Beef, Beef/Veal, Easy, Gluten-free, Grill, Grilling, Sandwiches

Building a Better Burger

If you think about it, a hamburger is nothing more than a sausage without a casing. Once you accept this notion, you open yourself up to endless burger possibilities! I mean really, there are as many burger recipes as there are cooks. Everyone has their own little tweaks and a go-to recipe.

With that being said, I am not going to sit here and try to convince you this is a recipe for the best hamburger in the world — even though it is — because someone will undoubtedly draw a line in the sand, slap me with gloves in hand, and challenge me to a duel. It’s inevitable.

But there are some guidelines I might offer the newbie. I am sure many of you out there can too, and I welcome each and every one of them in the comments section below. I might even get lucky and toss in an idea or two the seasoned cooks among us might not have known. Nevertheless, seasoned cooks — fill in the blanks.


Form your own patties
Put down that log of preformed beef! Yeah, the one with the additives for shelf stability that sweat like a fat man in a sauna when you see it resting on that black foam tray. Do you want to feel like a deer at a salt lick? No, I didn’t think so. Put it back.DSCF8986

Check the fat ratio
Even sausage has a ratio. In good sausage, it is 1 part fat to 3 parts protein. For burgers, a meat buyer’s guide will tell you ground beef shouldn’t be more than 22% fat. The buyer may request a higher fat content, but it cannot exceed 30%. However, the beef can come from anywhere on the cow (with the exception of guts and organs). Ask your butcher about the type of meat and fat content they buy.DSCF8976

Grind your own meat
For the most part, I grind all meats myself. Here is why: there is bacteria on a steak that remains on the surface of the steak; it doesn’t claw its way to the interior. So when you cook the steak, it is easily killed by the heat. However, if you buy ground meat at the grocery and don’t cook it in a reasonably short time, the bacteria from the exterior that have been ground into the burger have a lot more surface space to grow and hide from the heat that kills them. If you buy ground beef that has been sitting in the meat case at the store, you should be nervous about cooking it to anything below an internal temperature of 165˚ F, or well-done, which makes for a dry burger, especially since you’re using leaner beef. If I buy good whole cuts of beef and grind it myself, I have no fears of cooking it to medium-rare or medium.

Find the cut of meat you really like and use that
I like chuck. It has a good fat content (20% or so — remember: just ask!), great flavor, and is very reasonably priced. For a good, all-around burger, it can do the heavy lifting. Beef round or sirloin are also a good choice, having a 15% or less fat content, but are more expensive and obviously leaner.

The proper amount of salt evenly distributed on a sirloin.

The grill
I like the charcoal to burn down a touch from its hottest before I cook burgers. The burgers flare up as the fat drips out. If the grill is too hot, not only is there heat under the grill grate but on top, too. You want a burger to caramelize but not burn. It can be a fine line. Medium-high heat, closer to the medium side, is what I shoot for.

Don’t ignore your buns!
Grill those buns, damn it. No excuses. A grilled, buttered bun makes a better burger.grilled burger buns


Makes 4

This is my burger mix. I bump up the umami just for good measure. It pays handsomely in the end. Make a build your own burger platter with lots of fresh stuff. I like Bibb lettuce, fresh cucumbers, pickles, fat slices of homegrown tomatoes, grilled red onion, cheeses of all kinds, and of course condiments like ketchup and whatnot. On a serious note, butter and grill those buns! It is the touch that makes all the difference.

  • 1 1/2pound ground chuck
  • 3tablespoons tamari soy sauce
  • 1teaspoon salt
  • 1/2teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • Buttered buns and assorted toppings, for serving
  1. Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl. Using your clean hands, mix the ground beef until it is very well combined and all the ingredients are well distributed.
  2. Form four 6-ounce patties. I season them with a little more salt and black pepper a few minutes before I put them on the grill — your call.
  3. Set up your grill. Light it and grill the burgers over medium-high heat. Once they are cooked to the temperature to which you feel comfortable and they are caramelized nicely on both sides, serve them hot.



3 thoughts on “Building a Better Burger

  1. Susan Pietrocarlo says:

    Tom, I cannot thank you enough for your prompt reply! Kitchen Aid it is! Thank you so very much for your blogs and columns. I love your contribution to Food 52! Merry Christmas to you and your beautiful family!


  2. Susan Pietrocarlo says:

    Tom, I hope that you receive this comment since this is an “older” post. I need your advice and soon with Christmas just around the corner. Should I just buy the meat grinder attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer or a stand-alone dedicated electric meat grinder like the Waring Professional? Thank you in advance for your advice!


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