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Hamburger buns: Expectations for a great one?

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After the umpteenth disappointing bun at a specialist burger restaurant I'm starting to think the problem is my own expectations of what a hamburger bun should be like.

My own feeling is that as an integral part of a hamburger, the bun should stand out at least in similar prominence to the patty. This means a good bready taste and a density and texture relatively similar to the patty itself. Obviously a bun can't have exactly the same texture as a lump of meat but I would like to see something fairly dense, with a doughy, soft consistency that is strong enough to stand up to any contents that may be put into it, including rare, juicy patties and other toppings as appropriate. It definitely should not be easy or even possible to flatten or fold it, certainly not under the weight of its contents alone, and it shouldn't "open out" when attempted to be picked up. The flavour should have enough strength to be noticeable - and I definitely think it shouldn't be something with a "twist" like sourdough or whole wheat or rye or onion or anything else. I do prefer sesame seeds it will be said - although that's not essential.

But essentially everywhere, even the places that make a point of making their own, seems to provide instead the same thing - a hyper-fluffy, mostly-air bun, somewhat on the dry side usually, with very little if any flavour of its own, designed at best to be a vehicle for its contents (if, indeed, it has the robustness to fulfill that task) and generally seeming to be seen as an "incidental" to the burger that the less noticed, the better.

So I'd like to enquire - is this latter what you expect in a hamburger bun, and if so, do you have any particular reasons? For that matter, could you articulate any reasons if so why you'd less prefer my own type, or what you would criticise it for, with respect to the "canonical" hamburger? No criticism is to be understood here - just curiosity and a desire to understand what people really expect out of a great bun

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  1. Lightweight for me. At home I have started using Oroweat Specialty Crustini sandwich rolls (this is not crostini), because they are lightweight and have less sugar than regular hamburger buns. And, they are the right size. They aren't really sturdy enough for the job, but I don't mind. I don't want the bun to dominate the hamburger.

    1. I either want something benign or special. The worst offender would be something to large, tasteless, or stale. I want to enjoy the bun, buttered and grilled is especially tasty. Don't toast a stale bun and then serve it to me. I can do that at home.

      Unless the bun is something special I don't want it to be that noticeable.

      1. The only bun I want anywhere near my burger is a Martin's potato roll. Otherwise I prefer a burger on buttered, toasted bread (rye for patty melt style but sourdough or something else interesting is fine too, as long as it's a fairly thin slice) or without a bun at all. I lead a low-carb lifestyle now, but even before LC I was never a fan of hamburger buns.

        1. We have basically the opposite requirements for a burger bun but then it seems we have basically opposite requirements for burgers too. My ideal burger is 2 thin patties griddled crispy, with a slice of fried onion and plenty of dill pickles. A "diner-style" sandwich that's wrapped in wax paper and is handy enough to be eaten behind the wheel of a car without dripping on your pants.

          For this kind of burger a white factory bun is all that's needed. The key is elasticity; it's got to have wet strength to stand up to the grease. The bun should be steamed under a domed bowl on the griddle with the meat and onions to get a little stretchy. The warming period is crucial. Even a 10-second microwave session will do in a pinch, just never ever serve a burger bun of any kind cold out of the bag.

          1. I like a Kaiser roll or a pretzel roll. If anyone thinks a Kaiser roll is just white bread in the shape of a dome, please, can I take you out for a burger sometime?

            Also, if the burger's flavor is masked by a pretzel roll, or a Kaiser, you need to be using better meat.

            I like a bread with a good chew to it, and also, real Kaisers and pretzel rolls can hold up to the kind of burgers I'm into - 1/3 or half pounders. The thin patties have their place, but my preference is the big boys, med rare - the kind where the bun turns pink from all the blood. Standard buns turn into pink, bloody used paper towels for my ideal burger. Aside: do mcdonald's buns get more sugary every year? Are those buns or cakes they are putting their "food" on? Yuck!

            1. The bun should have good flavor and texture on its own, and it shouldn't fall apart. It also shouldn't be too thick; there should be a pleasing bread-to-beef ratio.

              I like homemade potato rolls with just a bit of whole wheat in them; I also like fresh brioche buns.

              1. I have to say that the bun is the least interesting part of a hamburger for me. I have grown very fond of a burger wrapped in lettuce. In terms of a chain burger, Red Robin seems to do this better than any other chain I've tried.

                Have you tried the Carl Jr's new bun? They sure have advertised it enough!

                1. I like my hamburger bun to have sesame seeds on it if possible, but a nice kaiser roll with poppy seeds would be super too. Either way, the bun is basically there to shield my fingers from any grease and to catch the burger juices that may ooze out with every bite. That's the buns purpose for me anyway (Oh, add that they act as oven mitts when the meat is hot). I will say this also ... a *toasted* bun tastes better than an untoasted bun. Just my 2c.

                  1. I definitely don't want mushy or gummy buns (like your standard grocery stores ones) that hit liquid and collapse in on themselves. It should stay firm while eating the burger.

                    But I also don't want it too firm or too doughy, for the simple reason that if the bun is too substantial, it's no longer edible as a hamburger. You should be able to pick up a hamburger and take a bite out of it without dislocating your jaw. If I have to eat it in layers, the choice of bread is no longer relevant.

                    1. Publix grocery has decent buns in their fresh bread counter.

                      1. I prefer a chewy bun to a soft one but I also don't want a huge mouthful of bread. Actually, at home my preference is a lightly toasted slice of sourdough bread which offers just the right amount of crunch and texture.

                        Hate store-bought buns and most restaurant versions, particularly if they are not toasted or grilled.

                        1. For me. it's the burger that counts. The bun is just an edible meat holder. It's the same with pie or 'en croute'; the filling is what matters.

                          1. Oh, yes. I have expectations.

                            It will have some taste of bread and it will not fall apart while I'm eating it.

                            Have I ever come across one like this.

                            Nope.

                            1. We all know that we should avoid cheap fluffy white breads and rolls for nutrition's sake. I don't see fast food restaurants offering better buns in my lifetime, in any meaningful way, but there are a few exceptions, like a whole wheat roll at Sonic, which if memory serves is standard with one of the chicken sandwiches but can be gotten on request with a burger.

                              I do think it would make sense for "better" chains, e.g. Five Guys and any restaurant, chain or indie, that charges $6+ for a burger, to offer some choice of bun/bread. Because I prefer whole grain and other better quality breads/rolls, and rarely eat fries anymore, the burgers I have these days are ones I make at home.

                              1. OK, so it seems as though the consensus is...no consensus.

                                May I suggest then that perhaps the reason for the fluffy, insubstantial, flavourless bun even at the better hamburger restaurants is simply that they're playing it safe? If there's no clear consensus perhaps the plan is not to risk turning off people with a bun that's too assertive in any way.

                                Strangely of course, that logic backfires at least in my case because if the place aspires to quality, at least, a generic bun *is* a massive turn-off. That says that they're either not interested in actually creating a top-quality hamburger or they're not confident enough in their own style to offer anything really distinctive.