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Hey Chowhounds, Let's Build a Better Burger!

Wowie wow! I just built a dee - lish - iss burger! Sometimes everything just works right. You always say a prayer when you buy supermarket hamburger meat, but purely by chance I found this Harris Ranch beef here in SF that I had heard good things about. I think they treat the animals humanely too, which means a lot to me. But I just bought the fattiest Harris' ground beef they had and went home with hope in my heart. Well, I have done that soooo many times before and been profoundly disappointed. But, I guess today was just my lucky day.

Because, not only was that meat the tops in rich beefy wonderfulness but I did indeed figure out a new trick (for me anyway, probably you all know it already) that I want to pass on to anybody who wants to make a truly great burger, and thus open up the topic at hand for discussion, brainstorming and general shmoozing...

HOW TO BUILD A BETTER BURGER!

What I did differently, that I had never done before was to transfer something from an entirely different recipe because...well, why? Intuition? I dunno. Maybe it was Grandma Gertrude watching out for my cooking from that great kitchen in the sky, because the recipe I borrowed the new trick from was her dearly beloved stuffed cabbage which I've posted here before, and which is absolutely fabulous.

I guess I've been wondering why the only thing she put into the meat besides raw rice was minced onion, salt, freshly ground black pepper and water. Why the water? Well, because rice needs moisture to swell and cook, right? But, could adding water to ground beef, in general, make it more moist, I asked myself...on some unconsious level, because I'd been mulling this subject for weeks since the last time I made the stuffed cabbage. And yes, it really did. The burger had a tenderness and juiciness I have never produced in any burger of my own making before. I also added quite a bit of very finely minced red onion, a bit of kosher salt and enough fresh ground black pepper that I was getting hits of it as I ate that delicious burger.

How much water? I should have measured, but I didn't. Maybe a quarter cup for half a pound of meat. I just put everything into a plastic bag and squoze it (yeah, NOT a real word) maybe a dozen times trying not to over-mix, which is supposed to toughen the meat.

I made 4 very small little patties, only 2 1/2 inches across, but a good inch thick, from 1/2 pound of meat - like amuse bouches - really large flatish meatballs (I was hungry - faster that way), put on a very high flame, and only turned once. Once turned over, sharp cheddar went on top and after a few moments I covered them just to melt the cheese. Served on and under quarters of buttered Oroweat whole wheat toast and topped with Heinz Ketchup. So moist and juicy, so beefy, so absolutely perfect!

Ok, all you burger loving chowhounds: what's YOUR favorite trick for building a better burger?

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  1. Follow the recipe for the pork burger in Sunday Suppers at Lucques. Seriously, that was the most unbelievable burger I've ever had.

    6 Replies
    1. re: MMRuth

      Sorry that I don't own that Lucques cookbook. Should I? Or is that recipe online somewhere? Or is it simple enough for you to offer a synopsis here?

      1. re: niki rothman

        I'll try to find a link - and didn't mean to be short in my reply. The book is unbelievable. Here's the link to the Summer Menus thread - lots of photos of the burger.

        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/39707...

        Several of us made them and posted photos. The post under the one I linked to above has a link to the recipe.

        And congrats on making a great burger - you've got us talking about going out for one for dinner!

        1. re: MMRuth

          MM, I have always had a lot of respect for your wise counsel. If you think this is a top o' the line, not worth going on living without cookbook, I'll be heading for alibris.com pronto to see how much a second hand copy in very good condition will cost me.

          1. re: niki rothman

            Thanks - really it is. The recipes are often a lot of work, but well worth it. I'd frankly say it is the best cookbook I've cooked from in years (putting aside the classics). The flavors are wonderful and interesting. My husband said "This is an epiphany" after one of the meals I made, and another time said I was trying to kill him by cooking so much from it. I've never been to LA and, to be honest, was never really inclined to (forgive my biases), but this book makes me want to go to there just so that I can go Lucques.

            1. re: niki rothman

              BTW - here's a link to the "mother thread" for the Lucques cookbook of the month threads - as you will see, some of us have become a bit obsessed with the book!

              1. re: niki rothman

                It's a great burger. Between this thread and others I was persuaded to try the recipe last Sunday night. I didn't have a whole lot of time to follow the Cookbook of the Month thread for Sunday Supper Lucuques but this recipe has piqued my interest in trying more recipes from the book.

        2. The meat quality and fat content is most important for me. I always like the way my burgers come out when I use 75/25 prather ranch meat. I'm a purist, form the patties and sprinkle with salt and pepper while grilling.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Fussy Foodie

            This Harris Ranch ground beef (from very generic cuts, I guess, because it did not say chuck even - which I thought meant generic beef) that I used to make my exemplary burgers today, was 22 percent fat. I agree - less fat means less flavor, as long as the meat is very high quality. And by that I guess I mean a very clean beefy flavor, without a hint of liveriness, which sadly, I have noticed more often in meat recently, and makes me fearful about the level of health inspections going on. But now that I know that this Harris Ranch meat is soooo good, actually much better flavor than the Niman Ranch, a national brand I had been searching out for humaneness issues, I feel just so wonderful it's almost silly. I will be spending some time tomorrow online finding out where to purchase Harris meats nearer to my home.

          2. I belong to the school of less done to a burger, the better. That's the whole point of having burgers for me and the only trick is in the quality of the meat you get. Tonight I made a fabulous burger on the grill using freshly ground beef that I bought this afternoon from a small butcher in Philly's Italian market where I also get my veal (he's about 80 and still slices the veal cutlets individually for each customer). It was one of the best I've had and I did nothing but melt some good cheddar cheese to top, season with salt and pepper, and serve medium rare on a toasted kaiser roll with Heintz ketchup and Hientz sweet relish. MMM. I also love a slice of sweet onion, but I didn't get around to it tonight.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Ellen

              Hi, Ellen.
              Would you humor me some time when it's convenient to experiment and just try the water trick and see if it does indeed make a better burger? I am a little worried this was some sort of fluke. Like maybe you are entirely correct and the perfection I achieved was because it WAS indeed just the perfect meat.

            2. Ever since the first e coli scare I have ground my own beef. I buy high quality steaks at Costco and run it through the meat grinder attachment on my Kitchenaid. I use the Williams-Sonoma perfect hamburger recipe with a few of my own improvements:

              1 lb ground chuck
              1 lb ground sirloin
              2 Tbsp finely chopped yellow onion
              1 tsp minced garlic
              1 tsp kosher salt
              1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
              a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce

              1 Reply
              1. re: lisaf

                Thanks for reminding me I keep meaning to purchase the meat grinder attachment for my Kitchenaid. Like adding the water to the meat, ideas like purchasing the meat grinder can sometimes sit too long on the back burner of my mind.

              2. Mine's pretty simple - kosher salt, fresh ground pepper and a few healthy shakes of Worcester. BBQ sauce instead of ketchup is great too.