Anatomy of a Better Burger

How to create the best burger

Part I: How to Build a Better Beef and Poultry Burger

Oh dears!!  It has been too long since my last post.  Too long!  Almost two months, which is ridiculous, I know.  But you now how it goes when all your types of lives collide!

But here I am.  Finally.  Super excited because I’ll be doing a special series just in time for the summer holidays about BURGERS!

There are burgers and then there are burgers. Although this is a classic summer food that will make you reminiscent of a sunny day besides a pool, the reality is that there are one or to that live near your heart and you will have them any time of the year.  Those burgers were not made with a super secret recipe from some famous chef, but by using some key guidelines to build the perfect burger with a great harmony of flavors. 

No mater if it’s a beef, poultry, fish or vegetarian patty, when you learn some tips on how to build the perfect burger for each patty, you will end with licking finger good burgers, no matter the fixings or flair you want for them.

To start this series, I’ll be talking about two classics; beef and poultry.

Here are my stick to guidelines for doing the best beef burger ever:

1. Meat - Should be from a good cut and the best possible quality.  I always use Angus ground beef.  Although many sites talk about the proportion of 80% -20%, I prefer to give priority to the cut and quality of the meat because of...

2. Olive, canola or grape seed oil – Yes, I add oil to my beef.  This vegetable fat is better for you than the extra saturated fat from the meat, besides the oil will keep the meat juicy, silky and moist.

3. A little bit of acidity - some acidity actually helps a bit in breaking down the meat, that’s why so many marinades call for wine or lemon juice.  Also it helps in building a better flavor.  You could use a little of white vinegar, red wine vinegar or even balsamic for a sweet and sour hint.  Another alternative is the popular Worcestershire sauce, but I prefer vinegar because it doesn’t interfere with the flavor I’m trying to build up for the burger, which Worcestershire can do.

4. Cook in a stainless steel or cast iron pan with some oil and butter - I know that cooking the patties directly on the grill sounds like the perfect scene of a hot summer day, but with this method the meat will loose it’s juices, and you will end up loosing more moist than fat anyway.  The result could be a hard, chewy thing with not much flavor left.  With a stainless steel skillet or a cast iron pan you will achieve some caramelization around the crust.  But NOT pressing the meat while cooking and only turning it once is crucial for a lovely end result.  About 3 minutes of cooking on each side is enough for a medium well patty.

5. Cheese – This maybe has provoked some fights and broken hearts, but a beef burger needs cheese.  Period! It's what glues everything inside.  Sorry to those who are on the opposite team! ; )

6. Mild and soft green leaves - something like bibb or butter lettuce will work fine. Place a leaf between the bottom bread and the meat because who wants soggy bread with all the meat juices, and another one on top of the patty to protect it from the water of the vegetables.

7. Acidic or pickled vegetables - this kind of flavors harmonize well with the umami taste of meat.  So tomatoes, onions and pickles are always a good idea!

8. Dressing or sauce - should have a creamy or acidic base, depending on how you want to complement the other ingredients. Some simple ketchup, mayo-ketchup, Thousand Island dressing for a Big Mac trippy taste and BBQ sauce are perfect here. Put most of it touching the meat (about 1 TBS), and if you want a little bit extra across the buns.

9. Buns - should be soft and makes a world of difference if you toast each bun on each side on the same pan you cooked the burger so they absorb some of the delicious juices.  If the pan gets dry between bun batches, just add a bit of oil and butter and heat for a few seconds to continue warming the bread.

Best way to build a burger, with mozarella, pesto and tomatoes

Here are the must do’s for the perfect poultry burger everytime:

1. Meat – If grinding your own, try to use mostly turkey breast.  You will have less fat coming from saturated animal fats and more from good for you fats.

2. Oil – Since turkey could be bland and dry, you will definitely need to add some fat.  And not jus a drizzle.  A good 3 tablespoons of oil per pound/pound and a half will do.

