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Homemade burgers just don't taste right.

Okay... not to make another redundant thread on this.

but what IS it about homemade burgers that just dont seem to compare at all to Burger King/Mcdonald's?

I have tried almost everything recommended and still come out with a burger that is not much up to par with Burger King or Mcdonald's.

I have went through the step of buying my own grinder, freezing all the parts, cutting up FRESH (brought from the grocery store and used within an hour) Chuck into 1" cubes, freezing that for 30 minutes. Chopping the bacon into 1" cubes freezing that for 30 minutes, and processing it all through the coarse plate of the grinder.

Bacon gave it a slight better flavor, but still lacking very much from your typical fast food and restaurant burger.

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  1. They put artificial flavorings in the burgers in order to make their questionable meat taste like real grilled meat. You aren't going to be able to replicate them at home.

    10 Replies
    1. re: Njchicaa

      It's very strange, though, isn't it?

      In their attempt to approximate what "real grilled meat" tastes like by adding in artificial flavorings, their burger(s) are much superior to mine or any other "homemade" burger I've ever tasted.

      Very strange.

      I might have to start look into putting binders or add-in's into my burger, like eggs, or bread-crumbs. Whatever I'm doing now just doesn't taste right.

      1. re: achilles007

        SEASON IT! Salt and pepper, garlic and onion powder go a long way to making a burger taste good.

        1. re: Njchicaa

          What artificial flavoring are you referring to? Or are you just making a joke.

            1. re: Njchicaa

              I read this book years ago and have no need to read this large passage again. However, I searched on "burger" in the link you provided and found no reference to anyone putting "artificial flavorings in the burgers."

              So my question still stands.

              1. re: tommy

                I bet they add some sort of brine in making the patties. I know McDonald's does not get their burgers that salty just from the grill station shaking salt on the burgers while cooking them.

                What I would like to know is how does McDonald's get that 'mealy' texture into every ground beef patty they cook? ; )

                I think the fast food burgers are much fattier than the average home cook uses. I bet they are at least 70/30.

                1. re: John E.

                  Do they even shake salt on the patties in the store anymore?

                  Now I want a McDouble.

                  1. re: John E.

                    I think it has more to do with grind and handling (packing) than with fat content. Fat tends to cook out, especially with thin patties.

                    The grand daddy of fastfood hamburgers, White Castle, is steamed, with 5 holes punched though the patty to let steam through.

                    I agree with others - use preformed frozen patties, or it you use your own grind, use one of the as-sold-on-TV presses.

                    Save the fancy mix and lightly handled patty for when you want to copy something from Hubert Keller's Vegas burger bar.

                    1. re: paulj

                      I made homemade White Castles once by putting ground beef in a food processor and processing it until smooth with some ice cubes. Then I spread it thin on the back of a 1/2 sheet pan, partially froze it and then cut square patties, poked holes in them and then from them hard. I minced the onions in the food processor as well and then I cooked them like they do at White Castle. It was fun for all but not worth the effort more than once (for me anyway).

          1. I thought for sure that buying it fresh, grinding, and adding fat to it would make it taste like the type of burger you would get in a restaurant or fast-food chain, but this is just sub-par in taste.

            Hell, it doesn't even hold its shape on the grill and completely falls apart.

            1. First of all, why would youw ant it to taste like fast food patties? :P

              secondly, try adding a butt-load of salt. salt and other random MSG-filled seasonings... might do the trick. I find that fastfood patties don't taste like "beef" but more like salt and miscellaneous seasnonings

              5 Replies
              1. re: darrentran87

                Yeah. But, the thing is, as much as I would want to believe that, if you just take the burger patty off of the bun and eat it separately, i think it would be mighty unfair, and (dare I say it) a STRETCH to say that Mcdonald's patties only taste like a butt-load of salt and other seasonings.

                there is clearly a BEEF taste there with (at the very most) very minimal salt added (it some cases the patty itself tastes as if it didnt have any salt at all and still tasted great!). I just don't know what exactly I'm doing wrong.

                1. re: achilles007

                  Are you seasoning the meat with salt? If so, when and how?

                  1. re: 1POINT21GW

                    Well, because I read that salt draws out moisture. i always made sure to add it while cooking on the griddle. The first side, and then when flipping over, the other side. Both with the salt and the pepper. I use the shake-salt with the wide diameter head which pours out quite a bit of salt with each shake.

