If you’ve been reading my column the last several months, then you know by now that I’m not a poetic person. For that matter, I’m really not even a writer at all. I just happen to be lucky enough to be given a platform to discuss food and cooking on my terms.
This month, I was asked to discuss burgers. Considering the time of year and the fact that so many establishments in our community are battling for best burger, that makes sense. I suppose the burger really is the perfect topic considering my style of cooking. I spend a lot of time pushing the idea of simplicity and basic integrity of product being the winning components of it all.
I think chefs and home cooks are finally starting to get it when it comes to a great burger. The days of huge artisan buns, outrageous toppings and “secret” seasoning blends are hopefully behind us. I think we’re finally ushering in the idea that if the meat itself is quality and not overcooked, then we can produce a great burger with very little effort and few ingredients. So rather than me rambling on in regards to proper cooking and assembling of a burger, I’ll simply list a few tips and suggestions.
I know that grilling is something that many people take very seriously. Therefore, I’m certain that some will disagree with me on certain issues. Just remember, you don’t have to agree with me. You just need to show up and out-cook me at the Fargo Monthly “Burger Throw Down.” May the best cook win.
1. Use quality meat. A fresh ground mixture of chuck and sirloin is ideal. The addition of short rib or brisket is nice but not absolutely necessary. Fattier cuts have far more flavor, so don’t use lean meat. Fresh ground also allows you to cook the burger to your desired doneness with fewer concerns of food borne illness.
2. Choose an appropriately-sized bun. Soft and petite is ideal – and make sure the bun is toasted before assembling the final product.
3. Form the patty to be just slightly larger in circumference than the bun. Make sure you dimple the center of the patty to ensure the shape stays consistent through the cooking process.
4. Season with quality salt and fresh ground black pepper. If you’re using additional seasonings, keep them subtle. It doesn’t make sense to mask the flavor of quality meat with spices.
5. Use quality toppings. Vine ripe tomato, sweet onions (raw, roasted or grilled), Bibb lettuce, sprouts, fresh shredded or sliced cheeses, and good quality ketchup and Dijon mustard. Keep
the toppings few and simple. Just like making quality pizza, less toppings is always more!
6. Use a hot cooking surface. The caramelization process is very important for the development of flavor.
7. Don’t overcook the patty! Just like a steak, medium rare is ideal, and cooking it past medium might get you kicked out of the party! Just say no to well done.
8. Never press the burger. Seriously, don’t do it. Be patient.
Burger Myth Buster
Feel free to turn or flip the burger as many times as you want. The old school idea that you only flip the burger once has been scientifically disproven. In fact, flipping the burger more frequently can actually help the burger cook quicker and more uniformly. The same goes for steaks.
Eric Watson is the owner of Mezzaluna and Mosaic Foods in Fargo. He is also the founder and president of the Fargo branch of the American Culinary Federation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.