Cooking Burgers with Firefly Private Dining chefs

I first met Ellie for coffee in town and nearly got kicked out as we chattered on about food and cooking while the staff closed up shop around us. I was so excited at meeting not only someone that cared about quality, locally sourced meat, but who knew how to cook it creatively and well. Ellie and Orion Heyman are the owners of Firefly Private Dining. I am eager to follow Ellie and Orion as they establish themselves in our community and bring creative energy to our local foods in Western Montana.

Inspired by our initial meeting, Ellie and I planned a cooking demo here at the Rusty Nail. Imagine how nervous I was to have two professionally trained chefs in my homestead kitchen! They have cooked with some of the best on each coast. But not to worry, a only few simple elements are needed when you are using quality grass-fed beef from Oxbow Cattle Company

The end result? The absolute best burgers we have ever served here at the Rusty Nail. 


While I think they say it best in the video, here are a few notes that summarize their comments:

  • When making the burgers, don't work the meat too much
  • Seasonings don't need to be added to high-quality grass-fed beef. Salt and pepper added just before cooking accentuate the flavor of the beef
  • Lard can add a porky-flavor and has a high smoke point 
  • Cast iron retains heat well and conducts more evenly
  • Watch for fat to flow and shimmer a bit, with a small amount of smoke coming off to indicate the pan is ready
  • Season generously with salt and pepper on both sides of the burgers, just before searing
  • To get an even sear, move the burgers often, don't overcrowd the pan and don't press down hard
  • Check often to see if you are getting the desired color. Color is where the flavor comes from. 
  • Let them rest for about the same amount of time as it took to cook. You want the juices to redistribute into the meat
  • Toasting the buns* in lard add to the depth of flavor

Ellie and Orion assembled the cooked burgers with their homemade chili aioli made with smoked and dried jalapenos from this past summer. This was spread on both sides of the bun. These were topped with homemade pickled white onion (three parts vinegar, one part water, one part sugar, salt to taste poured over onions hot, then brought to room temperature and stored in the fridge). Also added were homemade pickled cucumbers with garlic and dill.

* We make our own buns here, but prefer a smaller burger, more like the size of a slider. That way, we leave room for veggies, oven-baked french fries and... dessert! Email me if you'd like the bun recipe. 

Thank you Firefly Private Dining!

Firefly Private Dining & Mountain Meat Shares

 Cast Iron Sliders

Serves 4-6

  • One pound ground beef, 80% lean (grass-fed is best!)
  • Kosher salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil (or lard)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 8 slider buns, split and toasted
  • Aioli or mayonnaise of choice
  • Assortment of pickled vegetables (chiles, cucumber, onion)

To begin, separate the beef into eight equal portions. Gently pat each portion into a patty without working the meat too much, it’s fine if the edges are not perfectly rounded. The patty should be of even thickness and approximately ½ of an inch thick. Place the patties on a large plate and season on both sides with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper in a near-aggressive way. Let the meat sit for five minutes while you heat the cast iron pans.

Heat two cast iron pans over high heat until they are smoking. Pat the patties dry if there is any moisture that accumulates on the surface.  Have a clean plate ready for the finished burgers. Add one tablespoon canola oil to each pan and place four patties in each skillet. Sear the patties on high heat for one minute to form a nice browned crust on the bottom. Flip the patties and sear for 30 seconds, adding a half tablespoon of butter to each pan and swirl around to coat the burgers. Flip the burgers quickly one more time then remove from the pans to the clean plate. It might help to have a friend for this step!

To assemble the burgers: Spread the aioli or mayonnaise on both sides of each slider bun, then place your choice of pickled vegetables on the bottom bun. Top the pickles with the burger patty then remaining bun. Enjoy hot!

BeefJennifer Knoetgen