In honor of May being Burger Month, we’re dedicating this week to all things burgers. Tune in all week for creative burger toppings and over-the-top, unique recipes—but first, let’s start with the basics. Regardless of whether you’re making a steakhouse burger or a patty melt, a classic cheeseburger with beef or an Asian-inspired pork burger, there are a few rules that will always apply. Below are five commandments we live by when building a burger of any kind.
#1: Thou shall only use freshly-ground meat.
Skip the icy pink pucks you’ve spotted at the freezer section of your grocery store—in fact, avoid buying ground meat altogether. Ground beef consists of the leftover trimmings from beef cuts, and is usually less than top quality. Instead, buy a cut of meat—chuck, brisket, short rib and sirloin are all popular cuts for burgers—and have your butcher grind it right in front of you. This way there’s no wondering what part of the animal that meat came from.
#2: Thou shall make sure the patty has the right lean-to-fat ratio.
Meat that’s too lean will result in a patty that’s dry, crumbly and flavorless. On the other hand, a burger with too much fat can lead to too much shrinkage. Aim for a burger with no less than 10 percent fat and no more than 30 percent fat—”80/20,” or a breakdown of 80 percent lean beef to 20 percent fat—is ideal. Ground beef chuck typically falls within this ratio.
#3: Thou must properly season the meat.
Even if you’ve followed commandments one and two, if you don’t properly season your meat, your burger is guaranteed to fall short. To fully enhance all of the flavors of the meat, season your burger patties generously with kosher salt or sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper. This also helps the patties form a nice, caramelized crust as they cook. Since salt draws out moisture, however, don’t salt the patties until right before you put them on the grill.
#4: Thou shall never press down on the patty once it’s on the grill.
Once the burger’s on the grill, leave it alone. Pressing down on the patty with a spatula doesn’t do anything for the meat—all it does is cause all of the juices to run out!
#5: Thou must ensure the patty, once cooked, matches the circumference of the bun.
The only thing worse than chowing down on a burger without enough bun is eating a burger that’s all bun. To ensure you have the ideal bun-to-patty ratio with every last bite, aim to shape a patty that’s slightly larger than the circumference of your burger buns, since the meat will shrink slightly as it cooks.