How To Make The Perfect Burger

Burgers topped with griddled onions and sliced cheese i i

hide captionOnions for this perfect burger are made by caramelizing them with butter and red pepper flakes.

David Loftus/Hyperion
Burgers topped with griddled onions and sliced cheese

Onions on this perfect burger are made by sizzling them with butter and red peppers flakes until the onions caramelize.

David Loftus/Hyperion

It's the July Fourth weekend. You could grill salmon or lamb kabobs, but you know what you want: the perfect burger.

Recently, barbecue chef extraordinaire Adam Perry Lang taught NPR's David Greene how to make that perfect burger while toiling over a George Foreman Grill in NPR's mail loading dock.

"You know when you hit a good burger," says Lang, who wrote Serious Barbecue: Smoke, Char, Baste, & Brush Your Way to Great Outdoor Cooking. "This really makes the ultimate burger."

But the ultimate burger takes a lot more than throwing a few beef patties on the grill and toasting some hamburger buns. The meat itself is a three-part formula: Chuck gives it body, sirloin and brisket provide depth of flavor, and the brisket also adds that stick-to-your-ribs feeling.

While it might be intimidating to try a complex burger recipe, Lang says the key is to organize.

"You go in, you get the stuff ready, read through the recipe — glance through it, and then just go for it," Lang says. "You really can't screw it up."

Recipe: Burgers With Griddled Onions

Recipe has not been tested by NPR.

Book
Courtesy of Hyperion
Serious Barbecue: Smoke, Char, Baste, & Brush Your Way to Great Outdoor Cooking
By Adam Perry Lang
Hardcover, 400 pages
List Price: $35

Making patties from lean ground beef and hoping for perfectly juicy burgers is like building a ship out of bricks and hoping it floats. You have to start with the right meat. For me, the ultimate is a blend of 70 percent lean and 30 percent fatty, ideally made from a combination of brisket and chuck sirloin. (Talk to the butcher, who can custom grind something for you). That generous touch of fat brings just the right amount of richness and lubricates the meat while it's cooking. I recommend making your own seasoning salt, because it's just as easy and much cheaper than buying a bottle of the pre-made kind. Remember to season only the outsides of your patties right before you cook them rather than mix the salt into the entire mass of meat (it'll make your burgers rubbery). And the secret to an amazing salty, slightly crunchy crust is not high heat but a super hot grill surface — an important distinction. A bit of unsalted butter added just before the burgers come off the grill doesn't hurt, either.

Ingredients

For The Burgers

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 pounds 70/30 (70 percent lean, 30 percent fat) ground beef, preferably a combination of chuck and brisket

For The Seasoning Blend

  • 1 tablespoon garlic salt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon pepper

For The Basting Butter

  • 8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 4 garlic cloves, halved, germ removed, and grated on a Microplane grater
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons coarsely ground fresh black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt

For Topping And Serving

  • 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
  • 2 sweet white onions, cut into 1/2 inch slices
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed hot red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter, plus additional for the buns
  • 1 bunch thyme, tied into a bundle
  • 8 sesame seed buns
  • 16 small slices mild cheddar cheese, or other slices or crumbled cheese of choice (optional)

Directions

Combine the water and Worcestershire, and, using your hands, blend into the beef until evenly distributed.

Divide the meat into eight equal parts, roll into balls (but do not overwork the meat because it can toughen your burgers), and flatten into discs about 1/2 inch thick and 4-1/2 to 5 inches across. Chill for at least 1 hour or up to 1 day.

Place a cast iron griddle on one area of a well-oiled charcoal or gas grill. Preheat all areas to high.

Combine the seasoning blend ingredients.

Combine all of the basting butter ingredients over medium heat and pour into a baking dish or disposable aluminum pan.

Swab the oil on the griddle, add the onions, close the lid and cook until golden, about 3 minutes. Flip, close the lid and cook for another 3 minutes. (If you have a grill press or a fire brick wrapped in heavy-duty aluminum foil, it is ideal to keep on hand to keep the rings from lifting up and also maximizes the caramelization.)

Brush with the 2 tablespoons of butter, sprinkle with the pepper flakes and continue to cook until caramelized and tender. Some breakage is OK, particularly if not using the grill press, but it is better if they stay together.

Transfer the onions to a bowl and cover to keep warm while the burgers cook. Do not clean the griddle.

Season both sides of the burgers using about half of the blend.

It is preferable to move the burgers to a clean area of the griddle and grate every time they are flipped. Depending on the griddle and grill size, they will need to be cooked in batches to ensure there is a clean portion of the griddle and grill to flip to. (It is best to read the full step below first before continuing.)

Place four burgers on the exposed grate, keeping the other half clean to flip to. Close the lid and cook until the meat easily separates from the grate and is well marked, about 2 minutes. Flip the burgers to the clean section, close the lid, and cook without moving for 2 minutes.

Season the burgers with some of the remaining seasoning blend.

Transfer the burgers to the griddle, brush with butter using the herb bundle, and continue to cook, flipping once, until the desired doneness.

Cook 2 to 3 minutes for rare, about 4 minutes for medium, and 5 to 6 for well done.

Once the first four burgers are on the griddle, scrape the grates, re-oil, and repeat the grilling process. As the burgers reach desired doneness on the griddle, transfer to a sheet pan and cover with foil while the other burgers cook.

When all burgers have been cooked, turn off the heat on all areas of the grill. Place the burgers and the buns on the grate. Brush the buns with butter, if desired, and top burgers with the cheese, if using. Close the lid for 1 to 2 minutes to melt the cheese and toast the buns.

Serve burgers and cheeseburgers topped with the onions on a toasted bun.

Serves 8

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