15 Tips from Chefs on Creating the Perfect Burgers

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iStock

It may seem easy enough to fire up the grill and make some burgers, but there are several things to consider before attempting to create that perfect burger, which comes down to the quality of meat, temperature, the type of buns, and toppings. In celebration of National Burger Day, here are 15 pro tips from restaurant and Food Network chefs on what to do (and perhaps as importantly, what not to do) in attempting that perfect burger.

1. USE HIGH-QUALITY MEATS.

Chef Tony Chu thinks texture is important. “Blending different grades of ground beef influences the burger’s texture,” he told Charleston Eater. “Too fine and the burger will feel like beef pâté. Too rough and the burger will look like a meatloaf. From my experience, brisket, short rib, and chuck are a good start to the perfect burger.”

2. GRIND YOUR OWN MEAT.

Chef Nathan Thurston of Charleston’s Thurston Southern recommends grinding your own meat at home because you don’t know exactly what you’re buying from the store. He says to grind a mixture of ground chuck, brisket, and boneless short rib.

Serious Eats’s chief culinary consultant J. Kenji López-Alt’s motto is, “Once you grind, you never rewind.” He recommends an electric meat grinder or a food processor to grind the meats. “Just dice your meat into one-inch chunks, spread them on a rimmed baking sheet, put them in the freezer for about 15 minutes until they’re firm but not frozen, then working in 1/2-pound batches, pulse the meat to the desired grind size (about 10 to 12 one-second pulses),” he writes.

3. ROLL THE MEAT INTO A SAUSAGE-LIKE TUBE, AND KEEP THE MEAT COOL.

Chef Heston Blumenthal of Bray, Berkshire, England’s three Michelin-starred The Fat Duck did scientific research on how to make the perfect burger, and he found that rolling the ground beef into a tube with all the grains of meat facing the same direction worked well to create a juicy burger. After forming the meat tube, he covers it with plastic wrap and refrigerates it for half an hour, then slices the meat into patties the way a sushi chef would.

4. THE FAT TO LEAN RATIO SHOULD BE 80 TO 20.

According to chef Jonathan Waxman of Barbuto NYC, 80 to 20 is the perfect ratio for leanness (80 percent) and fat content (20 percent). Executive chef Josh Keeler of Charleston’s 492 suggests not to overpack a burger or make it too dense. “I think you need to have air in your patties and a really nice crust,” he told Charleston Eater. But if you happen to like more fat in your burger, New York City-based Delmonico's chef Billy Oliva says to use a 76 to 24 ratio, resulting in a “juicier, more flavorful patty.”

5. THUMB-PRESS THE PATTIES BEFORE COOKING.

Burger maestro Bobby Flay—who has written several books on grilling—says once you shape the patties, use your thumb to make an indentation in the center of each burger. “This does two things,” Flay says. “One, it prevents flying saucer-shaped burgers—you know the ones I am talking about: all puffed up and bulging in the center. As the meat cooks and expands, the depression magically disappears, leaving you with beautifully shaped and cooked burgers.” The thumb-press also prevents the burger from shrinking up.

6. SUBSTITUTE A SKILLET FOR A GRILL.

You don’t necessarily have to use an outdoor grill to get a charred burger. The Chew host Michael Symon suggests using a skillet. “A grill is too difficult,” he told The New York Times. “A hot skillet is what you want.” Flay also prefers a skillet. “My favorite way to cook a burger indoors is on cast iron, either in a skillet or grill pan, or on a griddle,” he has said.

7. ONLY SEASON THE OUTSIDE OF THE MEAT.

According to Symon, it is best not to season the inside of the burger. Use only salt and pepper, and you can salt the meat before placing it on the grill. “You’re going to need more salt than you instinctively think,” Symon says. “There’s nothing wrong with salting the meat right before putting it on the grill, but what makes a burger extra juicy is when you season it ahead of time, giving it a minimum of two hours or a maximum of 12 hours.”