                    1. re: 1POINT21GW

                      ^^^ exactly.

                      I'm assuming since you brought it up, you want your patties to taste like mcdonalds/burger king. Here are my thoughts:

                      1) Pound the ground beef together under plastic wrap or parchment paper. Their patties are super thin so you want high heat to get a good sear on both sides.

                      2) Though you disagree, I would say HEAVILY season the patties. (you'd want to do this for any burger patty regardless). Keep in mind, salt brings out the flavor of whatever you're seasoning.

                      3) Make sure you are getting a very good sear on yoru patties. Since they are going to be about 1/3"thick... make sure your grill or pan is VERY hot before cooking.

                      4) Again, you may disagree, but I would suggest using those meat tenderizers you find in your grocery stores.

                      I think ensuring a thin patty and heavily salting the burger is key. (Don't oversalt it but season the patties as you would a steak... while keeping in mind that the patty is much thinner)

                      When I make my patties, i want thick patties to have a juicy burger. I salt and pepper it right before cooking it. I only season with salt and pepper. No bacon required. Cook it to a nice medium and it's perfect for me.

                    2. re: achilles007

                      Ya but the "beef" taste is actually a man made chemical made to taste like beef.
                      The chemical has twenty three letters in it. LOL
                      But seriously, I know a european baker who is contracted by a major fast food corporation along with other experts in food chemistry to travel to the manufacturing facilities and do random checks making sure the scientifically precise amounts of ingredients are being added to the final out-the-door product.
                      His words: "There is a great temptation for food manufacturers in the fast food industry to use 'pencil-tests'". AKA cheat.
                      He related one incident where a customer sent a letter to the President of the corporation along with four burgers all packed properly to prevent spoilage. In the letter the customer pointed out that each burgers' 'special sauce' looked different and tasted different.
                      Turned out a 'special sauce' manufacturer had been 'cheating' with the ingredients.
                      I asked the baker if he would ever eat one of the burgers from this major fast food outlet. "NO ******* WAY" was his response.

                  2. It's going to be very hard for any of us to help you get where you're wanting to go because we don't really know where you are nor do we really know where you're wanting to go. So, us giving you a map and directions might not do you much good. No fault of your own, it's just hard to communicate these things sometimes.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: 1POINT21GW

                      True. It's funny. even after grinding separately the fat and then adding it into to the ground chuck, the meat still had a bit of a hard time holding together and kept falling apart. The time of cooking I keep reading for each side is about 2 minutes per side, and the meat still tasted dry.

                      I would wager on to say that perhaps the way I ground the fat has something to do with it.
                      I make the patties thin so perhaps I should use the fine grinder plate instead of the coarse. And then re-grind a second time with both the fat and meat together

                      1. re: achilles007

                        If they're too dry, more than likely the patties are either being overcooked or need more fat.

                        If it were me, I'd 86 the bacon until I mastered cooking 100% beef patties.

                        1. re: achilles007

                          Check out Charcuterie by Michel Ruhlman to get some help on ground meat/fat proportions, and why your having the fall-apart patty problem.

                          As for taste, IMHO, I think a fast-food burger patty tastes like CRAP on it's own, unless it is a $6-8 dollar 'supposed-Angus' burger. In that case, I am sure there is all kinds of additives besides beef in there. For the cheap patties, ditto, but truly crappy meat combined with the additives.

                          I only eat at Mickey-D's or Burger King a couple times a year (allways after remembering with that sick little tummy ache WHY that is), and again - IMHO, those burgers taste GREAT - just while eating - as they are a well thought out combo of a bun with LOADS of salt and sugar in them so the bun is loaded with glutamates in and of itself. Condiments - carefully thought out in terms of order of placement. WAY more sauce/mayo, what have you than you might put on at home. Those burgers are not just 'patty', but 'total construction' science experiments.

                          As for home ground burgers - which we make here, I grind in a bit of buillion paste (better than buillion) for extra beefy-ness, and add onion to be ground into the mix, as well as salt pepper and a trace of sugar as well into the ground beef mix to up the flavor quotient.

