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What is the importance of the bun in burger satisfaction?

A poster looking for the classic American burger in the SF Bay Area (no fois gras, please) asked the question in the title and continued ...

"One of us said it was all about the meat and the condiments; the other one of believes that the most important part of the burger (after the perfectly cooked meat) is the bun."

My own opinion is the bun is a major player. I enjoy a nice condiment bar with a burger ... however that is just the icing (so to speak) on the burger ... a bonus ... a good burger with the perfect bun is all that is needed. Good condiments have never brought be back to a place ... a bad bun will ruin the whole experience and it is unlikely I'll be back.

The bun can't be stale. It can't be too much bread to burger ratio. It can't be too flimsy to hold up to the burger. It can't be ... creative.

One of the few horrors of moving to San Francisco was the burger served on a sourdough roll. No. It is too chewy. Also, a burger ain't health food ... forgetabout a whole wheat bun.

Though ... I'm starting to think the ciabatta might not be a bad thing. There's a certain synergy with the burger. Uh ... the name that dare not be mentioned ... but I like Jack in the Box's ciabatta burgers. And two burger joints at the top of my list in the Bay Area have an excellent ciabatta buns (same bakery). It holds up nicely to juicy burgers and those with lots of condiments with the bread complimenting the burger taste.

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  1. I personally think Ciabatta is too crusty a bread for a burger. I like a bun with only a moderate amount of "body" at most but not wonderbread-like mushiness that disintegrates from the burger's juices. I also agree that sourdough is too chewy, in addition to having a taste that doesn't really compliment a plain burger.

    1. I agree with Blueicus that a ciabatta is too crusty. Its almost guaranteed to cause the burger to slip out the back of the bun and onto the plate, or worse, your lap.

      As far as how important the bun it, I think it can be summarized in the following way... The bun to me, is like waitress/waiter service. I only really notice it if its atrocious and does not work. A stale bun, a poor choice of bread, etc. will ruin a burger just like poor service at restaurant will ruin my dinner or make me decide not to go back. Just like 90% of the time good service won't change my opinion of a restaurant, a good bun won't change my opinion of a burger, i just sort of expect it. Now if we're talking an outstanding brioche or something else, I can be swayed, but thats a rarity.

      Although I always eat cheeseburgers, as long as nothing else, condiments, cheese, bun is truly awful, the meat is the only truly important thing to me. But a poor cheese, and by this I mean a decidedly wrong selection of a type of cheese (see Borough Food and Drink in NYC which used an overly sharp cheddar which destroyed everything else on the bun) or a poor bun will ruin it but barring that, all else is just a minor player, window dressing to the patty.

      1. I think the bun can make a huge difference. I like a good quality, traditional burger bun with sesame seeds. A flimsy bun is the worst. I do like a whole wheat but, but for a veggie burger, not a hamburger.

        3 Replies
        1. re: manraysky

          must....have....sesame....seeds (for me to be really happy). soft- medium body so my burger and fixin's don't fall out. otherwise, not too picky, so long as it is fresh.

          1. re: alkapal

            OH yes, sesame seeds... super important. We've been using Kaiser rolls, cause their sturdier than the usual styrofoam type 'buns' you get in the supermarket. But alas -- no sesame seeds on 'em. But they hold even the juiciest 8 oz. medium-rare buffalo burger w/extra sharp cheddar & toppings. Yumboski!

        2. I agree that crusty bread is not the best choice. It should be soft. I think brioche is a good choice. There should also be a good bun/meat ratio. With those California type burgers, I find that the bun/burger ratio is too high (I only order a single).

          3 Replies
          1. re: Miss Needle

            Out of curiousity, what's a "California type" burger?

            1. re: manraysky

              Like an In n Out style burger. We don't have any In n Outs in NY, but have a few clones.

            2. re: Miss Needle

              Couldn't disagree more. One of the reasons I hardly ever go to McD, BK, Wendy's etc. is the soft, mushy buns. When I make burgers at home, I use crusty Kaisers that are toasted; this gives the exterior a nice crunch, without being overly chewy. (I do agree that hard, crusty rolls like Calabrese or Ciabatta are too dense).

