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How to make the BEST burgers?

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 
I have been on a quest for the last few weeks to make the best burger I have ever had. I have been turning out some pretty tasty burgers but they are just not exceeding my expectations.

I have been grinding my own meat for the burgers. I have tried a variety of different meats in the burgers and it seems like chuck is almost the best cut. I have even tried mixing cuts. Just the other day I tried half chuck and half filet mignon.

Yeah, yeah, i know, grinding a cut of tenderloin is blah blah blah.... cost is not an issue... flavor, juicyness, and tenderness for the best burger EVER is top priority here. All other culinary morals need to take the back seat for this one.

Anyways, I think chuck seems to be the best.

I also lightly form my burgers together being sure to not compress them too much, then season them with salt and pepper and cook them on a stove top iron cast griddle.

Don't get me wrong, the burgers come out really really tasty but just not what I am looking for. What I am looking for is a burger that just melts and disolves in your mouth before you even have the chance to chew it.

I have had a burger like this twice before in my life. Once at a 4star restaurant in Boston, MA called Joe's and other was in Las Vegas inside Caesars in a little restaurant called Mesa Grill. The Mesa burger was easily the best burger I ever had. After my meal here I handed the waitress $10 and told her to give it to the guy that cooked my burger and she got him from the back so I could do it myself and I praised him for that little taste of heaven in a bun. I am actually going back to Vegas next month and I am I think I might ask them what there secret is if they will tell me.

I don't mean for this to turn into an ad. I am just trying to get the point across that good or even great is not good enough.

My goal is to learn how to make a burger like these places do. What is the secret? How do they make these burger so incredibly tender and juicy?
post #2 of 22
MESA GRILL is operated by Bobby Flay look for the recipe and the prep of same in his grill cookbook.
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post #3 of 22
here ya go champ The Mesa Grill Burger | Serious Eats : Recipes


i dont see that they do anything special. the meat is just ground chuck formed into a patty. they do grill the onions a bit before serving.

I see you said your using a cast iron griddle, try a grill. the surface area of the hamburger has less contact with the cooking surface that way and won't dry it out as much. I am sure either BDL or ChefED can explain the science of a grilled burger vs a fried one. I just feel that a grilled burger is juicier and the live flame below adds smoke and flavor by vaporizing drippings from it as it cooks. best of luck.
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post #4 of 22
BDL and I may have different opinions on the way to cook it but I think we will both agree that it starts with the quality and fat to meat ratio of the meat. Some people love them fried others grilled, its a matter of taste, Grilled will be less greasy. Frozen burgers which some places use cook better on a flat grill as the outside wont burn while inside is raw. I like a small burger fried style and a large one char grilled but thats just me.:D

PS Notice Flay says no less then a 20/80 mix of chuck. "Fat is your friend"
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post #5 of 22
I agree with Ed, Flay and the OP about both chuck and the amount of fat -- which puts me in good company.

Julia Child used to say that chuck was best because a side of beef is hung chuck end down, and the juices pool there. Whether or not that's really the reason, who can say? Meat doesn't really hang for long anymore before it gets cut, cryovaced and cased.

The exception to "chuck is best" is raw or extremely rare beef. Then a more expensive cut is better -- I prefer tenderloin or sirloin at about 10% fat. I also prefer to use a knife rather than a grinder for meat which will be eaten completely raw. It's a matter of how much heat gets transferred to the meat, which makes a big difference both to texture and taste. Cooking very lean, minced meat to "very rare" or even medium-rare is a little tricky. I suggest a lot of heat for a very short time. That is, just barely sear the outsides of the patty. Otherwise, lean meat will go gray inside, appeariing to more cooked than its internal temperature says it is. Forget your thermo-pen. A rare eater wants lots of color, and it's best to err on the rare side.

For regular burger purposes, of course you've got to use a grinder but you should still try and have the meat as cold as possible so it doesn't overheat. For homecooks like us, that means working semi-frozen (which I don't like because it's hard to catch the meat just right and it's tough on my knives), or keep small batches moving in and out of the refrigerator.

Knife or grinder. You can't get good texture from a food processor. Not to say that you can't get better "ground" meat by using fresh meat and a processor than ordinary, super-market grinds. But we're looking for mo' better, not less bad. Right?

I don't know about you, but I like to grind twice. Once coarsely (say "chili grind"), let the meat rest a bit, then again through a finer plate. It's a close call but seems to work best for smaller grinders. Ultimately the meat gets gentler handling and less heat transference.

