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What's Up Magazine

Burger MANIA!

May 23, 2011 05:08PM ● By Anonymous
If you had to select one dish to be the cornerstone of American cuisine, what would it be? Apple pie? Home-style chicken potpie? These are both good candidates, but the prize for the definitive, classic American dish usually goes to the modest hamburger (which actually originated in Germany—not America).

You read that right—our beloved icon was inspired by the Hamburg steak, which, along with some of their other favorite foods, was brought to America by German immigrants in the 1800s. But you should find solace in the fact that an American was the first to put beef on a bun and make it what we know, and crave, now—only it’s not clear who. A vendor in Seymour, Wisconsin, in 1885? A restaurateur in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1900? It could have even been one of two men, Fletcher Davis or Frank Menches, at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. All lay claim to inventing the hamburger. (If you want to carry this further, did you ever wonder who first put a slice of cheese on a burger?)

In the end, none of this “hamburger history” really matters when it comes to making your own juicy, flavorful burger at home. What’s important here are the basics (meat and bread), the extras (condiments), and how it’s all put together and cooked up.

Burger Basics

When you get right down to it, the beef is the “bones” of a burger. To make the perfect burger, you must get over your fear of fat—use 80 percent lean beef, or, if you’re feeling indulgent, go for a 70/30 (beef/fat) ratio. Some people—including the Rev. David J. Ciancio, the so-called “world’s most socially connected burger blogger”—say a mixture of meats is the key. For an ideal burger, “Mix different kinds of quality beef,” explains Rev. Ciancio. “Maybe some chuck, some sirloin, some Kobe, some brisket, some filet—surprise me.” In his blog, Burger Conquest, he writes about his “glorious pursuit of delicious burgers.”

But here’s where the controversy starts—what, other than beef, does a burger need? The answer is subjective. Really, a little salt and pepper is all that’s necessary. Some people add bread crumbs to the beef; but, as in crab cakes, it’s just filler. If you really need seasoning, garlic or onion (fresh and minced, or powdered), Worcestershire sauce, or soy sauce can give a burger a little something extra.

From there, form the meat into a thin, six-ounce patty—gently, because the texture can’t be revived once you’ve compressed the beef. Don’t bother with preformed patties; and if you can swing it, grind your own meat. The perks of doing so are threefold: you’ll have a higherquality burger (as long as you grind higher-quality meat) that has a better texture, and there’s less risk of the meat being tainted.

Cooking Methods

While there’s no “right” way to cook a burger, the two preferred methods are grilling and broiling.

Grilling: If you have a grill, go this route. Resist the urge to build a roaring fire, as it will char the outside of the burger and leave the inside raw. Instead, make sure you have a moderate, steady fire, and grill each side of the burger for three minutes. This will cook the burger to medium-rare, searing the burger on the outside while keeping it juicy on the inside. You can do this on a grill pan, too.

Broiling: No grill? No problem. Set your oven to “Broil,” place the burgers on a rack about five inches from the top of the oven (be sure a drip pan is on the rack below), and broil them for three minutes on each side. Without a meat thermometer, you can estimate how thoroughly cooked a burger is by doing a “poke test.” A medium-rare burger yields softly to a poke, a medium burger is semi-firm, and when well-done, it feels firm.

A word about food safety: The folks at the U.S. Department of Agriculture say to cook burgers to well-done (with an internal temperature of 160 degrees F.). However, many people prefer their burgers cooked to medium (between 140 and 145 degrees F.) or medium-rare (130 to 135 degrees F.). The USDA’s hard stance is due to food-borne illness that has occasionally been linked to commercially processed meat; but whole cuts of beef don’t have the same risk. So, if you want a burger cooked “medium,” it’s safer to buy a whole cut of meat from a reputable source and then grind it yourself.

