I love burgers. Anyone who has ever eaten food at my house, or instigated a conversation about burgers with me, can attest to this fact.
I love simple burgers, pub burgers, gourmet burgers and I’m even willing to tolerate a well made vegetarian burger (even though I don’t think you should call it a burger unless it uses mince; e.g. the so-called “chicken breast burger”). I don’t like pre-made supermarket burgers though, they tend to use too much white pepper and, because of this, I now hate white pepper.
In my years of eating and making burgers, I am not too proud to admit that I have made many many mistakes. From each one, I have learned, I have grown and I have conquered.
So, follow me fellow burger lovers! I will lead you to the promised land of juicy, delicious homemade burgers!
Get Some Fat!
When I decided to start eating healthier, I also started to pay much closer attention to the nutritional information on the packaging of my food. I would carefully calculate the calorie content of my cereal and weigh out the appropriate amount. I shunned snack foods that were over sugary and I ate celery like someone was going to take it away from me.
As a result, my burgers suffered. I always opted for the low-fat mince. In my naivety, the lower the fat, the better it would be. What actually happens is you get a dry lump of meat that crumbles like it just got three nos on X-Factor as soon as you look at it.
This led to the first of my burger-based epiphanies. Fat can be good. I’m not suggesting that you start throwing in handfuls of lard to get that real heart-attack taste; just grab the 20% fat packets, or even a little bit more. This will help keep your burger (oh God, I hate this word) moist (*shudder*) and retain all that meaty flavour.
Besides, you’re about to eat a burger. You know damn well this isn’t the healthy option. Embrace it, then go eat a salad or something. This will balance out the universe.
What is this missing?!!? SEASONING!!!
If binge watching every TV show that Gordon Ramsay has ever been on has taught me one thing about cooking (aside from the fact that people will tolerate a lot of abuse from that guy, like serious amounts) it’s that if you under season your food, Gordon himself will appear from nowhere and force feed you the dish until you tell him exactly what it is that you missed (it’s nearly always salt, chef).
Seasoning does so much more than stop the rampaging spirit of Chef Ramsay (I seriously love that guy) in his tracks. It takes a meal from a bunch of ingredients to something more. Salt draws out the moisture (I don’t hate that word) in meat.
People tend to shy away from salt. It’s been demonised to the point that people are terrified of putting it anywhere near their food when they cook and, as a result, their burgers suffer. This is unnecessary and down right cruel. You treat that meat with respect!
It may take a few goes to get the seasoning right, but once you start throwing on some salt and BLACK! pepper, you will be very grateful you did. Just follow the rule my mother taught me when seasoning:
“You can always add more, but you can’t take it out”
So sprinkle on a pinch here or there and you’ll eventually find your perfect amount.
Don’t end up with a Multiple-Personality Burger
At the other end of the scale, before I realised the majesty of proper seasoning, I used to overcompensate for the lack of flavour by throwing everything in. Just loads of stuff. Insane amounts, now that I think about it.
I’d blend up garlic, onions and olives, throw in oregano and more. I’d end up with a ball of meat that delivered a flavour profile akin to an Italian chef uppercutting you.
The whole point of a burger is the burger itself. All the added flavours are there to complement the meat, not mask the taste of it. If you want to throw all that kind of jazz at your mince, make a bolognese and back away from the grill!
A little flavour is fine. Maybe a pinch of rosemary or a few dried chillis; but keep it light and simple. The added flavour should come from your toppings.
And if you’re the type to add in breadcrumbs and egg, if you use the right mince, you will find that these are completely unnecessary.
NB. This entire section only really counts for red meat as it’s full of flavour. Chicken or turkey mince can end up really bland if you don’t do anything to it. With those meats, have at it. Seriously, go nuts.
Don’t Go Getting All Handsy!
This is a mistake I repeatedly made and it’s probably related to the first point.
In trying to form the mince into patty shapes, I would roll them up, squash them out, round them off, screw it up, repeat, squeeze it into a really tight ball first.
Because of this, I would end up with a brick of meat so dense, I’m pretty sure it started taking in all light around it. It was awful to chew and I had to smother it in sauce in order to finish the damn thing. Even thinking about it now I’m getting cramp in my jaw.
Don’t start underhandling either. Because then you end up grilling a tray full of mince. Just like seasoning, it’s going to take a bit of practice. To start, portion out the mince for each burger (you weigh it if you’re really pedantic). Roll it into a ball, flatten and round. Don’t go over it, don’t redo it. It’s a burger, it doesn’t have to be accurate.
Also, before you grill or cook it, press the middle with your thumb to create an indentation. This stops it from looking like a rugby ball which, in turn, makes it nigh on impossible to top.
If You’re Going To Do It, Do It Right!
Ah, the cooking part. This is another area in which I failed repeatedly. Oh god, the failures. The worst part is that I refused to acknowledge the fact that I had failed. I carried on as though it was a good burger. Tears streaming down my face as my tastebuds argued with my heart. Deep down I knew I was eating charcoal, but I wanted to believe damnit! Don’t take this away from me!
Sorry, it’s still a delicate memory.
Anyway, cooking a burger is a relatively simple affair. All you need to do is:
- Get your griddle pan, frying pan, BBQ.. oh hell, we’ll just say cooking surface. Get your cooking surface up to a medium heat. You won’t need any oil, the fat in the burger will do all that work.
- Gently place the burger down, don’t over crowd the surface, especially if you’re using a pan. Not only does it make it finnicky to try and flip them over, there is a danger of steaming as the water in the mince evaporates.
- Leave them for about three minutes. DO NOT SQUASH THEM YOU JACKASS! Do you have any idea what you’re doing to the meat? All the goodness and flavour inside of the meat is being squashed out. You’re going to end up with meat flavoured sponge, is that what you want?? Leave it alone.
- Turn them over, see what I mean about overcrowding? Give yourself room to maneuver.
- Leave them for 4 minutes if you like them rare (only really an option for good quality red meat, definitely not an option for chicken mince) or around 7-8 minutes for well done. While this side is cooking, you can put the cheese on top so it really melts.
- Once it’s cooked, leave it rest for a couple of minutes. You can spend that time reading to the end of this blog post and then serve
My Anaconda Don’t Want None Unless You Toast Your Bun
I’m not even slightly embarrassed by that byline, so let’s just continue.
Let’s face it, one of the worst feelings in the world is wet bread. It’s just gross, urgh! It’s awful. In the burger situation, it is entirely avoidable.
When your burgers are done and resting, simply place your bun, cut side down, on the cooking surface. Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn, but a little bit of charring just adds personality. This creates a barrier which stops burger and condiment juices (that sounds just awful) from absorbing into the bun and creating the Eton Mess of meat products.
Put Your Damn Top On!
This section is on you. I honestly don’t care what you have on your burger. Cheese, bacon, pickles, salad, tomato, onion… Ok, now I’m just getting hungry. It’s your burger, you’ve put the effort in. Do whatever the hell makes you happy.
Just promise me one thing, you will pick the damn thing up with your hands. No knife and fork you pompous ass. That’s why we invented sandwich type products, so there would be less washing up and we could eat like cavepeople again, just with a bit more class.
Enjoy your burger and if you have any incredible ideas for toppings, just drop them in the comments and, when I get around to trying them, I will either thank you for bringing me joy or ban you from my page.