Burgers may seem like humble food but listen up- burger making is an art. There is certainly technique and timing involved if you want a juicy, crisp on the outside, juicy on the inside patty, a lightly toasted bun, and cold, crisp veggies that crunch with each bite. Listen, if you’re gonna make a burger, do it right or don’t do it at all.
This post is more about tips and techniques to help you make a better burger. For fun, I did make two different kinds: a classic American, and a teriyaki shiitake with spicy pickles. See below for the teriyaki sauce and pickle recipes, but if you want to up your burger-making game, read the whole post. To help you in the reading of this post, I’ve put all my burger-making rules in bold italic. Take notes.
Let’s start with the meat:
They say 80/20 is best (80% lean, 20% fat), and I agree. Start by rolling the meat into even-sized balls.
Smash each ball into a 1/2″-thick patty, smoothing out the edges so it doesn’t fall apart on the grill. Here’s a good rule of thumb: whatever size burger your making, always make your patty slightly bigger than the size of the bun, because there’s a lot of fat in those meat pucks and they WILL SHRINK as they cook. There are few things I dislike more than an excessive bun to meat ratio, so do this and you will thank me. Or I will thank you, whatever.
Another good rule of thumb (literally): After forming your burgers, stick your thumb into the middle of each patty to create an indentation, so that the center of each patty is thinner than the outside. Burgers tend to swell up in the middle as they cook, and if you have a completely flat raw patty, you will end up with more of a football-shaped patty when cooked. Making this little divot in the middle counteracts this burger phenomenon. This rule right here might be the only good thing I’ve gotten from Bobby Flay.
One last patty forming rule: try not to work the meat too much. The more loosely-packed the patty, the more tender it will be when you bite into it. The patty should just hold together so you can gently scoop it up without breaking it in half. Grease some foil on a cookie sheet and lay your patties on there as you wait for the grill to heat up, then the next important step:
Place your patties in the freezer for a good 5-10 minutes so they chill and firm up. This is important for a couple reasons: 1. It makes handling your loosely-packed patties easier since cooling them down will firm them up and keep them in one piece, and 2. Chilling your meat and then placing them on a HOT grill will allow the outside to caramelize and crisp up before all the fat heats up and renders out, giving you JUICY burgers.
SO, once your grill is SEARINGLY hot, drizzle a little olive oil on your patties, season liberally with S&P, and get those bad boys cooking. Listen- a lot of people like to fancy up their burgers with minced onions, chopped herbs, Worcestershire sauce, etc mixed into the meat. STOP THAT! I would say it’s permissible if you’re using other types of meat (like turkey or lamb), but if you’re using ground chuck (or better- chuck/rib/sirloin blend), just let the beef speak for itself. Salt, pepper, maybe some garlic powder is all you need.
Ashy, glowing coals = HOT. Place your patties seasoned-side down, then season the other side while the bottom is cooking. 1-2 minutes on each side should do it.
Flip your patties. This is the time you want to brush on any sauces if you’re going for any specialty burger (e.g. teriyaki burger). If you’re going classic, wait another minute as your burger continues cooking.
If you’re gonna add cheese, which I suggest you do, wait till the burger is almost done to your liking, then lay your cheese (I prefer good ol’ gooey American) on each patty and cover the grill for about 15-30 seconds to allow the cheese to melt. If you’re using a thicker or heartier cheese (like swiss or sharp cheddar) put it on a little earlier because it takes longer to melt. Personally, I don’t know why you would ever use swiss though. That cheese is the worst.
Okay, that about does it for the burger cooking portion. Let’s work on some accoutrements:
These are thinly sliced persian cucumbers with some salt added.
This is what happens when you leave salt on thinly sliced cucumbers for 10-15 minutes.
These are the salted cucumbers after you have squeezed out as much water as you could from them. Coincidentally, they are now ready for (quick) pickling.
Add your vinegar, your sugar, your sesame oil, and voila!
