Foodosophy of Pink Burgers in Vancouver, BC

“I’m sorry sir, it is illegal to serve medium-rare burgers in this city.”

I can’t really fault my waitress for uttering this common misconception. Like many, I used to think that it is illegal to serve hamburgers that are raw in the middle. It is not. The health authorities do not have such a law in the books. What is stopping most restaurants from giving you the option of ordering a rare or medium-rare burger has nothing to do with the legality of the act, but from their own distrust of their source of ground beef. Most burger joints will not take chances as they get their ground meat from large factory operations whose quality control is beyond their reach.

There are at least three places in Vancouver that grind their own burger meat in-house and are confident to serve their patties pink: Refuel, Hamilton Street Grill, and La Brasserie. (I would have added dbBistro, but they are not long to this world). If you know of any more, please feel free to mention them in the comments.

1944 West 4th Avenue
Vancouver, BC

Burger purists will appreciate Refuel’s great minimalist beige-on-beige burger . It is a burger…in a bun – devoid of the usual embellishments such as pickles, lettuce, and tomatoes. The patty is loosely packed and full of intense beefiness – and salty enough to make it interesting. They make their own bacon (via their sister operation The Cure) and use that as a topping along with an aged white cheddar.

Refuel on Urbanspoon


The Hamilton Street Grill
1009 Hamilton Street
Vancouver, BC

Hamilton Street Grill grinds a blend of chuck and steak trimmings together to produce nicely beefy patties. The patty is simply seasoned (salt and maybe pepper), and is nicely crusty.  The burger’s lily is gilded with a truffle oil aioli. I am not a fan of anything with truffle oil, so I always opt out. In my experience, the patty here is often slightly overcooked past medium-rare. Mention that you want it “more rare than medium-rare” and you will not be disappointed.

Hamilton Street Grill on Urbanspoon


La Brasserie
1091 Davie Street
Vancouver, BC

La Brasserie’s burger is perhaps the most magnificent looking of the three listed here (and perhaps in the city). Piled high with fried onions, it’s an awe-inspiring construction. The burger was an bit of an experiment for them. They needed to find a use for the trim from the hanger steaks they serve at dinnertime. Nowadays owing to the burger’s popularity, they buy hanger just for burgers. This isn’t for purists. It’s seasoned with cinnamon(!), fennelseed(!!), bound with egg, and often augmented with bread crumbs, then topped with a white cheddar and bacon. The purist will decry this concoction as a “meatloaf” not a “burger.” It is, however, undeniably tasty.

La Brasserie on Urbanspoon

(A cross-post from Wisemonkeys).

21 thoughts on “Foodosophy of Pink Burgers in Vancouver, BC

  1. On the other side of the spectrum, places like 5 Guys will only make it well done…

    When I was in the US, specifically in New Jersey, I did a pit stop at Fuddruckers and ordered a burger. Because of the inherited tendency of not allowing you to “choose” the doneness in a lot of places, when they asked me about the desired doneness, I instinctively said “medium” (as if I was ordering a steak – I usually order medium rare). Yup, the end result was still pink inside. Alas, it wasn’t that juicy…

    It is just as you mention, a lot of places cover their asses with the doneness but, putting it into perspective, how much does it affect the end result? I do not believe making it medium rare necessarily make it better (my few experiences lead me to this conclusion) and, unlike a steak, you can “tweak” the patty, if you choose to do so. For example, if you make a thick patty, make a hole in it and put some cheese… Or some bacon bits… Or… (You get the gist).

    • I think of a good burger like a good steak…it is just “better” pink in the middle. Once the meat has turned grey – the fat and juices (and thus the beefy flavour) would have been rendered and squeezed out of it. That is why a grey burger is always less moist than a pink one. (Of course, a good burger is predicated by having good beef.)

      I’m not really a purist, so there is room for burgers like 5 Guys and Whitespot in my world. But a good premium pink burger can’t be beat.

  2. Nice post, gastro! I have tried two of the three burgs you shout out, La B’s and refuel’s. Both are indeed worthy, though I found refuel’s a mite bland. I did appreciate that it was just beef, as I am not a fan of additions myself. Must get to HSG for theirs — perhaps a lunch, if they have it then??

    • Refuel’s seasoning for the burger is a bit inconsistent. I have had it a couple times were is was actually too salty. But overall, I don’t find it bland.

      You can get HSG’s burger for lunch…$12 for the burger and fries.

  3. Burgers etc In burnaby on Hastings also serve a nice pink burger. Ground steak . And man,great pulled pork as well. I miss a good Juicy perfectly cooked medium rare burger. Rather than cooked to death. I was excited for Stack house to open on Granville and was disappointed by inspired yet bland over priced and overcooked burgers ,Save for the Lamb burger! Furthermore The usual Sysco food service fries disappointed me for a burger Boutique.

