I used to grill all my hamburgers over live fire, either propane and charcoal but I have never completely happy with how they came out. Even at the highest grilling temperature they were missing that really nice char even tho they had a nice smoky flavor to them. Then I realized that the best hamburgers are ones made in a pan or griddle and even a wok.
While making burgers is simple, make a good burger requires some attention to detail, all really easy things but how many BBQs have you been too, where the burgers are terrible, cooked until they are like shoe leather or hockey pucks.
So lets avoid eating hockey pucks, I'll show you how to make the ultimate hamburger in this Instructable, it builds off the techniques for making a "smash burger" (google it). The key to a good hamburger like you find in a diner is not to let all the good fat get away, you want to cook the burger in the fat. So when grilling a burger over live fire, you are losing all that wonderful goodness. We are going for ultimate in taste not health, so embrace the fat!
These are called smash burgers because during the cooking process you smash the meat into the pan.
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Step 1: Ingredients
- Ground beef - medium
- White Hamburger Bun
- American Process Cheese
- Yellow Mustard
- Dill Pickles
- Wok ok
- Cast Iron Pan
Step 2: Burger Theory
So lets talk about the parts that make up a good burger:
Ground Beef: you want to get some really fatty ground beef, typically it will be sold as "medium" or "regular" at least in Canada. If you get lean ground beef then you are not getting the full experience of a good burger. Make sure to never "work the meat", some people think that hamburgers need binders and fillers like egg, crackers or bread crumbs. Don't fall trap to this, what you end up with is meatloaf. To make the patties, take a handful of the ground beef and form it in to ball or pat it into a very thick patty (it won't be thick when we cook it) and leave it alone. I like using a scale to measure out either 1/4 or 1/3 of a pound, depending on how big I want the patty.
The Bun: Traditional white bun, not whole wheat or any of those new buns that are carb free or are mixed while whole grains. Ciabatta buns are no good either, too chewy however a brioche is an acceptable substitute. The white bun is simplistic that it is a vehicle for delivering the meat in your hand while absorbing all the goodness of the fat from the beef. It needs to not have much chew to it, it must basically melt in your mouth, it's just really one step from sugar. Also it must be buttered (just say no to margarine) and grilled or toasted and steaming is also ok too - this is non-negotiable however. How many BBQ have you been too where they put all the emphases on the meat but then server the burger on a cold hard bun. Terrible!
Cheese: While a nice cheddar cheese has awesome flavor, the processed sliced orange cheese is meant for burgers, there is something so traditional to it and it also melts at a lower temperature than "real" cheese.
Pickles: A nice long slice or round slices of dill pickles.
Onions: Diced small into small pieces, never caramelize them, raw is the best and only way to go. The fresh and rawness of the onions along with the dill pickle helps cut the fattiness of the beef and cheese.
Condiments: I like keeping it simple: ketchup and mustard.
The combination of all these parts needs to be balanced in order to make an outstanding burger. The bun to meat ratio is key and adding too many ingredients or an over powering ingredient throws the burger out of balance.
Other ingredients can be added but at some point the burger stops being a burger and we start entering sandwich territory.
Step 3: Time to Cook
So if I am only making a burger for myself I found the ultimate way to make the burger using my wok. The concave bottom allows for intense browning and all the rendered fat bastes and fries the burger while it is cooking. I also have large griddle that I use if I need to cook any amount of burgers when company is over.
But in this Instructable I will use a wok, but a cast iron pan is also awesome if you don't have a wok. The pan should have a bit of mass to it so it can hold heat and brown the meat properly. Avoid using thin frying pans, especially the non-stick ones.
- Start by forming a handful of medium ground beef straight from the package into a ball, pat into a thick patty but don't knead or work the meat (see Theory step).
- Prepare your bun by buttering it and have a second frying pan ready to grill the bun when the patty is cooking.
- Heat the wok (or pan) to a medium high heat, once up to temperature, take the patty and press it into the bottom of the pan with a metal spatula, using a second spatula to help press the top of the first one if necessary. This is the "smashing" of the burger that creates little cracks that fry up nice and crispy. You want the burger flat and 1/4" larger in diameter than the size of the bun. The patty will shrink as it cooks and will end up being about the size of the bun.
- After about 2-3 minutes, flip the burger, the meat should have nice browning, this might take some practice as everyone's cooking equipment is different.
- Start grilling the bun in the second pan until golden brown.
- After 1-2 minutes, the burger should be fully cooked, if any side needs some more browning adjust as required, then add the slice of cheese, let melt for 30 seconds.
- Place the burger on the bun and assembly with condiments. I like adding a pickle, some onions, ketchup and mustard, keep it simple!
- Enjoy while hot!
Also Anthony Bourdain in his last book Appetites has an awesome section describing what his idea of a perfect burger is and even comes with poster of what comprises of a good burger.
Check out my video too: