Everyone has opinions on what makes a great hamburger. To no surprise, I do as well.
Hamburgers have become more popular the past years, with many restaurants competing for the ‘best burger’. While I do like sampling what is out there, the trend of the “Gourmet Burger” has started a glut of restaurant burgers (and recipes) with many ingredients and huge patties. When I make a burger at home, I stick to the basics:
Meat. I use ground chuck (usually called 80% lean in supermarkets). The extra fat is essential to making a juicy burger. When forming patties, I try to keep them under 8 ounces and ideally around 6. When forming the patty, make sure it is thin, around half an inch or a little larger. This allows a larger proportion of the burger to be charred–where the flavor is. Ample salt and pepper on each side of the patty is all that is needed. Ground beef mixed with onions, green peppers (ugh) and other ingredients can be tasty, but is closer to meatloaf than a classic burger. Try grass fed ground beef if available.
Bread. The bun on a burger serves one purpose: It should keep your hands from touching the rest of the sandwich. Less is more. The Rosen’s brand (with or without sesame seeds) in the Chicago area is my go-to bun. To toast the bun or not is pure preference.
Cheese. Cheese is a separate category than toppings. For a classic burger, nothing is better than American Cheese. It just works–the cheese flavor is mild enough so it does not overpower the flavor of the beef, and it’s melted gooeyness helps hold everything together.
Toppings. Here is where things get more controversial. The burger pictured above has yellow mustard, sautéed red onion, dill relish (I prefer a few pickle slices, but I did not have any in the house), romaine lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise. I am a big fan of mayo on a burger. I realize just mentioning mayo repulses some people, but those people are wrong. All toppings are interchangeable, and I am a fan of bacon (duh, who is not), but the key is to keep it simple and limit the toppings.
Preparation. The best burger is always seared in a heavy (cast iron) pan under high heat. Grilling is fine, and more practical because the grease and smoke ends up outside and not in the kitchen, but a pan seared burger is always better. If using a pan, try sautéing (also called grilled, but not technically correct –In n Out) some onions before cooking the beef. There is no such thing as a rare burger. Make sure to cook the patty to medium rare–only a trace of pink should be detected in the center. The order the toppings are applied is arbitrary, however my rule is always to put mustard on the bottom bun, followed by the patty and that mayo always goes on the top bun.