WHAT

MAKES
A GREAT
BURGER
With so many kinds of burgers out there,
“great” depends on context. Still, there
are some universal indicators.

beef-to-bun ratio

A burger needs enough beef so its taste comes
through, and enough bun to support the meat and
juices. And the burger should be the same diameter
as the bun. Great burgers are like great sandwiches—
all about balance.

burger grind

You want a nice loose-to-medium grind and a patty
that is not too densely packed. A fine grind and
tight packing makes for a tough, dense burger that
starts to resemble a sausage.

cheese

Regardless of what type of cheese you prefer, it
should be properly melted, not just perched on top.
(Bonus points for two slices of cheese—one below
and one on top of the patty.)

fresh ingredients

It should go without saying. But how many burgers
have you had with wilted, crunchless lettuce,
anemic tomatoes, or stale buns? We’ve had too
many. Get fresh or go home!

BURGER
STYLES

bun

The burger is a seemingly simple dish—
meat, cheese, bun—but there are more
incarnations than a casual eater would
suspect. Now that you know what basics
to look for in a great burger, here are a
few styles to try.

doneness

backyard grilled burgers

It needs to be fresh, appropriately sized, and sturdy
enough to support the meat and soak up its juices.
But it also needs some give—some softness and
squishiness. It’s a tough act, balancing tenderness
and absorbency so you don’t have to resort to a
knife and fork to finish.

Everyone has a preference as to how a burger is
cooked; the best burgers are cooked perfectly to
one’s liking.

You know this one. There’s almost nothing like a
thick juicy burger, charred with dark cross-hatching, that you eat just minutes after pulling it off
your grill on a beautiful summer weekend.

burgers

59

pub burgers

These burgers have sizable patties usually no
smaller than 8 ounces, often 10 ounces or more.
They’re typically ovoid in shape, rather than flat,
often broiled, and most often seen in pubs (hence
the name). It’s a style much celebrated in New
York City.

fast-food burgers

Do we really need to define this for you? We didn’t
think so.

fast-food-style burgers

The term denotes burgers that seem to take their
inspiration from fast-food burgers but are somehow better—in terms of either ingredients or preparation or both. Fast-food-style burgers will be
made with fresh, not frozen, beef; use fresh produce; and generally come from a single storefront
or, at most, a small, local chain rather than a
nationwide chain. Burger Joint and Shake Shack
in New York City and Gott’s Roadside Tray Gourmet (formerly Taylor’s Automatic Refresher) in San
Francisco and St. Helena, California, are prime
examples.

sliders

Many people think a slider is just a name for a mini
burger. Many people are wrong. A slider is something specific: a thin, thin slip of beef, cooked on a
griddle with onions and pickles piled atop the patty.
The steam from the onions does as much cooking
as the griddle. The buns are placed atop the onions,
absorbing the pungent aroma and flavor. A slider is
at once a hamburger and, yet, something more.

mini hamburgers

Mini burgers encompass every diminutive burger
that does not meet the definition of a slider (see
above), often because it has been grilled or broiled
rather than steam-griddled and almost always
because it lacks the bed of pungent onions. There

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serious eats

was an annoying trend, roughly from 2006 through
2008, whereby every chef in the country was
­putting mini burgers (often misidentifying them
as sliders) on his or her bar menu.

steakhouse burgers

The steakhouse burger is defined more by where
it’s served than by any other unifying characteristic, though there are some general observations
one can make. Steakhouse burgers are usually
made from the beef trimmings of the various
steaks on hand and as such are ground from prime,
aged beef. They’re almost always massive, hearty
burgers on a par with pub-style burgers, and they’re
often broiled.

kobe/wagyu burgers

A Kobe burger is almost always a bad idea. Most
chefs cook these rare to medium rare, so as to not
overcook the premium meat, but with so little cooking, the texture inevitably renders as mushy. It’s
like moist cat food on a bun, with the meat oozing
out the sides and back as you try to eat the burger.
Kobe burgers are most often seen as mini burgers,
as the meat is more affordable in smaller, sharable
portions, and the Kobe/Wagyu and the mini
burger/slider trends seem to have peaked at the
same time.

