piz

In Praise of the Hamburger

62 posts in this topic

One of my favorite foods is the "lowly" hamburger.

At its best, the key word is "fresh." Fresh, high-quality ground beef, on a fresh roll, with fresh toppings and condiments. A taste treat that's almost never out of place.

My preference is grilled on the rare side of medium, with steak sauce, a little brown mustard, crisp iceberg lettuce, ripe beefsteak tomato sliced thick, and American cheese (which has to have melted for the flavor to be right). But there are so very many ways to top a burger: mushrooms & swiss cheese, California-style (lettuce, tomato, green pepper, and mayonnaise), crisp bacon & cheddar or jack cheese, the classic ketchup, mustard, pickles and cheese, - I could go on and on. I even forgive people for liking onions when they use them on a hamburger (though I'd never do that - note the onion's absence from my California burger). Ketchup, steak sauce, Heinz 57 sauce, yellow, brown, or horseradish mustard, pickles, relish, American, swiss, jack, cheddar, or provolone cheese, lettuce, tomatos, green, red, or yellow peppers - the possible toppings are endless.

I make a spectacular "Italian" burger, with the same spices I use for my world-famous meatballs. Fried in a skillet in olive oil and freshly diced garlic, it's to die for. I eat 'em bun- and topping-less.

So easy to make, there are very few burgers I don't enjoy, even oft-reviled fast food varieties. In fact, I love the McDonald's Quarter Pounder and the Burger King double cheeseburger, and I think a Wendy's double (or even a triple if I'm hungry enough) with absolutely nothing on it, is wonderful (if it's not overcooked). However I always look for places that use fresh, not frozen, meat. They're hard to find, at least in my area. One little place just a few blocks from my house, Wert's, makes a very good one with fresh meat.

I'll never say no to a good burger.

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Piz, you are sooo right! Burgers rule!!!

When one of the wholesale chains (BJs, Costco) has shell steak on sale (~$7/lb), I trim the outer layer of fat, and grind them for the ultimate burger.

A wood grill is best but since that can be such a pain, I use my trusty Lodge Cast Iron pan.

Some pointers:

-- Too many supermarkets and butchers add water to their chopped meat. Consequently, one gets burgers with little or no crust, and with a soggy, grayish interior (One sees this most on 90% lean mixes.) When possible, grind your own beef. (The other source of water in ground beef is the Wet Age proccess that's so popular beef meat packers these days.)

-- Use meat that has at least 20% fat in it.

-- Do not over handle the chopped meat; the less shaping you do, the better.

-- Make sure the burger is at room temperature prior to cooking.

-- Let the cast iron pan turn red hot prior to use.

-- Use canola oil, as it has a very high smoking temperature and is flavorless.

-- Do not salt the burger's surfaces prior to cooking. Salt will draw moisture to the surface, inhibiting the formation of that oh so desirable crust.

-- If you like them thick, and who doesn't, lower the heat a few minutes after the burger has been flipped. If you don't the burger's drippings will start to burn, imparting a less than ideal flavor. The drippings will also smoke.

-- Try to flip only once.

-- Use an instant read thermometer to figure out when the burger is done. I like my 1.5-inchers to read 100F.

-- Land-O-Lakes American melts the smoothest/creamiest of the national brands.

BTW: Contrary to popular belief, searing a piece of meat does not seal in the juices. For more see Cooks Illustrated.

JohnRGT

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I don't typically make my own burgers, but when I do, I add no seasoning to the meat (although I do have an interesting non-seasoning addition). The real important thing in a hamburger is the meat that's used. Whenever I have an exceptionally good burger, I always try to find out what kind of meat is used. Most often, when it's really good, the answer is Neiman Ranch. I'm not typically a fan of their steaks, but their ground beef tends to be "beefier" than most. I'm also a big fan of ostrich and buffalo burgers, which have a richness. As far as grocery store brands are concerned, I think Laura's organic beef is excellent.

