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Help me make a perfect hamburger

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  • vvv03 Mar 18, 2009 10:45 AM
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I am quite an accomplished cook, but I must admit I'd never made hamburgers/cheeseburgers. Tonight I am going to make them. I have 85% ground chuck. I am pretty sure most burger afficionados would say that the minimalist approach is best, but I do like a little flavor to my burgers (just a slab of ground beef seems so wrong to me.) Unfortunately, I'm in the city, so I don't have an outdoor grill. I must resort to frying/broiling/George Foreman grill. Tell me what you've got -- how can I make a terrific hamburger?

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  1. I don't know about hamburger rules but I make mine almost like I make meatballs just flat. I add sauteed onions and garlic, bread crumbs, cheese and egg and they come out very moist.

    1. 1 lb 85% ground beef. Sometimes I like to mix pork and beef, either works good
      1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
      1 egg
      1 small onion grated with the juice, grate over the bowl. This is key for me
      1 teaspoon dijon
      1 teaspoon garlic minced
      s/p to taste
      I like 1/2 teaspoon all purpose seasoning

      Make into nice size pattys and then like to chill for just 15 to 20 minutes. Makes them easier to grill inside or out for me. A good cast iron skillet works great inside or a grill pan. Put some butter in the pan and then add the patties. Don't move until you get a nice crust on one side. People tend to try to flatten them (bad mistake) or move them I don't.

      One thread a while bad said to press a small indentation or well in the center. This prevented the burger from shrinking. Never have but I'm sure you will get some suggestions for that. Maybe it works, but I never needed it.

      You can add several flavors to your basic mix, but this is my basic with a few changes now and then. I change it all the time depending on what I have at hand.

      Also a good roll is key, I also like to use a good aioli, seems to make it even better. Some arugula and a good thick tomato slice. I love onions too of course and then your fave cheese if you are a cheese person. Cook Medium. I like juicy but not rare.

      No breadcrumbs, Sorry Den, too heavy for me. I like like and flavorful.

      24 Replies
      1. re: kchurchill5

        I agree with k - that recipe makes a perfect burger.

        1. re: bayoucook

          Thx bayoucook!

        2. re: kchurchill5

          K-- I thought you said you used 70% beef.....no?

          1. re: janetms383

            I do if that is what I buy but I was trying to answer vvv03 who said she had 85%.

            I have used 85 but I prefer less if it is up to me. But I also use what I have at hand. I was just giving her a recipe I use a lot 85 is standard, but I like a lower percentage when I have time to get it. Many times I am left with a quick run to the store open after 9pm so I take what they have. But absolutely, I do like 70%

          2. re: kchurchill5

            Excellent recipe. My twist is to brown finely minced onions and shallots in bacon fat, then add to your recipe. And VVV03, please don't go with the George Foreman, It will not generate enough heat to give your burgers that char,but a seasoned cast iron skillet smoking hot will.
            And don't forger the cheese.........

            1. re: currymouth

              This is a very nice meatloaf recipe but it's too much stuff for a hamburger.

              1. re: KTinNYC

                I completely agree.

                1. re: HaagenDazs

                  Everyone grew up with something else. I've tried others, I still go back to mine, sorry, but we all have certain tastes.

                  1. re: kchurchill5

                    What does the egg do for the hamburger?

                    1. re: KTinNYC

                      I can't give you a scientific description. It adds a moistness and texture and it just works. Many years ago my friend added a egg. So most times when I make burgers I like to add an egg. I just like the texture after it is cooked. I do make burgers without it but I prefer using one.

                      1. re: KTinNYC

                        I think the egg yolk adds a little moisture but primarily it's a binder.

                        1. re: HaagenDazs

                          I've really never had any problem with my burgers falling apart without egg.

                          1. re: KTinNYC

                            Me either. ;-) Which is why I stick to my ground beef and onion mix.

                  2. re: KTinNYC

                    For your standard burger, I will have to agree with your opinion. But in my circle a standard burger is , And please forgive me......... Boring. i was just offering the OP an alternative to any number of burgers that can ,quite frankly. be purchased at a decent restaurant. I did not even get into some fine points and ingredients that has shown up in my burgers, ie Rendered Spanish chorizo,Smoked mozz,Thai basil,grilled peppers,Kimchi.I realize that I will scandalize purist, but again I was only offering an alternative recipe. You think that is a meatloaf recipe? Don't get me started.............

                    1. re: currymouth

                      Once you start adding egg or bread to hamburger it becomes meatloaf in my opinion.

                      1. re: KTinNYC

                        To you perhaps, I on the other hand don't add bread crumbs to either, but an egg to both. Different strokes.