fancy-pants burgers

Chefs and burgers are a tricky thing: in some cases,
high-end chefs work wonders with the humble dish;
in others, overthinking can get in the way. Price
is a pretty good indication you’re eating a fancypants burger. But since price varies from city to
city, it’s difficult to set a hard-and-fast dollar
border. Let’s just say that if a burger costs double
what a ­McDonald’s Quarter Pounder Value Meal
does, you’re probably in fancy-pants land. If that’s
not enough of an indication, you know you’re heading into rarefied air when one or more of the
­following is involved:

the hamburger fatty melt: grilled cheese, burger, grilled cheese

THE
HAMBURGER
FATTY MELT
The Hamburger Fatty Melt is a proud
creation of “A Hamburger Today” and
Serious Eats. From top to bottom, it
consists of:
A grilled cheese sandwich as bun top
A 4-ounce beef patty
A grilled cheese sandwich as bun bottom

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serious eats

Got that? It’s a burger with two grilled cheese
­sandwiches as its bun. Wild, huh?
We wish our R&D department here at Serious
Eats could claim this as the product of our own
grease-addled minds, but we’ve merely perfected a
burger we heard about through a Serious Eats community member, who mentioned the Chubby Melt
at the Mossy Creek Cafe in Fishersville, Virginia. It
consists of a burger between two grilled cheese
sandwiches, smothered with sautéed onions and
mushrooms, and topped with Thousand Island.
The Mossy Creek pretty much had it right until
it ladled on the toppings. In our opinion, something
as glorious as a burger with two grilled-cheese
sandwiches as its bun needs little else adorning it.
Once the Fatty Melt hit the Web, it became a
viral sensation. But unlike most Web memes, the
Fatty Melt concept crossed from the virtual world
to the real. You can now order a grilled-cheese–
bunned hamburger from coast to coast.
While some seem to execute the concept better
than others, we think ours is still the best because
we carefully considered the beef-to-“bun” ratio,
using just the right bread and amount of cheese.

RECIP

R
CI
P

RECIPE

RECIPE
RECIPE

RECIP

Though the recipe will work with regular sandwich
bread, we recommend thin-sliced bread like Pepperidge
Farms Very Thin White Bread to maintain proper beefto-bun ratio.

hamburger

fatty melt
1

Divide the beef blend into
two equal parts and shape
into square patties 1/2 inch larger
than the bread slices. Set aside.

2

For the grilled sandwiches,
butter all eight slices of
bread on both sides in a thin, even
layer, using 1/2 tablespoon butter
per slice. Place the remaining
teaspoon of butter in a 12-inch
cast-iron or nonstick skillet over
medium heat until the foaming
subsides, 2 to 3 minutes.

3

Place two slices of bread in
the skillet and cook until the
first side is hot but not browned,
about 30 seconds. Transfer the
slices to a wire rack set in a
rimmed baking sheet, hot side
up. Top each slice with a slice of
cheese. Repeat with the remaining six slices of bread and cheese.

4

Assemble the bread and
cheese to form four sandwiches with two slices of cheese

in the center of each. Place two
sandwiches in the skillet and
cook until the first sides are
golden brown, about 2 minutes.
Flip and cook until they are
golden brown on the second side,
about 2 minutes longer. Transfer
the finished sandwiches to the
wire rack and tent with foil to
keep them warm while cooking
the remaining two sandwiches.

MAKES 2 BURGERS
1/2 pound freshly ground Basic

Burger Blend (page 86)

4 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon
unsalted butter, softened
8 slices sandwich bread, preferably
thin-sliced
8 slices yellow American cheese
1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil

Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
Toppings, as desired (we
recommend a slice of ripe
tomato for each sandwich)

5

Place the skillet over
medium-high and heat the
oil until it is lightly smoking.
Season the patties liberally on
both sides with salt and pepper.
Place them in the pan and cook
without moving for about 3 minutes, until they are well browned.
Using a metal spatula, flip the
burgers and cook for 1 minute
longer, or until the desired doneness is reached. Sandwich each
patty between two grilled-cheese
sandwiches, adding toppings as
desired. Serve immediately.