                          S&P just on the outside doesn't cut it here. Also, we don't grind fat seperately and add it in. No way to get that to come together with the meat. You have to grind them together for a good balance and patties that hold together. I only have about 10% fat in mine, and they grill up perfect every time.... tho not flat thin patties; more like 1/4" at minimum in thickness. Like em' rare or, MR stuffed with cheese:)

                          1. re: gingershelley

                            I used to season the ground beef with salt before forming into patties until I had the best hamburger I've ever had in my entire life (Linger Longer at The Ritz-Carlton Lodge at Reynolds Plantation) and learned they season the patty only after it is formed.

                            Also, research and testing bears out that it's better to season the ground beef after the patty has been formed. Here's a link to the research and testing:


                            1. re: gingershelley

                              "a bun with LOADS of salt and sugar in them so the bun is loaded with glutamates in and of itself. "
                              what do the salt and sugar have to do with glutamates?

                              Can you point to data confirming your claim that MD buns have more of these flavor ingredients than the ordinary grocery store bun?

                              I'm just finishing up a bag of Frantz sesame buns. One 74g bun has 340mg of sodium, 6g of sugars. How does that compare with a MD bun?

                              By way of comparison, my favorite 9grain bread has 80g in 2 slices, 360mg sodium, 2g sugar. Not as sweet, but just as salty.

                        2. This is because, with all due respect, you are doing virtually everything wrong, and the advice you are being given doesn't help much.

                          The conventional advice is for thick, juicy steakhouse burgers, which are a completely different thing. Not saying they are necessarily better, just different.

                          To simulate a fast-food burger, just buy frozen patties and salt them well as you throw them on the griddle. Cook until the juice pools on the top, then flip and season the other side.

                          Frozen commercial patties are ground and formed using high-speed commercial equipment and will result in the exact same texture you are used to from fast-food joints.

                          If you grind it yourself, never use a coarse grind, and never treat the patties gently, as is commonly advised. This is why they are falling apart. Buy the cheapest meat you can -- usually chuck -- and then double or triple fine-grind it. Add nothing else. Make the patties very thin and handle them roughly to compact it as much as you can.

                          1.21 is probably right -- you need more fat. Use 75/25 or even 70/30 if you can find it.

                          Also, never ever use a BBQ grill. No self-respecting hamburger ever came off a grill. All real fast food burgers come off a griddle or flat top. You can use a frying pan.

                          Also also -- if you really want that fast-food taste, spread a little salted butter on the buns and toast lightly on the griddle. This is an acceptable stand-in for toasting the buns in the fat and salt on the griddle of a high-volume fast food outlet. Use bottled Thousand Island dressing as your Secret Sauce.

                          You will thank me later.

                          7 Replies
                            1. re: acgold7

                              ACgold, you are right-on with advice for a 'fast food patty' treatment. 70/30 cheap meat is the way to roll for a griddled mickey-D taste-alike burger.

                              Well put.

                              1. re: acgold7

                                Wow! Just got back from doing what you recommended. Wow! What a difference!

                                The burger held together a bit better this time, and the it was nowhere NEAR the "dry and crumbly" taste I was getting before-hand. In fact, it was one of the juiciest homemade --albeit it being very thin-- hamburgers I've ever tasted.

                                This was borderline superb.

                                The only downer was that the bacon and smoked jowl I used to substitute for fat completely overwhelmed the burger making it into a pseudo-breakfast sausage/hamburger at the same time. Which-- as you can imagine with a slice of american cheese, ketchup and mustard-- was pretty weird-tasting to say the least.

                                I must duplicate this again, using either a fattier cut of chuck, or an unflavored, unsmoked pork fat, to add-in using the fine die.

                                This is the best results I have gotten so far.

                                As you said acgold, i'll be thanking you later.
                                Thank you

                                1. re: achilles007

                                  Really, don't use anything Pork or anything smoked if you're looking to duplicate the fast-food flavor. They're great ideas if you're looking for something different, but to replicate that flavor at home just stick with 70/30 supermarket grind 100% Beef chuck and regrind it again at home.

                                  By coincidence, tonight was Diner Burger night at our house and we had a bunch of people over and were doing fast-food style burgers; we used the Costco frozen patties and everyone loved them because that's what they were in the mood for and that's what was expected. No one wanted or expected gourmet steakhouse burgers from the grill and none were delivered. We had fries and shakes and everyone had a great-ass time.

