Skip to content

This is a piece I wrote in the summer of 2003 after a series of burger catastrophes. My opinions have evolved since then and I have started to grind my own meat, which adds a whole new dimension to burger thought.

I'm open to a wide variety of options for hamburgers. And whatever you like, well, it's your stomach, so that's up to you. However, there are some immutable laws that apply to this paradise on a bun.

The juicier the better, so fat is good! Ground sirloin makes for an incredibly dry burger. You could get away with ground round, but I reccomend using ground chuck. If you're worried about your weight, then you shouldn't be eating hamburgers in the first place. Do it right or don't do it at all!

Hear, hear! You still can't go wrong with ground chuck. If you're grinding your own meat, though, I would combine it with other cuts like brisket, short rib or even bacon. Yes, that's right, grind the bacon right into that patty.

The bun counts. You're looking for a careful balance. Not enough structual integrity makes for a disaster as the burger disintigrates. Too tough a bread, and everything goes squishing out the sides. You can use onion rolls, whole grain breads, or whatever suits your fancy as long as you pay attention to the architecture.

I have since tried a variety of other breads. Pita doesn't work. I tried it with a lamb and feta burger. It was quite tasty, but absolutely fell apart once the bread was saturated. Use a tortilla or Afghan bread instead. A baguette is border-line: The fresher it is, the softer the bread, the better it works.

Give me pickle slices, not spears. I want the darn things in my burger. The vinigar and other flavors really add to the beef.

I remember when this first happened and it still occurs. WTF? I asked for pickles ON my burger!

Offer me onions. You may not want them, but I believe that a burger without the crunch and zing of a raw onion is a waste of time.

This only happens when I'm having a burger at someone's house and that someone is an alliumphobe. I try not to associate with these types, but it's hard to pick them out.

No mention of how the patty is cooked? What was I thinking? I prefer, when given the option, medium rare. However, I realize this is not always possible with certain restaurants. In those cases, I look for a patty with a salty, flavorful crust. The Shake Shack comes to mind.

There are two tests that discern burger greatness. First, is it good with nothing on it? If you'd willingly eat just the patty and the bun, then you have a very good burger. This is where 5 Guys utterly fails and should never be included on any list of great burgers. Second, is it good as a leftover? If it still tastes great the next day – cold – then you have a excellent burger.

I will document my eternal quest for burger perfection. I seek this bliss not just at home — where I experiment with different cuts (and types) of meat and toppings — but also on the road.