The Burger: How to Perfect an American Classic

How to Perfect the American Classic Cheeseburger
Hump Day Big Burger: A double patty served with mayo, sautéed onions, tomato slices, pickles, and arugula on a toasted and buttered bun.Erin McGrady

Many of us have settled for mediocre burgers for much of our life. We buy organic, farm-raised beef but then overcook it until it’s dry and tough, hoping that if we drown it in condiments it’ll take on the flavor we’re looking for. It won’t. Read up on some of the top tips for upping your homemade burger game and make this the season you stop wishing you’d gone out rather than cooked in.

Start with quality ingredients

How to Perfect the American Classic Cheeseburger
Erin McGrady

The first thing you can do to make better burgers is to stop drowning them in a ton of ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise. Instead, start relying on the natural flavors of high-quality ingredients. First and foremost, that means your beef. You’re making a burger, after all, so the namesake ingredient should be top-notch. Todd Richardson, Chef and General Manager at Hickory Nut Gap in Fairview, NC, recommends using “pasture raised, 100 percent grass-fed beef.” Richardson says the flavor of grass-fed beef “is superb, and you can feel good knowing you’re supporting the humane treatment of farm animals, responsible farming practices, and the health of the environment.” (For those of you that don’t eat meat, substitute the beef with a plant-based Beyond Burger.)

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Keep it simple

Richardson also warns not to “overwork the meat, or that will make it tough.” Form a 6-ounce patty that is about 1/2-inch thick for even cooking, Richardson says. From there, just season it with salt and pepper.

How to Perfect the American Classic Cheeseburger
Erin McGrady

Skip the grill, use a cast-iron skillet

We all know that you can make an incredible burger on a grill. But try cooking in a cast-iron skillet and see if it doesn’t change your mind. One benefit of the cast-iron burger method is that your patty will cook while sitting in its own fat, leading to juicier burgers. Oh, and while you’re at it, drop a little bit of bacon fat into your skillet as it’s heating up. Doing so will add an additional layer of bold flavor to every bite.

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How to Perfect the American Classic Cheeseburger
Erin McGrady

Get Creative

Once you’ve perfected the patty, start playing around with different sauces, toppings, and condiments. Chef Chad Gangwer from LTO Burger Bar in Greenville, SC, says his go-to burger involves “two quarter-pound ground chuck patties smashed on a hot griddle with a dash of salt and pepper and two slices of Tillamook aged sharp cheddar.” On top of that, he adds shaved iceberg lettuce with a little vinegar, a slice of tomato, diced white onion, some homemade pickles, and some Duke’s mayo. The possibilities are limitless.

Cheeseburger Steps

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 8-10 minutes

Get condiments out and ready: pickles, pesto, tomatoes, jalapeño, sautéed onions, arugula, mayonnaise, cheese, etc.
Pat out burgers, season with salt and pepper.
Preheat your oven to 350°F.
Lightly butter both sides of the bun.
Put buns in oven for 5 minutes.
Shut oven off after 5 minutes and leave buns in until you’re ready to plate your burger.
Heat cast-iron skillet to medium-high heat.
Add a teaspoon of bacon fat.
Put patties in the skillet.
Cook patties until lightly brown on one side (about 3 minutes).
Flip patties over and cook for an additional 2 minutes.

If adding cheese:

Turn off heat, add cheese, put lid on top of the skillet, and move it off the warm burner.
Let sit in the pan until cheese melts.


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