There's a real dilemma when selecting good ground beef for a burger. If it doesn't have enough lean, the flavor isn't rich and "beefy" enough for a really good burger, but with too much lean, you end up with a dry, crumbly burger that gets caught in your throat (or maybe that just happens to me b/c I'm a scarfer). I like to by the leanest beef possible (usually 97%), and then add frozen, chopped spinach to moisten it back up (this works wonders for meat loaf, too). If you really must have seasoning, it's best to put it on the outside of the burger, as a sort of crust, rather than mix it in with the meat. This way you can still have a "kick" to your burger while keeping the natural flavor of the beef as well.

DON'T OVERCOOK YOUR BURGER!!!!!!! It turns them into trash. Or, if you live in San Francisco where such things are mandatory, it turns them into compost. It's important to remember that burgers are pretty small as meat dishes go, and cook very quickly. They will continue to cook for a few minutes after they've been removed from the heat. To get a medium burger, you should remove it before you think it's ready. If you lightly press on it, it'll feel like the center's still a little soft and raw. That's ok. It'll firm up as the meat finishes cooking and the fat cools and thickens. If you plan to save them for later reheating, you need to remove them a little earlier, so the microwave doesn't dry them out.

DON'T PRESS DOWN ON THE TOP OF THE BURGER WITH THE SPATULA!!!!! Every time I see somebody do this it makes me cringe. What's the purpose of this? Think about what you see happen when you squish your burger--a bunch of liquid seeps out of it. That liquid is what makes your burger taste good. Maybe the pan or the coals in the grill taste good after you transfer the juices from your burger to them; I don't really know for sure, but I'd rather eat a good burger than a tasty pan. I think people just do the press-down because they've seen other people do it and they think that's how you make a good burger. It's not. All those people are wrong.

There is a lot more to be said about what you should put ON your burger, but that would require much more than I can talk about here. I'll just give two tips: Pay extra special attention to the bread you use and be creative. Try making your own sauces. It's yummy and fun.

My preferred sidekicks: Fries cooked in peanut oil, seasoned with old bay, with malt vinegar as a condiment. Unseasoned fries cooked in peanut oil, with mayo as a sidekick.

Most good burgers come from local places. Here in San Francisco, the two best that I've had are at a neighborhood diner called Darla's and a dirty, punk, dive bar called Zeitgeist that I was shocked to learn shells out the bucks for Neiman Ranch beef. I think this last probably hasn't cleaned their grill since the early 80s, so every time you order from the barbecue, you get the taste of a thousand burgers. Back home in DC, and still my pick for best burger ever in the history of burgers, is a chain called 5 Guys. Everything about this burger is perfect, and their spicy fries are amazing. If you live in or are visiting the DC Metroplitan area, you have a standing order from me to eat at 5 Guys. And don't go to one of the crappy new ones in Maryland. Even the ones in DC aren't anything compared to the one off of King Street in Alexandria.

Some honorable mentions for other chain burgers are: Wendy's, whose Classic Triple far surpasses all other fast food burgers, Fuddrucker's, which has excellent bread and an awesome toppings bar, and In 'n Out (only in California), which has, contrary to popular opinion, rather mediocre burgers, but allows you to order a burger with up to 8 patties and 8 pieces of cheese, which is great for burger gluttony. Once, on a bet that I couldn't finish it, I tried to order a 10x10 (10 patties, 10 cheeses); they wouldn't let me, so I had to order an 8x8 and a 2x2. I finished them both and won the bet. I think I probably could've done another one, too. But now I'm rambling.

That's all I have to say about burgers for now. As you can tell, I consider it one of the three food groups: Burgers, Nachos, Beer.

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-- Use meat that has at least 20% fat in it.

I suggest you try my tip above using leaner meat and chopped spinach (I would imagine other greens would do the same trick). The main thing fat adds to a burger is moistness, and you can get a richer flavor with more lean.

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Oh yeah, and for God's sake, don't use ketchup. It's gross. :D

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Oh yeah, and for God's sake, don't use ketchup. It's gross. :D

Blasphemer! What's a good burger that's not covered in ketchup? :D

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Where's the best place for burgers?

