My free-range free beef needs some pretzel buns!

by Irvin on May 9, 2010 · 16 comments

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THIS RECIPE HAS BEEN UPDATED. Please checkout the new and improved Pretzel Buns recipe!

When life gives you free-range organic ground beef, you make pretzel hamburger buns. Well I do at least….

In my previous blog, years ago I wrote about my obsession with free schwag. I sort of ended the post (this was four years ago mind you) talking about how I really don’t have room anymore for all the random schwag that I used to get…and in fact I no longer seek it out.

That doesn’t mean, however that I don’t love free stuff still. Anyone who has gone to a conference with me or a department store cosmetic counter with me knows that I can get samples like no one else. My friends have marveled at how I can not only charm the shop clerk into giving me samples, but have gotten larger and more expensive samples than the average shopper. In fact, because I no longer get samples for myself (unless I really want to try the item) I usually love going shopping with friends to get them samples. I get the joy of scoring free stuff, without the clutter.

Case in point – I once scored a 50mL bottle of Alexander McQueen’s (RIP) signature perfume Kingdom for no reason other than I was friendly with the saleperson from a previous gig handing out cookies there. Despite being a woman’s perfume, I still wear it now and then (it mixes well with my body chemistry and actually smells more masculine than you would think).

That said, it was completely unexpected when I got a pound of free-range ground beef from Prather’s Ranch Meat Company last week at the Ferry Building in San Francisco.

I went there during my lunch break on a lark. I really didn’t know what I wanted to eat and I realized that I was tired of walking to Union Square (San Francisco’s shopping district) so I went the other direction toward the Ferry Building. I was hoping that the Farmer’s Market was going on, but I had forgotten that they only held it on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays (it was a Monday).

I wandered about the Ferry Building trying to decide what I should eat, and if I should pick something up for dinner. Then I stumbled on the Prather’s Ranch store and decided to ask the man if they had any suet for sale, or how long it would take to to get it.

Those who have read this blog before, know that I joined the Daring Baker’s Challenge and April’s challenge was to make a British Steamed Pudding – using a traditional British ingredient, suet.

So I figured, last minute of course (the challenge was due the next day), that I would ask them if they had any suet on hand. After all, Prather’s Ranch has gotten quite a buzz about their leaf lard that they sell (I haven’t had a chance to use any of it for my pie crust, but I will…oh yes I plan on it!) and are very proud of their lard (along with the organic free-range you meat you can pick up a t-shirt that says “Thank the Lard”). So I figure suet probably wasn’t totally out of the realm of possibilities for them.

I was out of luck, as it turns out it takes two weeks for them to get the suet. The reason is that they place their orders two weeks, and it takes that long to slaughter the cows and get the cuts they need. The beef is dry aged (as opposed to wet processed) and it takes them two weeks to process the meat.

That said, we got to talking about the the ranch, their practices and the livestock. I asked them if their organic beef was grass finished, and he said that they weren’t. Though the cows were fed a strict organic vegetarian feed, the cows were fed a combination of chopped forage along with some organic barley and organic rice.

He then explained to me that each package of ground beef was actually labeled so you knew which cow it came from and when the cow was slaughtered and processed. In fact, each package of ground beef was beef that came from one single cow, not multiple cows. That’s actually not common practice and so I was suitably impressed. The fact that they dry aged their beef 10 – 21 days before selling it was also worth taking note of (dry aging beef intensifies the flavor, but it also takes longer and because of shrinkage, means you get less meat to sell as well as being more labor intensive.)

He asked me if I had ever had their beef before, and I told him that I was pretty sure I was served it at restaurants but had never made it at home. That’s when he looked around furtively, asked me where I was going right after talking to him, and before I could even answer, slapped a pound of ground beef in my hand.

“Here. Try this. On me. Let me know what you think. I recommend making burgers – and seasoning with only salt and pepper just to really taste what the beef is like.”

So there you go. A free pound of beef. I texted AJ right away and told him “Looks like we’re having burgers tonight!”

And so I went home and told him everything above. I decided I wanted to make some hamburger buns for the burgers as well. Not just regular buns, but soft pretzel buns. Because beef this good probably shouldn’t be served on cheap loaf bread that we have in our freezer. Also because AJ and I love our soft pretzels. So why not serve burgers on pretzel buns?