              In Toronto, we have a lot of stand-alone burger shops in Saturday Night Live's "cheeseburger, cheeseburger, Pepsi, Pepsi" mode. They use a soft bun, but they always toast them (both sides) on the grill before adding condiments and the meat, which again gives the bun some substance.

              Waiting for a bus which was 20 minutes late in minus 30 weather in Toronto last week, I succumbed to advertising, and bought a McD's double cheeseburger (partly I was hungry, partly just wanted to get warm!). As I slid my teeth through it - it would be incorrect to say "bit into", as that implies some resistance - I was reminded why I don't eat there very often. If I were my grandfather, and had forgotten my dentures, I'm sure I could have gummed this down quite easily.

              Maybe it's because I eat a lot of Asian food, but I really look for contrasts in my food - sweet vs. sour, spicy vs. cool, crunchy vs. soft, etc. In a burger, I want a patty that needs to be chewed without being dry or rubbery, a bun that has a crisp exterior, and a mix of condiments that provide more contrasts, such as crisp lettuce, cool mayo, sweet relish, and tangy mustard.

              The best analogy I can think of is listening to a great piece of music, like Beethoven's Sixth, played on a piano or organ, vs. being played by a full orchestra. The former may be an enjoyable thing to listen to, but there is no way that it has the richness and depth of the latter. Soft burger, soft buns, bland condiments equals "blechh", IMHO.

            3. The importance (and relevance) of the bun can be summed up this way: The best buns are those that are never mentioned when talking about the qualities of a good burger.

              If I have to comment on the bun -- either good or bad -- then something is not right.

              If I'm thining, "darn, this bun sucks, it's way to crusty," then the whole burger experience has been shot.

              If I'm marveling at the amazing bun, then dollars to donuts there's something wrong with the burger ... because at the end of the day it's all relative.

              1. The bun is very important, and no one bun is ideal for all burgers- must be proportional to size/shape of burger itself. The one sort-of exception to that rule is English Muffins. I think them a fine platform for any burger up to 6 oz.

                Standard burger buns are good for the pre-formed up-to-1/4lb burgers bought in bulk.

                Favorite in general, expecially for a larger burger, is a fresh kaiser roll, with or without seeds. It has just enough structure to stand up to juice, etc without being chewy.

                1. Agreed- the bun is very important. Must not be too chewy, and must not be too big. Want to taste the burger first and forwmost. And I need to have the bun toasted. Burger served rare to medium rare with raw onion and swiss cheese. A bit of mayo and I am iin burger heaven.

                  1. #1 the meat, #2 the bun, #3 the cheese! The best burger bun I have had is at The Spot in Galveston, Tx. It is a yellow colored bun, and they butter and grill it. I'm not sure what it is, maybe egg? But it is perfect for a burger. Not too chewy, not thin, just right!

                    1. The bun can definitely ruin a good burger, but in the 50+ years jfood has enjoyed burgers there have been less than a handful of buns that have ruined a good burger.

                      1. So you can hold it in your hands! It's not good if you cut it with a fork and knife. Plus I'm a bread kind of girl....

                        1. and no good if the bun falls apart.

                          1. I agree: I've never understood people who think it's good to put a burger on a baguette, either.

                            Ciabatta, it really depends on the ciabatta. I think a "real" ciabatta is too crusty, but I've had ciabatta buns that had a softer crust, and the slightly firmer quality of the interior worked well. I've actually had a good whole wheat bun, but I agree that was an exception to the rule.

                            Basically, the bun has several functions, and it must perform all of them:

                            It makes the burger neater and easier to handle and eat
                            It holds the condiments in contact with the burger patty
                            It soaks up juices and enhances the taste of the burger (which also means it doesn't get soggy and isn't stale or otherwise nasty tasting)

                            If it does all those without hindering (getting back to the too-crusty/too tough bun), then it's a decent bun.

                            1. I too love a good bun...however I am in the weirdo camp that eats the burger/toppings with a fork/knife and I nibble at the toasty, buttery brown edge of a toasted bun and leave the centers.

                              Ehhhh. Could be more weird, no?

                              1. I tend to like focaccia (both the texture and how it absorbs juices), but a good roll's fine too. It shouldn't be too hard--that's probably the dealbreaker. Fine crumb is important.

