The Formula For The Perfect Burger
All burgers are not made equal. Everyone thinks theirs is the best, it's often a matter of personal taste. Well, we spent the last year trying burgers every which way but Sunday to try and find the formula to success in burger craft.
And by George we think we've cracked it!
Now let me start by saying, not everyone is going to agree on this being the perfect burger. We're not trying to claim it's perfect for everyone, oh no, what we're trying to say is we've got a few rules which will seriously up your burger game if you don't have it down pat yet.
Let's call it a formula, a formula that if followed to the letter generates our perfect burger. However, you don't need to follow it to the letter, you can use some or all of our rules and if you don't like one of them; "It aint no thing but a chicken wing!" (that sounded so much better in my head!)
Change it up how you like but our year of trial and error and research has us in position to share what we think are some of the tricks of the trade by the big boys (Micky D, Wendy's Dave and the King. Even the Wimpy beefeater of you're old enough) , And the new cool kids on the block like those 5 guys.
However you like you're burger, we've got rules that apply across the board and ones tailored more to personal taste. Stick with us and we'll have you the envy of your burger munching compadres in no time.
One last thing, this is not about fancy sauces, artisan breads and toppings that fit better on a pizza than a burger, no, this is about building a fairly mainstream burger that will knock your socks off, meat, cheese, bread and one or too fixin's (I think I'm actually turning american as i right this.
Ok, enough of your lollygagging (told you), lets get on with it:
Ok, so the basic ingredients of a good burger if you've been living in a cave:
Beef Burger - (I can't bring myself to call them patties, it reminds me of cow pats which is a name we use in Britain for a cow product which is much less tasty!)
Bread - Round bun, there is no other way
Cheese - Sliced, generally cheap processed cheddar also known as American Cheese
Salad - Optional but generally lettuce, onion , tomato
Sauce - Optional - To taste but generally Mayo, Tomato Ketchup and or Mustard
Bacon - Optional - Not traditional but everything tastes better with bacon so we'll allow it.
And that's pretty much it. This already gives you a bunch of options for a classic cheese & bacon burger, any more add ons and it stops being classic.
The Meat Vessel - The bun, designed to hold everything together. Something with a little bit of chew is good, the worst thing that can happen is the bread falls apart whilst you're eating it. A well baked that day burger bun will work. If the quality is poor, go for Brioche or a Portuguese Roll for a litte cripiness. Don't even think about anything else until you have sourced a good roll. You'll thank us for making the effort.
The Burger Meat- The Main Event - These should be handmade. DO NOT just use beef mince off the shelf in the grocery store, it's too lean. You need at least 20% fat. So ask for 80/20 Minced beef if you just want to "get 'er done" or if you are one of life's winner, put your big boy pants on and go ask the butcher to grind you up a blend of 50% chuck, 25% brisket and 25%short rib and get ready to ride the meat train to flavour town. When you get home, soak a slice of bread per 250g (1/2 pound) of mince in milk, yes milk, e.g. 1kg of mince beef, needs 4 slices of milk soaked bread added to it. Put in a heavy dose of salt and pepper (if it feels like too much, you did well) then stir the whole thing up until fully incorporated. Don't worry if the mix is a little wet it will firm up in the fridge.
We STRONGLY recommend making 2 thin burgers instead of one thick per burger bun. Make a disc 20% bigger in diameter than your burger bun to allow for shrinkage. Don't worry about making it a perfect burger shape because once you have done one, roll it up into a meatball, then weight it. Make as many meatballs as you need for 2 per person, all exactly the same weight. They should be at room temperature when you cook them so put them in the fridge to firm up but take them out 30 at least 30 minutes before you cook.
Cheese - The Glue - This were many burgers start to go wrong. The temptation is to add lots of cheese because everyone loves cheese right? Wrong. Too much cheese is going to make it gooey and sickly rich so keep it simple. Also, despite being Mature Cheddar fans, don't go too sharp on your choice of cheese, it overpowers the burger and you can't taste the beef which is supposed to be the staar fo the show. We recommend keeping it simple and buying pre-sliced cheddar (probably the only time we would recommend such a thing) and even would go as far as to say if you're not a food snab, the sliced processed stuff is actually the classic ingredient here. Either way, 2 slices max per burger, we actually recommend using just 1 despite being total cheese fiends. We've tried lots of cheeses and even went down the brie and gaots cheese route in the name of science and we can honestly say, cheddar, or at a pinch a good swiss melting cheese or italian provolone is really the only answer.
The Accompaniments - Less is more in this space. There is nothing wrong with going in naked with the ingredients above but we like a little acidity from a thinly sliced tomato. The tang of a little tomato ketchup goes well with the beef and we recommend a mix of 4 parts mayo to 1 part English Mustard to add a little creaminess and a slight bite to bring out the cheese. We also add bacon, but we add bacon to everything. We don't use lettuce, not because we don't like it, because one of our secret steps, wilts it a nd makes it slimy and disgusting. All will be revealed. We believe strongly in Gherkins, nut we know they are the marmite of burger toppings so you do you on the pickles.