                                  1. re: achilles007

                                    Gotta agree with acgold7 here. All along in this thread you're discussing trying to replicate a McDonald's or a BK style burger, then you suddenly say you're adding bacon and smoked jowl TO the grind? That's going to really throw off the flavor profile you're trying to achieve.

                                    Also, McD's uses some sort of seasoning on their patties. It's not just salt - there's something else in there. If you eat just the patty you can really taste the seasonings (sometimes more than others.) I don't know what it is....

                                    Edit - ok, I found the ingredient listings. The beef patty is listed as being seasoned with salt and pepper:

                                    Prepared with grill seasoning (salt, black pepper).

                                    And the angus burger patty:

                                    Prepared with Grill Seasoning (salt, black pepper) and Angus Burger Seasoning: Salt, sugar, onion powder, natural (animal, plant and botanical source) and artificial flavors, spice, maltodextrin, autolyzed yeast extract, dried beef broth, dextrose, garlic powder, worcestershire sauce powder [distilled vinegar, molasses, corn syrup, salt, caramel color, garlic powder, sugar, spices, tamarind, natural flavor (fruit source)], spice extractives, beef fat, caramel color, annatto and turmeric (color).

                                    Since you're not going to get into all that Angus stuff (I assume) make sure to use plenty of salt and pepper, at least. Probably best to use iodized/table salt and pre-ground pepper if you can, just to get the right texture. (Fresh cracked black pepper is going to be to chunky, and will lend a stronger peppery taste, rather than an overall seasoned feeling.)

                                  2. re: acgold7

                                    Out of interest would you happen to have any experience with steakhouse style burgers?

                                    1. re: iliria

                                      Some, but all the other suggestions here about making thick burgers and handling them gently, etc, are pretty much on the money. Very often a coarser grind, stuff mixed into the meat and a variety of cuts, thick patties, charred on the outside -- all the stuff you'd never do if you wanted to replicate a fast-food burger.

                                  3. High quality fresh beef + high quality fresh bun + even the most rudimentary of grilling skill = something far superior to a McDonald's or BK burger. It is not a tough thing to achieve at home.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Fowler

                                      He's not looking for something "far superior." He's looking for the same, but at home. At least that's how I read the OP.

                                    2. Okay. Maybe it was the way I wrote my post that seems to have a lot of people upset or think that I'm trolling.

                                      Basically the burgers I made at home tasted neither like the burgers you would get at a steakhouse restaurant like Outback or Longhorn, nor did they taste like the ones in the fast-food place.

                                      In short, the burgers I made were all very crumbly-- (think unseasoned bland chili or taco meat right after it's browned). I could barely slide a spatula under the patty, without the meat falling apart. It was also very dry (think cheap water-packed tuna, or the chicken variety in the 25-cint tin cans)..

                                      It was not an enjoyable experience at all, and I was just trying to find out what I was doing wrong.

                                      the solution seems to be that along with grinding the meat and fat together, the type of grinding plate and/or the right amount of grinding through the plate (which I kept separate), was the problem.

                                      Previously I had ground only once through the 3/8" plate, and that's why I had problems.

                                      Sorry for any confusion.
                                      The post wasn't supposed to be so focused on fast-food burger joints, as much as it was on making a good-tasting hamburger from scratch. It's just that McDonalds (being as cheap as it is, so I readily know what one tastes like) was the one I was most able to most easily compare to in my mind.

                                      again sorry for any confusion

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: achilles007

                                        Okay, so we've established that you must double-fine grind it, and you should use chuck, not only because it is the most flavorful cut, but usually is not only cheap but comes in about the right fat proportions. Get a boneless chuck roast from your market and double-fine grind it (or even triple) and you should be all set. Don't trim it.

                                        Do not let them grind it for you because A) you don't know what was in there before your stuff and there's probably some of it left in there, B) they probably haven't cleaned it recently, and C) you won't get all you paid for out of the grinder.

                                        With this you can go fast-food style and simulate that, or go thick and juicy steakhouse style as well, whichever your mood suits. Once you have the right grind you can even do it on a BBQ grill and it will hold together just fine.

                                        But don't forget to use about twice as much salt as you think you need. Shelley has some great ideas above as well.