                                1. When putting together a burger at home (a big thick grill fired kind of burger), I'm looking for a bun that is:

                                  -soft, not squishy
                                  -dense enough to add weight
                                  -a little sweet
                                  -sesame seeded
                                  -as fresh as I can find

                                  Then brush with a little butter and toss on the grill to toast. And the bottom is just as important as the top.

                                  1. and, the bun shouldn't absorb too much of the ketchup, mayo, relish or anything else you like in your burger, there is a perfect point where some is absorbed but the rest stays on the burger.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: smartie

                                      A thin layer of butter or mayo does the job nicely. The fats create a moisture barrier, and keeps your bread nicely dry.

                                    2. Hamburger buns made with potato bread are great.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: emilief

                                        yes, i really like that meyer's brand potato buns -- for burgers and dogs.

                                        1. re: alkapal

                                          You got it! Potato rolls are the best for burgers.

                                      2. Pepperidge Farm Sandwich -NOT HAMBURGER- buns have very good body and texture. I'm especially fond of the onion flavor for burgers. Lightly grilled or toasted. Mmmmm...

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: phofiend

                                          Yes, now that I no longer live in or near Texas and therefore no longer have access to Mrs. Baird's cookout-style hamburger buns, the Pepperidge Farm sandwich roll with sesame seeds is an entirely adequate substitute.

                                        2. I agree -- the bun is a major player. In my opinon, classic egg buns are the best. I am a partner in a fast-casual restaurant company, and we shopped around extensively for the best bun for our burger. We eventually settled on a classic challah bun from Tribeca Oven. It's slighly yellow, light and moist, and gets rave reviews. We put it on the grill, get it ever-so-slightly toasty, then give the top a quick, light brush with melted, clarified butter so that it's glistening when it's served. I think it's the best bun out there, and I'll confess to having eaten more than my share of burgers and buns over the years...

                                          You can find them at http://www.tribecaoven.com/p_sandwich...

                                          1. Ah, yes - the quest for burger satisfaction. The perfect burger is not only very subtle, but highly personal. In my case, the meat must taste like beef and be a spot less than medium - grass fed is great, though nearly any fresh ground chuck works. The cheese must have some flavor, but not enough to mask the burger nor so different that it conflicts with the flavor - cheddar is #1 because it works well; pepper jack, blue, and a nutty Swiss work well too.

                                            Toppings are another category all together. Bacon is a long time friend of the burger - probably started as a way for diners to clear out their leftover breakfast items. I prefer the thin, crispy bacon since I think the thick stuff is too much for the burger. Then there is the sauce - Thousand Island is my favorite, but plain ketchup and mustard can also work. I personally do not like veggies on the burger, but a little shredded lettuce is OK.

                                            The bun is literally the first thing we taste when eating a burger. I agree that the bun is important. The bun should never be taller than the filling; anything more is too chewy or fills up the mouth too much. The bun must be substantial enough to catch the juices without falling apart, but not hard enough to distract from the tender patty. Jack In The Box has some great buns - ciabatta, grilled sourdough, and the Jumbo Jack bun - for comparison. One local place has a thin, fresh baked bun with a slight chewy exterior and a light thin interior - perfect for their juicy concoctions.

                                            Now it is time to get a burger!

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Sacto_Damkier

                                              Yes, that Jack in the Box ciabatta bun is good. It was the first burger that I liked with ciabatta. Now if someone could only do something about the burger itself. The last time I had the sirloin burger I liked it. The time before, not so much.

                                              Like others have noted, if using a ciabatta bun, you want a soft version, not a crusty one.

                                              1. re: rworange

                                                I like the JITB sirloin burger too - on ciabatta bread! The base bun for their sirloin burger is terrible. I have not tried the sirloin on sourdough, but the sourdough, swiss, and grilled onions might be very good.

                                            2. A good bun is important; it doesn't make the perfect burger but it can kill one. I don't like ciabatta based roll, but a kaiser roll is tolerable, when they are fresh.

                                              I have a recipe for a great burger bun,but the Giant Eagle grocery chain makes a great burger roll in their in-store bakery. It should be soft enough to absorb the juices and cradle the meat, but it shouldn't dissolve into mush when it you put the patty into it.