8. MAKE A THINNER PATTY.

The average burger is about six to seven ounces, but the larger the patty, the more you start to get into meatball territory. Nate Whiting of Charleston's Ristorante Juliet suggests cobbling together thinner patties, around five ounces. “To me, a great burger should have an equal amount of crumble and stability,” he told Charleston Eater. “Meaning, it should hold together enough to allow you to cook them correctly.”

9. DO NOT PRESS DOWN ON THE PATTIES WHILE COOKING THEM.

The meat should be handled as little as possible, so if you take a spatula and press down on it, the juices will spew out. "It drives me crazy when people push the burger down," Eric LeVine of New Jersey’s Paragon Tap & Table and Morris Tap & Grill says. "Pushing down on the burger presses out all the natural juices. Then people ask why their burgers were so dried out."

10. BUTTER THE BUN.

The bun should always be toasted and buttered. Symon recommends a softer bun—he suggests buttering a challah or brioche roll and then putting it on the grill. Waxman agrees, but he also suggests buttering the bun a bit more after you grill it. “People are always like, ‘what’s that flavor?’” he says.

11. YOU CAN FLIP THE BURGER MORE THAN ONCE.

It may seem counterintuitive to flip a patty several times while cooking it, but López-Alt says it’s okay to flip a burger a lot. “Flipping your burger repeatedly (as often as once every 15 seconds) encourages faster, more even internal cooking, shaving off as much as 1/3 of your grill time,” he writes. Blumenthal flips his burgers every 20 or 30 seconds. His reasoning for this: “It drives a much more even temperature through the meat.”

12. SQUEEZE THE SIDES OF THE PATTY TO MEASURE DONENESS.

Trying to determine if a burger is done cooking? Whatever you do: Don’t cut into the patty to check if it’s done. Chef Ken Wiss of Diner and Marlow & Sons suggests squeezing the sides of the patty, not the top. The sides should “show some springy resistance for medium-rare,” he says. You can also use a cooking thermometer to detect doneness—130°F is an ideal temperature for a medium-rare burger (pink and warm), while 150°F is good for medium-well.

13. MAKE SURE TO MELT THE CHEESE ALL THE WAY.

“Most people don’t melt the cheese enough,” Geoffrey Zakarian, the chef and owner of NYC’s National Bar and Dining Rooms, tells The New York Times. “You want a curtain of cheese to enrobe the meat. The rennet in it really adds a lot of flavor.”

Waxman explained to the Daily Meal how to properly melt the cheese. Using a grill with a cover, grill one side of the patty, flip it, and quickly place the cheese on top. Cover the grill so it’ll melt. He also suggests using grated cheese, as it melts better than sliced cheese. “You can always put a clump of grated cheese on top of the middle of the burger so it melts out, otherwise a slab will just melt out and over the burger onto the grill,” he says.

14. LET THE MEAT REST.

Once you remove the patty from the grill or the griddle, let it cool for at least five minutes on a cooling rack. This method gives the burger more time to cook on the inside. “It also lets the juices on the exterior redistribute within the patty, allowing for maximum juiciness when you take that first bite,” Oliva said.

15. USE CRISP LETTUCE AND MEATY TOMATOES.

“Tomato always goes on top of the burger and lettuce needs to always be underneath so it can catch some of the juices from going through the bun,” Symon told Epicurious. Crisp lettuce, like bibb, is best. Chu sings the praises of using San Marzano tomatoes. “The meaty tomato, which grows on the volcano ash in Italy, brings moderate acidity and prolongs the lingering taste of the burger,” he told Charleston Eater. “Balance the tomato with a leaf of Boston lettuce.” But for those seeking a more unusual topping, LeVine likes kimchi. “Its acidity really helps cut through the fat of the burger and adds a nice contrast,” he said.

All images via iStock.