By the way, this is what spicy sesame oil looks like:
I also sautéed some sliced shiitake mushrooms for this burger but forgot to take pictures. It’s pretty straightforward: sauté some thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms in olive oil and a little salt and soy sauce, reserve for burger topping.
OKAY let’s talk construction. For goodness sake, TOAST YOUR BUN. Having a nice, crispy, buttered and toasted inner bun will add a little more depth in texture, and also protect your bun from getting too soggy and mushy once your patty is on there and dripping those delicious juices.
Another thing: BUN BREAD IS IMPORTANT. Any health benefit a dry, mealy, whole wheat bun can offer will not make up for the soft, pliable, toothsome and slightly sweet goodness you would be missing out on if you had a Martin’s Potato Bun instead. It’s no secret that these are the buns used by my beloved Shake Shack, so if it’s good enough for the Shack, then it’s probably way too good for me. But whatever I’m using it.
So yeah, toast your bun. You could simply slather a little mayo or melted butter on the inside of your bun and throw it on the grill (open side down, of course).
Then assemble! I like to keep all the raw components nice and cold– lettuce, tomato, and pickles stay in the fridge until time to build. My beloved In-N-Out keeps their veggies cold and crisp, and if it’s good enough for them… you get the idea.
Yum. I just like a little mayo on my burgers, but feel free to add whatever sauces you like. If you want a Shack Sauce clone recipe, check it out here: epicurious’ secret sauce clone.
1 1/2 lbs ground 80/20 chuck (80% lean, 20% fat, grass fed if you can swing it)
House seasoning (equal parts salt, pepper, and garlic powder)
Get the charcoal going on the grill.
Divide beef into 12 equal balls. The easiest way to do this is to divide all the beef into 2 halves, divide the halves into threes, and divide each third in half again. Roll each portion into a loosely packed ball.
Press each ball into a patty between your palms, then using your thumb, press a little indent into the middle of each patty. The patty should be slightly bigger in diameter than the buns you use (I’d say about 10-15% bigger).
Throw the patties in the freezer for 5 minutes, pull them out, season tops with garlic salt and pepper. Make sure the grill is HOT HOT HOT*, then throw them seasoned-side down on the grill. While grilling, season the other side the same way. Flip each burger once the bottom is browned and there are visible grill marks (about 1-2 minutes, depending on how “done” you want your burger, I like mine medium-just a little pink in the middle).
After flipping, add your cheese (for the classic burger) or brush with teriyaki sauce (for the shiitake burger), cover, and grill another 30 seconds or so until the cheese melts.
*chilling the patties, then grilling them on a super hot grill will let the patties brown and caramelize without all the fat rendering out right away. This is how you get juicy burgers, boiiiiiiii.
EASY TERIYAKI SAUCE:
1/2 cup soy sauce or tamari
1/4 cup rice wine (sake or shiaoshing cooking wine is fine)
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1/4 cup pineapple juice
Combine all ingredients and simmer over medium low heat until the sauce has thickened slightly and reduced about 10% (10-15 minutes).
QUICK SPICY PICKLES:
1 Persian Cucumber, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp spicy sesame oil
In a bowl, sprinkle salt over the cucumbers. Let sit at room temperature about 20-30 minutes as the moisture gets pulled out. When you see about a tablespoon of liquid at the bottom of the bowl, stir the cucumbers around and in small handfuls squeeze out any remaining liquid from the cucumber slices.
In a separate bowl, mix the squeezed out cucumber slices with the vinegar, sugar, and both sesame oils. Refrigerate until ready to use.
SAUTÉED SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS:
2 cups Thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms
1 tsp Soy Sauce
1 tbsp Olive Oil
Saute the mushrooms in the oil over medium high heat, sprinkle salt and a splash of soy to the mushrooms, cook until tender.
Beer Pairing Recommendation: Anything. Really. It’s a burger. Go crazy! Okay if you’re really lost on this, I’ll give you a suggestion: Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye. Hoppy, peppery, but not so bold that it will overwhelm the burger. Enjoy!