Cooking the Perfect Burger

I’ve been making burgers since my University days. They’re simple to put together, really satisfying, and relatively economical. The recipe I continued to use for a long time was from a great book my parents bought me before I headed off to Uni in Leeds (I never came back), it was called something like “500 Recipes and kitchen basics” and was pretty much invaluable for an enthusiastic but slap-dash fledgling gourmet. “How the hell do you cook sweet potato?” Easy, look it up in the book.

Looking back, the burger recipe was massively over the top though. It included: Beef mince, grated onion*, crushed garlic, Dijon mustard, tomato puree, dried herbs, beaten egg, salt, pepper and breadcrumbs (though I never bothered with that last one).

The burger I made last night was the antithesis to the above; just good minced beef and a little seasoning, and yet it turned out be the best I’ve ever made.

It’s not surprising really, as going by what I’ve read on the subject, and from my own experiments in making and cooking them, it seems that when it comes to burgers less really is more.

That said, perhaps the title of this post is a little misleading, as I don’t think I’ve yet cooked (or even tasted) the perfect burger. If I wanted to cook the perfect burger then really I need to get down to the nitty gritty beefy details of is 80% chuck, 20% sirloin the best meat ratio? Or should I use a little skirt steak for flavour? How coarse should the meat be ground? Is it better to grind at home or get the butcher to do it?

It’s a level of food geekery I haven’t yet succumb to (though I fear it’s not far off), so for now let’s just stick to the tips I’ve picked up along the way which can help make a ‘normal’ mince based burger really shine.

I put ‘normal’ in inverted commas because here’s rule number one:

Buy good meat. Freshly ground, proper butchers mince with a little bit of fat in it is what you’re looking for, or at least meat from one of the better supermarkets. Depending on your budget I’d work on a sliding scale from Waitrose > Sainsbury's > Morrison’s. I never shop in ASDA as there isn’t one convenient to me and Tesco’s meat is, as a rule, crap. The whole point of this method is to bring out the flavour of the meat, so the better the beef you start with, the better the bugger will be. I usually allow around 200-250g per person, which makes a pretty hefty burger.

Now that’s out of the way let’s look at the burger itself.

My method for cooking the perfect burger:

  • Bring the meat to room temperature (leave out for half an hour or so) then liberally season the beef with finely ground black pepper ONLY. No salt at this point. Form in to fat patties of about an inch thick, being careful not to overwork the meat.
  • Arrange the burgers separately on baking paper (or lightly oil a plate), and place in the coldest part of the fridge for around 5 minutes (or the freezer for 2), this will help the outside of the burger hold together during cooking but the centre will still be pretty much room temp.
  • For cooking burgers a wood fired BBQ is King, but let’s be honest, how often do we get to fire one of those bad boys up in the UK? Your next best in my opinion is a good quality griddle pan. Get it smoking hot and then place the patties on to the grill and press them down in the centre with your thumb to create an indent (think red blood cell shaped), season well with sea salt, and then don’t touch em for 3 minutes. Don’t be tempted to squash the burger while it’s cooking as you’ll squeeze the juices out and ruin the flavour and texture of the meat. Just leave it alone. You want a griddled crust to form on the base which will help these binderless** burgers hold together and give them an awesome smokey flavour – if you flip ‘em too early they’ll fall apart. Oh and the reason for the indent is that as the burger cooks the centre will balloon out, so by making the indent the burger ends up almost flat on top rather than an awkward cricket ball shape. It’s a clever little trick that always works.
  • After three minutes carefully turn the burgers over and season again, reduce the heat to medium-high and cook for another 2 minutes, before covering the burgers with a pan or large lid. This will hold in all the smoke that should be coming off the cooking burgers, giving an awesome BBQ flavour, as well as permeating the flavour of the evaporating fat back in to the patty. (It also helps to keep burgers that are being cooked “well done” juicy by steaming them a little). Do this last step for 1 minute for medium rare (pink), 2 minutes for medium (slightly pink) or around 4 minutes for well done (cooked right through).
  • After the time is up remove the burgers to a warmed plate to rest for a minute and place your sliced bun face down right where the burgers just were (toast for about a minute, but keep checking em). Then simply assemble the burger with the toppings you prefer and enjoy.

Suggested burger toppings:

There’s no right and wrong when it comes to burger toppings, it’s completely personal preference, but if I had to choose my favourite then there is one which stands head and shoulders above the rest - My perfect burger is a smidge of mayo on the bottom, topped with a big handful of rocket, then the burger (along with resting juices), then a thick slice of Stilton and a top bun that has been liberally spread with sweet, chunky, Mango chutney. I wrote about it briefly when I made sliders a while back.

It shouldn’t work, it should taste weird and muddled, but it doesn’t. It’s awesome.













Notes:

*I previously used grated onion in my burgers as the pulp spreads better through the meat than chopped onion and cooks quicker, meaning no little chunks of raw onion in the middle of the patty. The problem with this method though is that it releases the acidic juices from the onion which start to slightly cook the burger meat before it even hits the grill. It also seems to pull some moisture out of the meat as when I made a patty and placed it in the fridge to firm up before cooking there would often be some clear juice that had ran off the meat.

**Many recipes use a beaten egg to bind the burger together, but I’ve found this to be pretty counterintuitive to what you’re after: Succulent, juicy, tender meat, that only just holds together when bitten. Providing you don’t flip the burger until that crust has formed and you don’t use ‘lean’ mince then it should hold together just fine without, and the flavour is much better.

Thanks to Leigh of The Good Stuff for the tip on not salting before cooking, it made all the difference.

17 comments:

  1. Great post Neil. I've just had breakfast and I'm starving again. I know what I'm making for tea!

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  2. John Torrode uses Oyster sauce in the mix as an alternative to salt. Like the idea of the thumb indent, I'll try that tonight.

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  3. Your burger looks immense, nice and pink. I like the covering it to steam/smoke a little idea. Suggestion: put butter and sliced jalapenos on top of the burger for the covering stage. The Meatwagon in London does it, haven't tried but it sounds bloody lovely.

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  4. Completely awsome tips thank you! Cooked home made burgers for a while but always with lots of stuff in. Didn't follow your recipe exactly but too your stripped down approach and some of your other tips and it was deffinitely the most amazing burger I have made.

    I saw on a Jamie Oliver program he also suggests toasting the bun underneath a cover to part steam it as well. I think at the same time put a bit of water on the griddle to get extra steam.

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