For fast-food (which I try to avoid) In-N-Out is great, but Fatburger is better. McDonald's so-called burgers are absolutely terrible (sorry, Piz). Wendy's and Burger King make better ones, but I'll take Fatburger over any of them.

For a nicer restaurant, I like the burgers from The Daily Grill and Cheesecake Factory -- and which is best depends on which I've eaten most recently. Big, generous portions of moist, tender beef... simply great.

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-- Use meat that has at least 20% fat in it.
I suggest you try my tip above using leaner meat and chopped spinach (I would imagine other greens would do the same trick). The main thing fat adds to a burger is moistness, and you can get a richer flavor with more lean.
Sometimes I mix steak sauce into the ground meat before cooking. Adds an interesting flavor and a little moisture.

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I haven't been to Fatburger, but a friend who grew up in L.A. raves about them. He once had an encounter at Fatburger with 80s one-hit wonder

(I love that song) who apparently was belligerently drunk after a night out clubbing, but craving a Fatburger, and had to be held up by her chauffer.

The Daily Grill's burger is pretty good, but I don't go there very often after I had one of my top 5 worst dates ever end at the Daily Grill when my date was a total b***h to the waiter because she "comes from a wealthy family" and has "aristocratic standards for serving industry people." That has nothing to do with the burger, though. It was good.

Red Robin has pretty good burgers, too, but I'm not sure if they exist in California.

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Red Robin has pretty good burgers, too, but I'm not sure if they exist in California.

Yep. They're all over Southern CA, in just about every shopping mall. Not bad, but I tired of them a year or so ago. Fatburger's better, and less than half the price.

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I saw many commercials for Ruby Tuesday's new "Triple Prime" burger, and I tried one a couple of weeks ago. Extremely disappointing. It tasted fine, but based on the commercial I was expecting a big, thick burger and got this thin little slab of meat instead. For the price, it's just not worth it.

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…and In 'n Out (only in California), which has, contrary to popular opinion, rather mediocre burgers, but allows you to order a burger with up to 8 patties and 8 pieces of cheese, which is great for burger gluttony. Once, on a bet that I couldn't finish it, I tried to order a 10x10 (10 patties, 10 cheeses); they wouldn't let me, so I had to order an 8x8 and a 2x2. I finished them both and won the bet. I think I probably could've done another one, too. But now I'm rambling.

That's insane! On occasion I've eaten two Wendy's Triples in one sitting with fry and shake, but not more than that. 10! You're unhealthy. :D

But seriously, if you want to be able to eat 10, and then maybe 10 more, try WhiteCastle. Very tasty bite sized burgers.

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But seriously, if you want to be able to eat 10, and then maybe 10 more, try WhiteCastle. Very tasty bite sized burgers.
Bof! They're smothered in onions! Forget ye not, onions are evil. I ordered mine without onions, but the onion taste is so embedded in their grills that I might as well not have bothered.

I went to White Castle exactly once (on a Saturday quest with my kids, after watching Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, a little guilty pleasure that I'm embarrassed to admit liking). Yukko.

On the other hand, in State College, PA (Go Lions!), there's a little diner with a 50s motif, called Baby's (Oakes ought to know of it, being a fellow Penn Stater). That place does the tiny burger right. They call 'em "Whimpies in a Basket" (the basket also includes fries). Yum!

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Bof! They're smothered in onions! Forget ye not, onions are evil. I ordered mine without onions, but the onion taste is so embedded in their grills that I might as well not have bothered.

I went to White Castle exactly once (on a Saturday quest with my kids, after watching Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, a little guilty pleasure that I'm embarrassed to admit liking). Yukko.

Piz, the onions are what make them taste so goooooooood!

I get extra on mine. :D

On the other hand, in State College, PA (Go Lions!), there's a little diner with a 50s motif, called Baby's (Oakes ought to know of it, being a fellow Penn Stater). That place does the tiny burger right. They call 'em "Whimpies in a Basket" (the basket also includes fries). Yum!

