Forming a Great Burger

Chefs and meat heads everywhere argue about forming the best burger. The argument stems from tenderness. We all agree we want tenderness. The problem is some consider tenderness the ability for the burger to break apart in your mouth. I, on the other hand, believe tenderness is related to moisture retention and a slightly chewy burger can give a better mouth feel due to better moisture retention.

We like to think of a burger as a ground beef sausage. An important part of sausage making is the “myosin extraction.” Myosin is a protein that will bind the fat and meat together and retain water between it. The texture will be more “emulsified,” or uniform, and the final product is more moist.

By the way, we’ve got directions for making burgers on a outdoor grill on indoors when your grill is buried under the snow, so keep reading.

There are a couple ways to form myosin. The first is to take your ground beef, cold, and work it by hand in a cold bowl. Literally knead it, pound it, roll it, squeeze it…you get the picture. This takes a few minutes depending on your strength. You will know when the burger is done based on a tacky feeling it has on the outside. Think like a meatball. Or you can form a ball, stretch it apart and let it dangle. It should hold together. Another way to do this is to put your meat in the kitchen-aid mixer until a film forms on the side of the bowl. This is a tad faster but you have to get out the mixer.

Important note here, you don’t want the meat or the bowl to get too warm. Some people even do this step in a double bowl, the bottom layer filled with ice. If the meat gets really warm it means you’ve worked the meat too much, which can undo the emulsification process and the fat will leach out onto the grill as it cooks.

You can also chemically extract myosin with salt (see below.)

Shaping a Patty.

First scoop out balls of the burger meat in a uniform size and arrange on the counter. Then, one method is to throw the ball on the counter to flatten out. Cup one hand around the outside of the burger, and using your other hand gently push out from the middle, working your way around. Pick up and turn and make flat patties.

Another more civilized approach is to take a lid, like the lid from a peanut butter jar or a large mason jar lid. Line it with plastic wrap and press your meat into the lid with another piece of plastic wrap over top. Pull the burger out by tugging on the bottom piece of plastic wrap. You’ll have consistent, perfect burgers.

Seasoning a Burger.

Traditional French culinary techniques suggest seasoning throughout. There is a fine line with burgers. You can add salt and pepper into the ground meat when you are working it, just like you would a sausage. The salt will also help the myosin formation. However, you risk overworking it and getting a burger that is spongy. The proper amount of salt is about 1 teaspoon of kosher salt per lb of ground beef.  Season the exterior of the burger as well.

Grilling Burgers.

Start your grill as hot as you can with the lid shut. Open the grill, scrape and clean the grates. Turn the heat down to medium or medium high (depending on your grill.) Season the grill by rubbing oil on the grill grates.

Add the burger to the grill. The meat should be cold still, not room temperature. Close the lid and let the burger start to cook. The hot grates will sear the meat and keep it from sticking to the grate. Cook the burger for appx 4 to 5 minutes until the meat releases easily from the grill grate. You should not have to scrape it off. Flip the burger and cook for another 3 or so minutes depending on the size of your burger, heat of your grill, etc. Remove the burger, cover in foil, and allow it to rest for 5 minutes. This is a great chance now to clean your grill and toast your buns.

Indoor Burgers.

In a greased, high-heat cast iron skillet, sear your seasoned burger on both sides. Cook each side for approx 4 to 5 minutes depending on the side of the burger and the pan. The burger will release from the pan when it is ready to flip. You will not need to scrape it off.

After one flip, place the burger in a 350 degree oven until done. For a medium burger, remove it from the oven at 135 degrees and allow it to rest on a cutting board or plate (not the hot pan). The burger will continue to cook out of the oven (carry-over cooking). Allow to rest for 5 minutes.

Some of Chef Adam’s Favorite Burger Combinations

minced sautéed mushrooms, wilted spinach & feta

– minced a variety of mushrooms and cook down in a little oil and salt. Mix this into the burger meat. Top with a small bed of wilted spinach and a few crumbles of feta.

bacon burgers, smoked cheddar, & bbq sauce

– Finely chop a few strips of bacon, depending on how many burgers you’re making. Mix this into the ground beef and form patties. Top with a slice of smoked cheddar and a swipe of BBQ sauce.

traditional with lettuce tomato and onion, & homemade mayo

– For an easy homemade mayo:

3 egg yolks
1 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar
1 tbsp water
Pinch of salt
1—1 ¼ cup of oil

Place the yolks in the bowl of the food processor or blender.  Add the salt, lemon juice or vinegar and water.  Process for a few seconds. With the machine running, begin adding the oil one or two drops at a time.  Continue adding the oil very slowly.  Add as much oil as possible.  Season with a little more salt and freshly ground white pepper.

It will keep safely in the refrigerator for five or six days.  The key to making mayonnaise is patience in adding the oil very slowly, especially in the beginning.  If you choose to use vinegar, use apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar.