In search of the perfect hamburger

In search of the perfect hamburger

Everyone loves a good hamburger, yet we have all had some that are barely palatable, dry and tasteless. A hamburger or burger is a meat patty placed in a roll, it may be pan-fried in a grill pan, grilled or even flame-grilled. They are served with a variety of accompaniments such as onions, cheese, tomato, sauces, eggs, pickles or even bacon. Burgers may have numerous prefixes such as beef, lamb, cheese, chicken, or even fish. Small burgers are known as “sliders” and have become very popular as they allow you to have various fillings and eat a few without feeling full.

Burgers are served with a variety of sauces, some cooks prefer sesame seed buns. Before lockdown, a group of us had a “burger and blues” afternoon where we laid out buns and various fillings, built burgers and listened to blues. Our patties were hand made in the south of Johannesburg where the butcher used a combination of beef and lamb, a unique flavour.

Lockdown came and other than the occasional take away the opportunity to enjoy a good burger never really presented itself.

I set out to look at what made a great patty and was amazed at the variety of methods used. I then experimented and finally arrived at a method that resulted in a juicy, tasty, tender burger.

The key to the process is good quality fresh ingredients, never skimp on the rolls as they are critical to presentation and enjoyment. It became apparent that the fat ratio is key and most folks suggest an 85/15 meat to fat ratio, when cooked the fat melts away leaving you with a tender juicy patty. There are two schools of thought on binding the patty but I found that the best patty to cook and not break up the required binding. This took the form of crushed salted crackers and egg with a sauce such as “Worcestershire” or “Tamari”. You could also add a small amount of chopped onion or chives to lift the flavour. Then season to taste with salt, garlic powder, black pepper or herbal salt.

When forming your patties forget about shaping gadgets, they tighten the patty as you tend to force the mixture into them. Use your hands and do not overwork the patty as that will result in something tough and chewy. The shape is important and should be done per the size of your buns and no thicker than 20 mm.

I learnt to make an indentation with my thumb in the middle of the patty on one side. This stops it puffing up and looking like a rissole. Your cooking surface should be clean whether it is a flame grill, oven grill or grill pan. You do not want to contaminate the flavour. Then warm the cooking surface and apply a light coating of cooking olive oil to stop the patty from sticking.

Many folk claim that they can establish “doneness” through a variety of methods. I have seen digital thermometers used as a tech option but rely on trial and error to achieve a medium or rare burger. I do not do well done. Use a combination of temperature and time to get the desired result.

You must resist the urge to keep on flipping the patty, only turn them once and allow them to form beautiful grill marks before you serve them, excessive turning achieves nothing!

Lastly do not commit the cardinal sin of grilling. Do not press down on the patty,  juice will escape, flames will flare, the patty will just dry out, juiciness has gone!

Burgers are “comfort food” liked by kids and adults, they can be eaten anywhere and are a great meal when out in the bush. You can even substitute a patty for a steak and have a steak roll with all the toppings. I have to stop now, I’m getting hungry.

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