The burgers, by the way, were delish – simple ground beef seasoned with salt and pepper. I’m totally going back and buying some more beef from them. Samples work, they just gained another customer!

Whilst baking, I listened to David Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s Here Lies Love, a concept album based on the life of Imelda Marcos. It’s way better than it sounds.

Note: I decided to send this post to Yeastspotting as well. Yay Yeast!

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Katie May 9, 2010 at 5:25 am

I am extremely impressed at your skill in snagging free samples! I haven't had a good burger in too long… yum!


Mr. Jackhonky May 9, 2010 at 6:03 am

@Katie. Next time you need some makeup/skin care samples, give me a ring and I'll go with you to Neiman's/Nordstroms. I'll hook you up!

As for the free beef, I probably can't pull that one off again, but I highly recommend Prather's Ranch in the Ferry Building for making your own burgers!


Karen May 9, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Ben and I just watched Food, Inc., so we received a whole eye- and earful of how most meat is raised and processed. This place sounds like it follows sustainable and responsible meat-handling practices, so as soon as I return to work, I'm going to stop by and check it out.

I love Alton Brown, too! I'll watch Good Eats if I happen to come across it while channel surfing during nursing periods.


Mr. Jackhonky May 10, 2010 at 1:44 am

@Karen. I've been meaning to watch Food Inc, but I just haven't had a chance. However, I already buy my meat from sustainable and responsible farms. My favorite is actually Marin Sun Farms, which conveniently enough, Bi-Rite carries.

You should definitely check out Prather's Ranch. The guy was very knowledgeable and willing to answer all questions.

As for Alton Brown…I have a love/hate relationship with him. I don't have cable, but the rare times I actually have seen him (mostly at the gym) he's been great, and explains things in a very easy to understand manner. On the other hand, I sometimes get tired of his "irreverent whimsical skits" that he does on the show…

That said, the one book I have by him, I'm Just Here for More Food (the one about baking) is mostly decent, but has a glaring factual error when trying to explain trans fats and mono fats and poly fats. AJ was horrified when he read it and flat out said "As a chemist, I am offended at how blatantly WRONG that is." Or maybe I just imagined him saying that, but he definitely had the sentiment when I asked him about fats.


kudzu May 11, 2010 at 1:44 am

I want to shop with you, too! Soon you will have to be taking reservations!

The pretzel buns sound fascinating. I can imagine them as a super-all-American treat with those Prather burgers. Good idea all around.

And I agree with you on Mr. Brown. He's a bit of a smarty-pants whose pants aren't really so smart a lot of the time.


Mr. Jackhonky May 12, 2010 at 7:35 am

@Kudzu. I would LOVE to go shopping with you! No reservations required FOR YOU!

And pretzel buns. *sigh* I love my soft pretzels in any form. I think they might be my kryptonite. I even waver when I see them in the mall (Auntie Anne's or Wetzels, I'm not proud of it, but usually I can resist. Usually.).

When I discovered how easy they were to make, I went on a rampage and made them left and right. I've slowed down a bit and actually haven't made them in awhile, but the Prather's Ranch burgers just called for them.

And that Alton. It's sort of like, I LOVE the concept of what Alton Brown is. But the reality kinda falls a bit short. But don't tell him I said that. I still have aspirations to be a Television Food TV network star, and I wouldn't want any ill will between us to hamper my potential celebrity status.



petoke May 12, 2010 at 9:51 am

oh my god. those pretzel buns look SOOOOOOO DELICIOUS. SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO delicious. please fax me some.

go you w/ those free samples!

and so nice to see Hello Kitty! How often do you toast her?

Random cooking question . . I just started cooking 6 weeks ago (using recipes), and I get turned off from a site or chef instantly if I don't like what his/her/its recipe made. How many chances should you give someone/someblog? I was reminded of this b/c I tried an Alton Brown recipe and thought it was only ok. and a Rachel Ray recipe, which was nasty.


Shila May 13, 2010 at 2:51 pm

The pretzel buns look amazing!

