What exactly is the definition of a perfect burger?
Burger authorities including Jonathan Waxman, Jimmy Bradley, and David Ciancio answered the simple question, "What's the perfect burger?"
What exactly is the definition of a perfect burger, anyway?
Last week, we released our ranking of the 40 Best Burgers in America and the America's Top 10 Chain Burgers, and these lists were devised thanks to a panel of burger experts, who submitted suggestions of their favorite burgers to be included in our survey. With about 150 burgers from all reaches of the country to choose from, this panel of 30 experts then voted for their favorites in each region, which we then tallied and used to assemble our final ranking.
Click Here for The Perfect Burger: Experts Weigh In Slideshow
Along with their burger suggestions, we also asked our panelists to answer this simple question for us: "What is the definition of the perfect burger?"
The responses were as varied as the burgers on our list. Some prefer nothing but a little bit of griddled meat with onions on a bun; others go a much more gourmet route. But in the end, certain unanimous qualifications became evident: The use of high-quality meat, for one, prepared with care and an eye toward balance.
Read on for the definition of a perfect burger from ten of the country’s top chefs, food writers, bloggers, and journalists, including chefs Jonathan Waxman and Jimmy Bradley and writers George Motz, John T. Edge, and Tom Sietsema.
How To Make A Perfect Five Guys Burger
You'd think that making a copycat Five Guys burger would be pretty easy it's just meat and bun. But naturally there's a bit more to it than just throwing some beef on a hot surface. Five Guys uses very specific products to get that taste exactly right. Surprisingly, a lot of what goes into a Five Guys burger can be easily found. If you use the correct stuff, and follow the formula, you'll be making burgers just like they do at Five Guys.
Note: condensed recipe at the end for those who don't like reading.
Get Good Bread, and Make It Even Better
Starting with good bread is something our experts unanimously agreed on. "If you've got great bread, you've got a great sandwich—it really is half the battle," says Charles Kelsey, of Boston's Cutty's. In other words, any bread you're using for a sandwich should be delicious enough to eat on its own. Sometimes that means buying a high-quality artisan loaf in place of supermarket bread. That said, Kelsey adds, "You can take crappy bread and make it taste better." He recommends toasting it for starters, but if it needs an even bigger hand, he says you can't do better than griddling it with some butter. Your goal? Pane Bianco's owner, Chris Bianco, wants his bread "crisp enough to provide some structure to the foundation of the sandwich, but still yielding in the center."
Even the best of breads can prove tricky if they're not handled properly—especially if they're thick. "The thing you don't want is to take a bite of a sandwich and have a wheat-infested smackdown in your mouth," says Jeff Mason, who runs Oakland, California's sandwich shop Pal's Take Away. Rather than plodding through a particularly thick roll, take a page out of Mason's book and "try carving out some bread from the dome of the roll. That way, you'll get an equal bump of flavor from the bread and the ingredients, instead of an overwhelming hit of one flavor over all the others." Mason's technique earns bonus points for also creating the perfect space for squishy or slippery ingredients that would otherwise tend to slide out of sub-style sandwiches: "The dome creates a little cave unit to house your ingredients," he says.
But how do you choose when to go with a roll versus sliced bread, whether it's rye, white, or wheat? And when should you opt for a potato bun or a baguette? When it comes to selecting the right bread for your sandwich, I quickly learned that it's virtually impossible to make blanket generalizations, and a lot comes down to personal preference. One thing you can focus on, though, is its texture. "Bread can often satisfy the crunchier component of a sandwich," says Caroline Fidanza, from her Brooklyn sandwich shop, Saltie. Fellow Brooklynite Fred Hua, of Nhà Minh, agrees. "Crunch is a huge part of what makes a great sandwich. But think about balancing it with other textures. A crisp, crunchy, toasted bread can be a great vessel for something stewy—stewed vegetables or stewed beef." Tyler Kord, of New York's No. 7 Sub, also suggests looking to bread as a source of contrast. "If you're putting crunchy fried chicken in a sandwich, then I like a super soft white bread. And conversely, for a PB&J, something crunchy would be nice." Is it a universal rule, though? Hardly. Kord is quick to add: "Then again, an egg and cheese from a bodega [which is nearly always served on a soft, untoasted roll] has almost no texture, and it is one of the best, if not the best, sandwiches in the history of sandwiches."
While a lot depends on the texture of the ingredients you're putting inside, volume can also play a role in bread selection. "I feel like on the softer breads, you can get away with more ingredients—that give means you're less likely to push your fillings out the back," says Kelsey. On the other hand, putting soft ingredients, like egg salad, on a super-crusty, chewy, dense bread can be a recipe for disaster, he notes. If you're not careful, it'll all squish out, so "you have to be more judicious about balance and the amount of filling that goes on a stiffer bread," Kelsey concludes.
