Just what makes a proper hamburger?
I would argue it’s all about proportion.
The proper proportion of meat to bun, of meat to cheese, and of condiments to the whole Magillicuddy.
Good beef is essential,* of course, but it has to be properly seasoned and seared. We all know searing is what gives the meat that crispy, caramelized char, that provides the right resistance and sweetness to every bite.
Then there is the seasoning. We all like it but often don’t know what separates the excellent from the also-rans. A goodly amount of salt is essential per patty, as is a couple of healthy grinds of good black pepper. Seasoning is like great sex — sometimes it takes you by surprise because you don’t notice it until it’s all over, and sometimes you’re tingling from it from nibble to nibble. Does that make any sense?
Josh Ozersky — the man who wrote the book on these things — argues that there can be but one type of cheese lovingly melted over ground steer meat, but your favorite might be anything that doesn’t look like a Velveeta loaf — be it his creamy American, sharp cheddar or even a nutty Gruyere or blue — and any of those will do quite nicely, thank you. Although when you think about it for a minute, you realize a sharp, tangy blue often obliterates the taste of the meat…but such quibbles are minor and such disagreements fade at the first umami-charged bite.
The bun must be soft an squishy and slightly toasted (that caramelized thing again) and onions are are a must — either in raw or relish form. I would also argue that sweet relish — like that dressing on the burger above — also helps to set off the savoriness of the charred beef — but that is a personal approach and not one I can force feed you.
You have your favorites, as we all do, but have you ever thought about why your favorite burger has attained its exalted status in your brain and mouth?
Do yourself a favor and think about it, then try to guess the burger above — a cheeseburger from a chain I had written-off years ago. It was all that a burger should be — ground perfectly (not too fine, not too coarse) — and tasted like one you would proudly take off your backyard grill.
To say it blew me away would be an understatement.
Wonders never cease….but take one bite out of the beauty above and you might find that In-N-Out suddenly doesn’t look (or taste) as good as you thought.
* Laurent Tourondel, a chef who knows a thing or two about such things, uses something he calls prime, “double way” chuck in his grind — something we’re struggling to define even as we type this.