                                        Don't let the food snobs and naysayers get to you. You should have your food the way you like it.

                                        1. re: acgold7

                                          it is absolutely amazing at times, how much the devil is in the details!

                                          Who would think that something as simple as grinding boneless chuck, would take so much time, study and after-thought! lol.

                                          On a second note-- I understand what the above posters were saying and I can agree with them.

                                          Perhaps McDonald's and Burger King weren't the best choices to pick out.

                                          All in all-- this thread was simply created to inquire about how to turn my crappy burgers into better tasting ones, an argument over fast-food burgers really wasn't my intention.

                                          I'll be sure to leave any fast-food chain names out of any other thread should I plan to create another in the future.

                                          1. re: achilles007

                                            No reason not to use fast food names, if that's the style of burger you're trying to replicate. Like acgold7 says - it's your food, you should have it the way you want it.

                                            As for your other point, that is one of the things I love about Chowhound. There is a wealth of knowledge here, and there is always someone who can help you figure out what it is in a recipe that isn't working right - and it's often something you wouldn't even think was an issue! The learning is so much fun!

                                            1. re: achilles007

                                              achilles007 - I would still also check out acgold7's suggestion about the frozen burger patties. This whole thread has seemed like you're trying to put heals on a horse. You want fast-food taste but keep going the gourmet route for making the burgers.

                                              acgold7 is dead on target about the process. I don't think that the fast food places are grinding in all kinds of different meats. They get low-grade beef, put on a good seasoning blend to give it a mild flavor, and then either microwave it or griddle-fry it at high temps. I would humbly recommend that you save your grinder for the times that you do want the gourmet burgers and just go cheap and easy (the fast food way) for the fast burger taste.

                                              1. re: GutGrease

                                                Good analogy: You love Cool Whip, so you try to replicate it by using heavy cream.

                                        2. Just as a quick update.

                                          Taking again up on acgold's suggestion. I reground the chuck again, more than twice through the grinder (for added measure).

                                          This resulted in a very well formed patty that was able to hold it's shape remarkably well compared to my first trial.

                                          With the "texture" of the meat patty in particular I was looking for, solved-- I moved on to another distracting feature that had yet to be resolved: the flavor. The flavor of the meat pretty much tasted the same despite using a healthy dose of salt (some that gave my taste buds a jolting shock) and black pepper (freshly ground enough to make me cough). And they both resulted in a burger-- that at best I could describe as "bland".

                                          Like taco meat without any of the other seasonings, sauces, etc. except for salt and pepper. .

                                          So I finally decided-- since both hamburger and taco meat are essentially ground chuck-- that it was the spices and OTHER seasonings besides salt and pepper that varied the flavor profile tremendously, and took an otherwise very bland tasting meat and spun it in a new direction.

                                          upon request I picked up onion powder, garlic powder and onion soup mix.

                                          And... boy... did I hit the jackpot. The onion powder and garlic powder make a decent hamburger by themselves. But it wasnt until I added the onion soup mix to the burger that it took it to a whole 'nother level of "umami-ness". Tasted exactly like the burger I had been looking for.

                                          This may have had to do partly with the MSG in the soup mix. As many of those chains are known to have MSG as one of their main ingredients, and not onion soup mix.

                                          This was verified when I made a third batch using just onion powder and Accent-- and it almost tasted identical-- the soup mix still being better of course, as the flavor was much more pronounced, and natural tasting.

                                          I was looking for more umami out of my burger with an onion background it seems.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: achilles007

                                            My suggestion was going to be MSG - but I see you have that covered now.

                                            1. re: sandylc

                                              Yes-- as shameful as it is to admit it-- I believe MSG goes a long way to helping.

                                              I'm not sure if it is just the MSG itself or if it is that along with the combination of onion that carries the meat flavor over so well. I should test to see if I were to ixnay the onion powder, and just use it by itself on the meat, salt and pepper, and compare again.

                                              Must experiment. I will try this out on a fourth batch sometime tomorrow.