The Perfect Burger: Experts Weigh In - Recipes
J4YMeals Idea of a Perfect Burger - Recipe & Gift from the Chef
By Just 4 You Meals
A Base from which to Build Your Grilling Empire
Grilling season is upon us. Whether or not you are an old pro or a budding novice, the Chef has a great base burger recipe Just 4 You. Healthy meal prep does not mean you have to sacrifice flavor. If the Triad’s premier fresh, never frozen, meal delivery service has proven one thing over the last few year, it is this: Great Flavor Can Be Healthy.
This base burger recipe is just that. A base upon which you can modify and add the healthy toppings you enjoy. These can be made ahead of time and serve as the protein in your weekly meal prep.
What You Need “The Awesome Ingredients”
- 1lb of ground beef. We recommend an 80/20 or 90/10 meat to fat ratio.
- 1 tsp of dijon mustard
- 1 egg
- 1 small onion finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove minced
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- Whisk egg thoroughly in a bowl.
- Add the rest of the ingredients - save for the beef. Combine thoroughly.
- Crumble in beef and mix by hand until well combined.
- Get a baking sheet and line with wax or parchment paper.
- Place a square of parchment paper on your counter and wrap and small plate with plastic wrap.
- Make equal balls of beef - weigh for exactness. Press between plate and was paper. Lay on baking sheet.
- Refrigerate overnight.
- Grill over a med. High flame. Let rest for 5-10 minutes. Enjoy!
Use some cauliflower sandwich thins instead of a bun for an even healthier option!
A gift from the Chef. Need a break from cooking? Let the Triad’s premier meal prep company cook for you this week. All our meals are portioned, cooked with fresh local foods, and made to order. Enter the promo code “J4YOU” to take $5 dollars off your next order. Good for a limited time.
Deconstructing the Perfect Burger
How to make a great hamburger is a question that has bedeviled the nation for generations, for as long as Americans have had griddles and broilers, for as long as summertime shorts-wearing cooks have gone into the yard to grill.
But the answer is simple, according to many of those who make and sell the nation’s best hamburgers: Cook on heavy, cast-iron pans and griddles. Cook outside if you like, heating the pan over the fire of a grill, but never on the grill itself. The point is to allow rendering beef fat to gather around the patties as they cook, like a primitive high-heat confit.
“That is the best way to do it,” said George Motz, the documentary filmmaker who released “Hamburger America” in 2005 and has since become a leading authority on hamburgers. The beef fat collected in a hot skillet, Mr. Motz said, acts both as a cooking and a flavoring agent. “Grease is a condiment that is as natural as the beef itself,” he said. “A great burger should be like a baked potato, or sashimi. It should taste completely of itself.”
Michael Symon, the ebullient television Iron Chef, a host of ABC’s “The Chew” and a proprietor of a small chain of Midwestern hamburger restaurants called B Spot, agreed. Mr. Symon’s restaurants each serve more than 1,000 hamburgers a night, he said, all of them finished on a flat-top griddle coated in beef fat.
“Use a skillet,” he said on a speakerphone, on the way to a flight to Detroit, where he is opening a B Spot. He was emphatic about the subject. “A grill is too difficult,” he said. “A hot skillet is what you want.”
We will return to the business of how to use that skillet, for — as Mr. Symon hastened to add — the surface on which you cook is only one component of hamburger excellence. There is also the size of the hamburger. There is the kind of meat used to create it. There is the bun. There is cheese or there is not. There are tomato debates, lettuce quarrels (on top or on the bottom?). There are questions of ketchup, of mustard, of pickles, of onions.
Some of these things are matters of personal taste, but for people who know burgers well, there is little disagreement about the best practices for making an exceptional one.
It is best to start at the beginning. Great hamburgers fall into two distinct categories. There is the traditional griddled hamburger of diners and takeaway spots, smashed thin and cooked crisp on its edges. And there is the pub- or tavern-style hamburger, plump and juicy, with a thick char that gives way to tender, often blood-red meat within.
The diner hamburger has a precooked weight of 3 to 4 ounces, roughly an ice-cream-scoop’s worth of meat. The pub-style one is heavier, but not a great deal heavier. Its precooked weight ought to fall, experts say, between 7 and 8 ounces.
“Most of the time, 7 ounces is more than enough,” said Geoffrey Zakarian, the chef and owner of the National Bar and Dining Rooms, in Manhattan, which serves a fine hamburger of roughly that size. Mr. Zakarian cautioned against hamburgers of more than a half-pound in weight. “You want to get some heat to the inside of the burger,” he said. “You don’t want some giant, underdone meatloaf.”
Whichever style you cook, pay close attention to the cuts of beef used in the grind. The traditional hamburger is made of ground chuck steak, rich in both fat and flavor, in a ratio that ideally runs about 80 percent meat, 20 percent fat. Less fat leads to a drier hamburger. Avoid, the experts say, supermarket blends advertised with words like “lean.”