                        1. re: currymouth

                          What does the egg add to the "burger"?

                          1. re: KTinNYC

                            The egg acts as a bonding agent when making a non traditional "burger".I do hope that answers your repetitive question.

                            1. re: currymouth

                              It does but like I said to HaagenDazs, I've never had any issues with my burgers falling apart without the egg. Egg and ground meat does go together at times, steak tartare for one, yum.

                              1. re: KTinNYC

                                Now we can agree on something, I too love Steak Tartare but also chop a habanero pepper and add that in............. Oh shoot ,here we go again.

                2. re: kchurchill5

                  what is "all purpose seasoning"?

                  1. re: jfood

                    Sorry, I use just a generic garlic powder, salt pepper celery seed, oregano. Many brands or even a grill seasoning. I don't use much, but I like a little. I should of said grill seasoning, but there are a few brands we get here labeled all purpose (basically similar) with not as much spice. You can use your own blend if you want. Personal taste.

                    1. re: kchurchill5

                      Kind of like a Lowry's Salt, I assume?

                      1. re: HaagenDazs

                        That is more of just a salt based. The ones we use our more lots of herbs just not salt, pepper and garlic. But a good grill seasoning, many top brands would be available and work well too.

                3. To my mind, once you add eggs, onion, and binder you're in fricadellen territory - that's a meatloaf mixture sauteed slowly in patties. Great as a quicker-cooking route to meatloaf and ideal for eating on a roll, but it's not a burger. The inclusion of egg means it needs to be well-cooked and I like a rare burger.

                  Some of the hints from Cooks Illustrated are to press a deep depression in the center of the patty and start cooking it with the flat side down. As the meat contracts and is flipped the depression will fill in but this method keeps the burger flat-sided. They also use a panade (fresh bred crumbs moistened in milk, then squeezed out) to keep the burger moist. A little minced onion worked into the meat is good for flavor and moistness.Some people put a small ice cube at the center of the ball of meat before forming the patty shape, in order to keep the interior from overcooking. A heavy-bottomed pan that retains heat well gives a nice sear to the entire surface; I prefer pan-searing to grilling for both burgers and steaks. Preheat well at medium to medium-high heat, don't oil the pan, and don't move the patty around - it will release when the bottom is seared. Flip just once. Don't press on it to make the juices run - you want them to stay inside.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: greygarious

                    A bread slice soaked in milk and squeezed is also good. I have many different recipes. I guess it depends on the season. Grilling inside vs out I sometimes I alter my recipe.

                    I don't use the depression but I did mention to vvv03 that would probably be a suggestion. Never have. But not saying it doesn't work.

                    1. re: greygarious

                      i agree. minimally handled (so it's not tough) thick pattie from ground chuck, copious salt and pepper, cast iron skillet if you have no grill. Rare is best, medium rare OK, anything else a sin. Toasted bun, slice of sweet onion, cheese if you must. That's a burger. If you eat it rare enough and salty enough, there's plenty of flavor.

                    2. no such thing as a perfect hamburger, you are missing the cheese :-)

                      1. First things first, don't bother taking out the Foreman. Makes terrible burgers. Use a cast iron skillet. Preheat for a few minutes to get really hot. Don't put oil in the pan or it'll smoke and burn. Lightly form loose patties. If you want, you can lightly oil (or coat lightly in clarified butter) the burger, then lots of kosher salt and pepper. Put your patties in the hot pan and push down lightly to ensure good contact (this should be the only time you push down on the meat and def. don't squeeze hard!!) and only flip once. A 3/4 inch thick burger will take about 3-4 min per side for med. rare.

                        I'd stay away from bread, egg, etc although can make a fine sandwich, it more resembles meat loaf than a burger. Occasionally, i'll add finely diced onion or jalapenos to the ground beef before forming them into patties.

                        1. Following Julia Child's advice...

                          I just use ground chuck (usually 80/20, not 85/15 but that really depends on your butcher/store) and some finely diced onions. I never have trouble with them falling apart so I don't find ANY need for an egg or breadcrumbs. Season with salt and pepper. Julia cooked hers in a cast iron skillet and flipped just once. The result is a crispy exterior and a juicy interior. Leave the condiments like mustard, cheese and sauces for the final product, otherwise you do quickly approach meatloaf territory. So, overall I completely agree with greygarious and ESNY. Stay "minimalist" and you'll be rewarded. I promise.

                          After all, you don't take an egg, mustard, salt and pepper, seasoned salt, worceshire sauce, grated onion, minced garlic and smear it all over a perfectly good t-bone, do you? Then why would you do it to a hamburger? I know, a burger is different than a nice steak but I approach it the same way.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: HaagenDazs

                            Still vote for the egg, sorry. But I understand.

