Photo by David Bishop
No backyard barbecue or summer party is complete without the quintessential All-American Burger. Though burgers are ubiquitous in America they are not always divine. Careful attention to detail of every ingredient is the secret to making truly great burgers, both for taste and for visual appeal.
Start with the bun. It should be as fresh and delicious as possible, preferably baked that day. Whichever is your favorite, plain or seeded, egg or potato dough, a bit of grilled toasting on the insides will add another layer of flavor. Try brushing the grill side of the bread with butter, mayonnaise or mustard for greater intensity.
So many times I see meat patties disproportionate to the size of the bun. It is essential for flavor distribution as well as artful compositional balance that the patty be formed with careful consideration of the bun size and shape. It is especially important that the patty spans at least, but not much more than, the diameter of the bun. Taking that first anticipatory bite only to find yourself with merely a mouthful of bun and condiments is such a let down. I like to have the “meat” of the sandwich, whether it is really meat, a savory vegetable patty or a succulent grilled marinated portobello mushroom, in every bite. The first rule of thumb in making it so, is that meat patties tend to puff thicker and shrink in diameter when cooked. Ergo, when forming your patty, make it thinner and wider than you intend for it to be when finished cooking. When I do them for film, I do a test patty, weighing and measuring the before and after to find the optimum raw size. I have also found that ground beef at about 85% makes both a very juicy burger and a patty that cracks and deforms the least. I always make sure that the edges (only the edges) are compressed well while forming the patties to help minimize cracking and to hold in the juices.
We all adore flame grilled barbecue flavor. If you don’t have access to outdoor space, electric grills are available or try using your broiler. If the sides don’t get the char you would like, take a propane or butane torch to them. Available at your local hardware store, small hand held torches are handy for many kitchen cooking tasks. As with any indoor flaming, be sure to have proper ventilation.
To really make a superb meat patty, try seasoning the ground meat before you form the patty for extra flavor. Salt, pepper, or one of my favorites, sauteed minced shallot, make a great start. Add whatever seasoning you like best, just don’t make the bits too big. Cheese, peppers, eggs, bread crumbs, herbs, spices, dried fruit, vegetables…all are eligible innovations at the right place and time.
Whether they are old stand-by’s or new favorites, condiments, like the patty and bread, need to be of the freshest, ripest and best quality, and be distributed evenly over the sandwich for admirable results. Go wild and grill up some thinly sliced juicy ripe pineapple, slather with scallion, jalepeno & nutmeg laced mayonnaise, and add fresh cilantro sprigs to a chicken, turkey, crab or shrimp burger.
I particularly like to put the big three saucy burger toppings, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise, in squeeze bottles for easy application. I find store bought ketchup & mustard sometimes too runny, so I drain them first. Just empty the bottle or jar onto a sheet pan lined with about 10 layers of paper towels and wait about 10 to 20 minutes. The ketchup or mustard closest to the toweling will be thicker. Using a rubber or metal spatula, scrape the contents off the tray into a bowl and whisk until homogenous. Empty the bowl into a zip lock bag, sealing the zipper and cutting a little off one bottom corner, then ease the contents into the squeeze bottle. The mayonnaise has a little bit different story. I find off the shelf jars of it to be lumpy. I empty the jar into a bowl and whisk the mayonnaise until smooth, then fill the squeeze bottle like I do the others.
There are no hard and fast rules. It’s all about what you and your audience like. I am happy to answer any questions you might have at http://email@example.com