Too much fat, on the other hand, can lead to equally troubling issues, and a mess in both fact and flavor. “You get up around 30 percent fat,” Mr. Symon said, and there are risks. “Things happen,” he said. “Bad things. Shrinkage.” Home cooks should experiment, he said, with blends that contain from 20 to 25 percent fat.
What to Cook Right Now
Sam Sifton has menu suggestions for the coming days. There are thousands of ideas for what to cook waiting for you on New York Times Cooking.
- Do not miss Yotam Ottolenghi’s incredible soba noodles with ginger broth and crunchy ginger. for fungi is a treat, and it pairs beautifully with fried snapper with Creole sauce.
- Try Ali Slagle’s salad pizza with white beans, arugula and pickled peppers, inspired by a California Pizza Kitchen classic.
- Alexa Weibel’s modern take on macaroni salad, enlivened by lemon and herbs, pairs really nicely with oven-fried chicken.
- A dollop of burrata does the heavy lifting in Sarah Copeland’s simple recipe for spaghetti with garlic-chile oil.
Restaurateurs, sometimes driven by the marketing efforts of celebrity butchers, tout hamburger blends of chuck and brisket, hanger and strip steak, short rib and clod. In New York, Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors has built a carriage-trade business on the back of whimsical blends of beef for hamburgers, in particular the custom Black Label blend put together for Keith McNally’s Minetta Tavern, in Manhattan. The specifics of that blend are kept secret by Mr. LaFrieda, but he has allowed that about 30 percent of it is dry-aged New York strip steak.
Tom Mylan, one of the owners of the Meat Hook butcher shop in Brooklyn, occasionally cuts bacon into his burger blends, and sometimes accompanies these with chunks of Cheddar and sour-cream-and-onion-flavored potato chips. In his recent cookbook, “The Meat Hook Meat Book,” he calls that particular mixture the “Fat Kid Blend, World of Warfare edition.”
“If you’re an antisocial stoner agoraphobe,” Mr. Mylan writes, “this is for you. Fire up the Xbox and dig in.”
But home cooks and those who speak for them most often advocate the use of chuck steak for hamburgers. Michael Ruhlman, the erudite Cleveland writer and cook, gives short shrift to fancy blends of meat. “I believe the only critical ratio is the meat to fat,” he said, adding that he generally buys a fatty cut of chuck steak and grinds it at home. “That gives me a great burger every time.”
There are pitfalls to buying preground supermarket chuck steak, experts say. In addition to concerns about the health risks associated with preground hamburger meat, there are culinary considerations as well. The grind most markets use is “fine,” which means the fat globules in it are small. That can lead to the dreaded mushy mouth feel of a substandard hamburger. Better (and safer) to have a butcher grind your meat, asking for a coarse grind so that the ratio of meat to fat is clear to the eye.
Whatever the blend, it is wise to keep the meat in the refrigerator, untouched, until you are ready to cook. “Hamburgers are one of the few meats you want to cook cold,” Mr. Symon said. “You want the fat solid when the patty goes onto the skillet. You don’t want any smearing.”
Forming the patties is a delicate art. For the thin, diner-style hamburger, Mr. Motz said, simply use a spoon or an ice-cream scoop to extract a loose golf ball of meat from the pile, and get it onto the skillet in one swift movement. “You don’t need to set the heat below it to stun,” he said. “A medium-hot pan will do it, accompanied for the first burger with a pat of melted butter to get the process started.”
Then, a heresy to many home cooks: the smash. Use a heavy spatula to press down on the meat, producing a thin patty about the size of a hamburger bun. “Everyone freaks out about that,” Mr. Motz said. “But it’s the only time you’re touching the meat, and you’re creating this great crust in doing it.” Roughly 90 seconds later, after seasoning the meat, you can slide your spatula under the patty, flip it over, add cheese if you’re using it, and cook the hamburger through.
The pub-style burger is in some ways even easier to make. The key, Mr. Symon said, is not to handle the meat too much. “A lot of people make the mistake of packing the burger really tightly,” he said. “But what you want is for it just to hold together, no more.” Simply grab a handful of beef and form it into a burger shape, then get it into the pan, season it and cook for about three minutes. Then turn it over and, if using, add cheese. The burger is done three to four minutes later for medium-rare.
“Most people don’t melt the cheese enough,” Mr. Zakarian said. He emphasized the need to dress the hamburger with cheese as soon as the patty is flipped. “You want a curtain of cheese to enrobe the meat,” he said. “The rennet in it really adds a lot of flavor.”
Which cheese you use is a matter of preference, but Mr. Motz does not sneeze at the highly processed slice that has covered the nation’s hamburgers since the early days of White Castle restaurants. “American cheese is designed to melt,” he said, “and it has 50 percent more sodium than Cheddar or Swiss, so it adds a lot of flavor while also helping to hold the smashed patty together.”
In choosing buns, restaurateurs may offer hamburgers on special brioche from Balthazar, or fancy English muffins from Bays. But home cooks can do very well indeed with more commercial options, in particular potato buns, which offer a soft and sturdy platform for the meat.