OK, so you have all the required ingredients prepped and ready to go. the game is afoot.
Bread - Slice in two, right through, so you age sperate tops and bottoms. Don't mix them up, nobody wants two bottoms. Brush them with melted butter and toast the face down until golden, thats GOLDEN, not black. The objective here is to create a more waterproof layer so the bun holds up to sauce, salad moisture and meat juice, I don't want toast.
Meat - burgers ready to go, at room temperature, put a last second twist of black pepper to help form a crust.
Cheese - Two slices of thinly sliced cheese per burger, ready to go.
Accompaniments - 1 thin slice of the largest tomato you can get (preferably a beef tomato). the grand prize is a tomato with the same diameter as your bun. Gherkins, preferably sliced the long way to give you strips, 3 per burger. Tomato ketchup and mayo mustard at the ready. We use 2 slices of streaky bacon per burger and we cut a slice of onion, use a few of the outer rings raw and the rest go in as fried.
The Cooking Vehicle - Now it's time to get controversial. DO NOT COOK YOUR BURGERS ON A BARBECUE GRILL. Yes, we said it. If you put your burgers straight on the grill, all of the juices are going to drain off and the burger will be dry and crappy. We do however condone the use of a barbecue to add a chargill smokey note to your burger so we recommend a cast iron frying pan / skillet on top of the barbecue.
We are going to use the smash method. First wait until your pan is screaming hot and then add a large knob of butter and a drop of high temp cooking oil (sunflower, canola, vegetable, beef dripping etc.) to it to prevent the butter burning. Add your meat ball to the pan and smash it flat by pushing it down hard onto your pan until it is thin and the 20% bigger than your bun. Add as many as you can to the pan but don't overcrowd. If you have to just make 2 burger (patties, urgh) at a time so you can make 1 complete burger.
DO NOT TOUCH, DO NOT FLIP, DO NOT MESS with it for at least 2 minutes. It will stick to the pan probably initially. That is all part of the plan, the pan will "give you it back" when it has formed a crust. After a bout 2-3 minutes, it should be possible to slide a fish slice under the burger and flip. You should have nice crust formed on the burger. Immediately drop a slice of cheese on each burger. Add in 2 slices of streaky bacon and your onions for frying (remember to keep a couple of rings raw) to the pan. After 3 minutes, lift burger one and place it on top of burger 2. You should now have a stack of burgers like this: Burger, cheese, burger cheese. Take out of the pan and place on a board whilst you assemble the rest of the burger.
And yes, we do actually recommend you cook your burger to well done. We like our steak medium rare but we don't care what anyone says, BURGERS SHOULDN'T BE RARE OR EVEN MEDIUM!
Take your already butter toasted bun and smear the mustard mayo on the bottom bun, add your tomato slice and then pile your raw onion on top.
Place your burger on top of your raw onion and tomato.
By now, your bacon and fried onions should be done. Add these to the top of your burger.
Add your slices of gherkin, or not if you're weird about gherkin.
Smeer your bun top with tomato ketchup
Now for probably the most critical step. Take your newly built burger, and wrap it in tin foil, yes, tin foil.
Leave it to rest for 3-5 minutes. This will let the bread soak up any meat juices and will steam the cheese to keep it lovely and gooey. You want it wrapped tight but not so that it deforms the burger.
Unwrap the burger and take a bite. You're welcome. Name your first child after me if you like. The names, Fire....Man Cave Fire.
Now you may be thinking, "and what is so special about that?" Not much, but there's a few techniques in there that take a basic burger and make it great. If you take one or two things away from this to make your perfect burger they should be:
Good bread is everything, it starts and ends with a good bun
A custom blend of meat with the beefier tasting cuts of chuck, brisket and short rib and the right amount of fat (at least 20%), blows the doors off any standard burger.
Cheese is essential but too much ruins it and it has to be oozy melty or it's a bust
Adding milk soaked bread rather than breadcrumbs and egg makes for a better burger.
Room temperature meat on a solid surface at high heat is the best way to cook a burger, period.
Wrapping the final product in tin foil whilst it rests, steams the bun slightly, lets the meat rest and ensures the cheese is completely melted (this is why we don't use lettuce). That has been the 5 Guy's secret weapon for years. If you want the best flavour, it really, really works.
A blend of raw and fried onion gives the acidic crunch and the sweet savouriness for an extra dimension
A little mustard in your mayo enhances the cheese and the beef which is what you're looking for in a classic cheese burger. Mustard alone is too powerful.
Give it a try, it's a little effort the first time but you will be a flipping burger hero flipper after that.