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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.