I loved your story. I'm a vegetarian so the idea of burgers isn't too appealing, but I really appreciate when meat is produced with a conscience.

Also, I think I met you at the SF food bloggers bake sale (I made the vegan Ollallieberry thumbprints and I think we had a short conversation about berry picking or Ollalieberries).

Just wanted to say hello and it was lovely to connect the blog to the person.


Rita May 13, 2010 at 9:37 pm

First of all, if the guy was looking around all that furtively, you probably shouldn't be blogging it.

But secondly, WAY TO SCORE!!! A pound of ground beef! That is an awesome take-home trial!!!

So hilarious in the context of cosmetic samples. I can't help imagining the facial . . .

(Then again, he probably wasn't looking around afraid he'd get in trouble. More like, don't shout or they'll all be wanting one.)


Mr. Jackhonky May 14, 2010 at 3:07 am

@Petoke. I would TOTALLY fax you some, but I left my fax machine back in the 90's. So I'm afraid I won't be able to do that. However, if you'd like, I can send you some pretzel buns via telegram….

As for Hello Kitty, we use her often enough in the morning, but sometimes I forget she's there and use the toaster oven instead.

Also, I tend not to be someone who follows chefs (there are a few exceptions – David Lebovitz, Sherry Yard, Nick Malgieri, all of whom are pastry chefs). If you are just starting out, I would recommend a site like – not only is there a large catalog of recipes, but most are heavily reviewed as well, so you can see other people's thoughts on the recipe, and if they had difficulties with them. Go with the recipes that have a lot of reviews, and that are ranked highest. Those are probably the safest to do, until you have more experience.

Next time I'm down there in LA, I expect you to be a master chef, and cooking a 10 course meal for me. Yay!

@Shila We TOTALLY met! I remember those ollallieberry thumbprints! Hi! Mmmm… ollallieberry. I think the season is coming up!

Thanks for the compliment! I'm sure the pretzel buns would go equally well with a grilled Portabella mushroom (my vegetarian meat patty substitute of choice).

My partner and I have pretty much switched to only buying humanely raised meat, so it's great to have another farm to buy it from like Prather's…

@Rita. I think he was looking around furtively not because he thought he would get in trouble, but more because he didn't want other people running over and asking for free meat. But don't think that wasn't in the back of my head when I blogged about it!

Also, no matter how organic, I have no desire to have a ground beef facial. Thanks for the mental image though.


Mimi May 14, 2010 at 6:41 pm

>Yeah for pretzel buns! They look delicious and I bet they soaked up the yummy juices and condiments from your burgers.


Mr. Jackhonky May 15, 2010 at 6:59 am

@Mimi. They totally soak up all the awesome juices! But we had our burgers straight up plain, because I really wanted to see what the beef tasted like.

Well, we put cheese on it, but otherwise no condiments. But next time we'll be loading it up! mmm… burgers…..


to2sassy June 22, 2010 at 11:37 am

The pictures (and just the idea) of pretzel buns have made me seriously consider breaking my vow to never again use yeast.Though I am a pretty good cook, I am a less than accomplished baker and past attempts with yeast have resulted in many curse words and miserable failures. Now I just have to figure out where to get the Malt barley syrup. Any suggestions for substitutions?


Mr. Jackhonky June 23, 2010 at 7:19 am

@to2sassy. Check out the bottom note (Note #4). It talks about substitutions for the malt barley syrup. Regular sugar works just fine though I've never tried it (in fact, I think the original recipe that I based it off of, from Alton Brown calls for regular white sugar).

And you should TOTALLY attempt baking with yeast again. Conquer that fear! If you have a standing mixer it's SUPER easy because it does all the kneading for you! I used to be super scared of yeast stuff too, but this was definitely the gateway baked good for me. Well, this and the NYT no knead bread recipe.

Both are so super easy to do. Just think, you can have soft pretzel buns in about two hours! It's such an awesome sense of accomplishment to have made hamburger buns all on your own! if you have any other problems though, don't hesitate to stop back and ask more questions!


Natasha February 24, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Oh, these pretzels look so good! Especially with beef. I’ve tried baking pretzels before and they didn’t turn out so well, but I think I might have to try this recipe. Do you think these would work with whole wheat flour?

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