The most important factor is, again, ratio. “The bun-to-burger ratio is incredibly important,” Mr. Symon said. “You want a soft bun, like a challah or potato, but whichever you use it shouldn’t overwhelm the burger. They should be as one.”
Finally, there are condiments. You pull your burgers off the skillet, place them on the buns and then offer them to guests to dress. Ripe tomatoes and cold lettuce should be offered (“Only bibb lettuce,” Mr. Zakarian said, “for its crispness and ability to hold the juices of the meat”) along with ketchup, mustard and, for a hardy few, mayonnaise or mayonnaise mixtures. Onions excite some. Pickles, others.
“People really overcomplicate hamburgers,” Mr. Zakarian said. “They substitute complication for proper cooking technique.”
How to Make Perfect Burger Patties
Our square patties fit just right on standard slider buns. Working on a piece of parchment paper, pat 1 1/4 pounds ground beef chuck into a 6-by-8-inch rectangle. Cut into twelve 2-inch squares refrigerate at least 20 minutes.
Season with 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and pepper to taste. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat add 1 tablespoon butter and let melt. Cook the patties until a crust forms, about 2 minutes per side, topping with cheese after flipping, if desired.
These come with a surprise inside: oozy melted cheese. Gently shape 1 1/2 pounds ground beef chuck into 4 balls. Press your thumb halfway into each to form a well. Pack 2 tablespoonfuls of shredded cheese into the middle of each ball. Shape the meat around the cheese and gently form into 3/4-inch-thick patties. Chill at least 30 minutes.
Preheat a grill to medium high and oil the grates. Season the patties with salt and pepper and grill 5 to 6 minutes per side.
How to Make the Perfect Diner-Style Smash Burger
It’s a perennial matter of debate: which makes for a better burger — griddling or grilling?
For almost my entire life, I felt sure the latter was the correct answer. There’s just something about a thick, juicy, flame-kissed burger fresh off the backyard grill. In contrast, the pan-fried burgers I grew up with at home were gray and mealy (a result, I realized later, of the meat having been frozen before cooking).
But then as an adult, I became a big fan of the burgers served up at Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers — a restaurant chain. Thin, with craggy edges and a crispy textured crust, these griddle-fried burgers are just crazy delicious. It’s the same kind of burger you get at the Smashburger chain, and which have also been popular at Mom and Pop diners for decades.
I wanted to figure out how to make this kind of “smashed” burger at home, so I did some research and started trying out some techniques. The result was a homemade pan-fried burger so tasty, I have to say there’s no real going back to the grilled kind. Which is especially good news in these cold months — burger season is all year round now.
If you want to start making your own perfect diner-style smash burgers at home, we’ve put together this easy-to-follow, step-by-step visual guide to the process:
What You Need
Making the perfect pan-fried/griddled burger isn’t rocket science, but an ideal result does require a few tools and ingredients:
- Cast-iron skillet. The thick, flat, evenly-heated surface provided by cast-iron makes for perfect burger cooking and browning. A thick, non-non-stick griddle will work too. You’re going to be smashing your burgers flat, and to do so, you need a heavy-duty spatula — something thick, wide, and made with stainless steel. A nice metal spatula will also help you flip the burgers while retaining the delicious brown crust which will form underneath.
- 4 oz. ice cream scoop/disher. When you’re making a thin smash burger, you don’t want to pack the meat together too tightly by shaping them into patties with your hands. Instead, it’s best to keep the meat loose in a semi-ball shape, and then create the patty by smashing it down with your spatula. To create perfectly sized and shaped quarter-pounder patties, you’ll want to scoop the meat up with a 4 oz ice cream scooper or “disher” — a handle with a bowl at the end that’s got a retractable blade that cleanly releases the meat.
- 80/20 or 85/15 ground beef. 80/20 is often recommended as the ideal meat/fat ratio for hamburgers. But grocery stores sometimes only have 85/15, and that’s what we get. Still seems good. Freshly ground is ideal if you want to go that extra step.
- Sliced cheese. American cheese is classic — extra salty and melty. I used cheddar because we had some to use up.
- Bun + whatever dressing and condiments you like on your burger
How to Make a Diner-Style Smash Burger
Step 1: Make sure you have all your supplies ready and at hand before you begin cooking things will move quickly once the process begins.
Don’t take the burger meat out of the fridge until you’re ready to cook you want it cold when it hits the pan for reasons explained below.
Step 2: Rub a cast iron skillet with a thin layer of oil and preheat it over medium-high heat for a few minutes.
Step 3: Crank the heat of the skillet up to high and scoop up a disher full of ground beef.
If you don’t have a disher scoop, gently shape the meat into a golfball-sized ball with your hands don’t smoosh and press.
Step 4: Drop the scoop of beef onto the hot skillet.
Step 5: Smash down the meat with your spatula. Press very firmly, until the burger is about as thin as it’ll go.
