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Irish Burgers: Bunsen

The ground beef has enough fat content to stay loose, regardless of the cooking time—and if you like your burger pink, you are in luck here. The American cheese melts to perfection and the sandwich is perfected framed by the “Amish dinner roll” style bun.

Among lovers of the American style burger, Bunsen is Ireland’s gold standard. It regularly wins top honors in Dublin newspaper surveys. In its 2020 “50 Best Burgers in Europe” issue, Big 7 Travel Magazine placed it in the Top 10.

The company’s slogan, “Straight Up Burgers” sums up the concept nicely. Bunsen is modeled after owner Tom Gleeson’s favorite New York burger spots. Burger Joint and Shake Shack are two places Gleeson cites in interviews—both offered extremely simple burgers with very high-quality ingredients.

Burger Joint and Shake Shack were part of the American hamburger revival that John T. Edge wrote about in his book Hamburger and Fries (2005). The upscale burger binge flared up at the turn of the millennium and spread like wildfire across the U.S. After years of overcooked, undersized fast-food burgers, the American public couldn’t get enough of the juicer, meatier, more expensive gourmet burgers.

The trend quickly spread to England and Ireland. Real Gourmet Burger was one of the first upscale burger joints in Dublin, it opened in 2007 and closed in 2010 amid hot debate about its higher prices. Nobody should charge more than a tenner for a burger, Irish critics complained. Bunsen opened in 2013 and evidently hit the sweet spot between quality and price. Currently, the Bunsen burger sells for 7.95–8.95 for the cheeseburger.

Bunsen’s extremely short menu is printed on a business card. There are no chicken burgers or vegan alternatives offered. Basically, there are only two burgers: the hamburger (which can be doubled) and a cheeseburger (which can also be doubled) along with fries, regular, shoestring or sweet potato—that’s it.

Some Irish burger joints offer a laundry list of configurations and add-ons including bacon, fried egg and black pudding. Bunsen’s kitchen concentrates on getting each element of the classic hamburger perfect.

The available toppings are listed as lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, mayo, mustard and ketchup. But the burger is actually served with the vegetables and a burger sauce. There are bottles of French’s American yellow mustard and Heinz ketchup on each table.

The buns are custom baked to Bunsen’s specifications. The burger sauce is almost identical to the Shake Shack recipe of mostly mayo, with a dash of mustard and ketchup and a pinch of garlic powder. The produce comes fresh daily from a local grocery.

The big difference between average burgers and world class burgers is the quality of the meat and its fat content. The usual misconception is that ground steak makes the best burgers—it ain’t necessarily so. The most popular mince at my local grocery is “90 percent lean ground sirloin” and it yields a dried-out burger patty.

Upscale American burger joints use mince made from fatty forequarter cuts like brisket and chuck. Typical lean to fat ratios are between 80-20 and 70-30. Except for the Kobe burgers, which are even fattier than that. The Burger Joint in New York claims to use only USDA Prime beef, minced daily. Prime is highly marbled beef, only a tiny percent of American beef achieves that grading.

About their Dublin mince, Bunsen’s website says: “Having sampled all the major beef breeds available in Ireland, we settled on Black Aberdeen Angus supplied by FX Buckley. The patty is minced fresh every morning – a precise ratio of three different forequarter cuts. We add only salt and pepper seconds before grilling.” The result is a juicy burger.

Too juicy for Irish Times restaurant critic Catherine Cleary. She reviewed Bunsen shortly after it opened its first Dublin location in 2013. Like London’s “dirty burgers” this was a trend for the new “gastrosexuals” she said. “I’m not the target market. I don’t like having to use five paper napkins to wipe down after scarfing some fast food. It’s never appealing to see a crescent of your own lipstick imprinted on your next mouthful of food.”

The new style of drippy, messy, oversized hamburgers were considered somewhat bawdy by the British. A joint called Dirty Burger that opened in London in 2012 capitalized on the titillation with its name and over-the-top reputation. It was an immediate success. Asked about his meat blend in a GQ interview, the owner responded that they added bone marrow to the mince to make it “extra naughty.”

In  2015, two years after her uptight take on messy burgers, Catherine Cleary put out her Top 10 Burgers list. She seems to have gotten over her previous squeamishness. For the article she was photographed with a large dirty burger in her mouth. Bunsen was second on the list.

Locations: Bunsen has seven locations in and around Dublin, along with one in Cork, and one in Belfast.

Authentic Irish Burgers

Culinary tourists are apt to overlook the hamburgers when seeking out the best in authentic Irish cuisine. But in truth, the lowly burger may be one of the best ways to sample the famous Irish beef.

Cattle raising is one of Ireland’s oldest agricultural traditions and the country is justly proud of its beef. Irish beef is one of the country’s biggest exports and it is well-loved across Europe.

But the Irish tend to like their steaks very lean, with no aging, cooked extra well done. There are a few exceptional steakhouses (like F.X. Buckley) that are worth seeking out. But at the average Irish restaurant, a steak can be disappointing–especially for Americans.

On the other hand, minced beef (as ground beef is known in Ireland) is always tender and often extremely flavorful. And the new generation of upscale burger joints that are spreading across Ireland have raised the bar on burgers in general. The prices have gone up accordingly—Expect to pay 15 to 20 Euros for a hefty burger and chips in a pub or hotel restaurant.

If you ask for medium-rare you will be told that’s not possible. Instead, if you like your burgers pink, ask that for a burger that’s not overcooked.

Robb Walsh