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What Makes The Perfect Burger?

Written by: Ephraim Monaghan |

The perfect burger is a goal of every cook.  Here are a few pointers from our gourmet intern.

Cooking is not just a chore that is forced upon us day after day. Cooking is an art, a way to interact with friends or family. It's a bonding experience where at the end of it, you get rewarded with amazing, delicious food.  Gordon Ramsay was once asked on Reddit, “What are 5 dishes that everyone should learn how to cook?” He answered with 5 different types of dishes that could cater to any event life may throw at you. The following article is the first in a series that will take you into the art of cooking, specifically what makes a perfect burger.

The Burger

The first dish everyone should perfect is the burger. I agree 100%, and a burger is my absolute favorite thing to cook and eat! A burger can mean different things to different people. It can be something you get at McDonalds for $2, or it could be something you get at The Rossini (an upscale, fine dining experience in New York City) for $60! A burger is only as good as what you put into it. I love to cook my burgers just like I would cook a nice ribeye, with fresh herbs, oils and well-seasoned meat.

You should always start with the star of the dish, and for a burger, the star is the meat. For the purpose of this article, we’ll just use store-bought ground beef.  I love a good grass-fed ground beef. It has a whole different taste and texture when cooked right that just makes the burger melt in your mouth. I recommend not going for ground beef with a fat percentage lower than 20%.  Without enough fat, your burger will be dry and flavorless. That is why I like to add healthy fats to my burger by cooking it in a healthy avocado or olive oil and basting it with some butter and herbs. Fats mean flavor!

Now it’s time to shape it. There are some simple dos and don’ts for burgers before you even cook them:

  • Don’t season your burger too early or before forming the patty. The salt can break down the meat and ruin the texture.
  • Don’t overwork the meat making it dense.
  • Do make a dimple in the center of the patty. This prevents a dome from forming on the top of the burger, so it will cook evenly and to perfection.

Divide your ground beef and form it into patties. Don’t forget the dimple in the middle!  And then it’s time to get out a big ol’ skillet and turn up the heat to medium-high. While the skillet is getting hot, season your burgers with salt, pepper, and oregano. Use ½ teaspoon of fine salt or 1 teaspoon of coarse kosher salt for a 5-ounce patty. Your skillet should be hot, and it is time for the oil.

A bottle/bowl of olive oil and olives.

The Oils

There are so many different types of oils all with their different tastes, health benefits, and smoking points. If you want a deep dark sear on a medium-rare or rare burger you can use an avocado oil which can reach a whooping 520 degrees F and has a very neutral flavor. However, if you are looking for a nice flavor to complement the burger, an extra virgin olive oil has amazing flavors and can still reach high temperatures of 410 degrees F.

Cover the skillet with a coating of oil. (If the oil smokes when you pour it into the skillet, it is too hot.  Remove the skillet off the burner and let it cool slightly.) Place the first patty in the skillet.  You should hear a loud aggressive sizzle.  (No sizzle means either no sear on your burger, or a light sear and an overcooked burger.)  Once you have the sizzle down, place the remaining patties into the skillet and hear that sizzle roar! (If you want to add even more flavor to your burgers, I recommend adding some fresh rosemary springs and whole garlic cloves to the skillet.)

Cooking time depends on the thickness of the patty and now rare you enjoy your burger.   When I’m cooking for a crowd that want their burgers different way is to adjust the thickness of each of the burgers.  I love a medium or medium rare burger, so I make mine about an inch thick.  My mom, on the other hand, would throw away a burger if it has the slightest bit of pink to it. I make her burger about ½ inch thick, and I can cook both burgers for the same length of time!

Each burger usually takes roughly 3 minutes to reach that beautiful sear that you are looking for. Once it looks just right, give it a flip, and do the same for the other side. Some people think that flipping the burger about every 30 seconds makes it cook more evenly.  But the fact is, by flipping it too soon or too often, you are continuing to reset the sear, and you won’t reach that beautiful golden brown. Once it is flipped and almost ready, I spoon some butter into the pan and baste each burger.

When you take that burger off the skillet, it looks so delicious and you just want to dig in.  Let it sit for at least 3 minutes for the fats and juices to settle back into the meat. Cover the burgers loosely with foil, to prevent them from losing surface heat.

Hamburger on a plate.

The Buns

The best burgers need a good bun. My personal favorite is a brioche bun that is soft and buttery.  You can actually find amazing brioche buns at your local Aldi. Ciabatta rolls are also great for burgers. They have a harder crust, so it holds together better for when your burger proves juicier than you thought!  Surprisingly, another good burger bun is an English muffin. It is almost a cross between a brioche bun and a ciabatta roll, sturdy crust with a soft inside.

It is easiest to toast buns by setting your oven to broil at 400 degrees, spreading butter or oil on the buns and laying them on a cookie sheet. Make sure to keep an eye on them, because they can burn quickly!

A person adding sauce to a sandwich on a plate.

The Sauce

Flavor is in the sauce! The direction you take your sauce is the direction your burger is going. I will let you in on some secrets for amazing sauces for your burgers. A delicious chipotle mayo will add that creamy, smoky, spicy combo that my family absolutely loves! All you need is a jar of mayonnaise, and a small can of chipotles in adobo sauce. Simplest sauce ever, in just 3 easy steps:

  • Add one jar of mayonnaise and one can of chipotles (including the adobo sauce) to a large pitcher or bowl.
  • Blend using a hand blender or immersion blender.
  • Store in squeeze bottle.

Another easy sauce is just a nice Dijon mustard that you buy at the store. A low-quality Dijon can have a bitterness to it rather than that acidic almost horseradish- like burn you are looking for.  If you’re a mayo fan, you can create a simple Dijon mayo by adding 1 part mustard to 2 parts mayo.

Building Your Burger

Start with the toasted buns. Spread your sauce on the bottom bun, then comes your leafy greens, and then the patty. Having the leafy greens such as lettuce or arugula under the patty collects all the juice that comes from the burger and prevents the bottom bun from getting soggy.  From there, use your imagination!  Caramelized onion, tomato, avocado - the possibilities are endless!  To finish it off, I add an extra portion of sauce to the top bun. It makes the burger even more juicy and flavorful!

A burger is worth a little extra work, because nothing beats the taste of a fresh juicy burger with all your favorite topping. 

To read Gordon Ramsay's complete response for the top 5 dishes that everyone should know how to cook, click here. 

Topics: Health, Personal, Food

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