It is May 28, also known as Hamburger Day – the day George Washington accidentally invented the classic American snack while stranded on the Delaware River with nothing but two steaks, a dinner roll and his musket.
Just kidding. George Washington didn’t invent the hamburger. But he may as well have: The origin of the hamburger is shrouded in myth and meaty legend, with many people claiming to have been the first to put a slab of grilled ground beef between bread.
While the history is contested, one fact is indisputable: The hamburger is the ultimate dish for the modern man or woman on the go. It’s inexpensive, portable, relatively nutritious and simple – yet also versatile enough for gourmet restaurants to make it their centrepiece.
Here are some tips for crafting your perfect burger.
Make the beef centre hold
The most basic definition of a “hamburger” is cooked ground beef between two pieces of bread.
This article by the Science Times explains how classic ground beef is the perfect hamburger ingredient: Because of its relatively low levels of myosin – the meaty protein found in muscles – ground beef is more tender than pork and can hold together without salt, casing or other additives. In other words, it has the meat flavour of pure beef with the softness and portability of sausage.
The real trick is grilling the meat patty so that it stays crispy on the outside, but somewhat pink on the inside – a topic backyard grillers have debated since burgers immemorial.
As for the meat, many burger aficionados recommend ground chuck, which comes from the shoulder meat and has 15-20 percent fat content, for the best balance of tenderness, meatiness and texture.
(What else to put in the patty is hotly debated, but most agree that a little salt, at least, is fine.)
Know how the extras work
The meat is a powerful ingredient, and the condiments and other garnishing are crucial in balancing out the heavy, meatiness of the beef with other flavours and textures.
The classic burger contains pickles, lettuce, tomato and/or onion, and, finally, mayonnaise, ketchup and/or mustard. Each of these components serves specific purposes.
First, the pickles add acidity to balance out the fattiness of the meat. Pickled cucumbers are obviously the most popular, but if you don’t like them, other sorts of pickled vegetables will work. Mustard and tomato also add that crucial acidity.
Furthermore, the tomato, onions, lettuce and other fresh, crispy ingredients balance the warm, meatiness of the patty and add some crispy texture.
Finally, the condiments can be key to adding a sharp sweetness, spice and/or bitterness. Mayonnaise, in particular, serves the double function of insulating the bun with a fatty layer so that the juices from pickles, tomatoes and the other condiments don’t make it soggy.
Have good buns
The humble bun doesn’t steal the flavour show. Its main purpose is to contain the hamburger sausage, and make it portable and eatable by hand. And, indeed, a pack of soft, bleached, sesame seed buns from the supermarket will serve this function.
But if given the chance, the bun can truly make the burger. Try it with Kaiser rolls, English muffins or – our pick – homemade sourdough bread.
The key here is to add flavour and texture without something so rich and robust that it steals the show. The bun should be the perfect burger bridesmaid – but never the burger bride.
Good work, young burger Padawan
Now that you’ve got your hands on the perfect burger techniques, it’s time to put them to good use with some of our favourite burger recipes from around the web: