Say the word burger and I imagine one of those big restaurant ones with cheddar, garlic-butter mushrooms, and crispy, breaded onion straws. This is good for a treat, but I was hearing this burger’s siren song once a week — not good for the wallet or the waistline. And so the search began with a simple Facebook post: “Anyone have a burger recipe (turkey or beef, hopefully healthy) that will make me scorn restaurant burgers? Please share.”
In an hour or so, I had at least a dozen responses. There are lots of theories about what makes for a great burger. Some say you need to flip it at the right moment, while others warn about smashing down as it cooks. Some say it is the grill, others say it is the meat. I’m definitely learning a thing or two about how to build a better burger. Here’s what I’ve found in my search for the best burger ever:
HEAT MATTERS: You can cook an excellent burger on the stove or on an outdoor grill. The key is heat. Pre-heat your grill pan or skillet so the patties will sizzle when they go. With grills, the better your control of the heat, the better the result. I would say tools are important, too, but I think it may be finding the right tools to make you a better cook. We’ve had better results from stainless steel grates than cast-iron, and for us, a high-quality gas grill gave us better control than a charcoal grill. Indirect cooking methods and the right level of heat made for tender, juicy patties as opposed to hamburger pucks. You may find the opposite.
SEASONING MATTERS: Burgers cook beautifully with most any recipe. But, the wow factor is personal taste, pure and simple. A ranch burger (ranch dressing mix with ground beef or turkey and maybe shredded cheese) got raves from friends. The burgers came off the grill juicy and ready to eat. And, I took one bite and almost spit it out — preferring simple seasoning salt, or a bit of Worcestershire. My favorite health-boosting tip was to mix in diced tomatoes or zucchini—an excellent use of farmers’ market bounty.
SHAPE MATTERS: There was some debate about the best type of meat to use—100 percent grass-fed buffalo and beef or organic turkey were recommended for being earth-friendly and humanely raised. And, some swear the flavor is better. I found that my perfect patty had little to do with whether it was 93 percent lean ground sirloin or grass-fed buffalo. I simply looked for something fairly lean and within my budget. The key is to shape the patties by hand and create a small dip in the center of each one. The burger shrinks as it cooks. That thinner center ensures the end result is a flat patty with no cracked edges.
MAGIC ONION BURGER TOPPER
- Pretty much everyone agreed that grilled onions were a must. So, I took my favorite onion recipe—the Magic Onion which was first shared with me by Tessa Leung, owner of Söntés in Rochester—and turned it into a quick and easy version for the stovetop.
- 1 onion
- 2 tablespoons salted butter
- 1 beef bouillon cube
- Dice that onion. Cook it in a frying pan with the butter with the bouillon cube until onions are soft and starting to burn just a little bit. Serve this with your other favorite burger toppings—bleu cheese is a popular partner to slightly sweet grilled onions.
THE BEST BURGER EVER (SO FAR)
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 packet onion soup mix
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons Jack Daniels No. 7 Barbecue Sauce
- Mix it all together and form into patties. This makes 4-6 burgers. “Make them large and use Kaiser rolls and garnish with condiments and vegetables of your choice,” says Dennis Casey of Burnsville, who shared this recipe with me. He uses ground sirloin and says onion soup is the trick. He also adds hot sauce to taste. I’d say part of the magic is the smoky barbecue flavor from the Jack Daniels sauce.
Sarah Tieck is a Burnsville writer.