Wrap Yourself in the Sweet Smell of Bacon (or Coffee or Pine) With These Scented T-Shirts

adogslifephoto/iStock via Getty Images
adogslifephoto/iStock via Getty Images

At one point or another, you’ve probably used perfume, cologne, body spray, or another product meant to make you smell like a flower, food, or something else. But what if you could cut out the middleman and just purchase scented clothing?

Candy Couture California’s (CCC) answer to that is “You can!” The lifestyle brand offers a collection of graphic T-shirts featuring scents like bacon, coffee, pine tree, strawberry, and motor oil. If you have more traditional olfactory predilections, there are several options for you, too, including rose, lavender, and lemongrass. There’s even a signature Candy Couture California scent, which is an intoxicating blend of coconut, strawberry, and vanilla.

candy couture california bacon shirt
Candy Couture California

According to the website, CCC founder Sara Kissing came up with the idea in 2011 while working in the e-commerce fashion industry, and her personal experience with aromatherapy led her to investigate developing clothing that harnessed some of those same benefits. The T-shirts are created with scent-infused gel, which “gives off a delicate, mild smell—just enough to boost your mood.”

So you don’t have to worry about your bacon shirt making the whole office smell like a breakfast sandwich, but you yourself will definitely be able to enjoy its subtle, meaty aroma whenever you wear it. The shirts are also designed to match their scents—the chocolate shirt, for example, features chocolatey baked goods, while the coffee shirt displays steaming mugs of coffee.

candy couture california chocolate shirt
Candy Couture California

The fragrances don’t last forever, but they’ll stay strong through 15 to 20 washes before they start to fade. CCC recommends using unscented detergent so as not to conflict with the shirt’s aroma, and you can further prolong its life if you’re willing to wash it by hand.

Prices start at $79, and you can shop the full collection here.

The Fascinating History Behind Why Jewish Families Eat Chinese Food on Christmas

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iStock

For Jewish New Yorkers, scoring a seat at one of veteran restaurateur Ed Schoenfeld’s Chinese eateries on Christmas Day could be compared to a holiday miracle. “I think on that day we do more business than many restaurants do in three months,” Schoenfeld tells Mental Floss. “We serve all day long, we stay open all day long.”

Schoenfeld is the Jewish owner-operator of RedFarm, an Asian-fusion dim sum restaurant with two locations in New York (plus one in London), and Decoy, a West Village shrine to traditional Peking duck. While his expertise lies in Far Eastern cuisine, Schoenfeld grew up in Brooklyn and learned to cook from his Eastern European grandmother. And just like his customers, Schoenfeld and his family sometimes craved Chinese food on Christmas, eschewing homemade fare for heaping plates of chow mein and egg foo yung. The future restaurateur's grandmother kept a kosher kitchen, but outside the home all dietary laws flew out the window with the single spin of a Lazy Susan. Suddenly, egg rolls with pork were fair game, transfigured into permissible delicacies through hunger and willful ignorance.

As Gentiles feast on turkey and roast beef during the Yuletide season, why do many Jews opt for chop suey? For starters, it's convenient: Chinese restaurants are open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But as historians and culinary experts tell Mental Floss, other ingredients play a part in this delicious story.

Jews developed their love for all things steamed, stir-fried, and soy-sauced after leaving the Old Country. Between the mid-1800s and the 1930s, waves of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Germany, and Greece began settling in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a gritty, inexpensive neighborhood teeming with tenements, docks, and factories—and filled with synagogues and kosher butcher shops. “You started here, and then moved on," Sarah Lohman, author of Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, says.

While Jewish immigrants found community on the Lower East Side, "there was a lot of discrimination against Jews at the turn of the century,” Lohman adds. "They were often criticized not only for not dressing like Americans and not speaking the language, but also for not converting to an 'American' religion."

Right next door to the burgeoning Jewish community on the Lower East Side was the city's nascent Chinatown. Many Chinese immigrants had initially come to the U.S. to work on the Transcontinental Railroad. After its completion in 1869, these laborers faced violence and discrimination in the western states. They came to New York City seeking new business opportunities, and some opened restaurants.

