I am married to a man who would happily have burgers for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He can go on at great length about why burgers are better than steak, better than eggs, better than chocolate cake. It took me a while, but over time I’ve come to agree that the great American hamburger is one of the world’s best edible inventions, and I have given a lot of thought to making it better.
1. It begins with the meat. If you want a truly great burger, you’ve got to use aged, prime beef.
2. Buying the best is good; grinding your own is better. The flavor is fresher and it gives you better control of the texture – the finer the grind the tighter the meat sticks, until it gets puck-like.
3. Fat is important. In meat, the flavor is all in the fat; trim the fat from pork, lamb and beef, and it’s nearly impossible to tell them apart. You also want fat to add that delightfully juicy quality that lean meat lacks. You want your burger to be at least 20 percent fat, and the best way to ensure this is by using a well-marbled section like the chuck. Of course, you could also grind in more fat; a strip of bacon ground in per burger is delightful.
4. Salt your meat and let it rest before grinding. This will concentrate the flavor. And salt it again just before cooking it.
5. Chill your grinder before starting to work. This will keep the meat from becoming soft and mushy.
6. Handle the meat lightly when you form the patties, so it remains light and fluffy. Compression is a bad idea—it makes for tough, dense burgers.
7. Give it a rest: Treat your burger like a steak and allow it some time to collect itself before you take the first bite.
8. Buns matter. They should be soft and fluffy. The best I’ve found are potato buns, because they tend to have the most height; the optimal proportion is about 50 percent meat and 50 percent bun.
9. Condiments: This is up to you, but if you’ve made a fabulous burger, you don’t need much else. I’m a fan of a single slice of red onion and some classic catsup. When tomatoes are at their best, they’re a fine addition. If you must use lettuce, go for the crisp crunch of iceberg.
Makes 4 burgers
1½ pounds aged, well-marbled boneless beef chuck
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more, to taste
4 hamburger buns
Condiments of your choosing
Cut, salt, and rest the meat: Cut the beef into 1 inch strips (including the fat), toss with the 1 teaspoon salt, cover and refrigerate overnight (or up to 24 hours).
Grind beef and make patties: Chill a grinder with a 3/16 inch die. Working quickly so the meat does not get warm, grind the meat. With deft, cupped hands, lightly shape the meat into four 3/4 inch patties.
Salt, cook, and rest: Shower the patties with salt, and cook them on a medium-high heat grill or in a very hot cast iron skillet. Do not press down on the meat; flip only once. I like them cooked about 3 minutes a side, enough to char the crust but keep the inside quite rare, but the doneness is up to you. Once you’ve removed them from the fire, allow the burgers to rest for about 5 minutes. Lightly toast buns, if desired, then assemble and serve.