How To Make The Perfect Burger Barbecue chef extraordinaire Adam Perry Lang teaches NPR's David Greene how to grill that ultimate burger. The recipe is complex, but Lang says barbecue novices need not be concerned. The trick, he says, is to get organized and be prepared.

How To Make The Perfect Burger

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I don't know about you, but I agree with this old television commercial.


ROBERT MITCHUM: Beef, it's what's for dinner.

GREENE: And as you know, tomorrow is the 4th of July. I'll be cooking my dinner on the grill and I hope it sounds and cooks and sizzles just like this.


GREENE: But when it comes to the burger, have you ever had trouble getting it just right? Yeah, I know, we all have. So we thought about getting some advice. We called a chef. He sees grilling as high art.

ADAM PERRY LANG: It's really about harnessing what you have in front of you, the simple elemental fire.

GREENE: His name is Adam Perry Lang and his new cookbook, not surprisingly, is called "Serious Barbecue." His recipe in there for burgers with griddled onions caught our eye. Lang tells us that a great burger really begins with the meat.

PERRY LANG: Typically it's a combination of chuck, which gives body, and then you have sirloin and brisket which gives like a depth of flavor, and then the brisket also adds a good deal of collagen, which kind of gives this kind of like - the French call goo, which is like this kind of stick to your ribs kind of feeling. It just takes - you know when you hit a good burger. I mean this really makes the ultimate burger.

GREENE: In reading your book, you know, if I were planning on going out to just my average July 4th barbeque, and you know, a bunch of friends getting in front of a pit or grill, I might be a little intimidated. I mean there's a lot going on with sort of the flavor mixes and so forth. I mean what do you tell people who are like, my God, I can't follow this?

PERRY LANG: Well, it might seem that way, but if you just organize yourself right from the beginning, just get these three simple things together, just a little spice blend, as I call it, a basting butter, and just like a seasoning throughout the meat. You go in, you get the stuff ready, read through the recipe, glance through it, and then just go for it. You really can't screw it up.

GREENE: Well, we do want to taste the results of this conversation. I want you to guide me through making a burger. I'm looking at the front of your book. You've got this huge open flame, and that's actually what we're trying to avoid, having that burn down a lot of very expensive radio equipment and microphones. So we're actually going to - I'm going to run outside and you can talk us through this. We can cook together.

PERRY LANG: Okay, great.

GREENE: I'm standing in our mail loading dock. I have a George Foreman grill that belonged to our senior producer Cara Tallo when she lived in a group house in D.C., and she was willing to let us use this today.

PERRY LANG: It's okay. I guess we'll have to adapt, but I think you're going to get really the principles behind it and I think you're going to get a lot out of it.

GREENE: So you might have to talk me through some of the ingredients. I've got a container of some onions that my editor, Courtney Dorning, prepared very kindly. I'm putting these on the griddle. All right. They're heating up there. Now tell me about these onions. What is this recipe that we use to make these onions? They look very pretty.

PERRY LANG: Basically it's a little bit of butter, which really enhances that golden color and makes it kind of caramelize a lot quicker. And then we have some red pepper flakes and they just get really nice, caramelized and tender. And who doesn't love that, you know?

GREENE: I certainly love that. We've got some bubbling going on. I imagine that's the caramelization that is taking place in front of me.

PERRY LANG: How does it smell?

GREENE: It smells pretty amazing.

PERRY LANG: Do you have your ground beef in front you?

GREENE: I've got my ground beef in front of me. They're in some nicely formed patties right here.

PERRY LANG: Oh, perfect. Just let me tell you about what was done before. We take some water and Worcestershire. I don't put salt in the burgers because that makes a very dense burger and I save my seasoning for the outside. But the Worcestershire, which has a little bit of anchovy in it, which you would never taste, is a dark flavor that really just kind of blends with beef. It's almost like a flavor enhancer. Now, (unintelligible) a spice blend in front of you? It's basically garlic, salt, and lemon flavor.


PERRY LANG: So you're going to sprinkle it on each of the patties like a light flurry of snow.

GREENE: Okay. I'm feeling good about this. And so you want me to put a burger on here. We're getting the action started.

PERRY LANG: And is it sizzling?

GREENE: Adam, we've got sizzle.

PERRY LANG: Okay, great. That's what you want. You definitely - don't move it now. We want it just to kind of set. You know, let it be, let it just kind of develop. Now, I do something which is optional, but I encourage people to do it. I make like a little brush with herbs. Do you have that there?

GREENE: Let me tell you, we have a brush that would make you proud.

PERRY LANG: Oh my goodness.

GREENE: I have a wooden spoon, and we've used string to attach thyme to the narrow end of it. Is that what you're looking for?

PERRY LANG: Oh man, you are so prepared, exactly. I make this, like, this basting butter, which is, like, you know, unsalted butter, garlic cloves, some parsley, a little bit of lemon juice, Worcestershire. Do you have that handy?

GREENE: We followed your instructions to a T and we have the butter mixture ready.

PERRY LANG: What I want you to do is now flip that burger.

GREENE: It looks very developed. See that, I'm catching onto your language already.

PERRY LANG: Brilliant. So as soon as you flip that burger, now you're going to take that brush, okay, dip it in that butter mixture, okay?


PERRY LANG: Then kind of - just kind of lightly swab that burger. And what that's going to do, it's just going to develop not only this crust, but it's going to add so much flavor. And this is where our burger is different than most.

GREENE: It's looking very shiny.

PERRY LANG: How does it smell? Does it smell amazing or what?

GREENE: Let me just ask you, butter and burger - I mean, we're not talking about the healthiest two things in the world to combine. Does anyone ever worry about that?

PERRY LANG: Well, I do - I definitely am concerned about it and I want to explain to you that it's not what you think. The butter isn't really a factor. We're not like eating pats of butter. This is all getting cooked off.

GREENE: I am feeling good. I am on the lean, mean, fat grilling machine standing on a street corner. I am really feeling cool.

PERRY LANG: Excellent. Do you like cheese on your burger?

GREENE: You bet I like cheese on my burger.

PERRY LANG: Put your cheese on top of it right now.

GREENE: All right. Cheese goes on now, it's cheese time, okay.

PERRY LANG: Okay. Let's go. Let's do it now. We're going to build it. You're going to put some of the onions on the bottom, you put the burger and you place on top and you're ready to go.

GREENE: Can I take a bite of this thing now?

PERRY LANG: Please do.

GREENE: Oh God, okay, that's really good. That is really - that's a tasty burger.

PERRY LANG: I'm glad you enjoy it.

GREENE: Yeah, you're the man.

PERRY LANG: I'm really hungry now.

GREENE: Well, you get back to work in your kitchen and make your burger. I cannot thank you enough for talking us through this. This has been quite an adventure.

PERRY LANG: Oh, it's been really fun for me. I love it. I love it.

GREENE: Oh yeah, we love it. That's Adam Perry Lang and his book is "Serious Barbecue." You want to read his recipe for burgers with griddled onions? You can at our Web site, And if you think you can top his recipe, well, leave your own recipe - in the comments section.

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