                            1. re: HaagenDazs

                              I cook mine in a cast iron skillet, very hot with kosher salt in it. Sear the burgers well on each side, then add some butter and let them cook a few minutes more. Delish.

                            2. It just comes down to personal preferences, I guess. I do the burgers like kchurchill - I can't stand any fillers or eggs being in there. I quickly form the patties and they always stay together. To each his own!

                              1. For jfood the perfect hamburger needs to meet the mood of the day. Sometimes he likes a little more spicey, sometimes a little more worcesterchire (gotta change the name) saucy, sometimes with onion, etc. But he always starts with 80-20, hey it ain't a diet food.

                                But his basic burger for that everyday gotta have one is montreal seasoning and water, yes water. This was the subject of a thread 2 summers ago and although there are the purists that want the minimalist handling (and at times that is what jfood does) the water-burger is by far the best.

                                And once that burger is ready to go, as in off the grill, grill marks outside wonderful pink inside, then you have to have some slowly caramelized onions, heinz ketchup, and two slices of American Cheese, one for the top and one for the bottom. The cheese on both sides protects the bun from the running juices.

                                Then stand in that Philly-Cheesesteak stance, burger to the mouth, open, insert, bite, chew, smile, grab the napkin.

                                1. I just watched this Test Kitchen Show about grilling hamburgers today:

                                  http://www.jasminenjason.com/recipes/...

                                  However I disagree....the perfect burger is made of beef chuck (Important: have butcher put it through the grinder only once). Salt, pepper, bit of nutmeg and a little Worcestershire sauce.

                                  Mix tossing as lightly as possible. Gentley shape into patties, taking care not to pack meat down too solidly. Allow 4 to 8 min. over medium heat, turning only once. Don't flatten or pat with spatula - this presses out the juices. I think that is basic technique .....THEN add your flavors; cheese (put on the last few seconds of cooking so it will melt). Put on a bun and add your choice of other desired ingredients; relish, pickle, tartar sauce, bacon, onion, etc. You add the flavors before you eat. This way everyone can have their burger the way that they like best..

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: Lisbet

                                    I've been grinding my own beef for burgers (after a nice Christmas present) and the result is amazing. Far better than store bought beef. I've also been using about a 50/50 ratio of flat iron steak into my chuck which makes a world of difference too. Flat iron is part of the chuck anyway. After my first "outing" I was amazed at how flavorful and light and fluffy the meat was after grinding. It gives a great example of how over-mixing the ingredients can make the burger more dense than it should be and how fresh ground is far superior to store bought.

                                    1. re: Lisbet

                                      Thanks to all! Great suggestions! I think I will forego the egg, maybe add the grated onion, salt, pepper and maybe maybe the bread soaked in milk (But probably not, though I do trust the America's Test Kitchen people.) Anyway, I'll let you know how it goes!

                                      1. re: vvv03

                                        Of all things I would forgo the bread soaked milk. That's truly not a good addition in my opinion. Seasonings, even though I don't use many in the burger itself, are up to the personal preference of the cook but there's really no reason for the bread/milk trick.

                                        We're not talking about slow cooked meatballs in sauce, we're talking about high heat grilled burgers that should not be cooked to the point of drying out.

                                        1. re: vvv03

                                          The bread soaked milk is if you want to cook it well done (lord only knows why anyone would want a well done burger).

                                          1. re: vvv03

                                            I have to know how your burgers turned out. Please do tell.

                                          2. re: Lisbet

                                            Add to any digression.

                                            A recipe that calls for a burger to be cooked until well done is better used to start the fire to grill a nice Med-Rare steak.

                                          3. Nancy Silverton (La Brea Bakery, Pizzeria Mozza) has some very very specific guidelines! She uses nothing though but the meat (in specific proportions chuck/sirloin) and salt and pepper for the actual patties.

                                            http://www.latimes.com/features/food/...

                                            Thought it was an interesting article regardless of whether you use the recipe -- I for one am not an avocado-on-burger person like she suggests.

                                            1. Late to the party, but I figured I'd chime in anyway. We've been doing burgers a lot lately, and I've been favoring a minimal '50s style.

                                              Patties are 80/20, salted with a healthy dash of Worcestershire, large and very thin (1/8 lb. each). Then I season the surface with a bit of salt and pepper. To cook, I heat up a cast iron skillet on medium high and toss them in the bare pan when it's hot. While side one is going, I give the raw side a quick S&P sprinkle, then flip after about a minute. I quickly add my cheese of choice, toss a tablespoon of butter in the center, shake the pan to distribute the butter, then cover and continue cooking just long enough to melt the cheese. I stack the patties and serve them as a double on a really soft, fresh bun.