If you don’t have a very heavy duty spatula and find you can’t generate enough flattening force, apply a second spatula to the first. I probably could have smashed them even thinner still, but juggling smashing and photography was difficult.
Let’s pause here for an extended note: I realize this step may seem like sacrilege to burger aficionados, as you’re squeezing out some of the meat’s juices. But when you smash a burger right after it hits the skillet (this is the only time you’ll smash the burger during the cooking process), when the fat is still cold and solid, it won’t lose any more of its juices than a non-smashed burger. And unlike a grilled burger, which loses some juice to the flames below it, even when it isn’t squished, the pan-fried burger will continue to cook in its own grease, imparting moisture, adding a wonderful, extra meaty flavor, and creating a craggy, evenly-browned texture so tasty, that even if a griddled burger was slightly less juicy than the grilled variety, which I’m not convinced it is, this crust would make up for it.
Step 6: Salt the burgers.
Step 7: After 90 seconds to 2 minutes, flip the burgers, scraping under them to maintain the crust as you do so.
By the time you’ve dropped and smashed 4 burgers, the first will be about ready to be flipped.
Step 8: Place a slice of cheese on the burgers immediately after they’re flipped.
You want the cheese to be completely melted on your burgers, and that won’t happen unless you place the slices on right after your flip them.
Step 9: Fry for another minute or so and then remove from the pan. Place on a white roll and garnish as desired.
Since these burgers are thin, you can certainly create a double for yourself with two. Potato rolls are often recommended, but not personally my thing. Buttering and toasting the roll takes things up a notch, though we usually just warm them in the oven for a bit. Keep it simple with the garnishes/condiments. I personally just like special sauce and pickles. Make it your own.
How to Build the Perfect Cheeseburger
You know you love your great aunt’s banana bread, but you probably don’t know why you do. In Modern Comfort, Ashley Rodriguez from Not Without Salt figures out what makes our favorite classics work, and then makes them even better.
Today: How to make the perfect cheeseburger, from bun to beef and everything in between.
One of the most common questions asked to those of us who love food is, “What would you choose for your last meal?” My answer is always the same: a classic cheeseburger, crisp fries, and a bittersweet chocolate shake.
So you can imagine that when it comes to a classic cheeseburger, I have opinions—strong ones, in fact.
First, the bun. It should be soft, and sesame seeds are okay but not necessary. What I don’t want is to have a battle with my bread. This usually means there is butter and egg involved in the dough to make it tender. At the store I look for a potato or brioche bun. (Of course I’m never opposed to a homemade bun either.)
The patty itself is important, very much so, but I don’t put as much emphasis on the meat as others may. My perfect burger is just as much about the fixings as the meat, so I’m not concerned with grinding my own. I do seek out meat with a good bit of fat (15 to 20%). I season it simply with salt and pepper and then I add even more fat and flavor by grating in cold butter. The garlic, onion, and spices often found in burger recipes tend to take away from the natural flavor of the beef, but the addition of butter is really key. When the cold, thinly grated butter hits a screaming hot griddle, its steam creates pockets that tenderize and season the beef in a way that you’ll really appreciate when you bite in.
A grill is the classic way to cook a burger, of course, but I find that my cast-iron pan creates a thick, deeply caramelized crust on the meat while the interior stays juicy and pink. Bacon is highly encouraged but not necessary. If it does make it onto your burger, just be sure it’s very crisp.
My cheese of choice has always been a bit controversial. You see, I’m a fan of American cheese on a classic burger. I love how easily it melts both onto and into the burger, adding a soft creaminess without stealing the show.
I’ve now found my own combination for the perfect creamy, easy melting burger cheese. I blend sharp cheddar and Fontina with a bit of mayonnaise to create a rich, tangy sauce that melts and softens the moment it hits the hot patty. You can use whichever cheese you prefer, but I find that this mixture adds the right amount of sharpness without being overpowering.
A few more things to note about my burger: Special sauce belongs on both sides of the bun the lettuce is iceberg and must be cold and crisp dill pickles and thinly sliced yellow onion add a biting, raw heat and when the season is right, I slap on a thick slice of tomato. When tomatoes are not at their peak, I roast thick slices in a 400° F oven for 30 minutes (flipping halfway through roasting), until they are sweet, caramelized, and reminiscent of a fine ketchup.
If you have similarly strong opinions on the subject of a classic cheeseburger, I suggest you start preheating your cast-iron now—you are going to love this rendition.
My Classic Burger with Special Sauce
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, divided
1 pound 12 ounces ground beef (15 to 20% fat)
2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 soft burger buns
4 small, inner iceberg lettuce leaves
4 tomato slices (fresh or roasted)
Crisp bacon slices, for topping
4 yellow onion slices
Thinly sliced dill pickles, for topping
Start by making the cheese mixture (see below for instructions).
