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Where’s the Beef: Burger Basics

burger basics

Burgers are a mainstay in many American homes. Not only are they quick and easy to make, but in terms of ingredients, they are very economical, as well.  With the introduction of the burger joint in the mid-1900s, the US fell in love with the hamburger.  

In my hometown, there was a wonderful place called Burger Chef that has fallen by the wayside with so many other wannabe burger franchises. Trips to the supermarket with Mom often meant darting into Burger Chef, too.  That was the best. Later, while I was a student in Madrid, I spent many a late evening at the Burger Pop getting my fill of ‘back home’. 

Making burgers couldn’t be easier, but we sometimes make things more difficult than they really are. There are many variations out there for elaborate burgers, but sometimes the most basic version is the best. This post is dedicated to making the basic burger right. From there add what you like to take it to the next level.

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burger basics

Before you start:

Burgers can be made successfully on the grill (read this post on grilling basics), under a preheated broiler, or in a skillet over medium-high heat.

If you are having trouble getting the restaurant taste from your burger… add a little more salt. I know some of you will have concerns over this so I will leave it up to you, but restaurants (especially fast food) add lots of salt to burgers. Use your judgment.

To bind or not to bind… that is the question. Many cooks (some very well known) add a binder such as eggs or bread crumbs to their ground beef. I do not. I am not suggesting that it is wrong. I just don’t find it necessary. If you are having trouble getting your burger to stick together, knead it with your hands a bit before you form the patties.

Patties are most easily made while the meat is colder.  To keep your hands from getting greasy and sticking to the meat, try using gloves or a sandwich bag over your hands. I typically use parchment paper as a buffer between my hands and the meat.

Make your patties about an inch bigger in diameter than your bun to allow for shrinkage. Press a small well into the center of the burger to compensate for the bump that typically occurs.

Tips for burger success:

  • Do not make burgers with lean beef. Ground chuck is best. You need fat for flavor and moisture.
  • As a rule of thumb, use about 1 1/4 pounds of meat for 4 patties.
  • Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Flip once.
  • Cook burgers approximately 3 min. per side for rare, 4 min. per side for medium, 5 min. per side for well done.
burger basics


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