Mike Puma never set out to be an influencer. Puma, who works on Wall Street by day, started an account on Instagram in 2013 called Gotham Burger Social Club to get 15 friends together every month to seek out New York City's best burgers. A few burgers later, @gothamburgersocialclub started attracting attention for their reviews of lesser-known options.
"We realized we were doing something different. Every 'best burger' list features the same restaurants. Our ratings went off-course," Puma says.
These days, Puma's account, which has 168,000 followers, continues to serve up details on NYC's best burgers, as well as recommendations of other dishes. The James Beard Foundation and the Food Network have referred to Gotham Burger Social Club as "a trusted," or "the most trusted," source for finding the best burgers in Manhattan.
Puma has sampled top-notch burgers across the New York metro area including Bowery Meat Company, The Happiest Hour, Porter House Bar and Grill, and Suprema Provisions. But the ones he likes best, he recently told a commenter on Instagram, are the ones he makes himself.
Puma shared his signature $3 burger recipe with Grow, along with the following tips for saving money in the kitchen.
"When it comes to produce, it's up to you if you want to buy organic. I call it a life choice. If you wash those nonorganic fruits and veggies, they're going to taste the same as the organic ones," says Puma. "So if taste is a priority, spend more on things that are more expensive but taste better, not on things that are more expensive but don't taste any different."
One item that warrants the added cost? Beef, says Puma. "Good beef is worth the splurge. Spending a few extra dollars will pay huge dividends. You want to get the freshest meat you can, because the quality will transfer into the final product's taste. For a higher quality burger, I'll buy Kow Wagyu beef."
"Let's say you're going to buy a pound of beef, but you're only cooking for two. Think ahead. It's like a game of chess!" he says. "Decide what else you can make with that leftover beef and extra onion. Maybe make a meatloaf, or add celery and carrots to make a delicious Bolognese sauce."
"If there's one piece of equipment you need to make a good burger at home, it's a wide, sturdy spatula," says Puma. "I found mine on Amazon for $35. It's worth the investment because it really lets you smash your burger so you can produce that nice crust."
As for your pan, Puma says a cast-iron griddle will last a lifetime and guarantee a nice crust if you get it hot enough. You can usually find one for $25 or so, he says.
Puma doesn't always want to indulge in a pricey burger: "There will be times I just don't want to cook burgers at home and I want to go out without spending a fortune. My go-to, best-bang-for-your-buck burger is The Fi-Dolla Burger at Ethyl's Alcohol & Food (it's $5). There's also a great happy hour burger at The Usual for $6. For a guilty pleasure burger, I'll go to White Castle and crush some sliders for a few bucks!
"When it comes to hamburgers, you're always going to love the one you grew up loving the most. We try to guide people in the right direction, while respecting their decision."
And, of course, when you are in the mood, you can make your own hamburgers and save even more money. Here's Puma's recipe of choice.