Fat content is tricky because most meat comes with a tight trim nowadays. You either have to buy a packer cut (that's a pretty big hunk of chuck, son), from a custome butcher who will humor you (treasure her!), "untrimmed," which you can sometimes get on saile, or start begging around for extra fat. When you do ask for fat, you have to be choosy. Use only the fat which comes from trimming the prime rib or any of the loin or tenderloin steaks. That fat melt and dissolves real easily and is quite palatable. Some other fats, like the fat cap on a brisket won't really work.

Getting back to the meat, half the battle with freshly ground meat is patty formation. You want to keep your pressure light enough so the burger is fluffy; but you want it firm enough so that it has integrity -- that's a little bit firmer than just "hold together." Tricky. If Ed and I have a difference it's probably here in that I'm more a "take your time and do each one perfectly by hand," person and he's a "We have 500 lunches and you're standing there contemplating a patty! WTF?!" person.

Anyway, I do the whole thing by hand. With your unseasoned ground meat standing by, start by washing your hands, then thoroughly rinsing them in cold water. (Always work ground meat with cool, wet hands.) Portion (by eye) a pattie's worth of unseasoned meat, and roll it into a loose ball between both hands. Keeping the meat in your hand (not on the board) flatten it by pressing or patting, turning a 1/4 turn and pressing and patting, then changing hands and doing it again. This should develop a symmetrical patty with minimal handling.

Don't press it out on the board or use any other kind of press. When you're figuring out how to thin to make the patty, figure you'll lose about 1/3 of the diameter as the meat cooks, and gain it back in thickness -- a function of the heat causing the meat protein strands to contract. When you have your patty nearly finished, put it on a piece of waxed paper and tidy up the edges as best you can. That's not only going to have the effect of making them look bigger, but it will also make them a bit thicker -- plan ahead for it.

Some people like to season the meat before forming patties. Not me. Anything more than simple, dry seasonings and you end up with meat loaf. And even mixing in dry seasonings is too much handling. So, I save the seasonings for the patty and the toppings for the top.

It seems lot a like of instruction for making a simple patty, I know. But it's not really about the patty so much as handling in such a way that you control the density. If more thinking means less squeezing and pushing down -- then it's a good thing.

How thick you make your burgers is a matter of taste. Make them as thick as you like. I like to make my burgers fairly thin -- it's not just fast food, it's a west coast thing. The downside to thin burgers is they cook very fast, perhaps too fast if you're all about a good sear on the outside. Trade offs. Whopee.

Grilled over an open gas flame, a charcoal fire, a ridged grill, a griddle or just fried up in a pan -- they're all good. I wouldn't any one of them for any other.

Since you're using very freshly ground meat you don't have much concern about bacteria and can (and should) cook to medium-rare or medium. Because the meat has a enough fat to be (a little) more forgiving you can emply more moderate heat, and develop a good surface without overcooking. A grill surface temperature around 350 - 375 ideal. From a flat top perspective, that's about 25* hotter than you'd want to cook pancakes or eggs. On a stovetop or gas grill, it's distinctly moderate. On a charcoal fired grill, you definitely want to let the fire burn down a bit before getting started -- something in the neighborhood of a "six" to "eight" count fire is fine.

Gound meat held more than 24 hours should be cooked to an internal of above 145*. In other words, medium well or better.

Hope this helps,
BDL
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post #6 of 22
Because individual tastes are so diverse, I do not believe there is any such thing as the one best burger. Preferences in meats vary from person to person. Some want lean beef, others want only bison, while still another group demands ground turkey or chicken. Should it be grilled, broiled or pan fried? And then, even at its best, the meat is only the vehicle on which the most delicious accessories ride. Do you want mayo, salsa, kechup, mustard, 1000 Is. dressing. Then, there's the bread. Thick chunks of home made sourdough suit me best, but HubbyDearest wants a crusty Kaiser roll. What is in "the works?". And will you even like the one that the judges declare the winner? Pile it so high you cannot get your mouth around it...I don't think so. :look:
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post #7 of 22
I made burgers this weekend for the first time from scratch and used Steve Raichlen's method of stuffing them with herbed butter. I was very pleased with the result although I didn't realize they would shrink so much - they became sliders in the end but still delicious.

I began by making my herbed butter. A stick of room temp butter, 1 garlic clove minced, a bit of chopped parsley, salt/pepper. Stuck in the fridge to firm up. I used ground chuck, formed into a ball (roughly without too much handling). Stuffed with a tsp of the butter and formed into a patty. Season the top with s/p and put in the fridge to cool until grill-time. We cooked them medium well since our guests were a little nervous about undercooked meat but they were still juicy and delicious. The butter did not spill into the coals like I thought it would, but seasoned the meat and kept it juicy eventhough it was a bit overcooked for my taste. I highly recommend this method.

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post #8 of 22
Thread Starter 
Wow, some really great stuff in this thread. Thanx everyone!

Mesa is Bobby Flays restaurant huh? :suprise: No wonder those burgers were so darn good. I guess I really have my work cut out for me to make a burger that compares to that Mesa burger.

I am going to the butcher today to pick up a really nice cut of chuck. This butcher does the cuts to order. They don't have their meat displayed in the cases or anything like like. :lips: Every other time I have just picked up some chuck from the supermarket so hopefully this will improve the burger some.

My conclusion is that there really are no secrets to great burgers. I think the key is a good fresh cut of at least 80/20 chuck, proper handling, proper cooking, and fresh delicious buns.

I am going to attempt to make fresh buns at home but I am kinda new to baking bread; although, I do make pizza dough quite often, but I think I am going to pick up some backup buns just in case. :look:

Thanks again everyone for all your helpful hints. I will let you know how they turn out.
post #9 of 22
I don't mean to hijack this thread but I see no mention of the use of egg as a binder, this will sound very novice but should I not be using a egg as a binder? The burger will hold up just fine with no binder?

This is a great post and I won't mix dry herbs into my meat anymore.
post #10 of 22
Dont know of any pro in business that uses egg in burger.There is no binder required. If your making meat loaf or salisbury steak ok because you are adding stretchers to the meat, like crumbs, oatmeal etc. By addiing egg to plain old burgers you make them tougher, and more suceptable to going bad. No Egg needed.:D
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post #11 of 22
On Kitchen Nightmare Ramsay uses filler like onions, garlic, mustard etc. then uses an egg binder. seen a couple of different chefs do it on the FN. I think it's more a Euro thing.. As Ed said, I have only used it in making meatloafs or giant meat balls .
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post #12 of 22
It's kind of an indeirect answer to the "don't you need egg" question -- but most states, as a "truth in labeling" matter, won't allow anything mixed into the beef. A "hamburger," by legal definition is 100% ground beef -- no egg, no filler. While Food Network chefs and their recipes aren't subject to truth in labelling, the general concept is probably why you hear their concotions labled "burgers" rather than "hambrugers."

(When I hear the term "burger," I'm always reminded of the Mexican contestant on Top Chef who insisted she was going to make "the best booger ever."

More directly, as a culinary martter, when using the right kind of meat and handling it appropriately no "binder" is necessary to hold the patty together when using meat with an appropriate amount of fat, an appropriate grind, and appropriate handling and formation.

In my opinion (just an opinion mind you, tastes vary) the amount of mixing necessary to distribute eggs, onions, seasonings or anything else into the raw meat makes for a dense, poorly textured patty. That is, at least as a "burger" per se. You end up with something like luleh kabab -- which is great for what it is but isn't, to my mind anyway is something else. Ramsay may call it what he likes -- but then Ramsay uses (or used to) whole lettuce leaves in his Ceaesar salad.

I can't help but think of "The Apple Pan," a hamburger specialty restaurant in West Los Angeles. They're fantastically popular, their hamburgers are widely acknowledged as some of the best around. Yet, they don't really do anything all that special. It's what they don't do.

BDL
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post #13 of 22
While there are plenty of poor hamburgers out there, there are also good ones in all styles.

My favorite burger in a restaurant was "fried" on a griddle. No grilling or flames. Then onion, lettuce, tomato, cheese, bacon, mushrooms and condiments. GReat burger. You could only pick it up once and NEVER set it down or it would fall apart. Fantastic food though.

I'm also fond of hamburgers from the grill. Different than above but very good.

Even the onion steamed White Castle burger rates well for me. Very different from the earlier two but also very good.

The hamburger is a surprisingly versatile dish and good results can be had with most any technique. Just konw that different techniques result in different sorts of hamburgers.
post #14 of 22
If cost isnt an issue as the OP says add a little C grade Foie Gras(its cheaper than the good stuff and your going to grind it)to the mix when you grind the Chuck for some serious fat incorporation and flavor. If thats out of reach you should be able to find duck fat or even beef fat and add some extra which is what I do to my burgers.
I prefer grilled over an open medium flame or indirectly over charcoal, and since I am not a purist but one who rather enjoys adding to my grind I put a bit of Worchestershire, grind roasted garlic and sauteed onion in with the meat and finish with a single egg yolk to help keep it together since the liquid from the worchestershire tends to make it fall apart, but as ED and BDL said earlier a true Hamburger is just ground meat and S&PTT.
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post #15 of 22
i have heard to just get very good quality meat and grind it and then cook it and season after wards...


although there are some recipes i would like to try...

u can also go a long way with a rub like a jerk or mojo rub so u dont really have to mix up the meat....

and with sauces and condiments, i dont see that mixing up the meat is necessary....

plus sometiems there is nothing like jsut the taste of good beef and a little garlic and cheese and perhapse the hinto of a condiment

although there are some recipes i would like to try where mixing is involved


ouzzo and olive oil and garlic for example sounds like an interesting idea from the greeks (i tihnk this is what jeff smith said to do)

by the way here is a recipe for a colombian stlye hamburger


make a pink sauce with ketchup and mayonaise and a little lemon juice

get kaiser roll

cook burger and put cheese on it to melt. mozarella is the way to go. swiss woudl also be good

put cooked hamburger on roll and top with some bacon IF DESIRED

put a nice handful of crunched up ruffles on top of melted cheese, top with drained crushed pineapple

put some yellow mustard, some pink sauce and a little ketchup on top of that

voila

this is actually great.

but the bacon makes it a little TOO heavy for my taste.

although it is delicious i usually order it without the bacon

the same blueprint works for hot dogs, minus the bacon....

the best burgers in town here come from two restaraunts imo, and one of them is the colombian place.

the other is a place that will cook the burger medium rare if desired and has mojo, jerk, lemon pepper and a special house rub if desired. the jerk and mojo (citrus, olive oil, onion, garlic, and maybe they use oregano) styles are great and the burger itself is just a nice burger, better meat than the colombian place, but the way the colombian place serves it is so scrumptious, its gotta be tried.
post #16 of 22
chefhow has some interesting ideas.

Since my name came up maybe I should say I don't make hamburger with just salt and pepper. My basic is to rub Worcestershire or Worcestershire and red wine on top, then season with "basic beef rub." The rub itself is kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, (top quality) smoked paprika, granulated garlic, granluated onion, dry sage, and dry thyme -- all in the usuall proportions.

Lately, I've been making a "secret sauce," with ketchup, mayo, sour cream, a little (very hot!) Russian mustard, sweet pickle relish, and a healthy dose of reconstituted and pureed chipotle -- in other words a slightly tweaked "Thousand Island."

We like such a wide variety of cheeses and other toppings, I don't even want to think about making a list. So, I'm just going to stick my fingers in my ears and hum.

Hmmm, hmmm,
BDL
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post #17 of 22
BDL

What type of knife do you use to get your meat to the right consistency?

Do you use a cleaver or Chinese cleaver? would either of these work?

Thanks
post #18 of 22
1. My knives:

To be very specific, I use a late-sixties-early-seventies vintage, carbon steel (not stainless), 10" K-Sabatier, chef's knife for just about everything. If I'm starting with very large pieces and trying to bust out a lot of quantity, sometimes I'll use an otherwise similar 12". These, like the rest of my knives, live in the "extremely to very sharp" range.

Both of these were actually purchased from Amazon around 2001, with a "Cuisine de France" (grifon rampant) logo. But, in fact, they're NOS K-Sab. As it happens, I have identical, branded, K-Sabs given to me in 1973 and for one reason or another only used a couple of times. Right now they're wrapped and stored. .


2. Cleavers:

An American or Euro style "meat cleaver" is too heavy for the job, IMO. It's weight would do serious damage to the board. I almost never use mine (late-sixties, carbon, Chicago Cutlery), using the 12" K-Sab instead.

A light Chinese "chopper," would be a great choice as long as it's sharp enough. Sharp is everything when it comes to mincing.


3. More than you asked:

France v. Germany v. Japan; and Stainless v. Carbon:

It's a personal thing, but I much prefer the French chef's to the German profile -- always have. Due mostly to bad stainless steel and bad quality control in Fance during the mid seventies, German manufactured knives pretty much knocked French knives out of this country ever since. However recently, the lighter, more agile choice is definitely the trend among cooks with good knife skills.

It's not just the French profile itself, it's that Japanese gyutos which are now the "fine dining" pro's choice are usually French profile. Watch "Iron Chef," and if you know knives you'll recognize that something like 90% are using Japanese made knives.