Staffs’ Picks:

We Chose:
1. Gordon Biersch
2. Heroes Pub
3. McGarvey’s Saloon
4. Punk’s Backyard Grill


Go Gourmet

We love a plain ol’ hamburger topped with the classics lettuce, tomato, pickles, ketchup, and mustard as much as anyone else. But every once in a while, why not spice things up and create a burger that’s just a bit out of the ordinary? Here are three of our favorite burger combinations:

Bruschetta Burger: In a small bowl, mix together a seeded and diced tomato, two cloves of finely chopped garlic, a handful of fresh, chopped basil leaves, and two tablespoons of olive oil. Season the mixture with salt and pepper. Place a thick slice of fresh mozzarella cheese on a burger patty and top it with a spoonful of the bruschetta mixture.

Breakfast Burger: Fry up two slices of bacon and an overeasy egg, place both on the burger, and top with a slice of cheddar cheese. Don’t forget to have napkins handy for sopping up the mess after you bite into the egg yolk! (Warning! This burger is not for health nuts!)

Southwest Burger: Char a poblano chili pepper next to the burger you’re grilling. Top the burger with the charred pepper, along with some grilled onions and tangy barbecue sauce.


Four Easy Ways to Make Your Burger Better

USE A BETTER BUN. The Rev. David J. Ciancio, a well-known “burger blogger,” says the three things that can ruin a burger all pertain to the bun: a soggy bun, plain, white bun, or the bun-to-burger ratio. “If you’ve given so much thought to a burger, why would you waste it on such a bland and uninteresting bun?” he says. “At least give me some sesame seeds or a seven-grain brioche.” There is one exception to the rule, though: “Sliders should always be on white, squishy buns.”

MIX THE MEATS. Add a third- or a half-pound of ground pork per pound of ground beef. Use plain ground pork only, as sausage contains salt, herbs, and spices that will throw off the flavor of your burgers.

DIMPLE THE PATTY. Home burger-makers often make this mistake: they form a perfect burger patty, only to have it well up into a dome during cooking. After you form the patty, make a deep impression in the center of it. As the burger cooks, it will rise into a flat patty—perfect for layering.

LEARN HOW TO LAYER. Start with a sliced, toasted bun. Put ketchup and mustard on the bottom half to anchor the pickles, which go on next, followed by the meat topped with the cheese (which should have melted from laying on the hot burger patty). If you’re adding bacon, put it between the meat and cheese. This allows the meat flavors to mingle; and the cheese keeps the bacon from falling off. Next is the slice of tomato, which is held in place by the melted cheese, followed by lettuce, onion (if using), and mayo, which anchors the veggies to the top half of the toasted bun.

A Burger Without the Beef

When you think “burger,” you think “beef”—right? Well, not so fast—plenty of gourmet burgers out there have everything but beef between the bun halves. We’re equal-opportunity burger eaters, so here are a few tricks to make your burger—whether it’s made with beans, bison, or bird—as delicious as possible.

VEGGIE BURGER: Non-meat burgers can be made with legumes, such as chickpeas or soybeans—but how about adding fresh beets? The beets add an earthiness, along with a slight sweetness and a nice color. Grate them up and toss them into the mixture.

LAMB BURGER: Lamb and curry go together like peanut butter and jelly. Mix one pound of ground lamb with a tablespoon of curry and a tablespoon of garam masala (which translates to “hot mixture” and, like curry, is a blend of ground spices commonly used in Indian foods). Top the burger with some regular plain yogurt and serve it between two pieces of naan or in a pita pocket.

BISON BURGER: This healthy red meat is the latest craze. Ground bison is leaner than beef, so it cooks faster. Shape a thick patty and put it on the grill or broil it—but broil it for a few minutes only or it will dry out.

TURKEY BURGER: While a beef burger has flavor on its own, lean white turkey meat needs a little boost from seasoning. Use 93 percent lean turkey in order to avoid a dry patty, and add a generous shaking of Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning, and some Worcestershire sauce.


You Chose The Best Burgers in the Annapolis Area:

Five Guys Burgers and Fries
Grump’s Cafe
Red Robin Gourmet Burgers
Cheeburger Cheeburger
Deep Creek Restaurant

We shared the top burger picks—now learn which restaurants have the best pizza, crabs, sushi, and more in the June issue of What’s Up? Annapolis/Eastern Shore. We’ll reveal the full list of winners, chosen by you! Celebrate the winners with us at our Best of Party on June 16 at the Sherton Hotel in Annapolis.