Yeah, but they probably have no oinons on them. So, how good could they really be? That's a rhetorical question. :D

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Where's the best place for burgers?

For fast-food (which I try to avoid) In-N-Out is great, but Fatburger is better. McDonald's so-called burgers are absolutely terrible (sorry, Piz). Wendy's and Burger King make better ones, but I'll take Fatburger over any of them.

For a nicer restaurant, I like the burgers from The Daily Grill and Cheesecake Factory -- and which is best depends on which I've eaten most recently. Big, generous portions of moist, tender beef... simply great.

My first ever job in high school was at Jack in the Box. I still think they have pretty good burgers, for a fast food place. They have a "Southwest" burger right now that I'm addicted to. I think they tend to have more satisfying portions than Wendy's, Burger King, and McDonald's, all of which usually leave me a little hungry afterwards. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten to experience In-N-Out or Fatburger yet.

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Ah yes, the burger! Love the burger.

My favorite place to get one is the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. It's owned by Danny Meyer (who also owns Blue Smoke, Gramercy Tavern, and several other NYC hot spots), and it is the perfect summer treat. The meat is part brisket, part sirloin, cooked to perfection. Topped with lettuce, tomato, onions (sorry Piz) and Shack Sauce (the contents of which are secret, but which include some highly addictive substance), it is the epitome of a great burger. Fully worth waiting in line the 45 minutes usually necessary, especially when paired with their excellent crispy fries and, if one has a cast-iron stomach, the dreamy frozen custard.

I can't say enough good things about the place. If you are visiting NYC in the spring through early fall, you've got to go!

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Fully worth waiting in line the 45 minutes usually necessary

Yikes. It must *really* be a good hamburger. :D

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Here's the burger on the menu of a few of the restaurants owned by one of the world's best chefs, Daniel Boulud:

THE ORIGINAL db BURGER

Sirloin Burger Filled with Braised Short Ribs

Foie Gras and Black Truffle, Served on a Parmesan Bun

Pommes Frites—or—Pommes Soufflées

Not bad for $32.

http://danielnyc.com/

JohnRGT

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My dad makes my favorite burger thus far. For one burger, he makes two somewhat flat patties. He then places really good bleu cheese on the center of one, then places the other patty on top and seals the ends together, shaping it into a burger as much as one can in light of the mound of bleu cheese in the middle. The end result is a burger so flavorful and moist that I think it can be eaten without condiments. However, I usually have a thick slice of tomato, and sometimes a little yellow mustard.

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I forgot to add a word of caution should you decide to try the stuffed bleu cheeseburger. Sometimes the cheesy, fatty interior will spray on that first bite. So put on a scruffy shirt. And don't have company. :angry:

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Do people like the George Foreman grill for burgers? I like it for lamb-burgers, which I find too fatty to cook in a skillet.

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Joss, I use my George Foreman Grill for burgers along with many other things. With that said, the biggest negative I find is that it cooks everything evenly which includes the center. I like my meat and burgers a little red in the middle while being crispy on the outside. I have not been able to accomplish this with the grill and I have had one for about 9 years now. But, if you like your meat cooked evenly all the way through than the grill is excellent at doing just that.

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Oh, man, somehow I missed this thread before. Homemade burgers are one of my favorite foods. I almost never go to fast-food places, mostly because, in my opinion, their burgers are nothing compared to a good homemade one. I'm not too particular about the meat, though after reading this thread I may try to experiment a bit more. I like to smother the meat in Worchester sauce while grilling, and add a slice or two of pepperjack a minute or so before taking off the grill. When I put the cheese on, I also put my bun in the grill so it's warm and lightly toasted. I've tried many combos of condiments and dressings, but my favorite (and the only way I'll eat a burger right now) is iceberg lettuce, tomato, onion, very spicy barbeque sauce (a special kind we buy from a local smokehouse), and hot mustard. It's got a bit of a kick, but man, is it good.

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