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65

5 GREAT
CHEFFY
BURGERS
It wasn’t too long ago that the phrase
“high-end burger” sounded like a
contradiction in terms. But over the last
few years, some of the country’s finest
chefs have hopped on board the burger
train. While there’s a real appeal to the
down-and-dirty $3 cheeseburger, there’s
no denying that pricier restaurants can
turn out a mighty fine product. Here are
some of our favorite chef burgers across
the country.

1

LE PIGEON
PORTLAND, OR

Le Pigeon makes one of the juiciest, meat spongeiest burgers you may ever eat. James Beard–­

burger at le pigeon, portland, or

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serious eats

nominated chef/owner Gabriel Rucker grills a
thick 1/2-pound patty of Cascade Natural Beef,
ground in-house, and tops it with Tillamook fouryear aged white Cheddar, grilled pickled onions, a
hefty mound of crunchy iceberg lettuce slaw,
h­omemade aioli, house-made ketchup, and highly
potent housemade Dijon mustard. Although the
juices may soak through the soft grilled ciabatta
bun, the bread manages to hold up until the last
bite. Just make sure you get to Le Pigeon early if
you want this burger; they serve only five a night.

BURKE’S PRIMEHOUSE
2 DAVID
CHICAGO, IL

The burger patty made of 40-day aged beef has a
lineage more exhaustively detailed than most
family trees. The beef comes from Primehouse’s
own line of Black Angus cattle, all the descendants
of a single bull named Prime, all with supremely
well-marbled beef. That beef, in the restaurant,
gets dry-aged for 40 days in a Himalayan salt-tiled
aging room; then it’s seared at a remarkable 900°F.
before it’s bunned. But the toppings don’t hurt
when it comes to making one of the best burgers
in the city. A mound of garlic spinach and crispy
shallots tops the rich, flavorful patty, and it all
comes on a bacon mayonnaise–smeared toasted
potato bun. The skin-on fries are a good side, but
the asiago-truffle potato skins are even better.

3

CRAIGIE ON MAIN
CAMBRIDGE, MA

In line with the rest of the seriously delicious,
funky, thoughtful, and local food at this high-end
bistro, Craigie’s hamburger is made from three cuts
of sustainably raised grass-fed beef (including beef
cheek) ground together with bone marrow. A touch
of dehydrated miso paste ups the umami factor.
Chef Tony Maws slow-cooks the burger to a precise
medium-rare in a high-tech steam oven before
charring it. Topped with aged Cheddar, crisp fried
onion rings, a schmear of sweet, house-made
mace-flavored ketchup, red wine vinegar pickles,
and watercress dressed with the patty’s pan

prime steak burger at david burke’s primehouse, chicago, il

­ rippings, it’s a composed dish on a house-baked
d
sesame-seed bun.

4

MINETTA TAVERN
NEW YORK, NY

Chefs Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr of Keith
­McNally’s Minetta Tavern tried a dozen different
blends from New York’s top meat purveyors before
deciding on the Black Label blend, from vaunted
meat purveyor Pat La Frieda—dry-aged ribeye,
along with skirt steak and brisket, sourced from

black label burger at minetta tavern, new york, ny

Creekstone Farms in Kentucky. The beef is
­handled as little as possible, formed into patties,
and seared on a plancha with grapeseed oil and
clarified butter; it’s served with sautéed onions on
a buttery, salty brioche bun that’s far less sweet
than most. The simplicity of the finished burger
belies the careful thought and extreme precision
involved in bringing it to table.

5

COMME ÇA
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA

The best cheffy burgers are the product of a combination of competitive urges, endless tinkering,
and flat-out burger love. At Comme Ça, they take
8 ounces of high-quality ground beef, salt it, and
cook it as many talented chefs cook a steak, on an
insanely hot flat-top griddle, until it gets a delicious
salted, caramelized exterior. Then they slide it into
a 375°F. oven until it’s a perfect medium rare, and
top it with Cheddar cheese. When you bite into the
burger after it’s nestled into its soft toasted brioche
bun, you might end up wearing it—it’s that juicy.
The shredded lettuce and special sauce are less
important ingredients here; meat, salt, and bun are
all you need.

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81

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