The Food Lab Video Series: Cheeseburgers

In 2015, we tried to answer the question, what would a Food Lab video series look like? Now, you get to see what we tried out.


The Food Lab: Cheeseburgers

A few years back, we raised some money and spent some time asking ourselves, "What would a Food Lab television show look like?”

We came up with a ton of ideas that boiled down to a few basic parameters:

  • No standing and stirring: It would be a science show, not a cooking show.
  • Rather than having each episode based on teaching a recipe, the episodes would be designed to teach a concept or technique.
  • Like the column, the show would strive to communicate complex scientific concepts, and more importantly, show how understanding those concepts can improve your cooking.
  • It would present the science of cooking in a way that hadn't been done before.
  • It wouldn't be dumb (by which I mean, pandering to the lowest common denominator, or dictated by the whims of ad dollars and product placement).
  • It would be fun to watch.

We pulled together a production team, I enlisted the help of my good friend and former Serious Eats intern Katie Quinn to up the on-camera charisma factor, we wrote some scripts, and we shot and edited the episodes. They came out pretty well, I think.

Then...pretty much nobody saw them. This was our own fault—due to a partnership we made to get the series funded, we were unfortunately required to distribute them behind a paywall. (I said the show would not be dumb, not its production.)

The videos went the way of Blockbuster and were lost to the dusty corner of some hard disk in the cloud, until Vicky recently stumbled back on to them.

The good news is, our restrictions are no longer in place so we are now able to post the videos the way I would have liked them to have been done in the first place: 100% free.

Kenji Lopez-Alt and Katie Quinn side by side stuffing their faces with cheeseburgers

The very first episode is about hamburgers and the science of ground meat. The science bits all hold up pretty well. The acting/screen presence, on the other hand, maybe not so much (I think I’ve gotten much better in the last few years, you tell me). Overall, I think it’s a good watch, and you will probably learn something in the process. Personally, I consider the whole thing to have been a worthwhile experiment in what one version of a Food Lab show would look like, and we learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t along the way.

If you’ve been to one of my live events, or maybe caught me on an episode of the Burger Show, you’ve probably seen me throw hamburger patties against the wall to show the difference it can make to salt the meat before forming the patties (I'd recommend neither salting your meat before forming patties, nor throwing said patties against the wall). But have you ever seen me fling burgers at 44MPH from our patented Meat-A-Pult (a.k.a. Burger-Sling?). Also in this inaugural episode: I wear a big cow mask and Katie points to my tastiest muscle groups, which, now that I think about it, Chris Kimball probably did first. We shove burgers up close to the camera to make them look all BIG, knowing this trick is something that both overcompensating fishermen and Guy Fieri have in common.* We grind meat four different ways. I’m not sure that’s been done on a cooking show before!

*I jest, nothing but respect for Guy and the good work he does for folks.

Let us know what you think, and stay tuned—there are five more episodes to come on subjects ranging from boiling water (Action! Excitement!) to the importance of emulsions (Romance! Intrigue!).