By and large, Chinese restaurateurs didn’t discriminate against Jewish customers. Joshua Eli Plaut writes in his book A Kosher Christmas: 'Tis the Season to be Jewish that the Chinese, as non-Christians, didn't perceive any difference between Anglo-Saxon New Yorkers and Jewish immigrants; they accepted all non-Chinese customers with open arms.

Jewish customers embraced Chinese food in return. The restaurants were conveniently located and inexpensive, yet were also urbane in their eyes. Jews saw dining out as an American custom that they wanted to try, largely because they sought upward mobility among other Americans. According to Yong Chen, a history professor and author of Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America, "[Diners] were attracted to Chinese food because, in their mind, it represented American cosmopolitanism and middle class status." And they weren't deterred by the fact that food in Chinese restaurants wasn't kosher. But they could easily pretend it was.

Dairy wasn’t a big part of Chinese meals, so Jewish diners didn’t have to worry about mixing meat and milk (a no-no in kosher diets). And non-kosher ingredients like pork or seafood were often finely chopped, drowned in sauces, or mixed with other ingredients, like rice. These elements were well disguised enough that they could pass for more permissible forms of meat. “You could kind of willfully ignore that there might be pork in there," Lohman says. "It’s like a vegetarian eating a soup that has chicken stock. If you’re a little flexible about your Judaism, you would just ‘not notice’ the pork in your fried rice.”

Chinese food was exotic and new, filled with surprising flavors, ingredients, and textures [PDF]. But for some Eastern European Jews, it also had familiar elements. Both Eastern European and Chinese cuisines shared an affinity for sweet and sour flavors and egg-based dishes. "[Chinese restaurants] had these pancakes, which were like blintzes,” says Joan Nathan, author of King Solomon's Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World, and the wontons resembled kreplach (both are meat-filled soup dumplings).

The fact that the Chinese and Jews were America’s two largest non-Christian immigrant populations brought them together, Jennifer 8. Lee, author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, tells Mental Floss. Unlike, say, Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants were open on Sundays and on Christian holidays. They also lacked religious imagery, which may have made them appear more welcoming for Jews.

Combined, these factors caused the number of Chinese restaurants in urban East Coast cities to skyrocket during the early 20th century. Jews soon accounted for 60 percent of the white clientele in New York City's and Philadelphia’s Chinese restaurants, Chen writes, and Chinese restaurants would often go out of their way to cater to these clients. The eateries delivered their food to Jewish neighborhoods and to individual customers.

Yet an unwavering affection for Chinese food wasn't shared by all Jews. In an example cited by Chen and Lee, a reporter for Der Tog (The Day), a Yiddish daily newspaper in New York City, noted in 1928 that Jewish diners were in danger of drowning their culinary roots in soy sauce. To take back their taste buds, Jewish-Americans should hoist protest signs reading “Down with chop suey! Long live gefilte fish!” the journalist joked.

But Jewish cookbooks had already begun including Americanized dishes like chop suey and egg foo yung, which Chinese chefs had specially created to appeal to homegrown appetites. And as Lower East Side Jews moved to different neighborhoods, boroughs, and suburbs, Chinese restaurants followed them.

By the mid-20th century, Nathan says, Chinese restaurants had become de facto social clubs in Jewish communities. Familiar faces were always present, children were always welcome, and eating with your hands wasn’t just encouraged—it was required. Everyone left filled with food and gossip, whether it was Christmas or an ordinary Sunday evening.

Thanks to immigration patterns, nostalgia, and convenient hours of operation, this culinary custom has stuck around. “Jewish guests want to go out and eat Chinese food on Christmas,” Schoenfeld, the Manhattan restaurateur, says. “It’s become a tradition, and it’s extraordinary how it’s really grown.”

This story originally ran in 2017.

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