Considering that burger joints and gastropubs are sprouting like weeds with new contenders all over the globe, chefs take their burgers as seriously as their patrons.
Achieving glamburger excellence at home, however is far from textbook as there are a multitude of factors to consider for presenting a burger that’s packed with flavor and kicks serious ass every time.
You’re wondering how hard can it be? Because you’re already a pro at slapping a burger on the barbie. Well, kids, news flash. That’s the worst thing you can do.
Patty– 80-20 all the way. 20% fat and 80% lean. Once you have formed the patty, (you want to form it lightly and not pack it), season liberally only with Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper. It’s a burger, not a meatloaf, so don’t add any other seasonings that will confuse your burger. And the rule of thumb – well here you literally have to put your thumb to work, create a thumbprint to make a depression in the center of the patty. Why? Because if you don’t, it will puff up like a football and you’ll be tempted to press it down with a spatula as it cooks and that’s an absolute NO-NO in burger etiquette, because all the juices will escape and instead of a burger you’ll have a hockey puck. Try to keep your patty to 7 oz, it’s not a meatball and you want it to cook inside.
Meat– Chuck and sirloin are preferred. Add some brisket for good measure as the flavor is incomparable and please have the butcher grind the meats, or grind them yourself if you have the right equipment and don’t buy the pre-ground stuff on the shelf. If you select to use Wagyu beef, go easy on the accoutrements, as it’s pretty rich. Stay away from lean and extra-lean, the result will be a patty as dry as the Sahara. If your choice is chicken, turkey or lamb the same applies – ensure that the grinds have at least 18% fat. Keep the patties chilled until you are ready to cook them, because burgers are the only meats you want to cook cold. You aren’t going to be eating a burger every day, so make it make it count and pull out the stops, otherwise what’s the point?
Where – According to burger experts who’ve prepared millions of burgers, cast iron is best, as it builds optimal heat needed to get a good sear on the patty, as it has superb heat distribution and it’s evenly maintained. Another great vehicle is the griddle. And when you’ve added the patty throw in a pat of butter to get them started or a neutral oil like canola. They also insist, and here’s were many will disagree violently, and we may come to a Mexican standoff, don’t cook your meat patties directly on the grill.
Sure, cook them outside but use a cast iron or a griddle on top of the BBQ. The objective is to have the fat collect around the patty to act like a natural condiment to keep them moist as they cook. By placing the patties directly on the grill, the juices will drip through and the patties will render bone dry.
Flip Once– It’s crucial to only flip once because you want a crust to form on the bottom of the patty. It creates incredibly umami notes from so don’t be an early flipper because the patty will fall apart, and you’ll end up with two burgers out of one patty. Once you’ve turned it, allow it to develop an even crust on the other side. In my opinion, the best way to enjoy a burger is juicy and pink in the middle and that falls around medium and medium rare (interior temp of 145F).
Rare– 6 minutes (3 per side)
Medium rare– 7 minutes (3½ per side)
Medium– 8 minutes (4 per side)
Medium-well– 9 minutes (4½ per side)
Well-done– 11 minutes (5½ per side) At this point you might as well not bother and order a pizza, because you will be eating beef jerky.
Cheeseburger– If you’re going to involve cheese as a component, it has to wrap its loving arms around the patty by melting all the way and ooze over the sides. Add a slice on top of the patty, add 1-2 TBSP of water to the pan and cover it tightly for about 30 seconds, that’s the trick to melt the cheese to oozy and creamy consistency. If you’re adding cheese, ensure its melted, otherwise why bother? Same concept as with a grilled cheese sandwich.
Bread– A laser-like attention has to be given to the bread that is around the patty, because it’s equally as important as what between it. They should be as one. Some restaurants go as far as baking their own buns. However, the chances of that happening at home are slim and none. Try to wrap your burger around something that gives it the right attention, without it taking over. Ever wonder why the burgers you get at a gastropub or a burger bar taste so darn good? Because they are using the best bread possible along and all the ingredients (sauces) are made inhouse. You may disagree with me, but don’t avail yourself of the overrated and convenient cotton-wool-like hamburger buns sold in the bread section, unless you are going to have a shindig of 50 and you want to keep things simple. Why some fancy roll, you ask? Once you use a Kaiser, brioche or potato roll, ciabatta, pretzel bun, sesame roll or some artisanal multi-grain bun from a decent bakery you’ll know what I’m talking about.
When you slice the roll in half, scoop out a little of the filling on both sides – so that the ratio of burger and bread isn’t superseded by the starch and you have equal balance. Additionally, take a few minutes to butter and toast your bun – it should be warm and toasted to go along with your all the interior trappings.
Accoutrements– Since we are talking professional burgers here, because you’re trying to achieve similar results as what you’d get at Bobby Flay’s Burger Palace, there’s little disagreement that homemade is best. Most of the condiments at these burger joints are made inhouse, from their mayo, aioli, mustards, relishes, pickles and ketchups. That’s why their burgers are packed with umami and they are hellacious good. Nothing is processed. Sauce adds umami to any burger and apart from the standard cast of characters, mustard, mayo and ketchup, there’s a huge variety to make your creation stellar. Homemade aioli, bacon or tomato jam, tapenade and even tahini for a veggie or lamb burger are just a start.
R&R– Let the burgers rest before serving them. The concept that applies to roasts and steaks before slicing applies here as well – it allows the juices to redistribute.
FIXIN’S – Depending on what excites you, there are many trimmings to slap on the patty after its cooked, so you can really go to town here. Grilled or raw onions, sautéed mushrooms or peppers; fried crispy onions, crunchy bacon or onion rings. Fried egg; avocado; fresh greens and of course tomato. And to cut through the richness, a pickled element is necessary. Pickled onions or radish, dill pickles and if you want a spicy note, add some jalapeños, roasted poblanos or chipotle aioli to break a sweat. And lastly, you may want to add a few potato chips, as they add much-needed crunch to seal the whole package.
Get some wooden skewers to secure the contents of the burger before serving your masterpiece. Presentation is key because after all your efforts, you want all the components staying together and you want that wow factor before jaws are devouring it. A steak knife works wonders to hold it together if the size is gargantuan.
Mastering your burger and introducing new contenders to be scarfed by hungry stomachs, doesn’t have to be a harrowing experience; you’ll become a regular burger pro and a true original following these great practices which will deliver burger nirvana every time. And please, don’t shy away from preparing your homemade pickles and sauces – it’s not molecular gastronomy and all it takes is dedication and the passion to be imaginative, because after all, that’s what cooking is all about.