Making a Great Burger
Anyone can make a good burger, inside on the stove top or outside on the grill. Making a great one, though, requires a little planning. One of the great pleasures in eating is enjoying a great burger with or without fries.
I’ve assembled all the information and instruction you need.
Avoid pre-ground supermarket chuck if possible. Instead, ask your butcher to grind your meat for you. Ask for a coarse grind. You should be able to see both meat and fat in the mix. (Supermarket chuck is ground “fine,” which can lead to a denser and less satisfying burger.)
Keep the meat in the refrigerator, untouched, until you are ready to cook.
Cooking a burger:
Get a cast-iron pan. There is no better surface on which to cook a hamburger. The fat that renders out of the meat gathers around the patty as it cooks, crisping the exterior and adding a great deal of flavor. You can even use a cast-iron pan outside, setting it on top of a grill. It will heat beautifully over the fire. A cast-iron pan is also a great surface for cooking non-beef burgers: turkey, chicken, salmon, and the like.
Big and juicy, with a thick char that gives way to tender, medium-rare meat. Like all burgers, it’s best cooked in a cast-iron pan, though it also translates well to the grill.
The burger has a precooked weight of 6 to 8 ounces; two pounds of beef will yield four burgers. Avoid making patties that are larger than that, as they will be difficult to cook through.
Use your hands to gently divide the ground beef into 4 piles about 8 ounces each, then lightly form each into a thick patty, roughly an inch thick and 3 ½ inches in diameter, like flattened meatballs. Take care not to handle the meat too much. Do not pack the meat tightly; the patty should just hold together. Use your thumb to create an indentation in the top of each patty, which will help it cook evenly. Season aggressively with salt and pepper.
Add canola oil or sweet butter to a large cast-iron or stainless-steel skillet and place over medium heat. When you’re ready to cook, turn the heat to high, place the burgers in the skillet with plenty of distance between them and allow them to cook, without moving them, for about 3 minutes. Flip them over and, if using cheese, lay the slices on meat. The burger is done 3 to 4 minutes later for medium-rare. Remove them from the skillet and let them rest for 5 minutes before serving.
You can serve hamburgers lightly toasted on brioche buns, English muffins, sesame-seeded hamburger buns or even plain toasted bread. But to my minds the best option is a bun made of potato flour, which offers a soft and sturdy platform for the meat. Regardless, the most important factor in hamburger-bun selection is size. The ratio between bun and burger should be close to the same. The bread should never overwhelm the burger. Next comes the toppings.
You can dress a burger with almost any cheese, if it melts well. For best burgers, apply the cheese as soon as you’ve flipped the patty.
Good cheeses for hamburgers include White Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Swiss, Asiago, Emmentaler, Fontina, Gruyère, Havarti, Muenster, mozzarella, the blue cheeses and (if you remove the rinds) soft-ripened cheeses like Brie and Camembert. Not a fan of the typical yellow American cheese (it’s actually not real cheese at all).
Non-melting cheeses like goat cheese and feta can also be used, but they will not enrobe a burger patty so much as sit softly atop it.
Once you pull your burgers off the heat, place them on buns and (depending on the circumstance) either dress them yourself or serve them naked to guests to dress themselves. In the latter case, lead by example: Do not overdress. The same notion of a ratio between meat to bun and cheese to meat holds between finished burger and the condiments that go on top and below it. Moderation in all things.
Best to put your lettuce on the bottom bun first, then the burger when building it. It keeps juices from making the bottom bun soggy even if you have a condiment on the bottom. I do not recommend iceberg shredded lettuce at all.
What you should always have on hand:
Sliced ripe tomatoes
Cold, crisp lettuce, such as Bibb or Romaine
Pickles (sliced in rounds, please)
Onions (red or white, peeled and sliced)
Jalapeños (seeded and sliced, or pickled)
Grainy mustard, yellow or Dijon
Spicy tomato ketchup
Aioli or Mayonnaise
Mushroom (Italian brown or Portabello)
Bacon strips cooked
Thousand Island Dressing
You can serve caramelized onions as a burger topping, or sautéed mushrooms. For a messy, luxurious addition to a burger, fry an egg and slide it on top of the finished patty. You can also add a second patty to your burger for a meat lovers treat.