  • So glad your first encounter with the delicious Belted Galloway was so good. Up until 12 months ago it gad been the only beef we had eaten for a few years thanks to an ethical farmer at my local market. Just a lip licking memory for me. Boohoo, now I live in a culinary wasteland where medocrity is considered an achievement. Buy a piece of rib eye and some bones next time, char grill the steak and serve with bordelaise sauce made with stock from the bones. I’m drooling at the thought, thanks for making me wistful before breakfast…….

  • You know Conor, soon I might have to stop looking at your beautiful photographs, especially of the food I can not make or/and get here, because I do get quite “upset”. No, I am joking. I would not miss either reading nor looking our Blogs. Hope you are enjoying your sous vide rib eye Galloway today – I am sitting there too on that empty chair (you just cant see me). 🙂 🙂

  • I’m really picky about my beef, like you salt and pepper on my burger. Now I’d like a little wee pat of butter on a really good rib eye steak. I foresee burgers on our grill this weekend!

  • Have you heard of the word ‘outage’: for three days – NO reason given . . . . OK: being a child born in N Europe where ‘kotletid’ [know you u’stand] were an everyday food but certainly included at least egg and crumbs, I am SO delighted to read the ‘3 ingredient’ rule . . . did not believe this could work until I tried it first . . . now for some better meat than I can normally access . . .

      • Oh the ‘three-meat’ mix is embraced with fervour: darn well-cooked! No: am still a bit worried about the ‘rare’ pork scenario! I HATE hamburgers with a passion but LOVE meat patties done properly! A ‘kotlet’ is simply a minced beef patty in sauce . . . something us kids got on an everyday basis: made us big and strong all over NE Europe 🙂 !!

  • Good grief. There’s a rare cow who could stand up to that first photograph there, Conor, let alone such a pure 3-ingredient burger and your fine palate. I am paying homage to the animal in my thoughts as the drool runs down my chin.

  • Now that’s a proper burger! I’ve noticed with your site that the option to comment isn’t always available. Do you know what’s going on?

  • Yum!!!!!

  • You’ve created a masterpiece, Conor. Yes, I have patty envy.

  • Thanks for this post. Your burgers look fantastic. I have a grinder, and have been considering making my own burgers. I’ll have to see if I can find some beef half as good as what you’ve got.

  • We specialize in 100% grass finished Belted Galloway here in Virginia. Over 100 head strong 🙂 Check us out and buy all you want! We don’t rush them- 36 months of age at butchering- full of internal marbling and flavor! Simply the best beef!

  • Wonderful – I think the same about pork and chicken and lamb – the rare, old breeds offer lots more flavour (and fat), generally 🙂

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