I love hamburgers. Often when traveling I make an effort to seek out the best burger. One of the best resources for locating standout regional burgers is George Motz. I have his book, Hamburger America and have watched his TV show and webcasts. One of the more intriguing burgers he has introduced is the Cuban Frita, found in Miami. I have actually not tried this burger in a restaurant but that has not stopped me from making my own. After several attempts I have gotten down something everyone likes so I am confident presenting my Cuban Frita Burger Recipe.
In doing research, I found that recipes for Cuban Frita burgers are all over the map. About the only thing that they had in common was they all are topped with shoestring fries and in most cases are a combination of beef and pork. It appears some places have a special sauce, and some recipes are basically slapping a regular hamburger with the sauce and shoestring fries.
There are plenty of great guides to the history of this burger. This includes a webcast of George Motz’s visit to El Rey de Las Fritas in Miami. In his book, Hamburger America, Motz actually profiles El Mago de Las Fritas, a spinoff of El Rey. Motz claims they make one of his top burgers in the entire U.S! Some Miami locals agree including Three Guys from Miami and Burger Beast based in Miami. These restaurant also top the list of the Miami newspapers best Cuban Fritas.
My goal was to try and make a burger similar to what is found at those top restaurants. The problem is I have not only never been to these places, I had never actually tried a Cuban Frita. When I first started making them I followed some online recipes with mixed success. The lack of any authentic/authoritative recipe gave me the courage to experiment. So I set out to make my own version of this dish, knowing some in the Miami region may scream foul.
I quickly realized that a key component of this dish was probably the seasoning in the chorizo pork. Chorizo sausage is something I tend to stay away from. If you look at the package of chorizo from a company like Farmer John you will notice salivary glands as a key ingredient. I agree with the Daring Gourmet and think if you want chorizo you should make your own. So the first step in developing a Cuban Frita is developing my chorizo recipe. As discussed in our article on top cookbooks, one of our favorite cookbooks is Bruce Aidells’ Complete Sausage book. With a few tweaks, his chorizo recipe formed the basis for our chorizo.
When we make sausage one thing we do is dial way back on the fat. Pork butt is already very fatty and the addition of pork back fat seems to take it over the top. We have even used Farmer John’s low fat pre-ground pork to great success. This works especially well on Cuban Fritas when you don’t feel like grinding your own meat. If you do want to make your sausage from scratch see our guide.
Once you have the chorizo made it is a simple matter of combining it with the beef, some onions and forming it into patties. You cook the patties exactly as you would a regular hamburger. We did ours in a skillet.
One essential ingredient for Cuban Fritas is shoestring potatoes. We saw several recipes that called for using Pik-Nik shoestring potatoes and that seemed perfect for us. Making shoestring potatoes is fairly labor intensive and I have loved Pik-Nik since I was a kid. Also I noticed it appears that some of the Miami restaurants use Pik-Nik or something similar.
I have experimented with making a sauce for the burgers, but I am not sure it is necessary. The Three Guys from Miami website has a recipe for a sauce that is really good but actually something I might tend to use more on a regular burger instead of ketchup. It appears that other than shoestring potatoes the main Miami restaurants simply add raw onions and ketchup. That is what we have been doing. However, the Three Guys from Miami argue the sauce is mandatory.
I guess you could also add cheese to these burgers but, once again, I don’t think it is necessary. Some of the restaurants in Miami allow you to top your frita with an egg, but I would never do that. Many recipes added milk, eggs and breadcrumbs, making it like a meatloaf. Others used smoked paprika instead of sweet paprika.
Overall, I think this is something close to what you might find in Miami. It will probably be a long time before I make it to Miami, so I may never know. None of the Cuban restaurants in San Diego have Cuban Frita on their menu bit I noticed Polo Norte, a Miami restaurant, has a location in Palm Springs. I plan to try it out.
Cuban Frita Burger
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 lb chorizo store bought or see recipe below
- 1 small onion or ½ medium/large onion about ½ a cup
- 6 cloves garlic
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt more or less to taste
- 1 ½ teaspoon ground black pepper more or less to taste
- Can of Pik-Nik Potatoes
- 6 Hamburger Buns
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1 jalapeno seeded and finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon chile powder
- 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
To make the chorizo simply combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix together.
Finely process onion and garlic in food processor. Combine with beef in a bowl. Add Chorizo and mix well. Form into six patties.
Right before cooking season patties on both sides with salt and pepper. Grill patties about 5 minutes on each side to desired level of doneness. Let rest for 5 minutes.
Place cooked patties on bun and top with Pik-Nik sticks. Top with desired condiments.
Note: we like to ground our own meat so we can be comfortable cooking it to lower levels than the recommended minimum of 160 degrees for ground beef and ground pork. You can use pre-ground pork to make the chorizo.
If you want to grind your meat and make your own chorizo from scratch see our guide here.