    • I have had the burger at Burgers Etc…I was not given the medium-rare option when I went (…and I always ask). Your comment inspires me to try it again.

  4. I learned last week that Refuel also serves their burger ‘Animal-style’, in which they onions that are grilled in ballpark mustard. I thought this was only a U.S. In-and-Out Burger thing. It’s much less delicate, but VERY tasty.

  5. ah just how I make them at home, I am kind of iffy especially living in Canada eating very rare meat..send me to Europe and I am all over the Steak tar tar though aha..

    That burger from La Brasserie looks absolutely great

  6. Thank you for your enquiry concerning serving of rare or medium rare burgers at restaurants. Serving of undercooked burgers is not permitted. The issue is addressed indirectly in the Food Premises Regulation (FPR) under section 23 of this regulation. Reference is also made in the Canadian Food Retail and Food Services Code (The Code).

    Section 23 of the FPR requires that every food service establishment must have written procedures to ensure that a health hazard does not occur in the establishment. The serving of undercooked burgers (rare, medium rare) is an identified health hazard and any establishment serving burgers must identify the critical control point and the critical limits it will follow for the preparation and serving of the food item to ensure that it does not present a health hazard.

    For burgers (containing ground meat in a mixture) the critical control point is the cooking of the burger and the critical limit as presented in The Code (section 3.3.4 and Appendix B) is an internal temperature of 74 degrees for 10 minutes. At this temperature and time the meat should be adequately done and not be in an undercooked state.

    Hope the information helps. If you have any questions or have a particular concern about an establishment not meeting the standard please free to call me at the number below or our office at (604) 675-3800.

    Sajan Joseph (M.A.; BSc.; R.E.H.O)
    Senior Environmental Health Officer

    • Thanks for that KF,

      I had talked to Sajan Joseph about this and he noted that there is no language in the books explicitly barring the serving of raw meat. He also stated that each establishment needs to address the method preparation of any raw meat specifically in a written document that they have to submit to the health authority (eg with tataki, carpaccio, etc.). (For example, some places poach some beef that prior to grinding to kill off pathogens such as E. coli. That has to be stated.).

      He did mention that last year, they had a major campaign to educate the public and the restaurant industry on the dangers of serving raw burger meat. He sounded skeptical about the consumption of raw ground beef in general. It would be a shame to lose this option (as has already happened in many states in the US).

      • Hey Gastro – it sounds like anywhere that is serving tartar, carpaccio, burgers cooked to order etc… have to submit a written document to the health authority. Any idea what methods (including your poaching example) are acceptable methods for killing off pathogens? UV light? Surface sear?

        Interesting that they define the control point as being when a burger is cooked, when the point of infection is really at the slaughter house. It would be much better to regulate industry to stop taking shortcuts for profit rather than trying to dictate what we can and cannot eat.

        • I gather from my conversation with Mr Joseph that it is really an inspector’s call on what is acceptable to serve raw meat. There is nothing in the books stating what methods are acceptable…again there isn’t any explicit language about raw hamburgers. In my interpretation – and he concurs – technically carpaccio, tataki, etc is also illegal under the spirit of the law as the prep method exposes a large surface area of the meat to pathogens.

          He believes that the the serving of raw hamburgers is illegal in spirit. He made no distinction between say – hand-chopped meat and freshly ground meat (vis-a-vis factory-ground meat) – stating that he believes that neither of those methods is enough to disqualify.

          It also sounded like he is not out in the field doing inspections, so his knowledge about specific preparations is second-hand. I will have to follow up. 75C (165F) for 10 mins for a burger will render it completely inedible.

          • So does that mean all raw meat preparations (like tartar) are theoretically illegal? Very interesting.

            Do you know of some way that pathogens could be killed without damaging the integrity of the product? Im trying to think of some way that could reconcile the governments need to legislate with a restaurants need to serve something that tastes like food…

            • There are other methods and preparations that would not be allowed if you read the rule books in black and white – including sous vide, Chinese BBQ, rare steak, raw oysters, etc. Yet they are served all over the place.

              The flexibility must come from the inspectors’ individual interpretations of the rules. The rules are there to protect consumers from establishments that have untrained staff, sanitation issues, etc. High-end restaurant with good records, etc are probably given a bit of leeway. (My guess).

              I don’t think there are any foolproof methods to insure that pathogens are destroyed. Even cooking for a long time will not destroy certain pathogens (eg botulism poison).

              I also note that the most recent deadly E Coli outbreaks were caused by cucumbers. Vegetables are increasingly a common cause of such outbreaks.

              Going back to the “proper” prep of a burger: to clarify, the center of the burger has to be at 75F for 10 whole minutes to pass regulations. That is probably 15mins of cooking time in total. (shudder).

  7. Option to have your burger as you wish is also available at the Maple Grill on Broadway in Kits. This is a lamb/beef mashup however.

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