Offhand, I think a German profile chef knife is probably more inuitive than a French for someone who doesn't have reasonably good knife and sharpening skills. Also, it's strictly a matter of taste. I'm certainly not saying that someone using a Wusthof or F. Dick in some way doesn't have the knife skills of someone using a Misono or Shigefusa.

My choice to continue using French knives as opposed to Japanese knives is almost entirely sentimental. If you're interested in quality steel, whether "for the money," or "best available," Japanese cutlery wins. BTW, "Japanese steel" isn't always Japanese -- quite often it's Swedish.

Until recenctly good carbon beat good stainless when it came to edge taking and edge holding qualities. However with the advent of 12C27, AEB-L, G-3, VG-10, some of the stainless metallurgical powders, etc., the difference has pretty much disappeared.

Were I buying new knives tomorrow based solely on what I thought were the best, (barely) affordable, western-handled knives I'd choose between Masamoto HC (carbon) and Ikkanshi Tadatsuna (Gin3). For people looking for their first high-quality, quasi-reasonably-priced (not cheap!) knife I recommend MAC Pro, Takayuki Grand Cheff, Hiromoto (either AS or G3), Masamoto VG and Togiharu G-1. Of these, only the Hiromoto AS which has an AS carbon core, isn't stainless.

Bottom Line:

Fred (of Fred's Cutlery Forum on Foodie Forums fame) once said something like "Any sharp knife can do just about any knife job." That's one of the smartest things ever said about knives. I'm afraid my version of this truth is expressed more negatively. "All dull knives are equal."

When it comes to knives, sharp is always the operative concept.

BDL
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post #19 of 22
Bobby Flay only flips his once. I think that helps a bit.
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post #20 of 22
I'm coming in late on this, but if, as the OP said, he wants a Mesa Grill type burger then he needs to follow Bobby Flay's rules. There are only a few of them.

1. Nothing goes into the ground meat. He stresses 80/20 lean to fat ratio. Flavorings, other than salt & pepper, are used in the form of condiments rather than worked into the meat.

2. Do not work the meat to much. Scoop up what you want, form it into a patty, and that's it.

3. Liberally coat the outside of the patty with salt & pepper. The idea is that it boths adds flavor, and helps to form a crust on the patty when grilling it.

4. Once the patty is on the grill, leave it alone. Flip only once. Do not press down on the burger, ever. That just squeezes the juices out and makes a dry burger. If your burgers tend to bubble up when cooking, avoid that by forming a depression in the middle of the patty with your thumbs. When you grill it, and it bubbles up, it merely returns to the shape you wanted to begin with.
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post #21 of 22
Thread Starter 
I just cooked up some burgers tonight and WHOA!!! :lips::lips::lips:

They were really, really, really good. It wasn't a mesa burger but it was in the ranks. Thanks to everyone who contributed!!!

I didn't do anything special. I just put the meat in the freezer for about 30 min and then sliced it into 1"strips, then I put it back into the freezer for about 10min before grinding.

I grinded, then seasoned w/ salt n' pepper and loosely formed the patties. I also made a little "well" in the patties. I lightly coated them w/ canola oil just before I put them on the Cast iron stove top grill (no choice, i live in an apartment that doesn't allow outdoor grills :mad:)

Cooked for four minutes on the first side; flipped, and cooked 3 minutes on the second side, then melted white cheddar and yellow cheddar on the burgers before I took them off. I made sure to only touch the burgers when putting them on, flipping them, and taking them off.

Buttered a store bought kisar roll on and grilled it until it was toasted. Added mayo to the bun and put the burger inside.

Soooooooooo delicious!

Thanks again everyone!
post #22 of 22
An expensive but exciting option is a Japanese deba-bocho. This is a single-beveled thick-bladed knife used primarily for filleting fish, including shearing through the bones, head, whatever. It is heavy enough to chop with, takes a terrific edge, and chops beautifully.

You will need a fairly long knife (195-210mm), however, because in order to have it withstand this treatment you must back-bevel the heelmost third of the knife; in other words, having sharpened the knife, you place it on its flat back on a medium stone, raise the spine about 10-15 degrees, and grind 10-15 strokes or so. This section of the knife is rarely used when cutting fish, and is used instead for chopping and mincing just about anything in the traditional Japanese kitchen (herbs, fish, vegetables, you name it).

I make burger meat this way all the time, because here in Japan the pre-ground meat is generally terrible and expensive, but shaved meat is inexpensive and excellent. My 4-year-old son demands hamburgers regularly, so I hand-mince often.

Still, I would not recommend this to anyone who's not into knives or doesn't already own a fairly large deba for fish.
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