Grate 4 tablespoons of the cold butter and, in a large bowl, gently combine it with the beef, salt, and pepper. Refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.
When you are ready to cook your burgers, form the patties by gently gathering 4 ounces of beef into a ball and pressing it to create a patty. Sear the patties in a screaming hot cast-iron skillet for 3 minutes on one side. Flip, then continue to cook for 1 minute more before spooning a bit of the cheese mixture (see below for instructions) on top of the patty (or laying a slice of cheese if that is what you are using). Continue to cook for 1 to 2 minutes more, until the cheese is soft and the patty is cooked through. Set the patties aside to rest for a few minutes before building your burger.
Note: For medium-rare, cook the burger to 130° F to 135° F medium 140° F to 145° F medium-well 150° F to 155° F and well-done 160° F or higher.
While the pan that you just cooked your burger in is still hot, add the rest of the butter and let it melt. Place four of the bun halves in the pan and toast until golden and crisp. Repeat until all the buns are toasted.
Build your burger by slathering special sauce on BOTH sides of the bun. Add the patty and lettuce, tomatoes, bacon, onion, and LOTS of pickles. Top with the other crisped and sauce-smeared bun.
8 ounces cheese (I use a mix of Beecher’s Sharp Cheddar and Fontina), cut into 1-inch chunks
¼ cup (60 grams) mayonnaise
For the special sauce:
2 tablespoons dill relish
2 teaspoons yellow mustard
1⁄3 cup (80 grams) mayonnaise
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons ketchup
1⁄2 teaspoon soy sauce
1⁄2 teaspoon honey
Combine the cheese and ¼ cup mayonnaise in the bowl of a food processor and process until the cheese is cut up into tiny bits and the mixture is quite creamy. Refrigerate until ready to use. This mixture will keep for up to 2 weeks stored in an airtight container and refrigerated.
Whisk the remaining 1/3 cup mayonnaise with the remaining ingredients (dill relish through honey). The burger sauce can be made up to 1 week in advance and stored, covered, in the refrigerator.
How to Make the Perfect Hamburger Patty
A lot of cooks take pains to obtain top-notch hamburger meat, toppings, condiments, and buns only to relegate the crucial step of making the patties to an afterthought. There’s an art to preparing a hamburger patty. Fortunately, it’s one that can be reduced to a few straightforward guidelines. See our Guide to Building the Perfect Burger »
A pat of cold butter enclosed in the center of the patty bastes and flavors the meat while it cooks. Be sure to seal the butter pat in completely. Don’t pack the meat too much: overworking it can cause the burger to become mealy and overly dense. Gather the meat into a loose ball and set it on a work surface. Curl the palms of your hands around the sides of the patty and work it back and forth in a rotating motion so that the sides of the patty flatten slightly. Then gently press down on the top of the patty with the flat of your hand. Todd Coleman A note on size: thick is good, but there’s a limit any burger patty weighing more than eight ounces when raw will overwhelm your average bun. Todd Coleman
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We found that an ice cream scoop gave us a loosely packed portion perfectly sized for being squashed into a thin, old-school skillet burger. Todd Coleman Thick burger patties tend to puff up in the middle while they cook. Making a depression in the top of the patty using the back of a measuring spoon, or just your thumb, helps a burger hold its shape. Todd Coleman For more tips on building the perfect burger: See our favorite seasonings » See 9 great cheese options » See 25 favorite toppings » Michael Kraus
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Share All sharing options for: Chefs Weigh In on What Makes a Perfect Burger
What makes a perfect burger?
John Ondo, Lana: The meat to fat ratio. The type of meat. I like to do a mix of ribeye trimmings and short rib.
Josh Keeler, Two Boroughs Larder : We started putting a crisp crust on our burgers, and I think that's the key to a good burger. I'm not a big grill person fan — they have a tendency to be overgrilled and overcharred, because they flare up so much. I prefer a burger that's cooked in a pan or a flat top just because it lessens that flame or that gasoline flavor. I think a really good burger has to do with the fat ratio. If you overpack a burger or make it too dense, it's bad. I think you need to have air in your patties and a really nice crust. A really good bread is key. For a while everyone was putting burgers on really dense heavy bread, and a burger is heavy enough as it is. I think what people like about In-N-Out is their buns are really soft. You can squish the whole thing together.
Katie Lorenzen-Smith, Tavern & Table: Bun to meat ratio.
Timothy Montgomery, Bay Street Biergarten : What makes a perfect burger is the flavor of the beef, and freshness of the bun, and toppings. A burger should develop a nice sear to trap all the juices inside. Pressing a burger releases all of its flavor and makes the burger dry and ends up crumbling. The toppings are just as important as the cooking process. Using fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and onions help bring a crisp texture and flavor depth that makes your burger scream fresh. To add more depth a spread or sauce needs to compliment the other toppings without making the burger too messy or all you have is a excessive use of napkins. Innovative burger toppings just makes the flavor depth more interesting you just need to keep them in check because there is such a thing as "too much of a good thing."
