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.

3 Delicious Mac and Cheese Dishes You Need to Try

A mac and cheese burger
A mac and cheese burger
Mental Floss Video

Is there a more comforting comfort food than macaroni and cheese? If you love mac and cheese—and wish you could include it in every meal—these recipes are for you. Chef Frank Proto, Director of Culinary Operations at the Institute of Culinary Education, has cooked up three creative recipes that use macaroni and cheese as their main ingredient. For a cheesier cookout, try Chef Frank’s fried mac and cheese burger buns; for more upscale dinners, try the mac and cheese stuffed peppers; and for a perfect party appetizer, we recommend the bacon-wrapped mac and cheese. These recipes transform the classic comfort food in surprising ways—and they’re perfect for revitalizing leftover mac and cheese.

Chef Frank's Classic Mac & Cheese Recipe

Ingredients:

1 Box Elbow Pasta
4 ounces (8 tablespoons) butter
3-4 tablespoons flour
4-5 cups milk
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 pound American cheese
1 pound cheddar cheese, shredded
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Instructions:

  1. Cook elbow pasta to desired doneness.
  2. Heat butter in a sauce pot over medium heat.  Add the flour until you get a wet sand consistency. 
  3. Cook over low for 3-4 minutes stirring frequently. 
  4. Add the milk and the garlic and let come to a simmer. 
  5. Lower the heart and let cook for 15-20 minutes.
  6. Add the both cheeses and whisk until combined.
  7. Add the cooked pasta and coat well. 

Mac & Cheese Burger Buns Recipe

Ingredients:

Macaroni and Cheese
2 Eggs
1 Cup Flour
1 Cup Bread Crumbs
Burger Patty
Lettuce
Tomatoes
Condiments (ketchup or mustard)
Vegetable Oil

Instructions:

  1. Refrigerate mac & cheese for two hours.
  2. Use a ramekin or a cup to cut out burger bun shape.
  3. Add flour, egg (beaten), and breadcrumbs to separate bowls.
  4. Dip mac and cheese buns in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs consecutively, covering on both sides.
  5. Turn stove on medium high heat and add oil to pan.
  6. Fry mac and cheese buns until golden brown on both sides (about 30 seconds to a minute).
  7. In a separate pan on medium high heat, grill burger patty until it reaches desired doneness.
  8. Build your burger: Add burger patty, lettuce, tomatoes, and your favorite condiments to your mac and cheese burger patties, then dig in!

Bacon-Wrapped Mac and Cheese Recipe

Bacon wrapped macaroni and cheese.

Ingredients:

Macaroni and Cheese
Bacon
Bread Crumbs

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. In a pan with oil, cook bacon until cooked through but not yet crisp.
  3. Grab a muffin or cupcake tin. Line tin with bacon, using one piece per cup.
  4. Pour mac & cheese into tin.
  5. Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top.
  6. Bake bacon-wrapped mac & cheese in oven for 10-15 minutes or until bacon is crispy.
  7. Let bacon-wrapped mac & cheese cool before removing from tin.
  8. Carefully remove each piece of bacon-wrapped mac & cheese from tin, using a knife to separate any stuck edges.

Mac and Cheese Stuffed Peppers Recipe

Macaroni and cheese stuffed peppers.

Ingredients:

Macaroni and Cheese
Cooked chorizo
3 Bell Peppers
Bread Crumbs
Shredded cheddar cheese

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Add cooked chorizo to macaroni and cheese, stirring in with sauce.
  3. Cut tops off of bell peppers and remove seeds.
  4. If bell peppers cannot stand upright on their own, slice bottom to level.
  5. Pour macaroni and cheese into bell peppers.
  6. Top with bread crumbs and shredded cheese.
  7. Place on baking sheet and bake in oven for 10-15 minutes until peppers are soft.
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Cheese Made from Celebrities' Microbes Is On View at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum

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iStock/bhofack2

London's Victoria & Albert Museum is home to such artifacts as ancient Chinese ceramics, notebooks belonging to Leonardo da Vinci, and Alexander McQueen's evening dresses—all objects you might expect to see in a world-famous museum. However, the cultural significance of the selection of cheeses now on display at the museum is less obvious. The edible items, part of a new exhibition called FOOD: Bigger than the Plate, were cultured from human bacteria swabbed from celebrities.

Though most diners may prefer not to think about it, bacteria is an essential ingredient in many popular foods. Beer, bread, chocolate, and cheese all depend on microbes for their signature flavors. Scientists took this ick factor one step further by sourcing bacteria from the human body to make cheese for the new exhibit.

Smell researcher Sissel Tolaas and biologist/artist Christina Agapakis first conceived their human bacteria cheese project, titled Selfmade, in 2013. When a chef and team of scientists recreated it for the Victoria & Albert Museum, they found famous figures to donate their germs. Blur bassist Alex James, chef Heston Blumenthal, rapper Professor Green, Madness frontman Suggs, and The Great British Baking Show contestant Ruby Tandoh all signed up for the project.

A display of the human-microbe cheese at Victoria & Albert museum
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Once the celebrities' noses, armpits, and belly buttons were swabbed, their microbiome samples were used to separate milk into curds and whey. The curds were then pressed into a variety of cheeses: James's swab was used to make Cheshire cheese; Blumenthal's, comté; Professor Green's, mozzarella; Suggs's, cheddar; Tandoh's, stilton.

The cheeses are being sequenced in the lab to determine if they're safe for human consumption. But even if they don't contain any harmful bacteria, they won't be served on anyone's cheese plates. Instead. they're being kept in a refrigerated display at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Museum-goers can catch the cheeses and the rest of the items spotlighted in FOOD: Bigger Than the Plate from now through October 20, 2019.

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