Every time you turn around these days it seems like someone is doing something new to the great American burger, whether it’s a new chain with burgers as big as your head, some new exotic ingredient, or a special dance where if you shake your hips just right while you’re making the patties your date will have the best orgasm of their life.
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A quick search on the interweb and you’ll find thousands of tips and recipes for how to make a great burger. Many of them are delicious, and a few do bring something new, but what gets lost sometimes in the hype for the new thing is why burgers became such a big deal in the first place.
The classic grilled burger is such a simple thing to prepare, ground beef and seasonings cooked on a grill. It only takes a few minutes to make them, you can eat one with your hands walking around a backyard party, and they’re something almost everyone loves. They truly are a ubiquitous part of American cuisine.
Over the years I’ve found my burgers getting fussier and fussier, adding different spices to the mix, grinding different cuts of meat to try and get just the right ratio of fat and lean, adding all sorts of fancy cheeses and other toppings. And in many ways, those things do make for a better, tastier burger.
On the other hand, if you ask me for my favorite burger, I’ll say they’re the ones we used to make in college that are nothing more than hamburger and Lowry’s seasoning cooked on a charcoal grill. Every time I smell lighter fluid and charcoal my mouth starts to water, and I start to drift back to those nights hanging out by the fire.
The past few years I’ve started to move back towards simpler burgers, towards cutting down the number of ingredients and trying to get back to a place where it only takes a few minutes to throw together simple, tasty burgers. Along the way, I’ve figured out a few things that make a big difference between a really tasty simple burger and a pile of charred meat.
The first thing you need to do is season your meat before you cook it. A burger without any seasoning is as boring as getting dressed up to watch Jeopardy. Don’t believe me, the next time you’re making burgers, break off a small chunk of meat and grill a little patty without any seasoning.
Good, simple burgers don’t need a ton of different seasonings. The most important things I’ve found are salt, garlic, and onion. Whenever I make burgers without one, it always feels like something is missing. I’ve also found the addition of pepper and Worcestershire sauce make a big difference.
The reason adding Worcestershire sauce helps so much, is the liquid helps to bind the burgers together and helps to distribute the other seasonings, it also brings a roundness to and deepens the burger’s flavor.
Make your patties the same thickness. You can always vary them from day-to-day, depending on whether you want a thick or thin burger, but making every batch the same thickness helps make sure they’re all cooked evenly. It also helps to dimple the top of the burger before cooking. Using your thumbs to create a depression helps the burgers cook up flat.
I’ve learned a few things about grilling burgers; the first is you can make a good burger on a charcoal or gas grill, you can make a really great burger over an open fire, what you can’t do is make a really great burger on your stove. I know that technically you can make a great burger inside, I’ve just always found them lacking heart.
Butter thy Buns
The last tip is to butter your buns and grill them for a few minutes right before you serve the burgers. It’s amazing what a difference it makes in bringing the whole thing together. When you grill your buns, you’re creating a crust on the inside of the bun that prevents all the juice, ketchup, and other condiments from soaking through the bun and onto your hands.
What I’ve loved about trying to create the perfect burger is by stripping away all the twists and turns I’ve been able to get back to the roots of what makes a great backyard burger. It has helped me appreciate what I really liked about burgers in the first place and given me a path to be able to knock out really great, simple burgers every time.