Craig Deihl, Cypress: The number one thing is the meat, but there's a lot of factors to a good burger. One is the meat — I prefer dry-aged because you get a richer, deeper, meatier flavor. Two is the bun and the meat to bun ratio. The big fluffy brioche buns don't work for me. I prefer thin, and even just going to the grocery store to buy a pack of regular hamburger buns because you get a much better meat-to-bun ratio.
Jared Whitehead, The Alley : A perfect burger — there are many schools of thought about what makes a perfect burger. Some see burgers as a sacred institution — the purest form of sandwich bliss. Others see a drive thru window and a quick somewhat satisfying bite. For those of us in between, such as myself, a perfect burger is a vehicle for creativity and flavors but also, if stripped down to just meat and bun would be just as flavorful and satisfying. My perfect burger would be grass-fed bison or venison, cooked medium rare over charcoal with homemade aioli, melted sharp cheddar cheese and salt and pepper.
Adam Miller, Amen Street : Simplicity with me: great bun, perfectly seasoned patty (s&p, spice isn't seasoning), cheese (don't have a favorite, I just want it), and burger sauce of some sort (I actually prefer mayo, ketchup, & mustard).
Nate Whiting, 492 : Simple purity — it's a burger not a meatloaf. First, it’s about the beef, and not about all the spices and goodies that are often ground into the meat. Everyone has their secret ratio and favorite cuts, my best advice is addition by subtraction. Fresh, high-quality ground beef and salt and black pepper. While monster nine-ounce burgers have their place, I prefer a thinner patty, about five ounces To me, a great burger should have an equal amount of "crumble" and "stability". Meaning it should hold together enough to allow you to cook them correctly, (from edge to edge) and the guest should be able to take a bite without it falling apart.
As with many cooks, I like both the charcoal-grilled as well as seared on a griddle/pan for a variety of different reasons. So my fellow culinary nerd friends and I devised a plan to get the best of both. Because fat absorbs aromas so well, we first charred beef fat directly on hot hardwood charcoal embers, then we smoked it for several hours. We then chilled the fat and then ground it into the meat. Achieving an inside out char grilled flavor evenly distributed throughout the meat. (Yes, its a lot of extra work.)
Other Essentials: warm, tender bun, Heinz ketchup, French’s yellow mustard, and Mt. Olive pickles — accept no substitutes.
Emily Hahn, Warehouse : The perfect burger for me has crisp, not wilted, lettuce, ripe and seasoned slice of tomato, and a nice thin slice of red onion. I always appreciate a freshness with any sandwich and the above is a must. It is also a deal breaker if the amount of cheese is too much or too little. A nice sharp cheddar is my favorite. And the bun, oh the bun can make or break a burger. The bun must be a vessel for the patty and goodies, we use Brown's Court English muffin for ours which holds up very well. I can live without bacon and egg, but certainly don't turn my nose up to it!
Joe DiMaio, Stars : W hat makes a perfect burger for me is the cohesiveness between the amount of bun, meat ,and toppings. Can't have to much meat and no bun to hold it up and no meat with to much bun to weigh it down. Oh and gotta have true American cheese — none of that fancy cheddar.
Will Fincher, Obstinate Daughter : A perfect burger has to be juicy and minimally topped. The bun should be nicely toasted to hold up the beef. The patty itself should be seared on the outside to lock in all that beefy goodness. You gotta cook burgers at a high temperature or it's just a waste.
Bradley Grozis, Wild Olive : The burger has to be cooked to the right temp, and I am partial to grass-fed beef. I like mine medium, and I like the meat to be 80/20. That's important for a nice, juicy burger.
Bryan Cates, Basico: The proper cut of meat or cut combination. I prefer chuck roll for burger grinding. It has the best fat-to-meat ratio and makes for a well-balanced succulent burger. At Basico we use Painted Hills chuck roll that has been dry-aged for 30 days before grinding. Dry-aging concentrates the beef flavor and gives it a rich nuttiness. Burgers are two three-and-a-half-ounce patties. It would be a disservice to the meat to do anything but grill it. We top our burger with a a few leaves of hydroponic Bibb lettuce, a special blend of green chilis fashioned into a smooth puree, and a dollop of warm queso blanco, all resting on a Brown's Court bakery brioche sesame bun.
Joel Lucas, Eli’s Table : Fat content. 80 percent meat and twenty percent fat is the ideal balance for my burger.
Vinson Petrillo, Zero Cafe: A great blend of meat, perfectly melted cheese, an element of texture, fresh tomato, and most importantly a great quality bun.
Josh Walker, Xiao Bao Biscuit: I feel like there's two directions, either burger as a sandwich (sum is greater than individual parts) or burger as a steak (it's essentially about the meat, types used and the grind technique, the perfect cheese or boutique ingredient to finish) — the argument could also essentially be categorized as thin vs fat.
