The Perfect Burger: Experts Weigh In Slideshow
June 26, 2013
What exactly is the definition of a perfect burger?
Jonathan Waxman, Chef, Barbuto, New York City
"I like a simple version: a good bun (preferably brioche style), the best ground beef (freshly ground — 75/25 ratio (meat to fat) grass fed if possible, not too coarsely ground). The meat should be cold when you form patties. I like 7 ounces, 6 seems too small and 8 too big. I like a thick patty, 1 3/4-inch thick. I like to use sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. The meat should be formed quickly, with no kneading or excess labor. Patties should be kept at room temperature for 30 minutes before cooking. The best cooking method is either over medium-hot red oak coals or on griddle set over a charcoal fire. The meat should acquire a crispy exterior and [be cooked] only medium-rare. I like cave-aged Gruyère, bacon, a slice of avocado, a slice of heirloom tomato, a thin slice of grilled onion, a leaf of oak leaf lettuce. I like a toasted bun smeared with butter then aioli, plus Dijon mustard. No ketchup or pickle."
Jimmy Bradley, Chef, The Red Cat, The Harrison, New York City
"The bun, the fixings, the meat, and how the burger is prepared and handled are all equally important to make a great burger. You have to have the best ingredients and staff to make the best burgers. If you do not, then you are not. A perfect burger should fill your belly and make you happy and not drip all over you. I think overly messy burgers are bush league, and anything that you put in your mouth should not leak out all over you as a rule of thumb. It’s just like that for me. Sorry, overly greasy and juicy operators."
Tom Sietsema, The Washington Post
"To me, the perfect burger is not too big, plenty juicy — but not so wet it soaks the bun — minimally seasoned (a salt crackle is nice) and more beefy than fatty. It should have spring if you poke the patty; a light crust is welcome, too. The bun needs to be sturdy enough to contain the meat and its juices, but the bread should be delicious enough to eat on its own. And YES to a bun that’s freckled with sesame seeds and joined by a soft ruffle of lettuce, a slice of sharp onion, and a summer tomato. (The vegetables make me feel less guilty.)"
George Motz, Writer and TV Host, 'Hamburger America'
"The definition of a perfect burger is easy — simple, classic, with fresh ingredients. The perfect burger for me would be a 3-ounce ball of fresh ground 80/20 chuck smashed flat with a spatula on a flattop griddle and served on a toasted white squishy bun with nothing but grilled onions and pickles. That to me is the Platonic ideal."
Tim Carman, The Washington Post
"The definition of the perfect burger, I think, varies depending on where you buy it. The perfect griddled burger is not the same, in my mind, as the perfect grilled burger. I love both kinds when done well. The perfect griddled burger is well-seasoned, fairly thin (at least compared to the grilled burger; about four to the patty) and sort of confited in its own fat. A good griddle cook never messes with his meat, as they say in the business. When left alone, the griddled burger develops crispy little edges of fat that add both flavor and texture to the patty. With a grilled burger, the (6-ounce or larger) patty should be loosely packed and well-seasoned. It should be at least 80 percent lean and 20 percent fat; any less fat, and you start to lose flavor. It should be seared quickly on the outside for a little char, then moved to a cooler part of the grill to finish cooking to temperature. The bun-to-meat ratio for both styles of burger must be in harmony. The patty should not get lost among all the bread; nor should it protrude from the bun like the rings of Saturn.
The gourmet or chef-driven burger shares some of the same characteristics as the grilled burger, but has no ideal of perfection. It is only as good, or as crappy, as the chef who creates it."
John T. Edge, Writer and Director of the Southern Foodways Alliance
"It's all about proportion. The bun needs to be slim and toasted. The condiments should be applied sparingly. The stack should not require an eater to unhinge his or her jaw."
Nick Solares, Writer, Serious Eats, Beef Aficionado
"The perfect burger is greater than the sum of its parts and should offer synergy and balance. Whether you have three ingredients or 30, they should all have a reason for being there and contribute something to the overall experience, otherwise what is the point? My perfect burger happens to be is fresh ground beef on a plain white bun with American cheese and nothing else."
Charles Powell, Foodmancing the Girl
"First we have to define what makes a great burger, and I look at five elements.
The Bun: I love a squish in my bun. It should be soft and moist, but hold structural integrity while soaking up the juicy goodness of the burger.
The Patty: This, of course, should be the star. High-quality meat with a crust to seal in the juice. The patty should be substantial enough to dominate the burger but not so over-the-top large that you need to attack it with a fork and knife.
The Cheese: Melt is the word you want to hear when it comes to a burger. Ideally, the cheese and patty will blend into one gorgeous, inseparable entity.
The Toppings: Too often toppings are selected as either an afterthought or as a novelty. Toppings should be high-quality, complementary, and NEVER distract from the main event, the patty.
The Sauce: A sauce should never dominate. It should be the rhythm guitar, the backup singer. Aggressive and assertive are words I do not want to hear when speaking about a sauce."
Andy Husbands, Author of Wicked Good Burgers, Chef at Tremont 647
"The best burgers in America are found in everyone’s backyard, with great ingredients, hot coal fire, cold beers, and lots of friends. As a professional chef I like technique so a killer sear is important, but if someone's cooking for me then whatever you give me will be awesome."
BJ Coleman, Burgers & Bourbon
"The perfect burger means quality meat cooked to perfection — juicy, moist, flavorful, and tender, with boisterous and enticing toppings sandwiched between an impeccable bun."
David Ciancio, Burger Conquest
"The definition of a perfect burger is one that when it hits your mouth makes you forget about everything else that is happening around you. That feeling of intense focus and ecstasy from the endorphin rush is what I call 'arriving at Burgervana.' The best restaurant burgers in America are made from properly seasoned and handled, fresh, never frozen, high-quality beef and made with TLC. They also always, always have cheese on the bottom. Always."