                                              For toppings, a little ketchup, mustard and pickle. That's it. A good '50s style is one of those things that's more than the sum of its parts if you get it right. Anything more is just a distraction.

                                              This isn't THE RIGHT way (no such thing), but it's a very good way and it's my favorite of the moment.

                                              6 Replies
                                              1. re: Dmnkly

                                                How do you get the patties so thin? Do you use a press?

                                                1. re: chai

                                                  You can use anything. Hands, bottom of pots, etc.

                                                  1. re: HaagenDazs

                                                    An 1/8" is pretty thin. I'm guessing Dmnkly is mis-estimating the thickness of the burger.

                                                    1. re: KTinNYC

                                                      Dmnkly said 1/8 pound, not inch. A 2 oz patty is the size of a small fast food hamburger patty and poster says s/he stacks them two to a bun.

                                                      1. re: greygarious

                                                        Poor reading on my part, thanks for the correction.

                                                        1. re: KTinNYC

                                                          Oops I misread too. 1/8lb makes more sense. thanks

                                              2. Late to the cook-off, I know, but what I use is always 80/20 beef, a bit of finely minced onion, salt and pepper mixed in, form the patties and leave them in the fridge for an hour so the seasoning can work its way through.

                                                Really hot pan, a little bit of butter, only turn 'em once (don't poke 'em, or prod 'em, or heaven forbid, smash 'em!) and lay on the cheese right after the turn. Total cooking is 4 minutes per side, then let them rest to bring them up to medium.

                                                Serve on lightly toasted buns with ketchup, pickles, onion relish, corn relish, whatever!

                                                Oh, and never, ever, ever a Foreman grill...that'd just steam the poor things. :(

                                                1. Honestly, too many ideas ... I tried many variations and came up with mine. Everyone will have something different and they are all good in their own way.

                                                  Try a few and find what you like best. There is no right and certainly no wrong. An egg is no more wrong then, using different %'s of meat or bread or not, pressing or not or and indentation or not and many other additions that people use. Just fine what works best for you

                                                  1. Usually we use grass-fed beef, and all that needs is some kosher salt, pattying into 1/3 lb burgers, and I do the thumbprint thing so the burger doesn't puff up too much while cooking. Cook only to medium at most when using grass-fed, I've learned. I usually cook them on a grill pan. About 4 min a side or so.

                                                    If I'm using "regular" less flavorful beef, I really like the Cook's recipe that has dijon, chives, and cognac. I don't remember the proportions exactly, but for a pound of beef I think it's a couple tbsp of mustard, a tsbp of cognac and some chives snipped in. Not totally traditional, but really good!

                                                    1. Late to the discussion too..but like most said, to each their own. My own burger is pretty minimalistic. There's no reason, in my own opinion, why a burger just can't be ground chuck, salt and pepper. If you're beef is top notch and cooked correctly, you will always end up with a juicy, flavorful burger. That's just me though :)

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: krisrishere

                                                        Ditto - it's a hamburger and not a meatloaf or a warm pate. Good beef (80/20) cooked well and served with salt and pepper. That's not to say that there isn't a large condiment selection - grilled mushrooms, roasted peppers, grilled onions, cheese varieties, tomatoes, lettuce, etc - but a hamburger is about the meat.

                                                        1. re: alwayscooking

                                                          cooked well? or well cooked ? nothing past med rare for moi.

                                                          1. re: sdv231

                                                            Thanks for the edit - well cooked at med rare!

                                                          2. re: alwayscooking

                                                            People after my own heart.

                                                        2. Wow, what a question.

                                                          First you need to decide what what YOUR idea of the perfect hamburger is. As you've seen, there are 100 different "best" recipes, from the meatloaf-like to the bare meat, from thick to thin, grilled to griddled. Decide what kind of hamburger you want, then you can find a good recipe for it.

                                                          BTW, my perfect burger is 80/20 or 75/25 fat, chuck/round combination, coarse ground. Form into 7-8oz balls, liberally salt both sides with kosher salt, and place into lightning hot cast iron skillet to lightly sear the first side (very lightly, this step is only to hold the burger together for when you perform the next step--you don't want anything more than the very tip of the beef to cook). Then, flip, still in ball form, and smash that burger down onto the skillet, hard. Since it's still raw, you aren't squishing out the juices, which is why you normally NEVER smash a cooking burger. This early smash however causes the burger to adhere to the pan and get an *excellent* crust, and since its so early in the process, you dont lose any juices. When the first side has a perfect crust, flip and cook until the burger is to the proper doneness. Serve in a lightly buttered bun topped with onions and mustard.