3. Seasonings – Different from the beef burger, that some salt and pepper could be enough, poultry meats need more flavoring.  To keep it basic I add some garlic powder an a bit of paprika, besides salt and pepper.  The parika gives the patties a little bit of color too.

4. Acidity – Again, this helps in breaking down the protein of the meat making it tender.  But in poultry I stick with lemon to bring this floral fruity kick flavor to the burger.

5. Cooking in a stainless steel or cast iron pan – if cooking beef burgers on the grill could deplete their juices, imagine what would happen with poultry patties!

6. Peppery greens leaves – In a poultry burger you need that all your components has their own flavors so you end up with a flavorful bite every time.  Peppery greens are ideal to add some kick and robust taste without predominating through the other flavors.

7. Flavorful vegetables – I don’t appreciate too much tomatoes or watery veggies in my turkey burger.  I prefer just greens and, if using veggies, I like to transform them through sautéing or pickling to give them a boost of flavor.

8. Cream based sauce – You definitely want a creamy sauce touching your meat.  Add some spices, fresh herbs and a bit of lemon to natural mayonnaise, greek yogurt, crème fraîche or sour cream to customize your recipe.

9. Buns – Same as up, soft buns toasted in the wonderfully caramelized cooking pan so they soak all the flavors.

Best turkey burger recipe with pesto mayo and pickled onions

These are some basic components will help you achieve the best beef or poultry burger, no matter the toppings and fixings you will be serving.  I’m sharing with you my recipes for each patty!

Recipe notes:

1.     If grinding your own meat, remember to place it on the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes prior grinding so it become firmer.

2.     Never over handle or over mix the meat.  When you add the ingredients to it combine gently and just form a loose patty.

3.     Also, never press the meat while cooking.

4.     Bring all the extra components to room temperature so they don’t bring down the temperature of the meat and the buns.

Beef burger with purple basil pesto

Beef Burguer Patties
Total and Prep time - 15 minutes
Equipment - Large stainless steel skillet or cast iron pan

Ground beef - 1 – 1 ½ lb
Fine sea salt – ½ Tsp
Freshly ground black pepper - ¼ to ½ Tsp
Ground black mustard seeds – ½ Tsp
Red wine vinegar or lemon juice - ½ Tsp
Olive, canola or grape seed oil - 2 TBSP + extra for cooking

Put the meat in a bowl and add the rest of the ingredients. Using your own clean hands, gently mix everything until well integrated. Add the oil and again incorporate it gently into the meat.  Take 2 or 3 tablespoons of meat and form a loose patty of about 3 to 4 inches long and ½ inches thick.  You can make all the patties at once or do them while a batch is cooking.

Place some oil and a little bit of butter in a large skillet and heat to medium high temperature.  Place 3 to 4 burgers in the skillet, leaving about 1½ "space between them (it is important not to overcrowd the pan so each patty can breathe and they don’t end up steamed).  Cook 2 to 3 minutes, depending on how you prefer the meat, then turn each patty only once, and cook 2 to 3 additional minutes for a medium well term.  During the last 30 to 45 seconds of cooking place the cheese and cover the pan with a lid for a few seconds until the cheese is melted. Remove each patty from the pan into a plate and let them stand for one minute before assembling the burger.

Here I made ours with fresh mozzarella, bibb lettuce, purple basil pesto sauce and tomatoes.

Poultry Burger Patties
Total and Prep time
- 15 minutes
Equipment - Large stainless steel skillet or cast iron pan

Ground turkey – 1 to 1 ½ lbs
Fine sea salt – ½ Tsp
Garlic powder – ¼ Tsp
Ground paprika – ½ Tsp
Fresh ground black pepper – to taste
Fresh lemon juice – squeeze of half lemon
Olive oil – 3 TBSP

Same method as the beef burgers here.  Just cook 1 to 2 minutes more per side to make sure the meat is cooked thru and omit the cheese step.

I fixed ours with a good spread on top and bottom of patty of pesto mayo, using the same purple basil pesto from the beef burger, some arugula and quick pickled onions.