How to Achieve Your Personal Burger Best

by in News, June 25th, 2014

How to Achieve Your Personal Burger BestLet’s talk burgers — big (but not too big), juicy and perfectly turned, with or without cheese, tucked inside a fancy bakery brioche or a basic potato bun, dressed to the nines or served neat. It’s nearly impossible to discuss the finer points of burgers without working up an appetite. But there’s no nibbling around the fact that some burgers are better than others. The question, then: What’s the key to making sure your burgers rank among the best?

According to The New York Times, a lot of it comes down to what you cook the burger on, and those known for the most-perfect patties insist on “heavy, cast-iron pans and griddles.” Yes, even if you’re cooking outside on a grill. Heat the meat in a pan over the fire. Don’t place your patties directly on the grill. “The point is to allow rendering beef fat to gather around the patties as they cook, like a primitive high-heat confit,” Times Senior Editor Sam Sifton explains as he strives to deconstruct “the perfect burger.”

Documentary filmmaker (2005’s Hamburger America) and burger expert George Motz contends that using a skillet allows the grease to function not only as a cooking agent, but also as a “condiment that is as natural as the beef itself.” George compares a “great burger” to “a baked potato, or sashimi,” telling Sam, “It should taste completely of itself.”

What about the meat? Bobby Flay’s Perfect Burger recipe (pictured above) seconds Sam’s suggestion and calls for ground chuck that is 80 percent lean.

The size of your patties matters: Bobby says burgers should be about 6 ounces each, formed loosely into 3/4-inch-thick patties. Make a deep indentation into the center of each burger, season with salt and pepper, and cook over high heat after the oil in your pan starts to shimmer. Once the first side is “golden brown and slightly charred” (figure about three minutes), flip your beef burger over and cook it until the other side matches it (a medium-rare burger will take about four minutes). If you’re using cheese, add it about one minute before reaching your “desired degree of doneness” and cover or tent it to facilitate melting.

Bobby tweaks his recipe a bit if you’re using ground turkey (90 percent lean) instead of ground chuck. And if you’re looking for more variations on your burger theme, you’ll find them here: Giada’s Beef Burgers with Mushrooms and Aioli adds an interesting topping twist. Or add curry flavor with Jenss Chang’s Malaysian Indian Curry-Spiced Beef Burgers; she shows Bobby how to make them here.

There are lots of ways you can get creative. And while Sam cautions against overdressing your patties — noting that fancy extras are no substitute for proper cooking technique — marrying burger basics and innovative ideas is bound to produce not just a better burger, but one that can take its place among the very best.

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Comments (7)

  1. Tony says:

    Seriously? 6 ounces? I don't care what Bobby Flay says a real burger should be at least 8 ounces and honestly some of the best I've had were 9 or 10. A smaller burger is harder to cook properly since it cooks faster and is often thinner, it's harder to find a bun that fits correctly unless you mash it flat at which point you obviously don't care about a perfect burger. Also an 8 ounce serving is more reasonable than deciding between one or two 6 oz burgers which is usually too little or too much.

    As someone who has been making great burgers for a long time my best suggestion is to grind your own meat or have it ground fresh for you. The difference is huge. You can start with just ground chuck but you can find some excellent blends online of more unusual cuts like ox tail or brisket. You can even get a somewhat decent grind if you pulse small pieces (like one or two inches) of halfway frozen (important it should be just thawed enough to slice) in a food processor.

    • Tony says:

      Oh also you know you've got a truly great burger when you're not sure if you even need cheese and you don't need ketchup.

      • David Hoffman says:

        Yes. Great beef, salt, pepper, and excellent cooking technique will result in a taste sensation all by itself. When I read about the need for bacon and cheese, I immediately suspect low grade beef is being used along with poor cooking technique. I watched Juia Child and Jacques Pépin cook beef burgers and they kept it just as simple. Top quality ground beef, cast iron cookware, salt, pepper, good quality bread, and no mashing down on the burger patty as it cooks.

  2. rob weaver says:

    whenever i grill i do a half dozen at medium rare and freeze them for a quick lunch or dinner in the near future.
    reheated they taste fresh off the grill. my favorite condiments: butter and brown the bun on a hot skillet, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, blue cheese topped with grilled onions and an I.P.A.

  3. Tom Baker says:

    Seriously? There's a reason McDonald's and Burger King sell more burgers than anyone else in the world. Unless you have the perfect meat combination a 3/4" burger turns out dry and mealy or raw and gross inside. A good patty should not be more than 1/4 to 3/8" thick, well seasoned with salt and pepper only and quickly seared on each side. Put the cheese on as soon as you flip because it should only take about a minute or two for each side depending on thickness. Then you will end up with a juicy burger that is actually edible and easily duplicated every time. I prefer a 1/4" patty at about 6 to 7 ounces and I agree that you need to use a very hot heavy skillet.

    • Charlie Wilson says:

      There is also a reason I NEVER eat fast food hamburgers.

    • David Hoffman says:

      Practice with the thicker beef patty and you will learn to keep it juicy even with going to medium cooking temperature. I cook mine in a cast iron pan on the stove top or under the broiler. Once you learn the stove's characteristics you can get a juicy burger done medium with relative ease. I also patronize a few independent restaurants that manage to do the same thing with thick burgers. McDonald's and Burger King are mainly about speed and low cost. Thin frozen beef patties cook fast and there is less chance of undercooking. If you are cooking at home you should not be putting thin frozen beef patties into the pan. Lightly packed unfrozen beef patties that are properly shaped, remember the dimples in the center on both sides, will yield great results.

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