Patrick Owens,Langdon's and Opal: T op quality meat with sea salt and pepper. Cooked over a wood grill, mayo, ketchup, some type of cheese, and a toasted bun.
Mike Lata, FIG and The Ordinary: Great Mise en place/great execution. Burgers come in many different versions, but preference aside, it all has to work together.
Jason Dupree, 39 Rue de Jean : There’s two parts for me: a) the creator of the burger decides how good or bad the burger and (b) the type of meat you use is important!
Frank McMahon, Brasserie Gigi and Hank's : My perfect burger is made from double ground chuck with an 80 percent meat to 20 percent fat ratio. The meat must be seasoned with salt and pepper, seared to a perfect medium rare temperature, and immediately placed on a fresh bun that will absorb the meat juices without falling apart.
John Lewis, Lewis Barbecue: Special sauce!
Bob Carter, Barony Tavern : The grind of the meat — 100 percent chuck yields the best beefy flavor. The simpler, the better!
Ted D ombrowski, Ted's Butcherblock : Quality, freshly-ground beef, the right amount of fat content and a fresh roll are the three most important components of the ultimate burger burger.
Tony Chu, Aya : A perfect burger is a burger that has the right amount of beefy meat funk, a.k.a. umami. It is moist with a crispy semi-charred surface and made with a soft moist bread with nutty nuances. But the real question is how to make a perfect burger. Making the perfect burger is all about understanding what the cuts of beef really taste like and blending them to create the ultimate meat profile: gamey, rich, grassy, cheesy, beefy, and nutty. The burger should be somewhat greasy. The bite of the burger should be soft and moist, yet it should not fall apart and disintegrate in your hands. The burger meat should have some springy bounce. Burger that lacks this texture feels like you’re eating an old tire. Blending different grades of ground beef influences the burger’s texture. Too fine and the burger will feel like beef pate. Too rough and the burger will look like a meatloaf. From my experience, brisket, short rib, and chuck are a good start to the perfect burger. Brioche bun or Hawaiian bun tend to be the best for making the perfect burger. Aged funky cheese works really well burgers to create the umami bomb. My personal favorites are Barber’s 1833 English vintage cheddar and Roaring 40s, a blue cheese from Australia. Top with tomatoes and lettuce. San Marzano tomatoes are the best. The meaty tomato, which grows on the volcano ash in Italy, brings moderate acidity and prolongs the lingering taste of the burger. Balance the tomato with a leaf of Boston lettuce. When this perfect burger is taken to your mouth, it is non-stop ecstasy!
Nathan Thurston, Thurston Southern : It’s all about the grind. It’s essential to select the right meat and grind it fresh before cooking for the perfect burger. The benchmark for a perfect burger is a mixture of ground chuck, brisket, and boneless short rib. However, if time and cost are an issue- the chuck from a well-marbled steer makes a pretty mean burger. It’s intriguing how Mother Nature has provided us ideal lean meat to fat ratio for burgers within the Chuck beef primal. The same goes for pork shoulder yielding the perfect ratio for most sausage preparations.
Chari Skinner, Union Provisions : I would say starting with the burger meat itself, grinding your own meat and adding in the fat content you want is the freshest way to enjoy a burger. The bread is also a key component.
Chad Billings, The Southerly: First it must start with quality meat, blend is better, chuck, short rib and brisket. I prefer a burger to be seared versus grilled. The bun could be a close second. There are times when a good bun will make a burger just taste and look better. I’m simple, I prefer a good brioche or challah burger bun
Benjamin Dennis, personal chef: Perfect burger for me is a thin patty, griddled burger. I like my burgers cooked through but still juicy. I enjoy it better like that rather than medium or med rare, hence the reason I like it griddled and thin patty. Cook it in its fat/juices on the griddle.
Aaron Lemieux, Michael’s on the Alley, Victor Social Club, and Vincent Chicco’s : A perfect burger must be perfectly pattied, well-seasoned ,and cooked medium rare (a technique I learned at the burger mecca 39 Rue de Jean).
Josh Reeves, Ms. Rose's Fine Food & Cocktails: T he perfect burger — juicy and cooked to temperature, which means fresh, ground beef. After that, it's all up to the individual's choice of toppings.
Andy Henderson, Edmund's Oast: It's all about the bun for me. I love soft buttery bread. We do a brioche bun from Browns Court that I love.
Kevin Johnson, The Grocery: Charred on the outside, juicy on the inside and limited condiments.
Shawn Kelly, High Cotton: As simple as it sounds, getting a burger cooked to the temperature ordered, and seasoned is not as common as one might think.
Forrest Parker, Old Village Post House : Balance and simplicity. Some folks want to focus on just the burger, or whether or not the bun comes from Brown’s Court, Butcher & Bee, or King’s Hawaiian. To me, it’s providing the same level of focus for each component — condiments, cheese, burger and bun.
Russ Moore, Slightly North of Broad: Cooked on charcoal and medium rare.