Charles Lamchops: The Basics of Building a Better Burger: Beef, Bread and Cheese

By Charles Lam

There’s nothing better than a perfect burger. A properly prepared one is comprised of plenty of pleasurable mouth feels from warm crusty ground beef, velvety melted cheese and lightly toasted bread.

When done badly, however, burgers can quickly descend into an unappetizing mess of ingredients that barely go together. As simple as putting some meat, cheese and vegetables between two pieces of bread may seem, putting together burgers presents some interesting problems not normally present in other dishes.

So, to help out those inexperienced college cooks out there, here are four important things to keep in mind that’ll help you build a better burger.

Mind the Meat

Hamburger meat is, unsurprisingly one of the most important aspects of a good burger.

Though not the most brightly-flavored ingredient, the beef provides the frame for the rest of the ingredients to fall back on.

First of all, avoid pre-ground meat at all costs. Pre-ground beef is mostly comprised of garbage cuts of leftover beef that could not be sold as is. It also tends to be grossly overpriced.

Instead, have your own meat ground. Most markets will ground any meat you buy free of charge. So, keep an eye on your super market circulars for sales on well-flavored leaner cuts of meat such as chuck or sirloin. You’ll get better meat at a lower price that’ll last you for much longer.

Secondly, keep your patty on the simple side.

Do not salt the meat before making your patties, the salt draws the water out of the cells before cooking and worsen the texture.

Do not put extra ingredients into the patty. You might be tempted to see how onions would be mixed into the burger but trust me; the only thing that’s going to happen is that the onion pieces are going to release water as they cook, weakening the structure of the meat.

If you do want a little texture inside your meat, a layer of cheese encased with meat juicy-Lucy style is always a fun thing to try. Cheese has a fairly low water content, allowing the meat to cook normally and makes the burger extra gooey.

Finally, don’t hand form your patties unless you are experienced. This can lead to uneven density, which causes the meat to shrink and cook unevenly.

The worse patties end up swelling in the center during cooking; becoming more beef balls than beef patties.

To prevent this, line a round plastic food container lid with plastic wrap and use it to form your patties. They’ll come out uniform and come out perfectly.

Pick the Best Bread

A bun can literally make or break a burger. A good one should be soft to the touch, with a dense crumb that can stand up to the wetter ingredients. Skip over the French, Kaiser and Hawaiian rolls.

Potato rolls are just the right consistency, with the perfect amount of sweetness to contain the rest of your ingredients.

If you’re feeling a little on the “bougey” side and live near a good bakery, also try brioche. Though, a little on the rich side, brioche is a great accompaniment to lighter cheeses.

Be Choosey with Your Cheese

What I am about to say might be sacrilege to some.

American cheese is perfectly fine to use on top of burger patties. It melts evenly and at the right temperatures, it bleeds into the meat and its flavor is present without being over powering.

Though some might crave a bit of spiciness from pepper jack or sharpness from cheddar, this can be easily be added in other places.

Keep It Simple, Stupid

Burgers are finger food and, being such, they should be neat.

Don’t get crazy with your toppings. Mushrooms, bacon, grilled onions, and avocado might taste amazing together but pile them all on top of each other and you get something that’s not going to fit into your mouth.

Remember that, when cooking, your eyes are hungrier than your stomach. Moderate yourself when choosing toppings to pile on top of your burger.

Building a better burger is exceedingly simple. Make sure you have good basics. Mind your beef, bread and cheese and you’re well on your way to beefy goodness.