                                              1. re: achilles007

                                                I am going to suggest a seasoning that i have used for years. Just the right msg/seasoning mix. Its called Badia Complete Seasoning. It is very tasty on lots of things. I use it alot. Love it. You find it in the Latin seasoning section in your market if they carry it. And it is very reasonably priced. Good luck on your quest

                                            1. Years ago my brother managed a Burger King. One time he brought home a sleeve of Whopper Patties. We cooked them on a gas grill. While cooking they dripped fat like crazy and really flamed up and shrunk at least 25%. When done, they tasted exactly like going to Burger King. Based on the fat dripping and the shrinkage I would guess they were somewhere close to 70 / 30.

                                              1. I think the secret is in the sauce, not the meat. If you deconstruct a MacDonald's burger, the patty is bland without the sauce. Fast food is full of salt, so that may be lacking in your burger. I suggest focus on making an awesome sauce and use good cheese slices and toppings like carmelized onions and I bet you'll enjoy your burger. Also a good roll, can make a big difference.

                                                1. it is very true that they put artificial flavorings in fast food! they put it everything nowadays!They put it in everything from toothpaste, to ice cream, to fries, chicken nuggets, and burgers!

                                                  1. I have beef rib bullion I get from Brazil and add it to my burgers. Ham bullion is also good! I've also tried everything and this comes out pretty good! ( not thrilled about the sodium but if I'm eating a burger I want it to taste good! ) good luck!

                                                    1. I think that the taste of good beef got lost in the 50's. Everything was raised or planted differently, no hormones were used, free ranged, feed was different, processing was different, and there were much fewer additives. MSG was used more back then, than today. I remember momma using accent and Worcestershire sauce in her hamburger meat.

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: cakepan1950

                                                        Laat spring we had an interesting encounter with ground beef. We were travelling through central Minnesota and stopped for lunch at a small town cafe. The burgers were great. They were beefy. I asked where they got their ground beef and was not surprised with the answer. It was a local meat market on the edge of town. We had already stopped at that meat market and purchased 3# of fresh hamburger, and a side of pork belly. We went back and bought ten more pounds of ground beef, after first asking if it was the same grind as what they sold to the cafe.

                                                          1. re: sandylc

                                                            In this instance, I was referring to Thielen Meats of Little Falls on Highway 10.


                                                            The original Thielen Meats is in Pierz, Minnesota, about 15 miles east of Little Falls. They both have great meat, bacon, and sausage. (I think they are cousins.)

                                                            The Thielen Meats in Pierz made the big time in bacon many years ago.


                                                      2. Around here you can buy shakers of 'A&W' spice from A&W.
                                                        There is a lot of MSG in it I'm guessing.

                                                        1. Two things I want to point out.

                                                          I find that people raised on fast food burgers always seem to like fast food burgers more. I was not raised on fast food and fast food burgers taste like fake food to me. A home made burger is not going to even be close to tasting like a Mcburger. Find out a great place near you that serves an excellent hand made burger, go there and eat the burger and find some inspiration. With each bite think about what makes that burger taste good.

                                                          Since you bought your own grinder start experimenting. Your burger needs a little fat maybe mixing up some meats together to get the right combination. Make sure your also buying good quality buns and condiments. Go to recipes like chow.com and epicurious.com and look at the ingredients listed in their top rated burger recipes.

                                                          and another suggestion if you really like the fast food burgers is to take a home made approach to building a better fast food burger. is it the whopper or the bigmac sauce they put on it? what about pickles? do you prefer plain mustard, or a toasted but yet soft bun?

                                                          The more research you do the more you can tweak your recipes
                                                          There is also this.

                                                          1. Two things I want to point out.

                                                            I find that people raised on fast food burgers always seem to like fast food burgers more. I was not raised on fast food and fast food burgers taste like fake food to me. A home made burger is not going to even be close to tasting like a Mcburger. Find out a great place near you that serves an excellent hand made burger, go there and eat the burger and find some inspiration. With each bite think about what makes that burger taste good.

                                                            Since you bought your own grinder start experimenting. Your burger needs a little fat maybe mixing up some meats together to get the right combination. Make sure your also buying good quality buns and condiments. Go to recipes like chow.com and epicurious.com and look at the ingredients listed in their top rated burger recipes.

                                                            and another suggestion if you really like the fast food burgers is to take a home made approach to building a better fast food burger. is it the whopper or the bigmac sauce they put on it? what about pickles? do you prefer plain mustard, or a toasted but yet soft bun?

                                                            The more research you do the more you can tweak your recipes
                                                            There is also this.